Well on their way to a third straight 100-loss season with the lowest payroll in baseball, the Astros needed some sort of a positive headline. That came on July 13, 2013 when the team handed Jose Altuve a 4-year $12.5 million deal with two team options, worth another $12.5 million, to follow. That contract has turned into the sport’s biggest bargain and with the second baseman scheduled to make just $17 million over the next three seasons, the Astros need to do the right thing, and give him a new one.
When he signed the contract three years ago, Altuve wasn’t one of the best players in the sport, or even one of baseball’s best second baseman. Despite making the National League All Star team in 2012, his first full-season in the big leagues, Altuve was really just an average player. By WAR, he was the 8th best player on that 2013 111-loss Astros team:
It’s not like Altuve was some can’t miss prospect either, so at the time, extending him might not have been the smartest move financially, but because of his size and the way he played the game, Altuve was a fan-favorite (for those that remained), and because the team’s payroll was shade above $20 million, the Astros could afford the hit, only when the extension kicked in, Altuve became a completely different player
Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson and Adrian Beltre are the only players that have been worth more wins over the last three seasons than Altuve. The two seasons prior, his combined WAR was 194th in baseball, right behind Justin Ruggiano, who was in the Astros organization in 2012 deemed not good enough to be on the big league roster.
After giving the Astros an MVP caliber season for $3.5 million in 2016, Altuve is slated to make $4.5 million in 2017 and assuming the team picks up both options, he’ll make $6 million in 2018, with a half million dollar bump the next season. That’s great for the team, but not so great for the player, and given the Astros reputation with players around Major League Baseball, it might be time for them to do good by one, and it wouldn’t be the first time a team has done that.
This past season, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez played the final season of a 5 year, $7 million contract. At the start of spring training, the Royals signed a cornerstone of the defending World Series champs to a 5 year, $52.5 million extension. The significance of the extension is that Perez’s previous deal included three team option years that would’ve paid him a total of $16.5 million.
The Royals, a small-market club could’ve forced their catcher to play for well-below his market value through 2019, but instead opted to take care of one of their most important players. In doing so, not only did the Royals make Perez happy, but they in turn helped themselves out as well. The team locked-up one of its most important players through his 20s, and despite the raise, Perez will still be paid below his market value, just not as far below, which other players around baseball have surely noticed.
Using Perez as the road map, the Astros should approach Altuve and offer a similar deal. Buyout the two option years and give him three more years on top. It will cost more than the Perez deal, but even doubling or tripling his salary for the next three seasons is a bargain for what he’s produced. Don’t wait to get this done, take care of him now. It would send a message to baseball and its players that the Astros aren’t the cold, calculating, heartless organization they thought. Maybe then the likes of Cole Hamels won’t veto trades to them or Andrew Miller wouldn’t take less money to sign with another team.