The Astros made their deadline splash this afternoon, bringing Justin Verlander back to Houston. While the deal helps solidify the Astros as World Series contenders in 2023, their future took a hit. Both Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford are headed to the Mets in the deal.
While no prospect can be deemed a sure thing, one or both of Gilbert or Clifford could have served as an heir apparent to Kyle Tucker were the Astros to let King Tuck walk in free agency.
Without Clifford or Gilbert in the farm system any longer, the Astros now have to do something outside of what has been their standard business model in the Golden Era.
The Astros must extend Kyle Tucker.
While the price for a 40-year-old pitcher may have been steep in prospects, it was actually a very shrewd move salary-wise. The Astros have now effectively financed Justin Verlander through the New York Mets.
According to Bob Nightengale, the Astros are on the hook for roughly $29 million of Verlander's salary for the remainder of 2023, 2024, and if his option vests, 2025. Houston is paying roughly $12.5 million AAV for the 2022 AL Cy Young Winner. In effect, they sold their top prospects for Verlander and cap flexibility.
With the flexibility they have created, it is now of the utmost importance the Astros extend Kyle Tucker. And soon. As each day passes, Tucker gets more expensive.
King Tuck is hitting .301 with an .891 OPS this season, and is worth a team-leading 3.2 bWAR. He's a lefty that mashes lefties. He's a threat to steal 30 bases a year. And early season defensive struggles aside, he just won a Gold Glove and has been a great defender for much of his career.
Tucker looks every bit the part of a $30-$35+ million AAV player.
Jim Crane has been reluctant to give out these types of deals in his tenure with the Astros, but it's time for Dana Brown to replicate some of the Braves model.
With Yordan Alvarez already locked up long-term, and Chas McCormick having a monster breakout season, the Astros outfield of the future can be an elite one. If Houston plays their cards right, Gilbert and Clifford would have been blocked anyways.
Players like Kyle Tucker don't grow on trees. He's too good to let walk for nothing.
The Astros are effectively paying an elite pitcher $12.5 million AAV this year. In today's market, that kind of move doesn't happen. Crane and Brown must use the flexibility they have just created to secure their outfield of the present and future.
It's time to adapt. They've been reluctant to give out eight-to-ten year deals until now. King Tuck should be their first homegrown talent to receive such a deal.