Justin Verlander declines $25M Astros option, becomes free agent

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Justin Verlander declined a $25 million option with the Houston Astros to become a free agent, five days after helping the team with its second World Series title.

The 39-year-old right-hander likely headed to his third Cy Young Award got his first World Series win in nine starts in Game 5 against Philadelphia. The day before that happened, he said it was too early to think about his future.

“Really and truly it’s been a hell of a ride no matter what happens, whether I stay or don’t,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time with this group of guys and the city and getting to know the city.”

Verlander was among four players who became free agents Thursday, raising the total to 165.

Verlander played for Detroit from 2005 until he was traded to the Astros in August 2017. He agreed to a $66 million contract covering 2020 and 2021, then hurt his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery.

After pitching one game over the previous two seasons, Verlander became a free agent and re-signed with Houston for a $25 million, one-year deal that included the option. He went 18-4 with a major league-best 1.75 ERA in 28 starts, then was 2-0 with a 5.85 ERA in four postseason outings. He is 244-133 with a 3.24 ERA and 3,198 strikeouts in 17 seasons.

“I really did enjoy kind of just talking with some teams and just kind of like hearing their philosophies and getting to talk about my philosophies with pitching and just talk baseball,” he said. “I didn’t get the traditional come into the city and get all the pizzazz because it was a short timeframe.”

Several other players had option decisions due Thursday. Among the other moves, the Los Angeles Dodgers declined third baseman Justin Turner‘s $16 million option in favor of a $16 million buyout. San Francisco declined a $13 million option on third baseman Evan Longoria, triggering a $5 million buyout.

The New York Mets turned down an $8 million option on right-hander Mychal Givens in favor of a $1.5 million buyout, Baltimore said no to an $11 million option on right-hander Jordan Lyles and will pay a $1 million buyout, and Boston said it and the player had declined a $12 million mutual option on outfielder Tommy Pham, who gets a $1.5 million buyout.

Phillies select active duty Navy aviator in MLB Rule 5 draft

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SAN DIEGO — The Philadelphia Phillies took U.S. Navy aviator Noah Song in the Rule 5 draft Wednesday, hoping the former top pitching prospect can still be effective once he completes his military service.

There is no definitive date on when the 25-year-old Song might be able to join the Phillies.

Song was picked from the Boston Red Sox system in the draft for unprotected minor league players. Philadelphia put him on the military list while he continues his active duty and he won’t count on the 40-man roster, the pool from which major league teams can select players for the 26-man active roster.

Song impressed in his only pro season, making seven starts for Boston’s Class A Lowell affiliate in 2019, with a 1.06 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 17 innings. With a fastball clocked in the upper 90s mph, the right-hander dominated that year as a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, going 11-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 94 innings.

The Red Sox drafted Song in the fourth round – he likely would’ve gone much higher, but his impending military service caused teams to back off.

In November 2019, Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a memo clearing the way for athletes at the nation’s military academies to delay their service commitments and play pro sports after graduation. Song’s request to have those new rules retroactively applied to his case was denied.

Song began school as a flight officer in the summer of 2020 and finished that phase last April. He started additional aviation training in May.

Song was among the 15 players, including three Boston pitchers, taken in the big league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which wasn’t held last year because of the MLB lockout.

Washington took righty Thad Ward from Boston’s Triple-A roster with the first pick. Baltimore took Red Sox minor league pitcher Andrew Politi with the ninth choice and the Phillies chose Song with the 11th selection.

Teams pay $100,000 to take players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. The players must stay on the big league roster next season or go on waivers and, if unclaimed, be offered back to their original organization for $50,000.