RECIPE FOR GREATNESS
Here's why MLB struggles to replicate Houston Astros winning formula
Since 2019, one critical player, one year at a time, the Astros have watched superstars leave via free agency rather than mortgage their future on high-risk, overpriced, long-term deals.
2019 – Gerrit Cole, 9 years, $324 million with the Yankees.
2020 – George Springer, 6 years, $150 million with the Blue Jays.
2021 – Carlos Correa, 3 years, $105 million with the Twins.
2022 – Justin Verlander, $2 years, $86 million with the Mets.
The Astros’ ability to create superstars and then decline to match (or even coming close to) those contracts has made more mega-millionaires than that FTX crypto currency guy, Sam Bankman-Fried.
OK, bad example. Let’s say Charles Schwab.
And now former (still weird to say that) Astro Carlos Correa has signed a 13-year, $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. Correa is 28 years old. He will be 41 the last year of his contract in 2036. The way baseball is changing rules and making over the game, who knows what baseball will look like in 2036? One thing is unlikely – a 41-year-old shortstop.
Of course the Giants aren’t thinking 2036 – they’re all in on now. They needed to make a splash in the free agent market, especially since they whiffed on Aaron Judge. California is a competitive market with division rivals San Diego and Los Angeles stocking their rosters with marquee players. Stars sell tickets. Without Correa, the Giants would be fielding a team of … go ahead, name their starting lineup.
The Giants offered 13 years to make Correa happy and to amortize the $350 million to infinity and beyond, thus avoiding luxury tax penalties.
As Michael Corleone would say, if history has taught us anything … it’s that crazy long contracts are bad investments in baseball. But desperate times call for desperate measures. The Giants finished 2022 with an 81-81 record, pretty good, but 30 games behind their arch rival Dodgers in the National League West.
Instead of arch rival Dodgers, maybe we should say traditional rival Dodgers. It’s been pretty one-sided lately.
Even with Verlander leaving the Astros for Mets riches (a 40-year-old will be the highest-paid player next year), the Astros should continue their winning ways without a blink. That’s their thing.
Besides becoming super-wealthy men with Astros pedigree, what do Springer, Cole and Correa – and for sure Verlander next year have in common?
After departing the Astros, none has been back to the World Series. Meanwhile Astros players plan World Series bonuses in their family budgets.
The Astros will be fine in 2023, they’re the betting favorites to repeat. They don’t just reload, they add firepower.
Who’d you rather have in 2023 – Kyle Tucker or George Springer? Framber Valdez or Justin Verlander? And a year ago it would have been a ridiculous question, but Jeremy Peña or Carlos Correa? Apples to apples, their 2022 seasons were very similar. Correa batted .291 with 22 homers and 64 RBI. Peña batted .254 with 22 homers and 63 RBI. Peña added a Gold Glove and World Series MVP. Peña is three years younger.
Correa, Cole, Springer and Verlander will earn about $135 million combined in salary next year.
Depending on arbitration and possible contract extensions, Peña, Tucker, Valdez and let’s add Cristian Javier will earn about $21 million.
Plus, in the case of the Astros quartet: World Series bonus money.