I think the Astros should sign Jose Altuve to a multi-year contract. Right now! Altuve is the Astros best player at the tender age of 23. The 5′ 6″ second baseman out of Venezuela is having another solid season, pretty much duplicating the numbers that earned him a spot on the All-Star team last year.
The Astros low payroll figures have made headlines around the league and the dollar amount that the club has committed to next year’s payroll is actually lower than this season’s. Needless to say, the team can afford to spend a few dollars to lock up players that are going to be part of the long term plan. One would have to think that Altuve is one of those players.
Jose Altuve (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Astros G.M. Jeff Luhnow’s rebuilding plan has been compared to teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. The Rays were one of the first teams to start offering multi-year contracts to young players with star potential. People thought they were crazy to ink a 23-year old Evan Longoria to a lucrative long term contract. That actually turned out to be a pretty nice bargain for Tampa Bay. This year the Rays signed 24-year old Matt Moore to a 3-year, $9 million deal with three additional team option years at an average of $8.7 million per season. Right now, that looks like the deal of the century.
I’m not saying that Altuve is the next Evan Longoria or Matt Moore. He is a different type of player than either of the two. Another young player that recently signed a long term deal, the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus, possesses a skill set comparable to that of Altuve. The Rangers are shelling out $66 million over the next five years to their 24-year old shortstop. Texas could also be on the hook for five additional years at around $15 million each if Andrus doesn’t opt out after 2018 or 2019.
Andrus came to the big leagues at age 20 and his Free Agent clock was already starting to tick. Nolan Ryan and company could have saved some serious cash by signing Andrus earlier. That’s one example of why the Astros need to act now with Altuve. The longer they wait, the more it will cost. And the money is available now.
I think if the Astros act quickly they can sign Altuve to a five or six year deal for about half of what Andrus got. Adding a big dollar option year at the end that would vest if certain incentives were met could seal the deal. Truthfully, I think Altuve would jump at the chance to sign. He has already made it easier on the Astros by firing Scott Boras and returning to his former agents at Octagon.
If George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Carlos Correa and company live up to expectations Jim Crane is going to need a boatload of money six or seven years from now. Saving some cash now by signing a building block player like Altuve to a club-friendly deal would have a positive impact on more than one front.
With all of the fan favorites that have been traded away by the Astros over the last three years, making a commitment to Altuve would also go a long way towards reconnecting with an alienated fan base. In addition to being the most consistent performer on the team, Altuve is also a fan favorite in Houston.
Some will argue that Delino DeShields Jr. is the Astros second baseman of the future. That may indeed be the case. Or …maybe not. Although DeShields has a potentially higher upside, he is still at least a couple of years away. And we don’t know if he will reach his potential — or even be as good as Altuve. Jose is here now. And he’s been getting the job done on a consistent basis. Signing Altuve to a team friendly contract now would make it easier to trade him in a few years if DeShields proves to be the better player.
Certainly there is a risk involved when signing young players to lengthy contracts. But that risk is far less than signing a veteran Free Agent to a long term deal, in my opinion. And I believe, in the case of Altuve, the potential reward outweighs the risk. Jim Crane is going to have to part with some of his hard earned cash at some point. It may as well be now. Throw us a bone, Jim. Astros fans want to see Jose Altuve stick around for a while. And it’s the right thing to do.