The opportunity to play the bulk of his career with the Astros and raise his family in Houston is so attractive to right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., that he has no problem stating publicly -- as teammate and friend Carlos Correa did earlier this month -- that he wants to sign an extension.
McCullers, a free agent at the end of this season, says Houston is his home and he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. McCullers said on Sunday that he’s open to an extension with the Astros and he has let agent Scott Boras know exactly what he desires. Like Correa, McCullers would prefer to get a deal done before the start of the regular season in a month. McCullers said there are no current negotiations.
“Houston is where I want to be. This is my home. This is where I see myself,” he said. “I would undoubtedly want to be here well into the future. You know, I think the real question would be, 'Do the Astros see me here? Do the Astros see me as part of their future?' If the Astros see me as part of their future, as a big part of the future, then I would love to stay here if it makes sense for everyone.”
The Astros are in a window in which the young, homegrown stars who helped them win the World Series in 2017 are reaching free agency. The club wasn’t able to re-sign 2017 World Series MVP Award winner George Springer, and Correa -- the No. 1 pick in the 2012 MLB Draft -- and McCullers -- the No. 41 overall pick in the ’12 Draft -- are both staring at free agency.
The Astros signed second baseman Jose Altuve to a five-year, $151-million extension prior to the ‘18 season and third baseman Alex Bregman to a five-year, $100-million extension prior to ‘19 under former general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Altuve contract remains the biggest in club history.
“I've seen a lot of guys go through this process,” McCullers said. “And a lot of my other teammates and things of that nature, they play it close to the vest because guys are afraid to say the wrong thing. … I'm not afraid to say, ‘Oh, I want an extension,’ because it comes from a place of wanting to be here, comes from a place of wanting to continue to share seasons with my teammates. It comes from a place of wanting to help build the legacy of the Astros. So it would be nice to have something done. I mean, these things can come together quickly.”
Correa and McCullers have battled injuries while having spurts of success. McCullers, 27, is 32-25 with a 3.70 ERA in 94 regular-seasons games (91 starts) for the Astros, but he has never thrown more than 130 innings in a season. An All-Star in 2017, he blew out his right elbow midway through the ’18 season and missed all of ’19 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. McCullers returned to the mound last year and went 3-3 with a 3.93 ERA in 11 starts, including a 2.18 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in his final eight starts.
Now, he’s looking to put an entire, full healthy season together for the first time. McCullers said he has dealt with elbow problems since ’16 and probably should have had Tommy John surgery sooner. He was pleased with his first couple of bullpens in camp this year and said he was hitting 95, 96 mph on Saturday with his fastball, which is a tick up from last year.
“Big league pitching, like legitimate starting pitching, does not grow on trees, and I am a legitimate big league starter,” he said. “And I've worked really hard to get to this point. So preferably I would be here, but if not, you know, I guess I'll have 30 auditions for other clubs.”
McCullers has been a fan favorite in Houston because of the way he interacts with fans on social media and his various charitable efforts, which included helping to raise money and donate water after a winter storm crushed Houston two weeks ago. He’s also pitched in some big moments for the Astros, throwing the final four innings to close out the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2017 American League Championship Series -- famously throwing 24 consecutive curveballs to end the game -- and starting Game 7 of the World Series that year.
“I'm pretty sure everyone with the Astros know how I feel,” he said. “I've made it pretty clear that this is this is my home, so it would be nice to get something done so you don't have to worry about it.”