While the long-term outlook for the Houston Astros is much brighter than the outlook for the rest of this season, there is one player who is doing his best to keep the team from having the No. 1 overall draft pick for a third straight year.
Jose Altuve is not only leading the Astros in offense, but his .318 batting average also ties him for the seventh highest average in the American League. Not bad for a player who is only in his second full season, and his first in the AL. His 54 hits also tie him for eighth most in the league.
Even better for the Astros, Altuve cannot become a free agent until after the 2017 season.
However, with key players having been traded in recent seasons—among a series of cost cutting decisions—just how exactly do the Astros view Altuve’s long-term future with the team?
As a second baseman who has already proven that he is capable of batting near, if not above, the .300 mark, Altuve gives the Astros a perennial All-Star candidate and a player who can bat near the top of the lineup for at least the next four seasons.
What makes him even more intriguing, however, is that he is no longer represented by agent Scott Boras, as Brian McTaggart wrote on the team’s official website.
Players represented by Boras are seemingly urged to test the free agency waters, or cause teams to reach even deeper into their pockets in order for them to forego an experience with free agency. For a team that has made multiple efforts to cut payroll and avoid any high priced free agents, this likely would have meant that Altuve would have been allowed to test free agency once eligible.
However, following Altuve’s agency change, Houston must make an attempt to keep him in an Astros uniform for the foreseeable future, rather than wait until he nears free agency.
For one, the Astros at some point should see the minor league prospects that they have either traded for or drafted in recent years reach the major league level.
First baseman Jonathan Singleton, who is currently serving a 50-game suspension for a failed drug test, batted .284 with 21 home runs, 79 RBI and a .396 OBP at Double-A last season. Once he returns, there’s a chance he will reach the major league level either this season or next.
Starting pitcher Jarred Cosart is currently 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 43.1 innings at Triple-A. Players such as last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick Carlos Correa and George Springer are also having success, although their progression still puts them a few years away from a major league debut.
With young talent making its way towards the big leagues, there’s a chance that Altuve will be entering his prime right as the team’s top prospects are either major league ready, or beginning to hit their stride at the major league level.
Altuve will be just 27 years old when he hits free agency, but could by then be a veteran presence on a roster that boasts young talent.
Furthermore, with key players leaving in recent seasons and few spending sprees taking place in free agency, signing Altuve to a long-term deal could signal to fans that the team is ready to keep its top talent rather than continually stocking up on prospects for future seasons.
Altuve could net a large return if traded, but could also be the face of a franchise that has a chance to go from last place to playoff contender right around the time he would be hitting free agency.
Players such as Buster Posey, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Elvis Andrus have all signed long-term extensions in recent months, meaning that free agency in future seasons could see a dip in talent.
This also means that Altuve, at his current pace, could be setting himself up for a huge pay day down the road. It makes sense for the Astros to make every attempt to prevent him from reaching free agency in the first place.
Those players that do reach free agency could also view the Astros as a more appealing destination if they know that Altuve is locked in for years to come and that young talent will soon be making their major league debuts.
Though the Astros currently find themselves a few years away from contention, Altuve—despite being years away from free agency and not yet eligible for arbitration—is emerging as one of the better talents in the league.
Yes, the Astros could wait until Altuve is closer to free agency before opening up extension talks. And, yes, they could decide that committing major money long-term to any player doesn’t make sense just yet, while continuing to acquire prospects is better for the long-term outlook.
But what they should do is signal to fans and future free agents that a plan is in place to climb out of the AL West cellar in the near future by signing their top player and, arguably, the face of their franchise, to a long-term extension.