Justin Verlander and Tigers agree to $180 million contract

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Justin Verlander was eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, but the former MVP and the Tigers have agreed to a five-year contract extension that will keep him in Detroit through at least 2019.

Verlander was already under contract for $20 million this season and $20 million next season as part of a deal signed in December of 2010. This extension will begin in 2015 and includes a sixth-year option for 2020, which would be Verlander’s age-37 season.

According to Buster Olney of ESPN.com the total value of the deal if his existing 2013 and 2014 salaries are included is $180 million and the contract could be worth as much as $202 million if the 2020 option gets picked up. Which, if I’m doing the math correctly before official numbers are released, essentially means the five-year extension is worth $140 million or $28 million per season.

Huge, huge money, as $180 million tops Felix Hernandez’s short-lived record for pitchers of $175 million, although the stage is still set for Clayton Kershaw to become the first $200 million pitcher.

Verlander won the Cy Young and the MVP in 2011, finished runner-up for the Cy Young last season, and led the league in innings pitched in three of the past four years. During that four-year stretch of 2009-2012 he led all MLB pitchers in wins, starts, strikeouts, and Wins Above Replacement while ranking second in innings and fifth in both ERA and strikeout rate.

Massive long-term commitments to pitchers are awfully scary no matter the circumstances–with this week’s Johan Santana news providing the most recent cautionary tale–but no pitcher has been better or more durable than Verlander through age 29.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.