DEAL OR NO DEAL?

How latest “curveball” in contract negotiations could impact Houston Astros

How latest “curveball” in contract negotiations could impact Houston Astros
Will the Astros sign Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker to extensions?Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Why avoiding arbitration with Framber Valdez is a sign of good things to come for Astros

Houston Astros general manager Dana Brown is off to a running start in his first few weeks on the job.

The Astros announced on Friday they reached an extension with pitcher Cristian Javier for five years worth $64 million with a $2 million signing bonus. The move was the first big domino for Houston under Brown and it could be a sign of things to come from the top.

One of the biggest knocks on former Astros GM James Click was the lack of big splash moves he made for the team, including when it came to the trade deadline and in free agency. Well, Brown’s first deal was certainly a big one. Javier played a key role in Houston’s 2022 World Series run.

At only 25 years old, Javier has the potential to be an important player in Houston’s future for the duration of his contract. As far as Brown goes, the signing could be an indicator of what his tenure will be like for the Astros. While Click’s first months with Houston were essentially hijacked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the former GM found himself in a bit of a similar position that Brown is in now.

Back in 2020 when Click first took over, the Astros knew two big pieces were soon going to hit the free agency market in George Springer and Carlos Correa. Ultimately, neither re-signed with the team. Houston’s success despite losing those two players made it a much easier pill to swallow.

Now, Houston has a few players that will need a big pay day to remain with the team long-term. Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez are two big pieces that will need to have a long-term decision made sooner rather than later. Looking even further into the future, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve are set to become free agents after the 2024 season as well.

On Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that a previous report about Valdez and the Astros discussing a long-term deal was wrong. While that doesn’t mean those talks won’t begin eventually, it is worth noting in that same article Brown is quoted as wanting to prioritize keeping the team’s best talent with the Astros.

From a fan's viewpoint, being able to retain the team’s best talent will certainly make Brown a favorite. It ultimately comes down to executing those deals. If Brown can lock down long-term deals with Tucker and Valdez, it will signal a changing of the guard of how things were run for the past three years.

Of course re-signing top talent is only one piece of the puzzle. Brown’s ability to find new players and make in-season moves to help the Astros in the present will determine a lot, too.

Brown’s ability to close the deal with Javier is a step in the right direction when it comes to having a GM that will not be too conservative, which whether fair or not, was the reputation Click garnered. As of now, it looks like Brown is not shy to spend big to keep the Astros great.

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Allen had high praise for Diggs. Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images.

Impersonal as it might seem to have their dynamic on-field relationship end with an exchange of phone texts, Bills quarterback Josh Allen made it clear on Thursday how much receiver Stefon Diggs meant to him during their four seasons together in Buffalo.

Allen made no mention of Diggs’ mercurial temperament or the occasional sideline flare-ups by expressing only praise in his first opportunity to discuss his now-former teammate being traded to the Houston Texans earlier this month.

“Just thanking him for everything that he did for me, and (I’ll) always have a spot in my heart for him. I’ll always love that guy like a brother. And I wish him nothing but the best,” Allen said, in disclosing what he texted to Diggs. “My lasting memory of Stef will be the receiver that helped me become the quarterback that I am today.”

Brought together in March 2020, when Buffalo gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Diggs in a trade with Minnesota, the duo went on to re-write many of Buffalo's single-season passing and scoring records, and lead the team to four straight AFC East titles.

Diggs, now 30, also brought an inescapable sense of drama with him in raising questions about his commitment to the Bills and whether his tight relationship with Allen had soured.

A day before being traded, Diggs posted a message, “You sure?” on the social media platform X in response to someone suggesting he wasn’t essential to Allen’s success.

Whatever hard feelings, if any, lingered as Buffalo opened its voluntary workout sessions this week were not apparent from Allen or coach Sean McDermott, who also addressed reporters for the first time since Diggs was traded.

“Stef’s a great player, really enjoyed our time together. Won a lot of games and he was a huge factor in winning those games. We’ll miss him,” McDermott said. “You never replace a player like Stef Diggs, and we wish him well.”

Allen turned his focus to the future and a Bills team that spent much of the offseason retooling an aging and expensive roster.

Aside from trading Diggs, salary cap restrictions led to Buffalo cutting respected center Mitch Morse, the breakup of a veteran secondary that had been together since 2017, and the team unable to afford re-signing No. 2 receiver Gabe Davis.

“I don’t think it’s a wrong thing or a bad thing to get younger,” said Allen, entering his seventh NFL season. “I think it’s an opportunity for myself to grow as a leader. And to bring along some of these young guys and new guys that we’ve brought in to our team. And that’s an opportunity, frankly, that I’m very excited about."

Despite the departures, the Bills offense is not exactly lacking even though general manager Brandon Beane is expected to target selecting a receiver with his first pick — currently 28th overall — in the draft next week.

Receiver Khalil Shakir enters his third year and tight end Dalton Kincaid enter his second following promising seasons. Buffalo also added veteran experience in signing free agent receiver Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins.

While Beane acknowledged the Bills lack a true No. 1 receiver, he noted there’s less urgency to fill that spot now than in 2020 because of how much the offense has developed under Allen.

“Now that Josh has ascended to the player he is, is that a requirement? I don’t think so,” Beane said.

Diggs’ role also began diminishing in the second half of last season, which coincided with Joe Brady replacing Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator. Brady placed an emphasis on adding balance to a pass-heavy attack and getting more receivers involved, which led to an uptick in production for Shakir and Kincaid.

While Diggs’ numbers dropped, Buffalo’s win total increased.

With the Bills at 6-6, Diggs ranked third in the NFL with 83 catches, seventh with 969 yards and tied for third with eight TDs receiving. Buffalo then closed the season with five straight wins in which Diggs combined for 24 catches for 214 yards and no scores.

”(Diggs) meant a lot. You look at the statistics, they don’t lie,” Allen said, in referring to Diggs topping 100 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Buffalo. “I don’t get paid to make changes on the team. I get paid to be the best quarterback that I can be and try to lead the guys on this team.”

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