A risky proposition

This MLB wildcard could be all the difference in Astros retaining tent pole stars

Astros Alex Bregman
Houston is on the clock. Composite Getty Image.
Bench - Bregman

Scott Boras, the agent for both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, says there’s “been an expression of desire” by the Astros to sign their star players to contract extensions this offseason, “but obviously that’s not something we’ve approached yet.”

For the Astros part, general manager Dana Brown says, “I think we’re going to look into talking to both of them, particularly this offseason, maybe all the way up to spring training. Once the season starts we really don’t want to get too much into it.”

What does all this mean beyond the time-honored posturing of greedy agent versus penny-pinching team?

It means that the Astros haven’t crunched their numbers down to pennies and are figuring out how much and for how long they can offer Altuve and Bregman for future services.

They better get it right this time. Last year’s offseason contract dangling came back to bite the Astros butts in 2023. Without a proper general manager in place, the Astros biggest free agent signings were first baseman Jose Abreu (3 years, $58.5 million), reliever Rafael Montero (3 years, $34.5 million) and “professional hitter” but mostly injured list resident Michael Brantley (1 year, $12 million). Although Abreu’s bat woke up in late season, all three signings were disappointments.

The Astros better get it right with Altuve and Bregman, both of whose contracts expire at the end of next season. If the Astros dawdle and try to buy cheap, or agent Boras plays hard to get and lets Altuve and Bregman get to free agency (as Boras is famous for doing with his clients), then look out below.

While Altuve is (let’s stop with the “may be”) the greatest Astro ever, the days of players accepting a hometown discount are over. Altuve will turn 34 next season. He would still be in his prime with lots of tread on his tires. He is beloved in Houston. He looks like Houston. He hits in the clutch. Everything about Altuve is good.

There will be civil unrest in Houston if the Astros don’t lock up Altuve for the rest of his career.

Bregman is a more complicated deal. The third baseman will be 31 next season. If he gets to free agency, teams will have to take a number to get in line to meet with Boras. While the Astros are loathe to offer deals for more than $150 million and longer than four or five years, well, they better get over that if they want to keep Bregman.

If Bregman gets to free agency, you can imagine the Yankees backing up a Brinks truck to sign him. Bregman in New York? Young mothers would be handing him their babies to raise. They’d be naming streets and buildings after him – there may be a few properties available soon. Bregman and his wife Reagan would be hosting Good Morning New York. He’d be throwing out the Opening Day ceremonial first pitch to himself.

Last season Manny Machado signed an 11-year extension worth $350 million with the San Diego Padres. The deal includes a no-trade clause with no op-outs. Machado will be 41 when the contract is up. Machado is a superstar, right? And that’s the kind of money that superstars get, right?. You want to know something? Machado ain’t got nothing on Alex Bregman.

Machado’s lifetime batting average is .279. His career on-base percentage is .339. His slugging is .490. His OPS is .829.

Bregman’s lifetime batting average is .274. His career on-base percentage is .373. His slugging is .487. His OPS is .861.

They’re basically the same player. If anything, let’s give the edge to Bregman because he’s a year younger. When the playoffs roll around, Bregman has Machado beat by a wide margin.

You’re on the clock, Astros.

Sure, the Astros have let star players go before. You remember Carlos Correa, George Springer and Gerrit Cole? They used to play here. The Astros didn’t make serious offers to keep any of them.

Plus the Astros have to look beyond 2024 when they’ll have to pony up with Kyle Tucker or get off the pot. Framber Valdez, Chas McCormick and others are waiting for their crack at big money, too. That’s the problem with baseball – other teams want good players, too.

But that’s then, this is now, and the Astros better get it done with Altuve and Bregman or they’ll lose all the goodwill they’ve established with Houston these past years.

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The Texans will have to shuffle the o-line once again. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

“Another one!”- DJ Khaled

That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.

The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.

Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!

One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.

As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.

To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.

I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.

The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.

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