Let’s talk dollars, sense and the 2016 Houston Astros. When you take a look at the projected salaries and payrolls for the coming seasons, it is evident — very evident — that the Astros have prepared themselves accordingly. From the team-friendly contract with Jose Altuve and the much-complained-about keeping George Springer in the minors to moving multiple top prospects, Jeff Luhnow and Co. has clearly positioned the organization for a sort of rolling payroll for the next several seasons.
Here are a few facts to catch you up.
- The Astros have $57.2 million committed to 8 players this season.
- Six arbitration players are projected to earn approximately $23 million combined.
- 2015 opening day payroll: $72.5 million.
- 2015 end-of-season payroll: $82.4 million.
- 2016 projected payroll if season started today: $89 million.
Luhnow has obviously positioned himself to re-tool the team this year and next by keeping his payroll options open. The only player budgeted to earn over $9 million this season is Colby Rasmus $15.8 million). Obviously, that could change with another acquisition or a multi-year deal for Dallas Keuchel. With arbitration hearings set to begin soon, the Astros are still mired in the bottom 10 payroll listings, but it’s reasonable to project them into the middle of the pact by mid-season if not sooner.
Scott Feldman, Carlos Gomez, Jason Castro, Rasmus and Luis Valbuena ($43.6 million combined) will all roll off the books after this season, allowing even more flexibility if they aren’t re-signed. But Springer, Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers also become eligible for arbitration next winter.
The challenge for Luhnow is to identify and establish the core of the organization for the next decade and complement that core with talented short-term additions while continuing to keep a flow of talent through the system and the draft. A delicate balance to say the least. Whether by plan or happenstance, Houston has positioned itself well. Each of the next 4-5 seasons, about four new players are scheduled to hit arbitration for the first time. Several contracts are also scheduled to roll off the books each of the next few years as well, allowing for further flexibility.
But when you consider that the Astros have added to the core virtually every season for the last four years, the long-term picture does start to come into focus more clearly.
Now, back to 2016. Fourteen players are essentially under contract, either through a guaranteed deal or arbitration binder. Those 14 will earn approximately $80 million with 11 other players set to make at or around league minimum. Thus the $89 million range roster as of this moment.
That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, though it does appear the Astros are willing to add at least some payroll. With the traded Jed Lowrie and the jettisoned Chris Carter no longer in the system, the Astros have cleared the decks for their internal options to shine or for more flexibility on the trade/free agent route.
More likely, though, is that the Astros add pitching competition for the rotation. They have been linked to Jovani Gallardo, but the team would have to give up its first round pick (#18), thus making Houston’s first selection in the draft #60! A huge gamble, but with the hit and miss of the recent high draft picks, Gallardo might fit into the plans nicely for the rest of this decade. Doug Fister, who would not require giving up the first round pick, is also another notable free agent still unsigned, though you can argue a handful of Fister-like players are already in the system.
Here’s what the team might look like if the season started today.
- Catcher: Castro, Max Stassi.
- Rotation. Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers Jr., Feldman, Fiers.
- Bullpen: Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Tony Sipp, Will Harris, Josh Fields, Pat Neshek, Michael Feliz.
- Infield: Jon Singleton, Altuve, Correa, Valbuena, Marwin Gonzalez.
- Outfield: Rasmus, Gomez, Springer, Jake Marisnick, Preston Tucker.
- DH: Evan Gattis.
Where are the Astros most vulnerable? On paper, the bullpen appears killer, the rotation is solid, if not well above average and that outfield could do some serious damage if it stays healthy and puts up even average numbers (for each player).
The infield — if you consider projections, talent and some history — could be the ace in the hole. However, it could also become the albatross of the 2016 season if the long line of possibilities flames out.
All in all, though, Houston is better positioned than this time one year ago. And, with room to make another significant move or a few more middle tier moves before opening day, the odds makers will be hard-pressed not to consider the Astros in their projections.