Who will be the next Astro in line for a long term deal as the team tries to lock up their core players?

Astros: You get an extension, and you get an extension!

Gerrit Cole. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros are bucking the long-standing trend in Major League Baseball of waiting to pay players big money contracts until after they lose the leverage of team control, and paying players before they have to. In doing so, they have made several of their players very happy and in the process forced other teams to re-evaluate their internal processes and follow suit in order to stay competitive and in good favor with players and agents.

For example, they had Alex Bregman under team control for several years and were only on the hook for a minimal raise of around $41,500 after arbitration, making his contract for 2019 a paltry $640,500. To put that in perspective, the league minimum is $555,000. That's quite a bargain for a player that finished in the top 5 of American League MVP voting, pounded out 31 home runs, 51 doubles, 103 RBI and .926 OPS.

The system is obviously broken and needs to be a major issue to be negotiated in the next collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2021 season. The Astros were smart enough and once again ahead of the curve in setting a trend of rewarding players that deserve and have earned a salary competitive with the better players at their given position, regardless of how many years of team control they have remaining.

They took care of Bregman with a 6 year, $100 million dollar deal and extended Ace Justin Verlander and bullpen standout, Ryan Pressly, as well. The message was sent and heard loud and clear around MLB, if you want to be in the good graces of players and agents both in free agency and in the draft, then you need to throw the rules of the past out the window and take care of the players who have earned a competitive raise based on a trend of outplaying their current deal. So, with 3 key contributors to the teams' recent success joining Jose Altuve as players that are wrapped up for the foreseeable future, the question now becomes, who's next?

Carlos Correa and George Springer are definitely worthy candidates to be next in line, as both have lived up to the billing they got from the time the Astros drafted them. As both players took the baseball world by storm at every stop during their meteoric rise through the minor leagues, it was only a matter of time before the arrived on the big league scene.

Once donning an Astros uniform they continued to thrive as they were both key contributors in bringing Houston its first World Series title. Springer was the MVP of the fall classic, while Correa had key hits throughout the historic run through the postseason. The problem is Correa has been plagued by injuries over the last few years and that can give the organization cause for concern in giving him a long term deal. I believe the team will see how he plays this season and if he is able to play a full schedule and avoid another serious medical set back, Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane will explore wrapping him up long term.

As for Springer, he has been the victim of the frugal former owner of the team, Drayton McClain as well as his front office trained to follow his lead. They held him back to get extra years of team control with no intention of extending him at fair market value. He definitely outplayed his contract in multiple years but it wasn't until Crane bought the team and hired Luhnow that the franchise attempted to right the wrongs of the past and take care of George. He is currently in the middle of a 2 year, $24 million dollar deal and with him being arbitration eligible in 2020, they have a little time before they need to try and lock him into a long term contract. That leaves one big-time player that needs to be taken care of between now and the end of the 2019 season if at all possible.

Gerrit Cole is set to be a free agent and hit the open market at the end of this season. He is coming off arguably the best season of his career setting a career high in strikeouts with 276, while posting a 15-5 record with a 2.88 ERA. The k's and winning percentage were career bests and his ERA was second to the 2015 campaign when he notched a 2.60 with the Pirates.

He is a hard-throwing, inning eating, workhorse that has been dominant ever since he joined the Astros in a trade prior to the 2018 season. At only 28 years old he seems poised and ready to lead a teams' rotation for years to come. He is a quiet guy who has really fit right in with the Astros clubhouse and has really flourished under the watchful eye of pitching coach Brett Strom as well as Verlander, who has been in his shoes and can speak from experience when giving him advice and guidance.

He is on the record in stating how much he has enjoyed the city of Houston, his teammates and the winning environment of the organization and that it would be "nice" to reach an agreement to stay in the blue and orange going forward. So far the team has yet to reach out to Cole's agent, Scott Boras who has a reputation of being a tough negotiator and very hard to please. With that said and with Verlander's signing sending a message to Cole's camp, if the team agrees with me that he deserves a similar type deal and the courtesy of a meeting to get the ball rolling and explore the particulars of a new deal, there is no time like the present.

If they wait, they run the risk of Cole hitting the open market and watching his price tag sail through the roof while also ruffling the feathers of both player and agent who undoubtedly feel like if Verlander was worthy of an extension, they should be too. The precedence has been set, the time is right, the only remaining question is, will the price be right and can they get it done sometime this season? I'm looking at you Jeff Luhnow, there's only one way to find out and the clock is ticking

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Should Watson be in the MVP conversation? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2020 NFL season has a lot going on. Even if we take the coronavirus out of it, there's still a lot to digest. There are so many great performances being put up, one can make an argument for several players to win league MVP. The quarterback position typically gets more credit than others. If I restrict the argument to quarterbacks only, we're looking at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Derrick Henry are the leading contenders at running back. On defense, there really isn't a standout defender. The defense gets no love, but there are several guys in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Deshaun Watson has been putting up numbers that have matched or rivaled some of the top MVP candidates over his last seven games. That stretch has coincided with the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien. Coincidence? I think not. Taking the reigns off a wild horse can often lead to said horse running free and flourishing! So question: Should Watson be getting league MVP considerations? I think so.

For starters, he's been one of the best players in the league over the course of the last seven games. 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. The only quarterback with a better touchdown to interception ratio over that same span is Mahomes (19 and 2, as opposed to Watson's 18 & 2). Factoring in total season stats, of course Mahomes is doing much better. He's on a better team with a much better coach and general manager. The same could be said for Wilson and Rodgers. Put Watson on any of those teams and their records wouldn't be any worse than what they are now.

The Texans are 4-3 since firing O'Brien. While that isn't a great record, consider the fact they started the season 0-4 and looked like a total disaster. Watson looked like he was caged and couldn't wait to be freed. The team's record could be even better if the defense had a pulse. The proper supporting cast has a lot to do with a player's MVP candidate's chances. Now that one of his favorite weapons, Will Fuller, and the team's best corner, Bradley Roby, are both suspended for the rest of the season by the league for violating the substance abuse/PED policy, things will get much tougher for Watson.

If he continues to put up these cartoon like numbers, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the MVP conversation. He's currently fopurth in passing yards, sixth in completion percentage, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, eighth in QBR, and third in quarterback rating. Watson is emerging as the star he was projected to be coming into the 2017 draft. I'm not saying Watson deserves to be the league MVP, but he deserves to be in the conversation. His MVP candidacy should be treated like the family gathering hierarchy: once you reach a certain age and/or status, you're no longer resigned to the kiddie table. Now you get to sit with all the adults, engage in their conversations, and gain access to things you couldn't previously. Watson won't win the MVP award, but I strongly believe he could finish top five. Especially if he keeps making lemonade with the lemons he's been given.

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