July 5, 2022

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What this big-money deal says about Astros

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This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The largest contract the Astros have given a player is the five-year, $151 million extension that Jose Altuve signed in March 2018, the year after he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award. That’s one of a handful of extensions Astros ownership has given players in the last few years, including Monday, when outfielder Yordan Alvarez signed a six-year, $115 million extension.

The Alvarez extension is the second-largest contract in club history and comes after the Astros were unable to sign stars Gerrit Cole after the 2019 season, George Springer after ’20 and Carlos Correa after last year. Houston has been heretofore unwilling to break the bank and pay free agents anywhere close to the $200 million to 300 million deals that have been handed out in recent years, and it’s worked out well for them.

By signing players to extensions earlier in their careers, buying out their arbitration years and relying on their player development to plug holes when star players leave for big bucks elsewhere, the Astros have remained among the elite powers in Major League Baseball for the last six seasons. Five consecutive trips to the AL Championship Series, three World Series appearances and a 9 1/2-game lead in the AL West on June 8 are proof of their sustained success.

“With us, it’s about maintaining long-term competitiveness,” general manager James Click said. “It’s always a balance of the certainty versus the flexibility. Our fans and the support we get in town give us the capability to run a payroll in the upper echelon of the league, and because of that we can commit to players. But, at the same time, it’s a 26-man roster for a reason. … We definitely prioritize having a complete roster, top to bottom.”

This year is a good example of that, with rookie Jeremy Peña outperforming Correa, who signed with the Twins, and the Astros getting about league-average production from Chas McCormick and Jose Siri in center field. Despite the Astros’ loss of Cole — and fellow pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Zack Greinke — to free agency in the past few years, unheralded arms like Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Cristian Javier have come up and played key roles.

Smaller extensions have been given to pitchers Justin Verlander and Ryan Pressly, outfielder Michael Brantley and infielder Yuli Gurriel in recent years, with good return for the value. While their payroll remains in the top 10 in the league this year at roughly $175 million, according to Spotrac.com, the Astros still have room to be buyers at the Trade Deadline once again.

“As we have injuries to pitchers, as we have injuries to position players, as we have dips in performances, we need to have the flexibility to be able to react to that, and the depth to be able to react to that,” Click said. “Making sure we prioritize the entire team is something we talk about frequently.”

The largest free-agent deal the Astros have had in their history is still the six-year, $100 million contract given to Carlos Lee in 2006, which was under a previous regime. They’ve also gone to $100 million for an extension to Alex Bregman in March 2019 (five years, $100 million). Their biggest deal for a pitcher is Lance McCullers Jr.’s five-year, $85 million extension last spring.

Which brings us to outfielder Kyle Tucker, who’s already turned down an extension offer from the Astros. Perhaps seeing Alvarez sign his deal will swing Tucker towards an extension with Houston, but those deals are tougher to finish the deeper you get into the season.

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