Astros: Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg deals inflated cost of pitchers

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: Gerrit Cole speaks to the media at Yankee Stadium during a press conference at Yankee Stadium on December 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: Gerrit Cole speaks to the media at Yankee Stadium during a press conference at Yankee Stadium on December 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The exorbitant contracts of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg seemed to have a ripple effect on free-agent pitchers, making them too costly for the Astros.

This has certainly been a record year when it comes to the size of the contracts that free-agent pitchers are hauling in. Stephen Strasburg and the World Champion Washington Nationals announced their record-setting deal for a pitcher, only to be topped the next day by former Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole and the Yankees agreeing to a 9-year $324 million dollar contract.

But it didn’t stop there. Free-agent pitchers started falling like dominoes, signing big contracts, one after the other. Zack Wheeler‘s $118 million contract, Madison Bumgarner signing for $85 million, and the recent $55.5 deal, for yet another former Astro, Dallas Keuchel, to name just a few.

The AAV (Average Annual Salary) of these pitchers’ contracts is astronomical, with Cole’s coming in at $36 million, Strasburg right behind him at $35 million, and Zack Wheeler just barely under $30 million. Compare these salaries to the free-agent signings of the last couple of years and the difference really stands out.

The highest AAV for a pitcher signed since 2017 is $25 million and there were only two other deals that surpassed a $20 million AAV in those two offseasons. Look at last year’s deal for Charlie Morton, he got a 2-year contract for $30 million, $15 million per season. So far in 2019 eight pitchers will top Morton’s AAV. Heck, Dallas Keuchel’s signing is worth more per season than Morton’s! Is Keuchel a better pitcher than Morton? I think not.

Just last night, the Blue Jays and Hyun-Jin Ryu have agreed to a 4-year $80 million deal, $20 million per year. I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit steep for a 33-year-old, injury-prone pitcher that has only surpassed 152 innings a season twice since 2013.

Now, how does this affect the Houston Astros? Simple. They can’t afford to compete in a market of swollen salaries being handed out to pitcher after pitcher. Houston has gotten into a little bit of a salary crunch of their own. They are currently sitting at approximately $21 million over that dreaded Luxury Tax Threshold and the roster has yet to be filled.

Astros owner Jim Crane has already indicated that they’ve come to terms with the fact that they will top that threshold this year. But by that much? Probably not. That overage puts them into the double penalty category, costing even more in taxes and possibly draft pick penalties.

The way I see it, the Astros have three choices left at this point. They can still sign one of the free-agent pitchers farther down the spectrum, maybe a low salary reclamation project for Brent Strom. They could stand pat and go with what they have and hope prospects like Jose Urquidy and Forrest Whitley pan out. Finally, the trade route is always an option. Possibly Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, or both for a top of the line pitcher, now or in another one of their late-season trades.

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With the pitchers’ contracts soaring sky high this season and the payroll situation of the Astros, their hands appear to be tied somewhat. But, all we can do is wait on the sidelines and see what the front office can pull off, if anything. Jeff Luhnow always seems to make everything work out alright, and I suspect he will again this year.