There is no denying the future is bright for the Astros.
Even amidst the early struggles of this season, the Astros were still in the conversation of the up-and-rising franchises in baseball. After the recent turnaround, that chatter has only increased. Honestly, this is what happens when you load up in minor league talent that eventually funnels its way to the major leagues.
However, there is much more to building a successful baseball team than drafting well. You have to retain the talent and supplement it on the major league level through the use of the almighty dollar.
Successful teams in baseball over the past ten or so years made it by not only drafting well but also possessing the foresight to open up the pocketbook. The San Francisco Giants stand out as the prime example of this model in recent years. The Chicago Cubs haven’t won anything yet, but the “Lovable Losers” are primed to go on their impressive run and in turn have been aggressive on the free agent market. However, that hasn’t been the case thus far in Houston. That is until recently.
For arguably the first time under Jim Crane ownership, the Astros opened up the pocketbook to take a chance on a free agent. This time, it was for Cuban star Yulieski Gurriel.
While there will be a fair share of opinions in support or questioning the Astros decision to sign a 32-year old hitter that has yet to face Major League-caliber pitchers, the fact that the organization spent $47.5 million is encouraging. It signals that the Astros are willing to spend somewhat outside the organization to improve the major league roster. And this signing though MUST be the start of a trend, not the exception.
The most noticeable criticism in recent years has been the Astros lack of spending on the open market. Yes, the team did sign Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million contract a few off-seasons ago and opened up the wallet to improve the bullpen in the winter of 2015. The Astros also knowingly added Carlos Gomez‘s $9 million tab to the bill this season as well. And the Gurriel signing is another step in the right direction. But compared to other teams of comparable market size, that is almost chump change.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is usually financially irresponsible for a franchise to build almost exclusively through the free agent market. Unless you are the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, or Boston Red Sox, other teams need to rely on a mixture of homegrown and external acquisitions to make a true push to contender status. There have been exceptions to this rule, but more times than not a combination is needed.
But let’s face it, these Astros aren’t going to stay cheap forever, and the need to supplement the roster with external major league talent is real. Between Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, and George Springer, along with others, the Astros will need to start forking over money within the next two to five years to keep many of their own players in Houston. And each one of those players is expected to be compensated handsomely.
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For example, Altuve recently switched back to super agent Scott Boras. This news signifies that the Astros will not be able to sign the potential AL MVP candidate to another team-friendly contract when his current deal expires after the 2019 season. To say otherwise would be foolish right now. Sure, 2019 is still far away in baseball years. Health and performance will dictate much of each major deal that the Astros are involved with in the coming years. But if Altuve performs at a high level each season by then, the Astros will have to pay to keep him.
The same can be said for external talent that the Astros may be interested in bringing to Houston. And I can’t lie; it would’ve been nice to see the Astros make a play for one of the top starting pitchers on the open market in the past. Or hopefully in the future. At some point, this team MUST make the leap of faith to put themselves truly over the top.
Listen to this week’s Talking Stros
The Astros has taken little steps over the past few years. Payroll flexibility will still be there in the coming years. But to maintain a winner, you must spend and supplement along the way. I just hope that the Astros are willing to take that next step in the coming years. Saving money is nice, but winning championships is much, much better.
**Salary and contract information provided by Spotrac.com**