Significant Gap Remains In Discussions Between Astros, Justin Verlander

The Astros and Justin Verlander remain “far apart” in discussions about a new contract, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. The nine-time All-Star is part of a trio of top free agent starters alongside Jacob deGrom and Carlos Rodón.

The biggest stumbling block seems to be on the AL Cy Young winner’s desire for a third guaranteed season. Heyman writes that Verlander is seeking a deal around $130MM over three years — the same figure received by former teammate Max Scherzer from the Mets last winter. Houston owner Jim Crane similarly suggested Verlander was pointing to the Scherzer contract as precedent last month.

The Scherzer deal indeed seems the closest comparison to Verlander, although their situations aren’t perfectly analogous. While both are all-time great pitchers still pitching near the top of their games deeper into their careers, a three-year bet on Scherzer was probably easier for a team to stomach than that same term for Verlander. Scherzer signed in advance of his age-37 season, while the latter will be three years older at the start of his next contract. Verlander’s two years removed from a Tommy John procedure that cost him almost all of the 2020-21 campaigns, but he’s bounced back to pitch at pre-surgery levels this year. Scherzer had avoided any injury of that magnitude in the past decade, topping 170 innings in every full season since 2008 before this year.

While that seems to tip things in Scherzer’s favor, their pure performance track records are mostly without complaint. Verlander had a 1.75 ERA across 175 innings this past season; Scherzer posted a 2.46 mark in 2021. The latter missed more bats, striking out 34.1% of opponents against Verlander’s 27.8% mark. Fanning just under 28% of opponents is still excellent for a starting pitcher, though, and Verlander maintained top-tier control while sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball.

Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported in November that Crane was reluctant to offer more than a two-year deal in the $60-70MM range. That’s shy of the Scherzer deal both by a year and a decent amount of annual salary ($30-35MM versus $43.333MM). It’s unclear if Houston has shown any willingness to raise their proposed salary figure in the few weeks since then, but Heyman reports they’re still opposed to a three-year guarantee.

Were Verlander to leave Houston, he’d draw no shortage of interest from the league’s big-market behemoths. He has already had meetings with the Dodgers and Mets, and Heyman has previously suggested the Yankees are also in the market.

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