Justin Verlander’s prolonged absence could bring premature end to tenure with Astros

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners
Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

For all of the Houston Astros' current issues, the status of Justin Verlander is the one most up in the air. While the team is playing well, having a healthy Verlander back in the rotation would do a lot to help Houston preserve their bullpen for the second half.

Unfortunately, Verlander's neck injury has continued to vex him as well as the Astros, leaving his return timeline unclear.

However, the stakes are even higher than a few missed starts in June and July for Verlander. The longer that Verlander misses with this neck injury, the more likely it is that his future with the Astros becomes less and less certain.

Verlander's contract structure could lead to his time with Houston ending after this season

There were already signs that the Astros could regret bringing Verlander back from a financial perspective. Even with the Mets eating a chunk of his salary per last year's trade deadline move, Verlander is owed a lot of money. Given that he already had injury issues earlier this year and posted a mediocre 3.95 ERA in his 10 starts this season, the idea of Verlander's $35 million option for 2025 vesting after 140 innings this year was not particularly appealing.

Now, it looks like Verlander may not even make it to 140 innings this season with Houston. If he were to come back really soon and pitch deep into games, he could get there. However, the most recent news is that Verlander is only playing catch and will need a significant amount of time to get ramped back up to a starter's workload. At 41 years old and facing what could be a lengthy downtime, the odds are decreasing significantly every day that Verlander doesn't make the necessary progress in his rehab to guarantee a 2025 season in Houston.

There is a silver lining here, though. Even if Verlander's contract doesn't vest for next season, there is still a chance he could come back to the Astros. Verlander clearly likes playing in Houston and Jim Crane's love for Verlander is well-documented. Perhaps Verlander would be willing to return on a deal cheaper than what his contract option would have been.

For now, it looks like the Astros unloaded some of their best prospects for 1.5 mediocre and injury-filled seasons of Verlander's late career. One can only hope that it turns out better than that.

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