The Astros and ace righty Justin Verlander are “moving toward” an extension, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter). While contract details aren’t yet nailed down, Feinsand says the contract under consideration is “believed” to be for two years and something around $66MM in guaranteed money. That would dovetail with the contractual range suggested earlier today by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link).
It has already been a busy spring on the extension front for the Houston organization (among others). The club just announced a nine-figure deal for star third baseman Alex Bregman after previously locking in reliever Ryan Pressly. Now, it seems, the organization is pressing to keep Verlander from reaching the open market after the 2019 campaign.
Verlander has now reached his 36th birthday, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he pitched last year. Over 214 frames, he worked to a 2.52 ERA with 12.2 K/9 against just 1.6 BB/9. And it wasn’t just the work of a crafty veteran who somehow managed to squeeze out one last good season from what was left of his stuff. Verlander averaged over 95 mph with his dominating fastball and jumped to a 14.5% swinging-strike rate — easily the highest mark of his storied career.
It has been a remarkable few seasons for Verlander, who is playing out the tail end of his second extension even as he negotiates a third. A few years back, it seemed he was destined to tail off as so many pitchers do. Lagging velocity and some health issues led to messy 2014 and 2015 seasons. But Verlander recovered admirably, finishing out his Tigers tenure in good form before being shipped to the ’Stros.
The late-breaking swap that brought Verlander to Houston is the most notable August trade in history. Given the changing mid-season trade rules, it may not ever even face a challenge for that title. The Detroit organization demanded something significant to release a franchise legend, ultimately prying prospects Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers. The Astros wanted relief from some of Verlander’s remaining salary obligations, ultimately getting $16MM. But none of that mattered if Verlander decided not to go to Houston. He decided at the last possible moment to waive his no-trade rights and authorize the deal — with the story not breaking until 15 minutes after the August trade deadline had expired, at 12:15am EST on September 1st.
It’s easy to forget just how much risk the Astros took on in that deal. Verlander turned in five stellar late-season outings and then excelled in the postseason, which tended to paint the transaction as a home run acquisition of an ace. But at the time it was anyone’s guess what kind of form he’d have for the remainder of his contract. Verlander had a very disappointing first half in 2017. While he had definitely turned things on in the run-up to the swap, it was certainly fair to wonder what he really had left in the tank. Frankly, it would have been ridiculous at the time to suggest he’d reach new career heights before his contract expired.
There’s an argument to be made that Verlander was never better than in 2018. He didn’t tally the same volume of great innings that he did in the vintage seasons of his youth, but Verlander’s insane 30.4% K%-BB% was nearly twice his career average. That level of unadulterated dominance is typically reserved for elite late-inning relievers who mostly unleash their arsenal in one-inning bursts. Statcast actually felt that Verlander was unlucky to permit opposing batters a paltry .260 wOBA. The contact they made against him was so weak that the advanced system credited those hitters with a .236 xwOBA.