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Heyman | How long can Houston keep Astros core together?

Nov 1, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve celebrates with teammates with the Commissioner's Trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in game seven of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros are to be commended for compiling so many great young players who helped them win the World Series.

But it is reasonable to wonder how likely they are to keep most or some of this excellent team together.

The Astros are middle-of-the-pack in revenue (14th at last count), and while owner Jim Crane isn’t averse to spending (see Justin Verlander), he is far from a wild spender. Probably most to the point, while their players seem to love Houston, in some cases there are some very real reasons to believe they aren’t the type to take easy deals and play it safe.

“It’s going to be tough,” one Astros person conceded about the chances to keep the team together.

The biggest reason it’s going to be difficult, of course, is that the Astros have as many special talents as anyone in the game – and that’s a credit to their scouts, their stats and the overall job they have done. But are these the type of players to play things conservatively?

You never know, of course. But consider that their biggest star — Jose Altuve — is the one who already took a deal, and he regretted it enough that he has since switched agents (to be fair, Altuve has made himself into one of the best five players in the game after signing his security deal, and also one of the best stories in the game).

Two of the core are repped by agent Scott Boras, who isn’t known for taking team-friendly deals (Altuve and Lance McCullers Jr.); three by Legacy, which really isn’t either (George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman);  and one star who’s closest to free agency is in the process of switching agents (Dallas Keuchel, who is listed as having no agent now).

The Astros have tried about four times with Keuchel, who got a record first-year arbitration deal and has gone year-to-year. But he rebuffed each one ultimately. One of the early attempts was in the $30 million-neighborhood guarantee that other star pitchers like Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner took for security. Anyway, Keuchel, a free agent after next year, is well-positioned to cash in big now. They’ve also tried at least a couple times with World Series MVP Springer, including a very early one for four years and two team options that guaranteed in the $12 million to $13 million range.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) exits the game in the sixth inning during game two of American Division League Series between the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park, Friday, October 6, 2017. Houston Astros defeated Boston Red Sox 8-2. (Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

Springer has at least listened to a couple different long-term overtures. The first one, tried very early in his career, was along the lines of the Altuve guarantee – around $12 million for four years, with two team options. The second one, obviously higher than that but unknown, came close to two years ago, and sources say there haven’t been talks in at least a year-and-a-half.

The Astros also have had somewhat contentious negotiations that have resulted in Correa being renewed at the league minimum two straight years (though someone close to Correa says that even though he fell just short of “super two” status, he has reason to believe Correa will be treated more equitably this time), and while no assumptions should be made, one of the players has a father who is a former MLB player (McCullers) and two have fathers who are lawyers (Springer and Bregman).

Crane, for his part, didn’t seem so worried about it at the moment – though he was asked about it before Game 6 and may have had the game(s) on his mind.

“We’ve got (most of our) guys locked up at least a couple more years,” Crane said.

Crane then ticked off a litany of guys who are under contract for two years or more, and it’s amazing he knew exactly how long they were all committed to the Astros. This is obviously no disinterested owner.

It is quite a range of one to five years, as the Astros have done a nice job of adding a star (or a few stars) every year. Keuchel and Marwin Gonzalez are the two stars who aren’t contractually committed beyond next year. Keuchel has at least listened four times, so the former seventh-rounder out of the University of Arkansas may prefer to stay, but his potential agent switch and timing could suggest he’s thinking about change.

Altuve is a free agent in two years, and this may be the toughest one of all. He is a likely AL MVP this year (it is either him or Aaron Judge) and apparently has regrets about his first deal. Altuve actually left Boras when the agent refused to recommend the Astros’ early contract offer, and hired a different agent, Octagon, which happened to place a higher value on security. Altuve has since switched back, which could be taken as an indication he has a different mindset now that he has the security.

Correa, a former No. 1 overall pick who has exceeded all expectations, is the type of star who’s unlikely to go for the security, and in fact he rejected slightly higher Astros offers two years running while knowing they would renew him at the league minimum if he did so. (He got almost $5 million as signing bonus out of the draft and has significant endorsements, so he didn’t need the extra money, and did so out of principle).

It’s difficult to quantify how renewals could affect a player in the long run, but Correa is in the rare air as an under-25 superstar where there’s almost no risk going year-to-year right up until free agency.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Lipps

    Nov 5, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    At least you’re consistent jon–consistent in criticizing the Astros organization and consistent in being wrong in your predictions. Attaboy!

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