Is it time for the Houston Astros to reward one of their best players, Jose Altuve?
This is a question that everyone seems to be asking as Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who happens to be a good friend of Altuve, reached an agreement to extend his contract through 2021. This news essentially means that one of the best contracts in baseball is no longer resides in Kansas City. And the same could happen in Texas if the Houston Astros choose to do so.
The similarities between Jose Altuve and Perez is definitely interesting. Both were born just days apart in Venezuela. They each made the major league debut in 2011. And the contract extensions that both signed a few years ago turned out to be two of the best deals in baseball from an organization’s perspective. Then David Glass, the Royals owner, decided that he felt generous enough to handsomely reward one of his organization’s best players with $36 million in new money. However, Astros owner Jim Crane isn’t exactly known for spending money for sentimental reasons. And while the Royals ownership may have no qualms paying out more money to an already signed player, the same situation may never unfold between Altuve and the Astros.
From a pure business standpoint, Altuve carries a great deal of value to the Astros in terms of ticket sales, marketing, and merchandise in relative comparison to his current contract. And don’t forget that his contract also includes two team options for 2018 and 2019 at an extremely team-friendly rate. So, yeah, that contract is extremely valuable.
The same could be said about Altuve from a purely baseball perspective. From the time he made his debut in 2011, Altuve has just hit. And hit. Then hit some more. I think you get the point. In short, he was a key reason why the Astros were somewhat bearable to watch from 2011-14. His play is also a main reason behind the Astros’ recent resurgence into contention. The fact that he achieved a 4.8 and 4.3 WAR the past two seasons is quite impressive. This comes second to only Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who has a combined 9.4 WAR from 2014-15. This is the same Kinsler that made $32 million the past two seasons. Altuve has made only $3.7 million over that same period of time.
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And for those that are interested, Fangraphs has a neat statistic that converts WAR to dollar values. Altuve, per the dollar value from Fangraphs, was worth a whopping $34.4 million in 2015. He was worth even more in 2014 at $36.8 million. But before you can get in a tizzy over this metric, please note that the derived figure from the WAR-to-dollar conversion isn’t meant to predict future value. In Altuve’s case, it essentially quantifies a surplus value based on past performance and how much the going rate would be to replace that value via the free agent market if the team forecasted that level of production.
You probably realized before all of my incessant rambling that Jose Altuve is definitely worth more than his current contract. But I am not saying that he is worth $34.4 million. No team is going to pay Altuve that large of a sum per year on the open market. However, he is definitely worth much more than his current salary based on past performance and future projections. Much more than the $3.5 million he is scheduled to make in 2016.
So this brings us back to my original question: should the Astros extend Jose Altuve beyond 2019?
In short, yes, the Astros ownership probably should attempt it. Like the Royals recent extension with Perez, it would be a great showing of goodwill. And if Altuve ages well, it could serve as an opportunity to lock up an above average second baseman to another team friendly contract for the long term. But will they? Who knows. Of course, this isn’t my money that I’m talking about and the Astros have every right to spend money how they see fit, even at the club’s expense. Let’s just hope they value Altuve enough to prove they want him to remain an Astro no matter the future cost.
**Statistics provided by FanGraphs**