Earlier this week the Houston Astros handed an important piece of long-term business by Alex Bregman . The deal buys out Bregman's four remaining years of team control plus two free-agent years. The 'Stros also quietly signed impending free-agent setup man Ryan Pressly to a two-year, $17.5 million deal.
Next up on Houston's extension priority list: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Astros are discussing contract extensions with their co-aces, though Rosenthal says it "would be an upset" if either player agreed to a deal. From Rosenthal:
The Astros are discussing extensions with right-handers Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, according to major-league sources. Of course they are. Seemingly every team is discussing an extension with seemingly every good player, and 16 such agreements already have been reached in 2019, four for $100 million or more, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.
Verlander and Cole are scheduled to become free agents following 2019. So too are righties Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, and lefty Wade Miley. All five members of Houston's projected 2019 Opening Day rotation are entering their walk years. Even with youngsters like Forrest Whitley and Josh James coming, the Astros have a lot of rotation uncertainty beyond 2019.
Even though he turned 36 last month, Verlander remains at the top of his game, throwing 214 innings with a 2.52 ERA and 290 strikeouts en route to a second place finish in the Cy Young voting last year. He will make $28 million this season and, with another typical Verlander year, it is unlikely he would agree to a pay cut, even at his age.
Over the winter the Yankees gave 36-year-old J.A. Happ two guaranteed years with a vesting option. The Dodgers signed Rich Hill to a three-year contract at age 36. There is precedent for a pitcher that age getting multiple guaranteed years. For Verlander, that could equal a two-year deal at $60 million or even $70 million next winter, maybe even three years and $100 million.
As for Cole, who will turn 29 in September, his likely contract floor going into free agency is the six-year, $140 million contract the Nationals gave Patrick Corbin this past winter. Cole has performed better than Corbin in their careers to date and he doesn't have Tommy John surgery in his history either. Corbin underwent elbow reconstruction in 2014. Here's a side-by-side career snapshot:
|Player||Age at Free Agency||Innings||ERA||ERA+||K/9||BB/9||WAR|
There is still the entire 2019 season to play out, which will of course impact Cole's free agent stock, though right now he clearly has a leg up on Corbin. He's performed better, he did it for at least one year with an American League contender, and he's been healthier to date. Barring injury or performance collapse, Corbin's deal feels like the worst case scenario for Cole.
Cole could have his eyes on another Nationals pitching contract: Max Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million deal. He and Scherzer are both represented by Scott Boras. Even with free agent signings slowing down, elite players are still commanding $30 million per year. With a repeat of his 2018 performance in 2019, a deal worth $30 million annually would be within reach for Cole.
The Astros inked Jose Altuve to a five-year, $151 million contract last offseason. George Springer is two years away from free agency and Carlos Correa is three years away, so at some point Houston will look to sign both long-term. Paying the position player core while retaining the high-end starters won't be easy, but it shouldn't be impossible either.