John McClain: Even with JV gone, Astros have a lot of good things ahead

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock (13476426a) Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander warms up during a practice ahead of Game 1 of baseball’s American League Championship Series, in Houston ALCS Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 18 Oct 2022

John McClain: Even with JV gone, Astros have a lot of good things ahead

Astros fans had been conditioned to losing pitcher Justin Verlander in free agency for so long most were prepared on Monday when he agreed to a two-year, $86 million contract with the New York Mets.

Verlander’s contract could be worth $121 million. According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post and MLB Network, if he pitches at least 140 innings in 2024, he’ll earn a $35 million option for 2025.

Don’t shed any tears for the Astros – the defending World Series champions – because manager Dusty Baker still has six legitimate starting pitchers and the best and deepest bullpen in baseball.

If everything breaks correctly, Verlander could pitch against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, where the Mets play a three-game series on June 19-21.

Fans shouldn’t have any hard feelings toward Verlander, who won two Cy Young Awards and helped the Astros win two World Series, for accepting $43 million a year to kick off the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego this week.

Verlander will be reunited with pitcher Max Scherzer, his former teammate with the Tigers. As soon as the Mets lost their ace, Jacob deGrom, to the Rangers for a five-year, $185 million deal, Verlander was destined for the Mets and multibillionaire owner Steve Cohen’s bottomless pit of money.

Verlander left the Astros for the Mets as Gerrit Cole left the Astros for the Yankees after the 2019 season. Cole has been unable to help the Yankees get past the Astros in the playoffs.

It’s a good move for the Mets, and it’s good for Verlander, who missed all but one start in 2020 and 2021 because of Tommy John surgery and bounced back last season in spectacular fashion. Verlander, who turns 40 in February, finished with an 18-4 record, a 1.75 ERA, and 185 strikeouts in 175 innings. He surrendered only 116 hits and 29 walks. He was a unanimous winner of the American League Cy Young Award — the third of his career.

Signing Verlander, who won his first World Series game against the Phillies, was a no-brainer for the Mets. He’s the obvious replacement for deGrom, and he keeps the Mets as a World Series contender and in the news in New York at a time when the Yankees are trying to re-sign Aaron Judge, the American League MVP.

As for the Astros, sources say owner Jim Crane was willing to do a two-year deal for $80 million but declined to add the option for a third season. Verlander wisely opted out of his 2023 Astros contract for $25 million to hit the free agent market and a monster payday.

Locally, fans and media accepted Verlander’s departure as soon as he opted out of the last year of his contract. With so much homegrown depth among the starting pitchers, Verlander became expendable if the bidding surpassed $40 million a year.

The Astros have survived quite nicely despite not re-signing high-priced free agents like Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa. Fans have come to trust Crane’s financial decisions. In each of the last six years, the Astros have advanced to the ALCS and appeared in four World Series. Letting Verlander walk was expected and understandable based on how Crane operates.

Framber Valdez, with a 17-6 record and a 2.82 ERA last season, should move up a spot to become the Astros’ ace to replace Verlander. Based on what fans saw of Cristian Javier last season, especially in the playoffs and World Series, he could take a big jump as part of the regular rotation after finishing 11-9 with a 2.54 ERA. Lance McCullers Jr. (4-2, 2.27), Luis Garcia (15-8, 3.72), and Jose Urquidy (13-8, 3.94) are veterans who are established starters with World Series experience.

The pitcher who could benefit the most from Verlander’s departure is Hunter Brown. After languishing in Sugar Land pitching for the Space Cowboys for most of last season, Brown excelled after being called up. He was 2-0 with an 0.89 ERA, and he also was impressive coming out of the bullpen.

Based on what fans saw from Brown, if he becomes part of the regular rotation, there’s no telling how good he can be. Brown and the other pitchers are fortunate to have Josh Miller and Bill Murphy as the pitching coaches. They did an outstanding job last season replacing Brent Strom, the best pitching coach in franchise history.

The pitching staff doesn’t need attention in the offseason, even though Crane could add a left-hander to the bullpen. Crane, who still needs to hire a general manager to replace James Click and might not do it until January or February, promises to acquire another hitter or two even though he signed free agent first baseman Jose Abreu last week.

No matter who comes or goes, it’s already an exciting and interesting offseason that’s going to get even more enthusing and intriguing before the Astros report for spring training as the World Series champions and the team to beat in the American League.

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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1 Comment

  • That was a selfish move by his agent. New York taxes will eat up a lot more of his salary and the net pay will be much less. Perhaps he has some side deals in the works that will make up the difference in the larger market. If he fails (which is a possibility based upon some of his performances in the playoffs), he will incur the wrath of the New York press. I wish him lots of luck except when he plays the Astros.

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