Astros should avoid Justin Verlander at all costs, here's why

Astros should avoid Justin Verlander at all costs, here's why
Loyalty is a big thing to me. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Justin Verlander

You've read the headline and are probably thinking to yourself: "Has Jermaine lost his damn mind?!?" No. I can assure you I haven't. I feel what I feel and said what I said. With that in mind, hear me out:

Justin Verlander is a generational talent. He's one of the pictures you see in the baseball dictionary when you look up definitions like ace, hoss, or throwback starter. There aren't many of his kind left. Specifically speaking, he's one of the last of the dying breed of starting pitchers who will consistently throw 180 plus innings every year, can pitch on short rest in postseason, wants the ball in pressure games, will fight his way out of tough spots as opposed to being taken out, and can actually maintain velocity in the later innings. Long story short: he's one of the gold standards when looking for a top line starter for a rotation.

Verlander is set to test the free agency waters this offseason after his two year, $66 million dollar extension expired. The other day, less than a week after his team lost the World Series, he held a workout for over half the league. Reports said that Verlander's velocity on his fastball was in the 94-97mph range. There were also reports stating he's looking for more than a one-year deal, possibly two or more. The Astros have extended a one-year qualifying offer around $19 million. The thought is that he's ready to move on from Houston and take his talents to the highest bidder contender. Mind you, he hasn't been around the team all season, or last season. He chose to rehab and stay away. So when the guys allegedly opted to not have him throw out the first pitch during the playoffs, I agreed one thousand percent.

One of the main reasons I don't want Verlander back is loyalty. Loyalty is a big thing to me. I've been the victim of disloyal friends, family members, coworkers, etc. When you're betrayed by people you thought would be in your corner and have your back no matter what, it changes you, especially when you're dealing with some of life's craziest curveballs. I've dealt with disloyalty while dealing with deaths of loved ones. I've endured tragedy and had people turn on me in the midst of it. These kinds of things reveal who your real friends and family members are because they stick with you no matter what. Family isn't always blood related. There are some family you gain because they show what Verlander hasn't: loyalty in the face of a storm. Going through all the things I've dealt with has made my circle so small, I almost cut myself off.

Meanwhile, the Astros are coming off their fifth consecutive ALCS appearance and third World Series appearance in five years. Despite all their recent success, this team is set to lose yet another high-end free agent. Not just any high-end free agent, but one who has a first ballot Hall of Fame résumé. They're also losing a player who plays one of the positions they can't afford to lose: frontline ace. While their pitching staff can still be of quality, it's nowhere near what it could be with Verlander as the captain of the ship. I'm willing to move on from him anyway because like the great American poet Shawn Carter once said: "When the grass is cut, the snakes will show."

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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