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What If.... the Astros did not Trade for Verlander Last Year

Summary


The Verlander trade was a bold chips-all-in trade; and when they did NOT make it back to the World Series, we are left to wonder was it worth it.


We are hearing as Spring Training starts that he is behind his normal schedule. He is JV and he is likely to figure it out and pitch like a 41-year-old JV.


Today, we ask would they have been better off now if they didn't make that trade.


Background


The Astros have not been afraid of going for it during the dynastic run. Last year, they went for it again by trading for Justin Verlander. It was costly.


The Astros COULD have paid Verlander's huge salary for the remainder of his deal and the Met's would have JUMPED on that deal. The Astros could have gotten the Mets to pay about $10 to $20 million of his salary and given up very little in prospect capital. They would of have significant payroll issues under either scenario. Instead, the Astros bought down their Verlander payroll cost by having the Mets pay a combined $52.5 million. This cost them their number one prospect Drew Gilbert (who is now the MLB 53rd rated prospect per MLB Pipeline) and Ryan Clifford (top 10 Astros OF Prospect.)


The Astros net payroll expenditure on Verlander is $17.1M in 2024 and $17.5M in 2025.


The Question


What if the Astros had NOT made the Verlander trade last year? Would they be better off now?


Analysis


The 2023 Season


Let's start chronologically. Verlander had a profound positive impact on the pitching staff in August and September. He pitched nearly 14% of the team innings after he arrived. His ERA as an Astros pitcher was 3.31 and the rest of the staff after 8/1/23 was 4.30.


I think it is fair to assume the pitching staff that struggled in the 2H would have REALLY struggled without Verlander. I would be willing to go so far as to assume the team would have lost three more games of the 55 after 8/1/23. Seattle would have knocked them out of the postseason.


For this reason, I think it is safe to say the Verlander trade won them the division and got them to the ALCS.


I have yet another hard question. Who cares? While I believed the Astros ended the season very close to MY expectations, those were NOT the expectations of this fan base and I have angry Twitter messages to me to prove it.


This fan base expected the 2023 Astros to roll and win another World Series. So, who cares that they won the division and lost to the Texas Rangers in the ALCS? Are you pumped about the Division Pennant that will fly? Wait, do they even add pennants for division titles? If you don't know, and I don't remember, then THAT makes my point on the irrelevancy of the ending of the Astros 2023 season.


Without doing a deep dive analysis I am stipulating that not trading for Verlander means the 2023 Astros missed the postseason- barely.


Before I continue, PLEASE consider the following.


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Now let's get back to it.


The 2024 Season and Beyond- Pitching


What about the 2024 season? To help frame this question I asked this on X/ Twitter.



You can see the answers but many settle around:

  1. Starting Pitching (Injuries, Depth, Quality)

  2. Outfield Depth

  3. Bench

  4. Middle Relief


There are STILL very good Starting Pitchers available as Free Agents- probably not for long.


What if the Astros had signed Jordan Mongomery for around the $21M AAV he is projected to sign for? The money is close enough for this discussion.


I asked this also on Twitter in a poll.


This is an example there is often a reason I say the things on social media that I do in that they connect to the things I am working on here. I figured this would be the Astros fans answer.


Verlander vs. Montgomery

This scenario does not involve TRADING for Montgomery last year. Despite the poll results, Mongomery is projected to be slightly better than Verlander and pitch about nine percent more innings.

Data Comp

I am just going to say, I disagree with you Twitter pollsters. If I were choosing which pitcher I could have in 2024-2025, I would pick Mongomery for this data and more.

  • Mongomery is lefthanded and I believe the Astros will trade Valdez before next season. Montgomery allows the team to have an experienced LHSP for the next several seasons.

  • Mongomery- 43.2% GB% vs. Verlander- 35.5 GB% in 2023

  • Mongomery- 0.86 HR/9 vs. Verlander- 1.00 HR/9 in 2023 (JV was 1.19 with Houston last year)

  • Montgomery- 31 years old vs. Verlander- 41 years old

I would have been much happier with trading for and re-signing Montgomery last year. In fact, I suggested it. However, that is not the scenario here.


I am just asking if one could have either right now for close to the same contract AAV, my answer would clearly be Mongomery. If the concern was what stated above as "Starting Pitching (Injuries, Depth, Quality)", Mongomery has more innings recently and projects to be better. Watch, he will have a terrible year and you all can dis me as you love to do.


The 2024 Season and Beyond- Batting


You may have lost the core question here and wonder why I am going to discuss batting. Here is a reminder.


What if the Astros had NOT made the Verlander trade last year? Would they be better off now?


This scenario means that the Astros would STILL have Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford. The Prospect doubters will say who cares? Well apparently, you do as

"Outfield Depth" and "Bench" are the number two and three concerns you have.


All off-season Astros fans have been vehemently arguing against playing Jake Meyers to the extend the team seems prepared to play him. (My message to the Meyers doubters.) The simple fact is unless you are a big believer in Trey Cabbage (Link to My Analysis), there is no one the Astros think is ready to play a majority of the time in the OF in the minors. That MIGHT change in the next six weeks as some players we have been hoping for might shine in Spring Training.


Here is the truth, however. THAT player we would have been counting on as an upgrade over Meyers was DREW GILBERT. It is not clear when he will be ready but sometime in 2024, the Mets may very well call up Drew Gilbert to play in the OF.


Gilbert would have been the insurance policy for Meyers IF the Astros had not traded for JV. He would have been an upgrade to the bench in the very least.


Some may think this is prospect bias thinking. I tend to frustrate the real prospect lovers with my doubts. I just am not a doubter of a top 100 prospect Gilbert any more than I was of Tucker at the same stage of his development.


NOT trading for Verlander last year means that the Astros are in a FAR stronger position for internal OF options.


Conclusion


Put all of this together and you see why I say the Astros would be better off today if they had NOT made the Verlander trade.


In this alternate universe.

  • Astros missed 2023 postseason by one game.

  • Team commits to a big SP FA signing.

  • Astros sign Jordan Montgomery in January.

  • Dana Brown explains Astros OF plan is set with MLB’s #53 overall prospect Drew Gilbert next up and ready to go.

Funny, I like that alternate universe better than this one.


I know this goes against our collective love of Verlander. I love JV as a player too. I am just resetting once again that decisions do have consequences and sometimes those consequences are worse than the short-term benefit.


Get ready for the season as we are about to go deep here at LarryTheGM.


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2 Comments


Great stuff as usual. One point that I am particularly happy to agree with - the expectations of Astros fans (how we now define success) has clearly changed from 10 years ago. Nobody gives a rip about merely going to the ALCS but I also think that ultimately, we were 1 win from a 3rd ring. In this vain, the trade for Grienke in 2019 was also a flop.

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I think the 2019 team was the best of the entire dynastic run. It is a real shame they did not win it all. I think my expectations shifted after the 2021 WS appearance. I was no longer satisfied just getting to the ALCS. I became unwilling to accept massive drags on the team like Maldy and Yuli. I also became focused on how the team could keep core talents like Bregman or Tucker in addition to a given Altuve. I have not and will not be satisfied hearing "well we could not afford to keep him" when the team has made deals in 2022-2024 which sabotaged this possibility - including the Verlander trade.

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