Drew Silva

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Brad Ausmus says Justin Verlander will start for Tigers on Opening Day

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It’s a little early for this sort of thing, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was asked the question and gave the obvious answer Tuesday at spring training in Lakeland, Florida.

Justin Verlander will take the mound for the Tigers on Opening Day, April 5 against the Marlins. Ausmus only qualified his selection of Verlander with a “barring something unforeseen.”

Verlander got off to a late start in 2015, but he registered a cool 3.38 ERA and 1.09 WHIP across 133 1/3 innings after debuting in mid-June. It was the first time since 2006 that the veteran right-hander had not reached the 200-inning plateau.

Verlander, 33 next week, is owed $28 million per year over the next four years.

Josh Hamilton is experiencing more discomfort in his troublesome left knee

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Josh Hamilton showed up to Rangers camp Tuesday, a week before position players are required to report, and went through a full baseball workout that included stretching, throwing, shagging fly balls, hitting, and running the bases. But the physical reports afterward weren’t so promising.

According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Hamilton’s left knee has started to “bark again” with the effects of a January anti-inflammatory shot now wearing off. The veteran outfielder plans to continue daily workouts and expects to be ready for Opening Day, but he’ll probably have to take it a little easier than he did Tuesday.

“We’ll hit it with treatment and see if it responds to being active every day. Hopefully it does,” Hamilton told the Star-Telegram. “I’m not really worrying about it. I ran some bases today. It seems like the more I do on it, the better it feels. … I think Doc said it was inflammation of the capsule. I’m wondering why, 2  1/2 weeks later, it started happening again. Is this going to be an ongoing thing? Is this not going to be an ongoing thing? I have those questions, too.”

Hamilton, who turns 35 years old in May, appeared in just 50 games last season for the Rangers and finished with a disappointing .253/.291/.441 batting line. He is owed $28.41 million in 2016 and another $28.41 million in 2017, though most of that tab is being picked up by the Angels.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.