Should the Astros extend Justin Verlander?

Do we appreciate Justin Verlander enough? He’s an incredible pitcher, a fireballing machine with a disgusting curveball. He looks like a pitcher, what with that delivery and his propensity to scowl after yet another punchout. He’s crushed teams I root for in the postseason more than once and I must admit, even as he does it I couldn’t help but be impressed.

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Found on giphy.

Inject that stare directly into my veins, thank you very much.

The city of Houston loves him too. Acquiring the longtime Tigers hurler late in the 2017 season gave the Astros added punch at the top of their rotation, and the former Cy Young award winner didn’t disappoint. He was the presence they needed, a flamethrowing sheriff on the mound.

Part of what made the acquisition so shrewd was the contract. He wasn’t done with Houston after the postseason, and his first full season with an H on his cap couldn’t have gone better. He was a serious Cy Young candidate in 2018 and there’s little reason to believe he won’t be pretty good in 2019. Despite the age and the miles, he remains elite:

Season IP K% BB xFIP
2016 227.2 28.1% 6.3% 3.78
2017 206 25.8% 8.5% 4.17
2018 214 34.8% 4.4% 3.03

 

But he turns 36 in February and his contract expires after this coming season, meaning the Astros have a decision to make. Do they extend their ace, especially given the real possibility that Dallas Keuchel will follow Charlie Morton out of town?

When asked by Brian McTaggert here’s what Verlander had to say:

It probably makes sense for Houston to shy away from an extension. Why? There’s a lot of valuable data to be acquired in 2019. What happens if his velocity dips? Maybe he makes a trip to the DL with a shoulder issue? I doubt those things happen, but pitchers are fickle beasts. It’s the cost of such a violent trade. Verlander’s right arm has carried a lot of water.

And, let’s be honest, the free agent market is hardly boiling right now. Given that Verlander probably can’t demand a long deal, I suspect teams will show interest, but all bets are off when two generational free agents remain unsigned only a few weeks out from spring training.

Who knows how long he wants to keep playing, but would it be silly for the Astros to give him a three-year deal? That’d carry Verlander through his age 37-39 seasons. With no discernible drop in velocity or spin rate, it’s probably not a bad idea.

Plus, remember something. When we talk about age with pitchers, obviously creeping into the upper-thirties increases the risk of injury and sudden drops in performance. No doubt. But Verlander is one of the greats, and if you must take such a risk, you do it with one of the greats. I’d rather have Verlander for the next four seasons than Dallas Keuchel over the next four, just as an example. That’s more about the former than the latter, although I’ve detailed my concerns about Keuchel.

The dollar figure might be trickier. Patrick Corbin’s six-year, $140 million deal has an average annual value of $23.3 million per year. I’d expect Verlander will cruise past that AAV, maybe into the mid-to-upper 20s per year. Would the Astros fork over a 3/75 kind of deal to retain their ace next winter? A lot depends on how 2019 goes, obviously, but if he tears up the American League again, I’d say do it. This goes without saying, but Houston shouldn’t be afraid to spend. The Astros have more championships to win.

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