BREAKING THE BANK?

Here's why we could see a shift in how the Houston Astros do business

Houston Astros Kyle Tucker, Jeremy Pena
Kyle Tucker lost his arbitration case this week. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
Let's discuss 4 Houston Astros that must step up in Jose Altuve's absence

Coming off winning a World Series, the Astros did something no other team in their position has ever done. They replaced their general manager after not signing him to an extension. Owner Jim Crane and former GM James Click had philosophical differences. Crane is a gambler. He likes to swing for the fences and make splashes. Big moves to keep the train moving. Click is more of a penny-pinching methodical mover. He prefers to build through the draft, make minimal free agent moves, and take things slow. He saves money while building a contender. Crane likes to strike while the iron is hot, and be damned if it costs them long-term.

Finding someone who aligns with Crane's “go for it” mentality that can keep this avalanche rolling could prove to be difficult. Who'd want to work for an owner that got rid of his GM after winning a World Series? Enter Dana Brown. As the former Braves Vice President of Scouting (2019-2022), Brown is responsible for the Braves' core young talent (all homegrown, by the way) all being under team control through the next five to six seasons. Not only has he helped build a team that beat the Astros in the World Series in the 2021 season, he also helped them re-sign that homegrown core before they hit the open market and got priced out.

Brown is also “analytics savvy”, in Crane's words, and a former player. Former players hold a special place in Crane's baseball ideology. He has consulted with and hired special advisors like Reggie Jackson and Jeff Bagwell. Team manager Dusty Baker is a former player. So was his predecessor, AJ Hinch. Crane didn't become a billionaire by being dumb. He knows what works. When asked about Crane's apprehension at signing long-term contracts, Brown hinted at Crane having to “Fasten” his seatbelt and be ready.

This is a clear nod to Brown's penchant for re-signing young talent.

Enter Kyle Tucker. The guy once affectionately referred to as “Ted” because of his lefty swing, is up next. Yordan Alvarez was re-signed to a six-year, $115 million dollar deal last June. Getting him, the team's best hitter, at a shade less than $20 million a year in the prime of his career was brilliant. He'll be 31 in the last year of his deal in 2028. Tucker is 26 right now. If he's re-signed to a six-year deal starting next season, he'll be 32 in the last year of that contract. The thing is, at what value, or per year average, are we talking about with Tucker?

This is where Brown's expertise comes into play. I believe Tucker will get re-signed. He recently lost his arbitration case and is slated to make $5 million dollars this season.

However, Framber Valdez, Jeremy Pena, and a few others are all going to need to be re-signed too. Offering them contracts before they hit arbitration allows the team to get them locked in before they have to go to court and talk nasty to one another. That's where things go south when it comes to negotiations on both sides. That, or the player hits the open market and a bidding war ensues. I highly doubt Crane wants to overpay, despite his affinity for making big moves.

I expect Tucker to command around $25 million a year. His argument will be he's just as good a hitter as Yordan, but a much better defensive player. He could seek $30 million or so like George Springer got from the Blue Jays. However, I see him taking a decent offer from the Astros to stay in a winning organization. Alex Bregman took six years for $100 million before he got to arbitration or the open market. Jose Altuve got re-signed at a much higher rate, but he was a former AL MVP at that point. Times have changed. The price of the brick has definitely gone up. I believe the Astros will get their bricks at the right price before a drought hits. If not, they'll risk them going to Hamsterdam where the market will set the price.

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Welcome back, Justin! Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night at the Washington Nationals.

Houston manager Joe Espada made the announcement Wednesday.

“Getting him back is huge because it brings a level of confidence to our team, a boost of confidence that we’re going to get someone who’s been an MVP, a Cy Young (winner) on the mound,” Espada said. “It's (good) for the morale and to get stuff started and moving in the right direction.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He made two rehabilitation starts, the first for Triple-A Sugar Land on April 7 before Saturday’s start for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Espada wouldn't say how many pitches the 41-year-old would be limited to but said they'll keep an eye on his workload.

“We've got to be careful how hard we push him early,” Espada said. “I know he’s going to want to go and stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we've got to be cautious of how hard we push him early in the season.”

Verlander wasn’t thrilled with the results in his rehabilitation starts, but he said Monday that those games were valuable in getting him prepared to come off the IL.

He allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — in four innings against Frisco on Saturday. He struck out three, walked one and threw 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Verlander allowed six earned runs and struck out six while pitching into the fourth inning for Sugar Land on April 7.

The Astros have gotten off to a tough start with Verlander and fellow starters Framber Valdez and José Urquidy on the injured list. They enter Wednesday's games last in the AL West with a 6-13 record.

Espada hopes Verlander can be the boost the team needs to get on track.

“It’s good to get him back in the rotation,” Espada said. “With what he means to this club just to get him back on track, getting some innings from him (to) build our rotation with the pieces that we need to move forward is exciting.”

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