Astros unlikely to retain Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke

Houston Astros pitchers Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke may be playing elsewhere next season.

As bad as the team’s bullpen has been, the Houston Astros surprisingly find themselves with a surplus of starting pitching. That kind of thing tends to be tested over the course of the season, but they appear to be in good shape right now. For fans who’d like to see Justin Verlander and/or Zack Greinke return to Houston next year, that might not be good news.

The emergence of Luis Garcia gives the Astros seven bona fide major league starters — Garcia, Greinke, Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Jake Odorizzi, and Cristian Javier. That doesn’t include further depth in the form of Brandon Bielak, Tyler Ivey, and other young starters in the minor leagues. Even with Verlander out for the year, they have no shortage of arms.

Of all those names, only Verlander and Greinke are set to reach free agency this offseason. If both were to leave, the Astros would still have six experienced starters for 2022. Barring a couple of long-term injuries to that group, there wouldn’t even be a logical spot on the roster for either veteran on the team next season.

Outlook for Team and Players

Assuming everyone’s healthy, I would think a rotation of McCullers, Valdez, Urquidy, Odorizzi and Garcia would be a great way to start 2022. Javier has done well as a starter but I like him better in the bullpen, personally. His heavy reliance on two pitches (he uses his fastball and his slider a total of 83.2 percent of the time) may work better in relief.

For Greinke, the first question would be whether he even wants to pitch next year. He turns 38 in October and has nothing left to prove. But he’s still effective so there’s no reason he can’t continue playing if he wants to. If the Universal DH isn’t adopted, he might prefer to go to a National League team for a shot at 10 career home runs and 10 career stolen bases. Either way, he’ll have suitors.

There’s no question on Verlander’s future — he wants to pitch for several more years. He’ll be 39 next season and will have to demonstrate his health coming off Tommy John surgery, but I wouldn’t bet against him. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him return to the Tigers to finish off his career, joining A.J. Hinch and that bevy of young talent in Detroit.

It’ll be sad to see them go, of course. Both have been excellent in Houston, especially Verlander. They’re both future Hall of Famers, and in general it’s never a good idea to let those players go. But the Astros have six capable starters returning and will likely need to address their bullpen as well as the shortstop and center field positions. Given all that, both of these veterans may be finishing their illustrious careers elsewhere.