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Astros sign Lance McCullers Jr. to five-year, $85 million extension

While it looked like the Astros might be headed toward a semi-rebuild after 2021, they’ve now locked up another key piece for the long term.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Houston Astros Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros have signed right-handed starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. to a five-year, $85 million extension that will keep him under Houston control through the 2026 season. Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston was the first to report the deal Wednesday. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that the deal contains no option years but does include a no-trade clause:

The Astros are headed toward somewhat of a fork in the road following the 2021 season, as they’ve already been weakened by the loss of George Springer over the offseason and will see Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke hit free agency next winter. But the McCullers extension — as well as the re-signing of Michael Brantley to a two-year, $32 million deal and the addition of Jake Odorizzi on a three-year, $23.5 million pact — seems to signify that Houston isn’t just going to take a Cubs-like approach and hit the reset button as members of its championship core begin to depart.

While all long-term deals are inherently risky, the McCullers deal is an especially big bet since he’s pitched in only 11 games over the last two years due to Tommy John surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic, has never made more than 25 appearances in a season, and has a career high of 128.1 innings in a season that ended with him needing reconstructive elbow surgery. But he’s been quite effective when he’s been on the mound, flashing a 3.70 career ERA with a 1.26 WHIP while averaging 10 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings.