Justin Verlander announced (via his Instagram page) that he will undergo Tommy John surgery. As per the normal timeline for TJ recovery, Verlander will miss the entire 2021 season.
The right-hander’s full statement…
After consulting with several of the best doctors, it has become clear that I need Tommy John surgery. I was hopeful that I would be able to return to competition in 2020, however, during my simulated game unfortunately the injury worsened. Obviously I’m extremely disappointed, but I will not let this slow down my aspirations for my career. I will approach this rehab the only way I know, attack and don’t look back. I’m confident that with a proper rehabilitation program and my unwavering commitment that this surgery will ultimately lengthen my career as opposed to shorten it. I can’t thank my teammates, coaches, the front office and my fans enough for the support they have given me so far in this process. I’m eager to get through this recovery and back on the field to continue to do what I love.
Verlander started the Astros’ first game of the season and then was placed on the injured list due to a forearm strain. After some initial speculation that the injury would be season-ending, there was hope that Verlander was nearing a return to Houston’s rotation before the end of the schedule, and that he would be available for the team in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it now seems like we won’t see Verlander back on a mound until Opening Day 2022 at the earliest.
Given that Verlander will be 39 years old at that point, there is at least a chance that we have already seen the last pitch of his Hall Of Fame career. There isn’t a long track record of pitchers rebounding after such a notable surgery at that advanced age, though on the plus side for Verlander, he has been the picture of durability over his career. Apart from a triceps strain that cost him two months of the 2015 season, Verlander has been virtually free of any major injury, so he could theoretically have a better chance at a full recovery and a return to form than most pitchers in their late 30’s.
Verlander has already done better than most in holding off Father Time, as he is coming off two of his best seasons. At ages 35 and 36 during the 2018-19 seasons, Verlander posted a cumulative 2.55 ERA, 12.2 K/9, and 7.47 K/BB rate over 437 innings for Houston, leading the league in both K/BB and WHIP in both years. After finishing second in AL Cy Young voting in 2018, Verlander edged out then-teammate Gerrit Cole to win the award in 2019, eight seasons after Verlander’s initial Cy Young Award triumph (as well as an AL MVP Award) with the Tigers in 2011.
The Astros signed Verlander to a two-year, $66MM extension prior to the 2019 season, and that deal certainly looked all the world like a sound investment in the wake of Verlander’s Cy Young year. However, both years of that contract have now been wiped out thanks to his forearm problem, and it is possible Verlander’s time in Houston could now be up.
It’s a major blow to an Astros team that already has $115MM committed to the 2021 season in the form of only four players — Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman. With George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Yuli Gurriel all scheduled for free agency this winter, GM James Click faces some significant financial decisions, and the Astros’ overall direction is now severely complicated with the knowledge that Verlander won’t be a factor in 2021. While Houston has gotten some nice contributions from younger arms like Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez, obviously the pitching staff is much deeper and stronger with Verlander teaming with Greinke at the top of the rotation.