Well, if the Houston Astros' regular season is as eventful as the last four or five days have been for the Houston Astros' future payroll, 2019 should be a helluva good time out at Minute Maid Park! Just a few days after locking up third baseman Alex Bregman for the next six seasons on a $100 million deal, owner Jim Crane took out the checkbook again over the weekend.
As first reported by Mark Berman of FOX 26, the Astros and ace pitcher Justin Verlander have agreed to a two year extension worth $66 million, a deal that will keep Verlander in an Astros uniform through the 2021 season:
When Verlander first got here in September 2017, he had two additional years remaining on his contract, and actually cancelled a vesting option for 2020, presumably because he was unsure about staying in Houston for any longer than his contractual obligation dictated he need to. Now, once this newly signed extension expires after the 2021 season, Verlander will have been an Astro for longer than Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, two native Houstonians who came home to play on hometown deals at a similar career juncture to Verlander's current one.
Now, Verlander will get the highest annual salary in club history, and deservedly so. He is still pitching at a very high level, having finished runner up for the AL Cy Young last season. Let's dig a little further into this very exciting development:
Irony, thy name is Keuchel
In analyzing this deal, I can't help but think of the ironic twist involving free agent and former Astro, Dallas Keuchel. If you recall, as the story goes, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow had Keuchel give the sales pitch to Verlander at the 11th hour of the trade deadline back in 2017, in an effort to get Verlander to waive his no-trade clause and come to Houston:
Luhnow: Dallas was my recommendation. Jim thought about maybe Altuve at first, and of course, Altuve is a great player, but I really thought Justin would probably get the message more clearly from a pitcher — and especially a pitcher who is our ace and essentially would be welcoming a co-ace onto our rotation.
Keuchel had done as he was asked, but time was getting tight for Luhnow.
Luhnow: I texted Dallas with, now we're talking minutes to go, and said, "Dallas, if you're talking to Justin, get off the phone because we need to get stuff done here." He said, "I've already spoken to him, and I think things are going well. I can't say for sure, but I think he really wants to win."
Now, Dallas Keuchel is a free agency cautionary tale, still sitting idle with no contract and the season just days away from starting, and Verlander, the guy he sold on coming here, is getting $33 million per year. Life is weird sometimes.
This Astros' clubhouse culture is (once again) completely validated
Keuchel's strange, jagged journey doesn't change the validity of his sales pitch to Verlander — this is a GREAT Astros clubhouse, and Verlander agreeing to stay for another two seasons beyond 2019 is further validation of just that. Verlander fit in immediately when he got here in 2017, and he's become a respected, veteran voice to not only the rest of the pitching staff, but the everyday players, as well. It's crazy to think that a team five years removed from a 51-111 record now has Justin Freaking Verlander willingly signing an extension to stay here through age 38.
Luhnow and Crane have their priorities in perfect order
Here is the part of all of these big ticket extension posts that I write — the ones about Altuve, Bregman, and now Verlander — where I praise Jeff Luhnow for his ingenious attention to detail in roster construction, and where we praise owner Jim Crane for once again answering the call when it comes time to open the pursestrings. After the Altuve extension was done last year, and after the 2018 season was over, the remaining marquee players requiring a long-term contract solution were, in some order, Bregman, Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. Bregman and Verlander would have been the two I would have prioritized, and clearly the Astros agreed. So not only do I like the bold moves and willingness to spend, but I agree with the sequence, as well.
The "championship window" is extended and fully open
So we can now say that the Astros "championship window" definitively contains these elements:
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* Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman on long-term contracts through 2024
* Carlos Correa under team control through 2021
* Justin Verlander on a long-term contract through 2021
* George Springer under team contract through 2020
* The back end of the bullpen, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, under contract/team control though 2021
The best part is that NONE of these deals have crazy years at the back end where they're overpaying aging players for years that you KNOW will be overpriced, if not constrictive. Yeah, Verlander is an older player, but this was a responsible deal that the Astros agreed to.
THIS is how you run an organization, folks. What a great time to be alive and wear Astros gear!