Astros, Lance McCullers Jr. Agree To Extension

4:53pm: The deal includes a $3.5MM signing bonus that McCullers will earn along with his $6.5MM salary this year, Bob Nightengale of USA Today relays. McCullers will make salaries of $15.25MM from 2022-23 and $17MM from 2024-26.

3:10pm: The Astros and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. have agreed to a five-year contract extension, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26. The pact is worth $85MM, Jeff Passan of ESPN reports. There are no options in the deal, but it does include a limited no-trade clause, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network. McCullers had been set to enter his final season of team control, so this agreement will keep the Boras Corporation client under wraps through 2026. Because it doesn’t kick in until next year, it won’t affect the Astros’ plans to stay under the luxury-tax threshold this season.

McCullers, who’s about to embark on his age-27 campaign, has been a career-long Astro to this point. The team used the 41st overall pick on him in 2012, and he has since produced quality results in the majors. Dating back to his big league debut in 2015, McCullers has pitched to a 3.70 ERA/3.61 SIERA with an above-average strikeout rate (26.4) and a tremendous 55.2 percent groundball rate across 508 2/3 innings. With the exception of 2016, in which he walked more than five batters per nine, McCullers has generally hovered around the 3.00 mark during his career.

Durability has been a problem for McCullers, though, as he has never even reached the 130-inning mark in a season. He topped out at 128 1/3 frames in 2018, the year after he helped pitch the Astros to a World Series championship, before undergoing Tommy John surgery. McCullers missed all of 2019 as a result of the procedure, but he did make a strong return last year with 11 starts and 55 innings of 3.93 ERA/3.95 SIERA pitching, solid strikeout and walk percentages (24.7 and 8.8, respectively) and a 59.7 percent grounder rate.

While it’s risky for the Astros to make this type of commitment to a hurler who has had trouble staying healthy, they know McCullers is at least a mid-rotation-caliber starter when he does take the mound. And this move will lead to less uncertainty in Houston’s starting staff a year from now, as Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander could depart in free agency next offseason. Even if those two exit, the Astros figure to return McCullers, Jake Odorizzi, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy in 2022.

Of course, next winter’s free-agent class looks a bit less interesting with McCullers off the market. But Greinke, Verlander, Trevor Bauer (if he opts out of his Dodgers deal), Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman are among many established starters who could be searching for new deals then.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Published at Thu, 25 Mar 2021 04:01:59 +0000

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