Houston Astros just put on a clinic on how to successfully run a franchise
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So said philosopher George Santayana in 1905. I would bet not one Major League Baseball owner has any idea who George Santayana was, but Jim Crane and the Astros sure know baseball history and simply seem smarter and more disciplined than many of their peers.
No MLB owner is going broke no matter how stupid a contract he doles out to a player, but this week's Winter Meetings have had fiscal stupidity on display. Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Robinson Cano. Three guys who were superstars when they signed contracts of at least 10 years in length that would take them to at least 40 years old. All three deals were contractual anvils years before conclusion. In the post-steroids run amok era, players not only don't get better in their mid-30s, most decline by then.
The Phillies paying 29-year-old shortstop Trea Turner 300 million over 11 years is nuts. The Padres going 11 years 280 million with 30-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts is nuts. Any team that gives 28-year-old Carlos Correa 10+ years is nuts. The Yankees “only” gave Aaron Judge nine years. Judge's 360 million dollars over nine seasons makes for simple math. 40 million bucks per season for Astros pitching to generally make him look silly in American League Championship Series. Judge just had one of the great offensive seasons of all-time. It's highly unlikely he'll ever match it. Still, if Judge hits 42 home runs instead of 62, bats .287 (his best average in five seasons before 2022) instead of .311 he's an elite performer. But for how many years? Judge turns 31 in April. The Yankees are the richest franchise in the game, but the back end of Judge's deal is extremely likely to be ugly for them.
Contrast Judge's contract status to Yordan Alvarez's with the Astros. Yordan's six year 115 million extension with the Astros starts in 2023. Alvarez couldn't have become a free agent until after the 2025 season which was critical to why he took the deal that gives financial security to generations of Alvarezs. Given good health and expected performance, what would Yordan have commanded as a free agent at 28 years old? A helluva lot more than the 19.16 mil per season he makes over his Astros extension. The market going haywire is fantastic news for Kyle Tucker who didn't take whatever extension the Astros offered him. Tucker is three seasons from free agent eligibility just before his 29th birthday. If the Astros want to lock him up a la Yordan, it will take Yordan money and probably then some.
The Astros' swing and miss in their pursuit of free agent catcher Willson Contreras is a disappointment but hardly disastrous. The Astros simply weren't going five years 80 mil+ for a catcher who turns 31 in May. Jim Crane and/or whoever else is making GM-type phone calls should be talking with Oakland about Sean Murphy, though the Astros' below average farm system probably makes it tough for them to make the best offer. Murphy is under team control for three more years. Ousted GM James Click was ready to trade Jose Urquidy for Contreras at the July trade deadline before Crane and Dusty Baker outvoted him. Urquidy and a prospect (outfielder Pedro Leon?) or two could be a viable offer for Murphy, but with Justin Verlander officially gone, unless the Astros had a starting pitching depth acquisition ready to go, dealing a solid back end of the rotation guy like Urquidy would be questionable.
With Jose Abreu upgrading the lineup at first base and one left-handed hitting outfielder or another seeming a likely addition, the Astros can endure Martin Maldonado batting ninth a fair number of games one more season while giving more opportunity to Yainer Diaz or Korey Lee. Diaz has hit well at every level of the minors. While plenty of prospects never amount to anything, there is essentially no chance Yainer wouldn't be a meaningfully better lineup piece offensively than Maldy. Lee, considered a reach of a first round pick in 2019 by most around baseball, hit just. 238 at AAA Sugar Land this year but with 25 home runs, and he has a throwing arm probably stronger than Maldonado's.
Stone Cold 'Stros Podcast
Lastly, invitation/encouragement to check out the Astro-centric podcast I have started taking part in with SportsMap masterminds Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. It will typically stream live on YouTube Mondays at 3PM, available there for replay as soon as it ends, then available a couple hours later in strictly audio podcast form via Apple, Spotify, etc.