Nov 2, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Cristian Javier (53) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning in game four of the 2022 World Series at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Javier’s new contract energizes first day of spring training as Astros attempt to repeat as World Series champions
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Pitcher Cristian Javier celebrated his new five-year, $64-million contract with his parents on Thursday, the first day of Astros’ spring training with pitchers, catchers, and a few early-bird position players working out for the first time at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Javier, 26, was all smiles as his mother and father, Trinidad and Secilio, watched him answer questions from the media about his newfound wealth and his expectations for this season. Javier pointed out how fortunate he’s been since signing for $10,000 as a 17-year-old undrafted international free agent in 2015.
“First and foremost, I want to thank God for giving me this opportunity and my family for supporting me this whole time,” Javier said through an interpreter. “Obviously, this is a huge day for me and my family, and makes us appreciate this so much more. It makes all the sacrifices, all the challenges worth it. I also want to thank my teammates that have supported me every single day.”
While six of his teammates watched, Javier shared the podium with new general manager Dana Brown, who said negotiations were ongoing before he was hired from the Braves. Brown credited owner Jim Crane and other members of the front office who participated in negotiations that resulted in the Javier deal – the first of several he hopes to complete with veterans like Kyle Tucker, Framber Valdez, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve.
“Dana just got here, and I was the first to sign,” Javier said. “It means a lot to me that he believes in me, and I want to do a great job. Hopefully, with God, I’ll be able to do it. It gives me a lot of confidence and a lot of faith. I appreciate this opportunity.”
Javier is coming off a terrific season for the defending world champions who are trying to become the first team to repeat since the Yankees won their third in a row in 2000. Crane, Brown, and manager Dusty Baker have high expectations for Javier and what could still be baseball’s best pitching staff even without American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, who’s gone to the Mets but not forgotten.
With the 40-year-old Verlander no longer in the rotation, Valdez moves up a spot to become the staff’s ace. Javier, the only pitcher in history to start two combined no-hitters in one season, including his six-inning masterpiece in Game 4 of the World Series victory over the Phillies, could move into the second spot of the rotation behind Valdez.
Last season, Javier made 25 starts and five relief appearances. He finished with an 11-9 record and a 2.54 earned run average. He pitched 148.2 innings, allowed 89 hits, struck out 194, and limited opponents to a .170 batting average – lowest in the American League.
In the playoffs, Javier was 2-0 with an 0.71 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 12.2 innings in which he surrendered only two hits. He finished with 12 consecutive scoreless innings. No wonder the front office – not to mention Baker, the coaches, and players – expect so much from Javier entering his fourth season.
Javier’s performance under the pressure of the playoffs and especially during the World Series convinced the Astros to expedite their efforts to sign him through the 2027 season. His performance last season, when he continued to improve, plus the new contract, puts more pressure on him to produce. He always seems so cool, calm, and unaffected no matter how big the situation is, so he’s not likely to change.
“I don’t think there’s any need for me to feel pressure,” he said. “I’ll continue to do the same things I’ve been doing, the things that got me here. I’ll continue to lean on my teammates, depend on (catcher Martín) Maldonado and listen to advice from the veteran guys.
“My goal day in and day out is to continue to get better. That being said, I think I need to continue doing the same things I’ve been doing that got me here and try to get better that way. My focus right now is spring training and preparing for the season.”
With his new contract secured, Javier can concentrate on improving in spring training and elevating his performance even more during the season as the Astros try to reach their fifth World Series in seven years.
“Today’s a special day for us,” Brown said. “It’s an organizational win. I think it’s good for the fan base that we can secure a pitcher like (Javier).”
Brown looked over at some of Javier’s teammates who attended the news conference, including Valdez, and said, “This is an important day and an exciting time for the fans because we’re trying to keep that winning going, and the only way to keep that winning going is to keep the players in house.
Behind the scenes, there’s been a lot of work to get to this point. Hopefully, some of those guys will be sitting right here being locked up as well.”
Thursday was a good day for the Astros, but nobody has to tell them that they’ve got a long way to go in their quest to win a third World Series.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).