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
With a new season on the horizon, the Astros have high hopes for 2024 after coming just one game shy of being in the World Series for three consecutive seasons.
If Houston wants to get back to the Fall Classic in 2024, they're going to have to rely on their pitching. Owner Jim Crane believes the club has 8 starting pitchers when Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. return mid-season.
Which allows several of the starters to move to the bullpen and provide even more depth. Add those guys to Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader and you have a recipe for success.
Check out the video above as ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham goes through the entire staff and makes his case for the Astros having the best pitching staff in baseball.
You can listen to The Killer B's with Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank every weekday on ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 from 3 pm - 6 pm!