Will JV return to the Astros? Composite image by Jack Brame.
You’ve probably heard the expression “Bad things come in threes.” That’s just a silly superstition which is more about heightened awareness making a connection among things. Just as valid as “bad things come in threes” is “good things come in threes.” Are you listening Justin Verlander? Freshly off of winning your third American League Cy Young Award. One of six pitchers in Major League Baseball history to throw at least three no-hitters. What about, three-time World Series Champion as a Houston Astro? Obviously winning another ring is far from a given should Verlander return, but Houston is the only franchise for which he feasibly could be a three-time champ.
Another three figures to play a major role in where Verlander continues his career. The three year contract at least one team is likely to offer him. Over his career Verlander has made more than 300 million dollars in just player salary. His grandchildren’s grandchildren’s college funds are all set. But salaries are another scoreboard for athletes. Verlander knows that former teammate Max Scherzer set a record last season with his 43.33 million dollars per year draw in his three year 130 million dollar deal with the New York Mets. Verlander absolutely would love to top 43.3/year and/or 130 over three years. Who wouldn’t? But would he take that money from a decidedly lesser team (i.e. Giants or Angels) vs. a bit less to stay with the Astros or to join a perennial contender such as the Dodgers or Braves? As covered before Verlander also craves making a run at 300 career wins. At 244 wins now there is very little chance Verlander can get to 300 within the next three seasons. Is there a team that would offer a fourth at least partly guaranteed season, during which Verlander would be 43 years old? I would doubt that, but you never know. At least one three year offer seems a given.
Not that this impacts his decision making, but if Verlander does return it opens up the real possibility that his inevitable Hall of Fame plaque has him wearing an Astros cap. He’s only pitched three full seasons as an Astro but they produced two Cy Young Awards and a runner-up finish (to the Rays’ Blake Snell in 2018). The month plus postseason with which he started his Astros’ career in 2017 went fairly well also. Another couple really good seasons of individual and team achievement would give Verlander five-plus campaigns with Houston brilliant enough to outweigh the twelve-plus seasons of mostly excellence he logged with the Detroit Tigers. When there is at least a decent argument for more than one team the Hall typically defers to the player’s preference of cap. Hence, Nolan Ryan’s plaque has a Texas Rangers cap, despite the fact Nolan won 138 games as an Angel and 106 as an Astro vs. 51 as a Ranger. Ryan racked up no-hitter numbers six and seven and strikeout number 5000 (plus 714 more) during his five seasons with the Rangers so the Hall let The Express call his cap shot.
Best in the West?
Should Verlander leave, the Astros would still have quality and depth for their starting rotation better than that of most teams, but they would no longer rate an edge in that department over their rising American League West challenger the Seattle Mariners. While the Astros hope to strengthen their offense, the Mariners knew they had to upgrade their lineup if really wanting to leap toward elite status. The Mariners’ first move came Wednesday in their acquisition of former Astro outfielder Teoscar Hernandez. As frame of reference, Hernandez’s OPS in 2022 was .807. Kyle Tucker’s OPS was .808. Now, exactly no one would rather have Hernandez than Tucker for the 2023 season and beyond, but he’s a good get for Seattle with the 30 year old playing for a free agent payday after the 2023 season. The Mariners are not done.
Breaking the bank
My most recent column noted the alternate golden rule: He/she with the most gold makes the rules. In that vein Jim Crane for the time being acts as the Astros’ General Manager after holding the door open for James Click to leave. The Astros’ first transaction under GM Crane was the overpay of reliever Rafael Montero at three years, 34.5 million dollars. That’s a lot for a 32 year old guy off of his first good big league season. It’s an overpay at least relative to past contracts anyway. However, the Astros and MLB overall are flush with cash after a record setting revenue year. And while the following doesn’t mean it's incumbent on Crane and partners to pay whatever to maximize the duration of this Astros Dynasty, it is worth remembering and taking into account that Crane and partners bought the Astros for 610 million dollars. If moved to sell they could command more than two billion.
Per The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Framber Valdez plans on both he and the catcher calling pitches this year. He said he “wants to feel more comfortable,” adding “not that I don't feel comfortable with the catchers, but I want to feel comfortable and throw the pitches with more conviction…to feel like I have the game in my hands.”
Framber Valdez has the PitchCom device on his glove as he warms up before the first inning in West Palm Beach. Yainer Diaz is catching him today. https://t.co/tqgmzwfN7r
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) March 1, 2024
Is that a good thing? Either way, it seems like a return to form for Framber Valdez is the biggest “what if” for the 2024 Houston Astros.
Be sure to watch the video above as ESPN Houston's Paul Gallant & Joe George discuss.