At the end of the work week, right around when arbitration cases were being decided, the new Astros GM made good on what he clearly indicated was a priority—extending certain players still under team control. He did so in the form of 5 year, $64 million extension to Cristian Javier, who was entering his first year of arbitration. The deal not only locks in what would have been his second and third years (potentially saving the Astros a higher price tag were Javier to continue excelling), but also buys out what would have been his first two years of free agency. The scaled payout means that the Astros are controlling arbitration costs and giving Javier a 2/42 contract as a free agent.
Cristian Javier is not only a great talent, but a playoff ace. He gave up one run in 12.2 postseason innings last year, and has a career 2.20 ERA and 0.92 WHIP across 32.2 postseason innings. He’s no slouch in the regular season either, with opponents hitting .178 against him in 305 innings.
Javier throws four pitches, but relies heavily on his two-seam “invisiball” and his slider almost 90% of the time. These two pitches create whiffs and soft, fly ball contact (in 2022 he struck out almost exactly one in three hitters and 13% of batted ball contact resulted in pop flies, which are the next surest thing to a strikeout). He is the anti-Framber, generating only a 26% ground ball rate. Like Verlander and Urquidy, as a fly ball pitcher he can be prone to the long ball. However you slice it, Javier has been extremely successful and has only gotten better as his control has improved slightly (walking 3.6% fewer in 2022 compared to 2021).
The only other knock would be Javier’s unproven track record at eating innings. He came up during the shortened season, making 10 starts, and then being put mostly in the bullpen in 2021 (9 starts) before starting 25 games in 2022 (148.2 IP, not including playoffs). Maybe the future of starting pitching is having a six-man rotation where each guy averages 27 starts / season and throws circa 170 IP and is fresh for the playoffs? Or maybe Javier, who’s been very durable, will do just fine if given a higher workload?
Having made the ALCS every year since 2017, the Astros know that it’s not just about getting to the postseason, but building a kind of roster that can succeed. Sure, nothing is guaranteed but the formula of strong defense, contact-hitting, and pitchers not afraid of the big moment has been a proven formula. Put another way, I’d rather have JV for the regular season, but I’d take Javier in the postseason if you made me choose.
I don’t know if Framber will get 6/130 or Tucker 7/200, or maybe Bregman comes in for 3/100, or Altuve 5/140. But do know that Dana Brown means business when it comes to extensions and Crane can be reasoned with.
Meanwhile, Stan Javier now has the kind of money that he never dreamed of when he signed for $15,000 in 2015. Three cheers for El Reptilo.