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The Houston Astros will begin their 2021 postseason on Thursday afternoon by opening a best-of-five American League Division Series against the Chicago White Sox. The Astros will continue to be without veteran starter Justin Verlander, who has missed the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall. That didn't prevent the topic of Verlander -- and, specifically, his upcoming date with free agency --  from coming up ahead of Thursday's game, however.

Astros owner Jim Crane conceded before first pitch that Houston will "probably" extend the qualifying offer to Verlander this winter, according to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. The qualifying offer, for those unfamiliar with the terminology, is the mechanism teams extend to players if they want to recoup draft-pick compensation should the player leave for other pastures.

The catch -- if it can be called that -- with the qualifying offer is that it is a legitimate contractual tender for one-year and the mean salary of the league's 125 highest-paid players. For an example of how it works, last winter the New York Mets extended the qualifying offer to Marcus Stroman, who had opted out of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than take his chances with free agency, Stroman accepted the offer, rejoining the Mets on a one-year deal worth $18.9 million.

It would be logical for Verlander to follow suit and accept his own qualifying offer. But it's theoretically possible that he would prefer to experience life as a free agent for the first time in his career. If he goes that route, he's certain to be in demand. In Verlander's last full season, back in 2019, he posted a 2.58 ERA (179 ERA+) and a 7.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 34 starts and 223 innings pitched.

Verlander, by the way, won't be the only Astros player receiving a qualifying offer this winter. Shortstop Carlos Correa, expected to be one of the top free agents available this winter, should also be in line for one. Starter Zack Greinke has been tendered a qualifying offer before, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates players cannot be offered it more than once during their careers.