Here's what the future could look like for Justin Verlander and the Astros

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Justin Verlander announced last week that he would undergo Tommy John Surgery, ending his season, and possibly ending his career in an Astros uniform. However, is his career in Houston really done? Many people have effectively crossed him off the Astros roster for 2021, but is that really the case? Verlander will likely undergo surgery this week or next, and Tommy John is an 11-13 month recovery process depending on how the player responds. 11 months slates Verlander as a late August return, even giving him the opportunity to get a few rehab outings under his belt in the twilight of a minor league season (assuming there will be a minor league season). 12 months allows him to come back at this time next year, which means he'd build up his pitch count in simulated games before returning to game action in an Astro uniform. 13 months means...well...the Astros better be in the World Series if he is going to pitch on his current contract again.

Yes, the timeline is dicey. If he does return next season, he's returning at the most high leverage portion of the season, diving immediately into the deep end of high stress innings. However, if you're Justin Verlander, why wouldn't you do that?

Verlander is not a typical Tommy John recipient. He will be the second oldest pitcher to ever undergo Tommy John surgery and attempt to return. Jamie Moyer got Tommy John in the offseason following 2010 as a 47 year old, missed the entirety of 2011, and returned to pitch one last season in 2012. Moyer, while 10 years older than Verlander will be when he gets his surgery, was a very different pitcher. He pitched at the bottom of rotations, his fastball couldn't break a pane of glass, and he wasn't a workhorse. Verlander is a defending Cy Young Award winner who throws in the high 90s and is used to being the workhorse. Does Verlander really want to take all of 2021 off so he can get an invite to spring training somewhere and scrap for a roster spot, or does Verlander want to come back and pitch next year, prove his worth, and sign a multi-million dollar deal with a guaranteed roster spot? The answer is obviously the latter.

It doesn't take a long time to re-establish value. Rewind to July of 2017. Verlander had ugly and injury riddled seasons in 2014 and 2015 before finishing 2nd in AL Cy Young voting in 2016. It initially looked as if he had returned to his '14 and '15 form in 2017, as he carried an ERA in the low-to-mid 4.00s the entire first half of the season. His final start in the month of July was actually a win against the Astros on the 22nd, where he pitched six innings of scoreless baseball to drop his ERA from 4.50 to 4.29. The Astros famously didn't make any deals at the deadline, and Dallas Keuchel voiced his frustrations that the front office didn't make a move.

Other contenders got arms that Astros fans clamored for. The Dodgers got Yu Darvish from Texas. The Yankees got Sonny Gray from Oakland and Jaime Garcia from Minnesota. The Cubs got Jose Quintana from the White Sox earlier in the month. All of those pitchers, aside from Garcia, were more coveted arms than Verlander at the time. With the exception of one bad start against Texas, Verlander had a fantastic month of August, good enough that the Astros felt comfortable parting with two of their top 10 prospects for him at the waiver trade deadline on the last day of August. Verlander went on to pitch the best he ever has in his career, lead the Astros to a title, finish 2nd in AL Cy Young voting in 2018, win the Cy Young in 2019, and sign a two-year, $66M extension.

Two months worth of pitching changed the trajectory of Verlander's career. With his work ethic and drive, he'll push to come back as early as possible, and some magical performances in September and October would be more than enough time to change the narrative of his career again. Verlander wants to pitch into his mid-40s like Nolan Ryan did (or the aforementioned Moyer). Some might think Verlander's days on a Minute Maid mound are over, but in his mind, he'll be back next year, ready to begin the next phase of his Astros career.

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Watson was missing from practice again. Photo by Zach Tarrant/

The Houston Texans had their second day in pads and it was a bright day for a couple of rookies.

1. Deshaun Watson was absent again from practice. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly explained the team is keeping Watson "engaged" and he has been helpful in the meeting room with the offense.

2. Watson, if Kelly is telling the truth, can absolutely help the quarterbacks with his knowledge. The offense shouldn't be that different, and Watson doesn't have anything against the quarterbacks specifically. It is strange to think Deshaun Watson would be helping the quarterbacks while actively wanting to be playing elsewhere, but Kelly has no reason to lie about Watson's level of engagement.

3. It was Roy Lopez day on Wednesday. The rookie defensive lineman had a sack and is quite the load to handle upfront. Lopez will have to build on these days to earn time on a busy defensive line but if he repeats this day, people will have to beat him out.

4. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins finds himself open quite a bit. Collins isn't afraid of traffic, though there aren't any real big hits in training camp. Collins' athleticism is very clear and as he grows more, he should earn more opportunities.

5. Brandin Cooks threw his hands up and let out an exasperated sound as Tyrod Taylor found Collins wide open in the middle of the field. Cooks was even more wide open in the end zone, and Taylor didn't see him.

6. Tyrod Taylor's legs will be a weapon in this offense. Taylor doesn't take off in a lot of the drills, but his mobility is apparent. Taylor did run into a sack by defensive lineman Derek Rivers.

7. Veteran wide receiver Chris Conley is extremely athletic and speedy. Conley can get vertical on all the defensive backs. In a pass-catching drill Conley wowed. The drill consisted of a coach wearing a pad and attacking the wideouts on a jump ball. Conley skied, ripped the ball out of the air, and withstood the attack from the coach easily coming down on both feet. Conley would make the team if the season started tomorrow.

8. Tight end Pharaoh Brown had a great catch beating Justin Reid for a touchdown on a pass from Tyrod Taylor. Reid was very upset he lost the rep. Brown was solid last year and he remains one of the better tight ends on the team.

9. Linebacker Neville Hewitt has had some flashes in camp. Hewitt had over 100 tackles for the Jets last year to go along with 12 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons. Hewitt had a hurry on Tuesday and a pass breakup on Wednesday. Hewitt is certainly in consideration for a spot in the revamped linebacker room.

10. Defensive linemen Charles Omenihu and Jonathan Greenard each had sacks in a team period. Omenihu's rep was a forced fumble and Greenard darted through the middle of the line for his successful rep.

11. Tytus Howard had a hold your breath moment when he slowly got off the ground and gingerly walked off the field. Howard had to walk it off, but returned to practice with no issue. He has played a multitude of positions in training camp.

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