Of course, the focus today is on Justin Verlander and his decision to forego the rest of the baseball world and return to the Houston Astros for the 2022 and possibly the 2023 seasons. But the person who draws this writer’s interest is the Astros’ owner, Jim Crane.
I picture GM James Click going into Crane’s office and saying something like, “Boss, you know how you spent $11 million per inning for Verlander’s six innings over the last two seasons? Well, how about doubling down and throwing another $25 million per year for up to two years to bring him back?”
Do you think The Grocer would have said yes to that? Drayton McLane would have been like the knights in Monty Python’s Holy Grail being attacked by a murderous rabbit, yelling, “Run away, run away”. But Jim Crane has shown he has a steady and smart hand at the head of this organization. He knows that it is a risk, but it is a short term risk, and the reward would be that he could once again have a stud ace at the front of his rotation at what these days is considered a reasonable salary.
At worse, JV gets hurt again, and the team pays him a boatload of money over the next two seasons to not play, but at least it would be $8 million less per year than the last two seasons. At best, the Astros get a new version of the man, who was the Cy Young Award winner in his last entire season of pitching, culminating in a brilliant no-hitter in September 2019.
There are risks with bringing JV back. In February, he will be 39 years old, and he has only had one competitive start in the last two seasons. There might be some friction, rightly or wrongly, over the fact that he stayed away from the club during his rehab and the reported decision by the players to not allow him to throw out the first pitch at the World Series. The irony is that the reported leader of the players on that first pitch rebellion was Carlos Correa, who is likely not returning to the team, while Verlander is.
One of the other ironies of this situation is that this may be the reverse Nolan Ryan scenario. Ryan had come to the Astros, close to his hometown, in 1980 and gave them 9 seasons of excellence. The Astros allowed the 41-year-old Ryan to leave for a better offer up I-45 in Arlington, never thinking he would pitch another five seasons. This feels like an opportunity to sign up an aging but dangerous pitcher and tell the calendar, be damned.
Whenever the whole story comes out about this signing, it will be interesting to see all the particulars. Still, with the way that Verlander signed one hour after turning down the Qualifying Offer, it showed that while Verlander certainly was not signing for peanuts, that he felt some obligation to make good with the Astros. He did not hang around in Free Agency for weeks and months playing one team’s offer against another.
In his showcase, he had shown to the world that his arm is still at its pre-Tommy John strength. By the time he is pitching again competitively, he will have had about 16 months since his surgery, which is a very solid amount of separation for a full recovery. Devin, a friend of the blog, pointed out he had just built a home in Palm Springs, Florida and wanted to be in Florida for Spring Training. Well, with this signing, he will be right there during the spring at the Astros headquarters.
Just a reminder of what the Astros are getting with Justin Verlander. He is a one-time league MVP, two time Cy Young winner, three-time CY runner-up and eight-time All Star with three career no-hitters. Among active pitchers, he is first in wins and second in strikeouts and innings pitched behind Zack Greinke. In his 2 seasons plus a couple months of pitching with the Astros, he was nails, 43-15, 2.45 ERA and an all-World WHIP of 0.834.
Will Verlander be the 2019 JV with a 21-6 record and a 2.58 ERA? Probably not, but a nice McCullers-esque 16-10, 3.20 ERA would be a great addition to this pitching staff.
Will the team accept him after he stayed away the last two seasons? He decided to come back so quickly will show that he wanted to be here, and that should suffice.