Here's why the Astros should think long and hard about trading for Justin Verlander

Astros Justin Verlander Mets
The Astros need pitching, and Verlander may become available. Composite Getty Image.
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Sports fans are a nostalgic bunch. Take a look through social media posts. The debates are endless about what teams, players, eras, or what have you are the best or are better than others. The eventual “Mount Rushmore” posts will appear asking for the four best in any given category. You'll also see tons of posts and comments about what players they want to bring back to their franchises. Whenever players leave, via trade or free agency, and there's a chance for them to come back, fans will clamor for a reunion.

After last season's World Series win, people thought Jim Crane had to keep the entire band together. General Manager James Click was not retained, and ace of the pitching staff Justin Verlander signed with the Mets. Click was eventually replaced by Dana Brown. Verlander was replaced by other guys who were on the come up. Framber Valdez has stepped up as the new ace. Luis Garcia is out for the season. Jose Urquidy is trying to come back from injury. J.P. France has been a revelation. But have any of these guys truly replaced Verlander?

Simple answer: no. You don't “replace” a Verlander. You can only hope to fill his shoes enough that you don't trip over yourself walking in them. While the Astros have done an admirable job, his spot in the rotation has been missed. Injuries have compounded his absence. Garcia and Urquidy both went down early. While Hunter Brown and France have stepped up, they aren't the sure thing taking the bump every five or six days. Verlander is a future Hall of Famer, who at 40 years old, is still on top of his game.

So is a reunion even possible? I'd say yes. The Mets are currently almost 20 games back in their division race and almost 10 back in the Wildcard race. While they've held on as long as they could, the smoke signals have been sent about them being sellers at the deadline. The Astros are fighting to take over their division and are in control of a Wildcard spot. The price tag for Verlander may not be as bad as one would think. The Mets would have to agree to pay some of his remaining salary, but the Astros wouldn't necessarily have to give up too many high level pieces. The more the Mets want to get rid of most of his salary, the less they may ask for in return.

This reunion makes sense for both sides. The Astros need another arm to help secure their fifth World Series appearance in seven years. Verlander wants the best chance to win and continue to cement his legacy, while chasing some career milestones. Crane wanted Verlander back after last season, but the price tag was too much for him. Could a lower salary and a moderate trade package make a reunion more likely for Crane? I think so. It's a matter of what it'll cost. He has Brown manning the ship now. Brown is the kind of guy that'll make the smart move (like re-signing young guys early to team friendly deals), but he was Crane's pick as Click's replacement because he will make the splash deal like Crane wants. Could this be his first splash deal? Or will Verlander have to rot in the Big Apple, knowing he picked the wrong team?

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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