Could a financial apocalypse in the horizon for the Astros?
You’ve being shooting grade-A World Series championship smack directly into your veins for four weeks now and you’re addicted. You need more – more hits, more runs, more wins, more rings – you’re willing to do anything – ANYTHING! – for one more hit of that intoxicating high of cheering for the best baseball team in the world. The Astros do as well.
And so you turn your blurry gaze to the offseason to figure out how the team can repeat.
There’s free agency, trades, the Japanese Babe Ruth… it’s a baseball junkie’s paradise… “Shohei Ohtani? Yeah, yeah – gimme Shohei Ohtani! Wade Davis wants $60 million? Done! You need how many prospects for Giancarlo Stanton? Take them; take them all and give the rest to Baltimore for Zach Britton – I don’t care! Just give me another glorious four weeks of mainlining baseball dominance!!!”…
I get it. I do. Fans don’t want to wait 55 years for a second championship; their timetable now is more like… 55 minutes.
Fair enough; that’s the nature of the beast. But, as the winter meetings roar to life later this week, Astros fan expecting Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow and the team’s front office to turn what was an unexpected financial windfall from a deep playoff run into an offseason spending spree are likely to be disappointed.
That’s not to say the Astros won’t spend; they will. The team has increased payroll each year since 2013 and I suspect 2018 will be no different.
But as fans, we need to start wrapping our brains around the pending financial apocalypse that is waiting for this team and how it will impact it in both the short- and long-term.
The Astros young core of stars unfortunately has an expiration date.
Dallas Keuchel is signed through the 2018 season. Jose Altuve 2019. George Springer 2020. Carlos Correa 2021. Alex Bregman 2023. They are all on ridiculously cheap deals right now.
How cheap? This past season, Tony Sipp made more than Altuve. Heck, Sipp made more than Springer, Correa and Bregman combined.
Altogether, that core, which totaled 27.6 WAR, cost the Astros $18.6MM last season.
Forty-four individual players – 44! – made more than those five. On the open market, they’d be worth, roughly, $221MM a year.
When it’s their time, you better believe these guys are going to command – and eventually get – a giant payday, which could obviously get very ugly for the Astros.
How ugly? Gerard Depardieu.
So let’s break out our calculators and take a closer look at all the financial bad news, starting with the two middle infielders.
JOSE ALTUVE – $29 MILLION/YEAR
Robinson Cano is the highest-paid second baseman in baseball. After his age-30 season, he signed a 10-year, $240MM contract. That was in 2013. Average annual baseball salaries have risen roughly 22% prior to the 2017 season.
That would put Altuve’s market value – right now, at age 27 – at roughly $29MM/season. (For some perspective, the Astros’ entire payroll in 2013 was $35MM.) If he doesn’t sign an extension and plays out his current deal (which runs through his age-30 season), that number could increase significantly if Altuve can pack on 3 more seasons as good as his past three seasons. And while it’s hard to imagine Altuve getting better, there’s even less to suggest he’ll regress.
Scary, right? Oh, you don’t know scary, my friend. Scary is having to pay Altuve $29MM/season and him not being your highest-paid player.
CARLOS CORREA – $40 MILLION/SEASON
That honor will almost certainly go to Correa, who is set to hit the open market after his age-27 season. Five-plus WAR shortstops hitting their primes rarely see free agency.
When Alex Rodriquez signed (at the time) his outrageous 10-year/$252 million contract – after his age-25 season (!) – it made him the highest-paid player in baseball by nearly 25%.
Oh, wait – it gets much, much worse.
Before Correa hits the market, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout – perhaps the only three players in baseball any team might consider taking ahead of Correa – are all set to get new deals (as will Altuve), which means Correa’s price will be set/shattered multiple times. (And don’t think that doesn’t also impact Altuve… we may look back at $29MM/season for him and laugh at those quaint days when we thought he was worth *only* $29MM/Season…)
If Altuve is worth $29MM/season (again, today; right now), it’s highly possible Correa could command – and get – $40MM/season. If you struggle with math or, more likely, don’t have the stomach to add those numbers together, we’re talking about $69MM/season for two players. (For some perspective, the Astros’ entire payroll in 2014 was $55.3MM.)
And we haven’t even mentioned Keuchel or Springer yet; that’s because they’re both likely gone. (A topic I’ll elaborate on much more next week.) And while a core of Altuve and Correa, along with Bregman and hopefully reinforcements such as Kyle Tucker could conceivably carry a potent offense, who’s going to pitch?
He will join Keuchel in free agency in ’18 with Justin Verlander and Collin McHugh set to join them the year after.
Sure, there’s Lance McCullers, Jr, assuming he’s not on the disabled list… again. And yeah, Forrest Whitley or Francis Martes will probably realize their potential and become aces, just like Scott Earlton, Carlos Hernandez and Jeff Juden did…
So this winter, as you come down off that World Series high and start screaming, THE ASTROS ARE CHEAP! because they didn’t sign that free agent bat you think would make their offense better or trade prospects for that pitcher you’re sure will put them over the top… (and we all know you will because you screamed that after the deadline this past July) – you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. The Astros will be carefully spending money, if any at all, these next several years.
And they have about 690 million reasons for doing so.