For a fandom that still rues the departures of Nolan Ryan (33 years ago), Joe Morgan (51 years ago), Rusty Staub (53 years ago), Mike Cuellar (54 years ago), and others, the response to the loss of Justin Verlander is striking in its lack of intensity.
To be totally truthful, except for Ryan signed with the Rangers, these other losses did not cause much of a stir at the time. Only in looking back at the trades by Spec Richardson through 20/20 hindsight does the Astro fan outrage really come to the surface. But being totally clear here, this team has just lost the “tipping point” pitcher to their recent unprecedented playoff run. They might have won the 2017 championship without Verlander, but the team seemed to be stuck in late-season mediocrity until the team made the huge trade with the Tigers at the waiver trade deadline and then found another gear after that. The Astros have had Verlander on the payroll for six seasons and healthy and active in four of them (ignore the one start in 2020). In those four seasons, the Astros have won the World Series, lost in the ALCS, lost in the 7th game of the World Series, and won the World Series. For a team that struggled to even win playoff series at all in their history, this has been their Golden Age of success.
In the 102 regular season starts Verlander made for the Astros, his numbers are ridiculous. He was 61-19 (76% win rate) with a 2.26 ERA and 0.833 WHIP. In his three complete seasons with the Astros, he won 2 Cy Young awards and came in second once, and threw a late September no-hitter into the mix.
But despite being a vital part of two World Series Championships with the pristine numbers above, the reaction to him leaving has been mostly “Yeah, I wish we could have kept him, but I don’t think the team should be giving him 2 years, $86 million with a vesting option for a third season.” It has not been near the hand-wringing that we saw with the loss of Carlos Correa last off-season.
Why is that?
- One reason might be that the great numbers shown above are all regular season related. His postseason performance has been much more pedestrian since he joined the Astros – totaling a 9-6 record with a 4.00 ERA. Now he finally broke through with his first WS win ever in 2022, but that was after a bit of a disaster in the opener to the Fall Classic. People may be shrugging and saying we would have made the postseason anyway and we have other pitchers, who could have put up those kinds of post-season numbers. Why do we need to pay so much for that?
- This leads us to another area that may stick in fans’ craw…. the future commitment to money. Which improves the 2023 and 2024 seasons more? Putting $43 MM towards one starting pitcher or using that money to improve other areas of the club and keeping some in the back pocket in case you need to pick up a fine player with a big contract at the trade deadline.
- And speaking of money, there are still some people, even after JV’s successful 2022 run, who resent that he collected $66 MM for 6 innings of work in 2020 and 2021 after his injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery. That is just a ton of money that might have been applied elsewhere, but could not be.
- Another thing that was a bit bothersome was the overall absence of Justin Verlander during the balance of the 2020 season and then the whole of the 2021 season. He was rehabbing elsewhere, but couldn’t he put in a once-a-month or once-every-other-month appearance to buck up the troops?
- And perhaps some wish he would have given another discount to the team that carried that $66 MM on their backs in this new contract. But no.
- Some fans understandably can’t see giving a pitcher of his age that much money, especially a pitcher, who just came off the TJ surgery.
Maybe, a fan base that has seen Correa, George Springer, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and so many others move on, has built up a bit of a callous relative to these types of losses. We are told it is only a business and we are treating it that way ourselves.