Here is a what-if exercise involving the Astros that may get everyone thinking this weekend.
We all know that the Astros main core is composed of the following players: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. All three are amongst the best at their respective positions. Each are still under club control for the foreseeable future.
But say by some utterly bizarre circumstances you were only allowed to retain one of the three-star players? Who would you choose to be the building block?
Honestly, I’m not sure whom I would select to build my team. At first glance anyway. Altuve, Correa, and Springer are all valuable players. But not all valuable players are equal.
In terms of WAR, it is clear that Altuve has been the more valuable player in recent memory. His 11.2 WAR since the 2015 season is roughly 25% higher than the 8.3 WAR that both Correa and Springer have posted in the same amount of time. Another metric to look at is wRC+, which captures a player’s overall offensive performance. And to no surprise, we see Altuve’s recent two-year sample (137 wRC+) puts him above Correa (127 wRC+) and Springer (127 wRC+).
Defense is another area to examine when determining value. Unfortunately, defensive metrics are notably less accurate than their offensive brethren. But we take what we can get. For example, Fangraphs has a Defense metric that attempts to quantify as such with fielding and positional adjustments.
By that same Defense metric, we see Altuve with a 2.9 Defense rating over the same two-year span. Correa’s Defense metric comes in at 3.1. Springer, on the other hand, posted a -3.6.
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If you go by UZR though, Springer posted a 7.3 in right field. Altuve has -0.3 UZR, which isn’t great but not terrible either for a second baseman. However, Correa posted a -8.3 UZR, which is not, um, optimal. DRS, another fielding metric, reinforces the findings of UZR for the Astros trio.
At this point this is what we know: all three are valuable players with the bat. That may qualify as the obvious statement of the year. Defense though is a bit harder to develop a thorough understanding. All in all, Springer likely has the edge regarding defense when you consider his athletic ability in the outfield along with his favorable metrics in UZR and DRS.
Then you have to factor in regression and improvement. The Steamer projections at Fangraphs that the trio will finish with the following WAR in 2017.
Altuve: 4.0 WAR
Correa: 4.8 WAR
Springer: 3.9 WAR
All three are projected to be less productive this upcoming season regarding WAR, which isn’t surprising as projection systems tend to be a bit more negative. However, it is something to think about that Correa is projected to finish near his 2016 WAR total (4.9 WAR). Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if all three manage to surpass their projections.
Value though is not determined only by offense and defense numbers nowadays. Or exclusively through projection systems. You have to consider the factors that are external to the baseball diamond such as contracts and years of player control.
It is no secret that Altuve plays on one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball today. When you break down his annual salary of the life of the deal, including team option years being exercised, it would basically be $4.033 million per year. That is a heck of a deal when you consider he has been averaging a 5.43 WAR since 2014.
However, you must consider the length of the contract. And with baseball’s own super-agent, Scott Boras, representing Altuve today, you have to believe that his next deal won’t be nearly as team-friendly when it ends following the 2019 season. Though that is riding on the contingency that the Astros exercise both option years following this season.
Springer is under team control through the 2020 season. While that extra year of control is ideal, you have to consider that he isn’t locked into the same rate that Altuve is on his contract. You should expect Springer to be earning more than Altuve soon due to future arbitration-based increases in salary. The same can be said for any extension that the outfielder would be open to signing in the near future.
Correa is another case similar to Springer’s own. However, the Astros hold control over his playing rights through the 2021 season. And like Springer, the team could very well sign Correa to contract extension before he enters free agency which would keep him in Houston indefinitely. However, you have to account that the Astros would have his rights through 2021. That is two years longer than Altuve and one year longer than Springer at their current contracts.
At this point, I would have to move forward with Correa as the building piece in our bizarre hypothetical exercise. Good thing this is hypothetical, right?
Between his current level of production, the expected improvement, and the years of team control remaining, I believe Correa would be the best player for a team to build around long-term. That is meant to be no knock on Altuve and Springer though as both players are vital to the Astros overall success in the past and the future. At least the Astros don’t have to adhere to my random, and useless, exercise. They have the good fortune to build around all three talents. Good for them.
**Statistics and Salary information courtesy of Fangraphs**