2018 is pivotal year for Jose Altuve, Astros

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros runs outside the dugout before game seven of the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros runs outside the dugout before game seven of the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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The 2018 season will play a big factor in determining Jose Altuve’s long-term future with the Astros.

Jose Altuve is coming off his first MVP award and his first World Series championship. He’s the face of a franchise that is poised to be competitive for the foreseeable future. And at some point within the next two years, he will become a wealthy man.

Altuve is playing on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the sport. He made just $4.5 million in 2017 and will earn $6 million this season. The Astros have one more team option for the 2019 season at $6.5 million. After that, he’s a free agent.

If Altuve continues to produce as he has over the past few years, there’s no telling how much money he could get on the open market. $200 million seems like just a starting point. If the Astros intend to keep him in Houston beyond 2019, they can’t allow him to reach free agency.

That’s why the 2018 season is a huge one for both player and franchise. The Astros’ best chance to keep Altuve is to sign him to a contract extension before the 2019 season. How Altuve fares in the upcoming campaign will have a significant impact on what kind of money the Astros will need to fork over to keep him around.

A Class of His Own

Altuve’s excellence makes it challenging to find a player to compare him to. He has four straight 200-plus hit seasons, three batting titles in four years and six consecutive seasons of 30-plus steals. He also popped 48 homers over the past two years and increased his walk rate.

Perhaps the most comparable active player is Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, another diminutive second baseman with an MVP award. Altuve has hit for a higher average and stolen more bases through his first six full seasons than Pedroia, though Pedroia took home one more Gold Glove award.

Pedroia’s highest salary, however, is the $16 million he will be making this season. He signed a 6-year, $85 million extension with Boston to cover the 2016-2021 seasons. Thanks to his superior overall numbers (especially over the last two years), Altuve should breeze past that total.

Time to Open the Checkbook

Astros owner Jim Crane has done well to give the front office payroll flexibility. The additions of Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, Justin Verlander and Carlos Beltran were pivotal last season. The problem with having so much young talent, however, is that they will eventually get paid handsomely.

The team can’t afford to sign everyone long-term, as I noted in my post regarding letting Dallas Keuchel leave. But Altuve is one player they just must keep. He’s the face of the franchise and a potential Hall-of-Famer if he stays healthy, and that’s not something a team should let go.

It won’t be easy, thanks to the fact that Scott Boras is Altuve’s agent. It may mean Altuve gets paid $25 million per year or more as he goes into his mid-30s. But sometimes, that’s just the cost of doing business.

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That’s why this upcoming season is so important. It’s going to play a prominent role in determining how much money Altuve will command, and the Astros will have to decide if they’re going to pay it.

***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***

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