Despite his injury, the Houston Astros should retain Justin Verlander for as long as he wants to pitch.
The news that Justin Verlander will miss all of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery is like a gut punch to everyone in Houston. Many outside the Astros fan base are taking some measure of joy in it — not because they dislike Verlander, necessarily, but because they see it as the end of the Astros’ championship window.
That may or may not be true, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the end of Verlander’s career in Houston. He fully intends to come back in 2022 and pitch a few more years, but his current contract with the Astros ends after next season. Thus, unless he signs an extension before then, he will become a free agent for the first time after the 2021 season.
Simply put, the Astros need to ensure Verlander doesn’t go anywhere. Future Hall of Famers don’t just grow on trees, and it’s not often we have one on the team. He’s been brilliant in Houston, going 43-15 with a 2.45 ERA and 0.834 WHIP, winning one Cy Young Award and finishing as the runner-up for another.
His situation, to me, somewhat mirrors that of Nolan Ryan. The Astros let Ryan leave in free agency and he ended up finishing his career with the Rangers. Ryan wasn’t hurt at that time, which makes the team’s decision even more awful in hindsight. This franchise should not make that mistake again, and letting Verlander leave would be it.
What the Future May Look Like
Who knows what direction the Astros will take, and they’ll have some big decisions to make over the next year and a half. But assuming they intend to contend in 2022, which they should, having Verlander on the mound every fifth day is a must. There’s some uncertainty since he’s coming off surgery, but when you have an athlete and a competitor of his caliber, you bet on him.
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It’s true that the Astros, to a certain extent, already lost such a bet. They gave Verlander a $66 million extension to cover the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and they’re going to get a grand total of one start from him in that span. That’s a lot of money to swallow, but it’s no one’s fault and it certainly isn’t Verlander’s. These things, unfortunately, just happen sometimes.
Do you want to bet against him returning from this injury to put up a few more quality seasons? I certainly wouldn’t, and in fact I’d expect him to still be effective into his 40s. As far as I’m concerned, he should be pitching for the Astros for as long as he wants to pitch. He’s earned that much, and the Astros ought to ensure he retires in Houston.
The issue may be money, as Verlander certainly isn’t going to be drawing a $33 million salary again, but he won’t come on a $5 million deal with incentives either. But with Zack Greinke’s contract off the books after 2021, the front office can afford to pay up for Verlander.
With everything he’s done in his career and everything he’s meant to this city and this franchise, it seems almost imperative that Verlander continue to pitch for the Astros. There may not be a new deal until next year, but the team should give the pitcher all the support he needs as he rehabs from his surgery and then keep him in Houston until he hangs up his spikes.