Houston Astros

Justin Verlander picking Astros extension over free agency a smart move

Former MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander is close to a two-year contract extension with the Houston Astros.

Another member of the possible 2020 free agent class is close to coming off the market.

Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros are nearing a two-year contract extension worth around $66 million, according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. The deal will keep Verlander, currently on the last year of his contract, with Houston thru the 2021 season, when he’ll be 38.

The Astros first acquired Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, with barely a minute to spare at the waiver trade deadline in August 2017. Since then he’s given the club everything they could have asked for. In 39 starts with the Astros, Verlander has a 21-9 record with a 2.32 ERA. His 10.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings rank fourth in the Majors over the last two seasons. With Verlander anchoring their rotation the Astros won the first World Series title in franchise history in 2017 before falling in the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox last year.

Verlander will make $28 million in 2019 (the Detroit Tigers pick up $8 million of his salary) before his extension takes effect in 2020. His $33 million annual salary under the reported deal falls just short of the $34.4 million Zack Greinke got from the Arizona Diamondbacks before the 2016 season, a record for a starting pitcher.

The Astros have been busy locking up key players in the past week, signing third baseman Alex Bregman and relief pitcher Ryan Pressly to extensions. General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s next priority is signing Houston’s other pitching ace, Gerrit Cole.

Like Verlander, Cole becomes a free agent after this season. Unlike Verlander, Cole is still just 28, an age when teams are more willing to hand out big long-term contracts. Cole, though, dismissed the possibility of a deal on Friday, telling Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle “there have been no contract negotiations.” The right-hander is making $13.5 million this year after winning 15 games for the Astros last year.

Verlander is just the latest in a litany of players who were approaching free agency but decided to stay with their team than explore the market. In the past month Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies), Paul Goldschmidt (St. Louis Cardinals) and Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox) have signed long-term contract extensions. All of them were set to hit the open market in 2020.

The Astros open the 2019 season on Thursday in Tampa Bay, with Verlander taking the mound as the opening day starter for the second straight year. With his new extension, the Astros are ensuring he’ll be there for at least two more years.

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