What does the future hold for Verlander?

July 20th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart's Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The second act of Justin Verlander’s career as a member of the Astros has been nothing short of remarkable. Verlander, at age 39, is among the front-runners for the American League Cy Young Award at the All-Star break -- an unprecedented feat for someone who missed all last season following Tommy John surgery.

Since coming to the Astros in the final minutes before the Trade Deadline in 2017, Verlander has taken his career to new heights. He won a World Series, took home his second Cy Young while finishing second once, reached 3,000 career strikeouts, was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 AL Championship Series and threw his third career no-hitter.

In 91 career starts with the Astros in the regular season, Verlander is 55-18 with a 2.35 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. Verlander had a strong Hall of Fame résumé when he came to the Astros after pitching 13 years in Detroit, where he had a 3.49 career ERA with the Tigers in 380 starts, but he’s solidified his status as one of this generation’s best arms while playing for Houston.

Verlander has said repeatedly he wants to pitch until he’s 45 years old -- he’ll turn 40 in February -- and he may need to if he wants to reach 300 career wins. He’s sitting at 238 wins and could be one of the last pitchers to reach 300 if he can get there. But can he do it in a Houston uniform?

Verlander signed a one-year, $25-million contract last year with an option for the 2023 season. If Verlander throws 130 innings this year -- a certainty considering he’s currently at 109 1/3 innings -- he can choose to return to the Astros next year for $25 million or opt out. If he has a second half that’s anywhere close to what he did in the first half, he’s likely to get more in free agency -- even as a 40-year-old.

“You never know what the future holds, and you’d like to,” Verlander said Monday during his media availability at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. “I think one thing this game has taught me is put your head down, work hard and whatever happens, happens. You can’t think about the what-ifs or if-nots or whatever. You do the best you can every five days, or six days, or on occasion seven or eight now. Where the chips fall, they may.”

Verlander and owner Jim Crane are extremely close, and Crane will undoubtedly want him back in Houston. The Astros’ window of contention is very much wide open and figures to be so for at least the next few years and having Verlander lead the pitching staff would be a wise investment. Beyond what he brings on the field, Verlander’s presence has been impactful.

Remember when earlier this year he had a talk with veteran pitcher Jake Odorizzi and helped turn his season around? He’s also helped mentor some of the younger pitchers in the system, including top pitching prospect Hunter Brown, who grew up in Detroit and idolized Verlander.

“If this is the end of my run with Houston, it’s been nothing short of incredible,” Verlander said. “The people, the city and the team and my teammates have been a blessing. If it’s not the end, it’s also a blessing.”