Saying something like, "Oh no, the Houston Astros might have to pay the luxury tax this year," is a rather difficult thing to get someone to care about — even, and maybe especially, if they're a die hard fan who wants to see their team do anything to win a championship. Who cares if it means coughing up an extra few million dollars in taxes? The luxury tax is a bit of, for lack of a better term, inside baseball. It's hard to see the ramifications of going over it, much less care about them, especially when your team is winning.
Still, the luxury tax is necessary if baseball is never going to institute a salary cap (which it's not). Basically, MLB sets a spending ceiling every year (in 2024, it's $237 million). If teams go over it, they're subjected to heavy taxes based on how much they exceed the limit and on the team's history of overspending. For example, the Mets, this year's highest-spending team, paid $111 million in luxury tax fees alone. If they do it again next year (which they will), they'll be taxed more heavily because of their repeated offense.
3 free agent targets for the Astros that would be worth paying the luxury tax for
The Astros didn't spend over the ceiling last year, and their projected 2024 payroll of $218.6 million and their professed financial inflexibility make it seem likely that they won't again. But...maybe they should? The Astros are a perennial playoff team that is going to keep most of its core going into 2024, it's true, but it's also not an excuse to get complacent. Here are three free agents that the Astros should heavily consider paying the luxury tax for.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the hottest Japanese player on the market not named Shohei Ohtani. He was just posted for free agency by his NPB team the Orix Buffaloes, sending him into free agency and unleashing about a third of the league upon him. The usual suspects are already in pursuit — the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, and Cubs are just the names that will pop up first when you do a quick search of Yamamoto's name — so why shouldn't the Astros, who need starting pitching, be too?
The bullet points on Yamamoto are hard to believe: at only 25, he already has six years of professional baseball under his belt, three consecutive Triple Crown wins in Japan, a World Baseball Classic championship, two no-hitters, and a career ERA of 1.82. There's no question why he'll be the most sought-after free agent behind Ohtani, and why he should expect to make over $200 million on his first MLB deal.
Signing Yamamoto to their roster would send the Astros' payroll well over the $237 million ceiling, but when your rotation underwent some major health/injury difficulties in 2023 and your ace, despite being an undisputed all-time great, is 35, shouldn't it be something to heavily consider? Houston should be more of a destination for free agents than it is (ignoring, of course, a certain incident in 2017), given the team's unshakeable success. There'd be no better way to make it seem like one than signing a player like Yamamoto.