The Houston Astros might save a little money with Lance McCullers Jr in 2021.
It can’t come as too much of a surprise, but Lance McCullers Jr. is struggling a bit. That’s not to say he isn’t supremely talented, because he is; rather, he’s coming off a lost season due to Tommy John surgery, so some struggles were to be expected before he gets back into rhythm. This could affect things financially for the Houston Astros.
McCullers earned $4.1 million in 2019, and since he missed all of that season, he was set to earn the same for 2020 before the season was shortened. He’ll be arbitration eligible one final time this offseason before being eligible for free agency after the 2021 season.
There’s no word yet on whether the Astros will attempt to sign him to an extension, as they have bigger fish to fry at the moment with George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel set for free agency this offseason. But at this point, it looks like McCullers may not get much of a raise for 2021, which could help a little bit in the team’s efforts to field a championship caliber team next year.
McCullers currently sports a 5.74 ERA through six starts, which is indicative of how inconsistent he’s been. At times he’s looked dominant, while other times he’s looked like he just isn’t all the way back. That should improve with time, and the hope is that he’s back to his old self next season.
That will be key for him because he’s never made more than 22 starts in a single season in the majors. He’ll pitch next season at age 27, so reaching free agency at 28 could set him up for a cushy long-term deal. But he’ll have to prove his durability and show that he’s back to his previous All-Star form.
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For the time being, it’s not likely he’ll get a big raise for 2021 unless things turn around dramatically. We’re nearly halfway done with the season, so it’ll take a heck of a run to get his overall season numbers up to a level sufficient enough to earn him a significant raise. In the short term, that’ll help the Astros as they attempt to re-sign Springer and fill other roster holes.
In the long term, there’s still a lot up in the air. Obviously McCullers is a beloved figure and the team would undoubtedly have interest in signing him long-term, but at what cost? If he misses any significant time in 2021, he simply won’t be set up for one of those big seven or eight-year deals in free agency.
Will that work in Houston’s favor? Time will tell, and how McCullers does next year will be key. We can, to a certain extent, write this season off, as it’s just his first year back from Tommy John surgery. It often takes a little time for pitchers to get back to their old selves, so we can forgive him if he continues to have his ups and downs.
But will the Astros pay top dollar for a pitcher who, while extremely talented, hasn’t proven to be durable? It’s not necessarily a good business move, so this will be something to keep an eye on. If McCullers makes 30-plus starts in 2021, he could bag a nice payday. If not, he might have to settle for something shorter with incentives.