Someday, we’ll look back on these times as the good ol’ days!
The Astros are flying high today, just as Sports Illustrated predicted several years ago. But, as is often the case in any field, it’s sometimes easy to get to the top of the mountain. The difficulty comes in staying there.
You can’t argue with the path that Jeff Luhnow has taken, especially given the recent results. Painful at times over the past decade, the mile markers have been obvious as the organization has rocketed to the best record in baseball in 2017. To be sure, in 2017, there are the Astros. And, then, there is the rest of the major leagues.
But there are still tough roads ahead for Houston, especially off the field.
When all is said and done in 2017, Houston will have an overall payroll around $120 million — and maybe a World Series trophy. But none of its stars — Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer et al — are earning exorbitant salaries. In fact, Altuve — thanks to that early contract — is making only $4.5 million this season and continues to be one of the shining stars in the league.
Luhnow is pacing himself well though, not clogging up the payroll arteries long-term. In fact, only two players — Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick — are signed for 2020, though Houston does hold options for Altuve ($6.5 million), Brian McCann ($15 million) and Will Harris ($5.5 million) for that season.
The big questions ahead for the Astros will be the Big 4 mentioned above. Keuchel will be due up first, heading into his final year of arbitration in 2018. And he’s having the perfect set-up season for it. If Houston is able to keep him, he will undoubtedly become the highest-paid player in the organization’s history.
Can you say $30 million per season?
By the time Altuve becomes a free agent, he’ll probably have a few more All Star games under his belt and maybe another batting title or two. He’ll be 30 when he gets what will probably be his one big contract.
Can you say $200 million, with at least $25 million per season?
Correa? Well, who knows. He won’t be a free agent until 2022, but is there any doubt he’ll make the big $ within the next 2-3 years? Correa has actually said he’d be open to an Altuve-like deal, though he said that would have to be sooner than later. That, however, could buy Luhnow some time.
Springer, though, may be the odd man out or the centerpiece of the future. A somewhat late bloomer compared to Correa, Springer won’t be a free agent until 2021…at age 31. The fleet center fielder is earning $3.9 million in his first year of arbitration and that will jump dramatically next season.
By 2022, if the Astros keep their core together, Luhnow could be handing out $20 million salaries to at least four players. Can you justify $100 million for four players, even if those four players are named Correa, Springer, Altuve and Keuchel?
Will the Astros have to pick and choose between their best three position players? Which one will Luhnow pull the trigger with first: Springer? Altuve? Correa?
And, if the Astros go out and buy another Keuchel-like starter, what then?
Yes, the bottleneck is coming and you can bet that Luhnow is spending a good amount of time crunching those numbers. He had the latitude this way to up the ante to $120 million, but how far will Jim Crane dig into the till?
So for the conversation starter, here are a few questions:
- Which of the Big Four are still around in an Houston uniform in 2022?
- Which of the Big Four will be traded after the Astros win the 2017 World Series?
- Which of the Big Four will be most valuable, most necessary to the World Series run in 2019?
- It’s way too early — and very unfair — to ask the question, but that’s what I get to do: How many of the Big Four are Hall of Fame bound?
- Which of the Big Four would the Astros miss most in 2018?