life after JV
Ken Hoffman predicts how the Houston Astros will fare without award-winning ace Justin Verlander
If you’re real quiet, you can almost hear the sighs of relief coming from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane after hearing that Justin Verlandersigned with the New York Mets on Monday, December 5.
According to the New York Post, Verlander, a free agent, agreed to a two-year, $86 million deal with the Mets, with a vesting, third-year option for $35 million.
Verlander has been a model citizen and at times an amazing pitcher for the Astros since being traded to Houston in 2017. He won two Cy Young Awards while here (he just landed his historic third) and was instrumental in the Astros two World Series titles, the second earning him baseball's Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Still strong without JV
But the simple fact is, the Astros don’t need him — and certainly don’t need to pay a pitcher turning 40 years old $86 million over the next two seasons. Remember, he also spent almost all of 2020-21 on the injured list with Tommy John surgery.
That’s how loaded the Astros pitching staff is for 2023 and years after. They can say goodbye to the best pitcher in baseball and not sweat the future.
Sometimes a team’s best signings are the ones they don’t make. We don’t know what the Astros offered Verlander to stay, but this sounds like a similar situation to last year when the Astros made a half-hearted effort to keep All-Star shortstop Carlo Correa. Correa eventually signed with the Minnesota Twins and the Astros reloaded with rookie Jeremy Peña.
How’d that work out? The rookie was named MVP of the ALCS and the World Series and won the Gold Glove at short. He also scored a new grill from a celeb jeweler.
Here’s how the Astros starting pitching lines up for 2023: Framber Valdez; Lance McCullers, Jr.; Cristian Javier; Jose Urquidy; and Luis Garcia — with Hunter Brown waiting in the wings. That should be more than enough and, all things considered, cheap.
Heck, they won 106 games last season, won the AL West by 16 games and roared through postseason 11-2 including the World Series title. And they’ve already signed coveted free agent first baseman Jose Abreu.
While Verlander was simply outstanding during the regular season, the Astros are built for the World Series, where Verlander historically has been disappointing. He entered the 2022 Fall Classic with a 0-6 career mark.
He gave up five runs in five innings in the Astros’ Game 1 loss this year. Verlander got a no-decision. In Game 5 the Astros were wringing their hands hoping he’d go five innings. Verlander gave up one run over five and the Astros won, 3-2, with JV getting his first Series win.
If you were building a team from scratch for 2023, who’d you rather have: Justin Verlander or 29-year-old, quality start machine Framber Valdez?
Verlander, age 40, will make $43 million next year. Valdez, a decade younger, will make one-fourth that. Valdez won both of his World Series starts in 2022.
Pitchers typically don’t get better and healthier after the big 4-0. Not $86 million better.
Looking ahead in the Age of Stupid Money
Of course, this is the Age of Stupid Money, in baseball. Last year, the Mets signed Max Scherzer for $130 million over three seasons. Scherzer won 11 games for the Mets in 2022 and got pummeled, seven runs in 4.2 innings, in his one postseason start.
The Texas Rangers just signed the supposed “best pitcher in baseball,” Jacob deGrom for $185 million over five seasons. Let’s go to the videotape, deGrom has pitched nine full seasons in the big leagues. His record is 82-57. That averages out to 9-6 per injury-riddled season. He was 5-4 last season. In his last three seasons, he’s won 5, 7, and 4 games. That’s worth $185 million? What’s that they say about the best ability … availability?
I know, deGrom has had startling earned run numbers over his career, when he actually gets on the mound. Charlie Pallilo and I have had a long-running argument. He says a pitcher’s value is based on earned run average and other statistics that can melt your mind. I say there’s only one stat that counts – wins. Jacob deGrom is not the best pitcher in baseball. The best pitcher last season was Justin Verlander, right up to the end.
And then he wasn’t.
With the Astros “saving” $86 million over the next two years, they can focus on filling needs in the outfield. It will be easier to find money to keep Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley. The Astros can plan ahead for José Altuve and Alex Bregman becoming free agents after the 2024 season, and Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez a year later. Those guys won’t come cheap.
In the age of Stupid Money, that sounds like smart money.