The consensus of the experts on this blog is that the Astros may top out at $65 million for its 2015 payroll. Even Jim Crane predicts the Astros’ payroll will increase by $20 million from 2014 to 2015. Depending on the figures you use, that could mean $65-$70 million.
So that essentially puts the expert predictions of blog followers on par with Crane’s expectations. Here’s the reality: If the Astros spend only $65-$70 million next season, it will likely be the lowest payroll in baseball. Again.
Yes, there are plenty of Astros’ players who will be making the minimum or near-minimum salary next season that will “help” to keep the payroll lower, but a $75 million payroll isn’t far-fetched.
Let’s take inventory of where things stand today.
- Scott Feldman $10 million.
- Chad Qualls $3 million.
- Jose Altuve $2.69 million.
- Jon Singleton $2 million.
- Matt Albers $3 million ($200,000 buyout).
Several players are due arbitration this off-season, but the Astros are likely to offer it to only a few. Jesus Guzman, Alex Presley, Carlos Corporan, Alex White and Anthony Bass are potential non-tenders or may work out other deals, but don’t expect to see them in arbitration.
Dexter Fowler, Jason Castro, Chris Carter and Marwin Gonzalez will either get extensions or go through the arbitration process. Matt Dominguez and Dallas Keuchel both will miss Super 2 status by only a handful of days, though the latter could be an extension candidate. We’ll use these approximate projections for our 2015 payroll numbers, assuming these players are back in Houston.
- Fowler (Year 4) $11 million.
- Castro (Year 3). $5 million.
- Carter (Year 1). $3 million.
- Gonzalez (Year 1). $1.5 million.
For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume there are 10 players on the roster who will earn at or near the minimum ($500,000). This list will include players like Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Josh Fields, Michael Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano, as well as Jonathan Villar, Matt Domingeuz and Max Stassi. Whether or not these are the actual names, we’ll use 10 as the figure of players in this group.
Together with the above groups, there are 18 players (not counting Albers) who will earn approximately $43 million. That leaves approximately $20-$30 million for Jeff Luhnow to use for free agent signings, acquiring additional salary through trades or rewarding current players with extensions.
How Luhnow ranks his priorities and which players are available will obviously impact which positions are arranged, but realistically, this calculation could allow the Astros to bring in 2-3 big name free agents.
Conclusion. Luhnow has plenty of options. Trades. Extensions. Free agents. The above theory presumes that players like Castro, Carter and Fowler will return, but moving a player like Fowler and filling the outfield with younger players provides Luhnow even more flexibility to fill the holes on the left side of the infield and in the bullpen.
Look for a roster shuffle and don’t cringe if the opening day roster is only $65 million. Remember, the year will come when Houston will add payroll at the trade deadline, so it shouldn’t be shocking if Luhnow takes on salary after opening day in an effort to reach the 85-win total.
Prediction. Expect one bigger free agent signing. A closer like David Robertson, a DH such as Victor Martinez, OF Nelson Cruz or one of the significant third base options (Aramis Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval etc.) could be on the radar and shouldn’t be discounted, though it’s likely the Astros won’t dabble in that Class A grouping. Other lesser possibilities (e.g. platoon options, stop-gap solutions, etc.) will fill out the roster.
Now for the questions of how you’d solve the puzzle:
- Should the Astros venture into the world of 3-4 year (or even 5-year) contracts that approach $14-$15 million per season?
- If you answered yes to the above question — and assuming there would be only one of those contracts available — which player would you target?
- Estimate the extensions that Keuchel and Springer should receive this winter.
- Simple question: If Albers is healthy this winter should the Astros pick up his option? Despite your opinion, will the Astros pick up the option?
- Jose Veras will be a free agent and could factor into the 2015 bullpen equation. Do you offer a one or two year deal? For how much?
- The Astros added about $20 million to payroll this season and Crane suggests upping the ante another $20 million this winter. Using that as a guide, the Astros could have a $90+ million payroll in 2016. Your thoughts?