THE PALLILOG

Pallilo's View: An ode to Altuve, the AL MVP for 2017

Jose Altuve has another reason to celebrate: The MVP Award. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The freshly minted American League Most Valuable Player had the best season any second baseman has had since Joe Morgan’s awesome 1976. Jose Altuve is just the 10th different keystone sacker (baseball lingo!) to win an MVP award since the Baseball Writers Association of America started handing them out in 1931. Morgan is the only to win twice (1975 & 1976). He’s a top five second basemen of all-time. The others with an MVP trophy: Frankie Frisch (1931), Charlie Gehringer (1937), Joe Gordon (1942), Jackie Robinson (1949), Nellie Fox (1959), Ryne Sandberg (1984), Jeff Kent (2000), and Dustin Pedroia (2008). All but Kent and Pedroia are Hall of Famers. It’s ridiculous that in his four years on the ballot Kent has not received more than 17 percent of the 75 percent yes votes necessary for election. Pedroia needs a serious second wind in his mid-30s if he is to be Hall-worthy.

Altuve had outstanding 2014 and 2015 seasons that fit very well on a Hall of a Fame 2B resume, but the last two seasons have raised the bar dramatically. Altuve’s improvement in both power and strike zone judgment elevated him from star to superstar.  Not turning 28 until May, there is no reason to think him incapable of at least a couple more seasons in range of what he did this year, and those would make Altuve highly likely to punch a ticket to Cooperstown down the line.

Those “couple more” superstar seasons segue to the elephant in the room, Altuve’s contract. If Jose had gone year by year, he would have become a free agent five days after the Astros won the World Series. On the open market Altuve would plausibly have commanded a contract worth, say, seven years and 175 million dollars--with 200 million plus conceivable. Heck, Robinson Cano got 10 years 240 million from the Mariners when he was already 31 years old. Altuve’s last two seasons are better than any Cano put up during his tremendous tenure with the Yankees. But Altuve is not a free agent, and can’t become one until after the 2019 season. He is not deserving of a pity party (and hasn’t asked for one). Back in July of 2013 Altuve was a fine young player but not yet a star, nowhere close to superstar. At that point the Astros guaranteed Altuve life changing money: 12 and a half million dollars over four years. In exchange the Astros got options for the 2018 and 2019 seasons at six and six and a half million dollars. So Altuve is now spectacularly underpaid for the player he has become, but what is to be done about it?

Altuve dumped agent Scott Boras in 2013, then re-hired him in the summer of 2016. Boras typically pushes his clients to get to the open market. Altuve would be 29 when he gets there, still in his prime and in position for a monster contract. What if the Astros went to Altuve and said “what about a four year 100 million dollar extension?” Life changing money for generations of Altuves. Would you leave that on the table? It would seem at least a reasonable point from which to negotiate.  Five years 125 mil? Altuve is the second best player in the game right now (Mike Trout is still the best), and an absolute class act. Basically he’s everything you want in a ballplayer on and off the field, including terrifically durable. Altuve has played a minimum of 152 of the Astros’ 162 games five seasons in a row. An extension is warranted and for the Astros smart business in these glorious times for them. But not at whatever terms Scott Boras demands.  So for now, the Astros pay Altuve six mil for 2018 when they will pay Jon Singleton (!) two mil. The Astros hold the six and a half million option on Altuve for 2019. They hold a 10 and a half million dollar option on Singleton for 2019, seems likely they’ll pass on that one.

Amazing that for all the accolades rightfully poured in for Altuve, it’s no better than 50/50 that is he their best player next season. Had Carlos Correa not missed a quarter of the season because of a torn thumb ligament, it may have been unclear whether Altuve was even the Astros’ MVP. Correa is just 23 years old and under Astros control for four more seasons. Which is why if forced to choose one or the other, Correa would almost have to be the choice.

Buzzer Beaters  

1. More exciting: Tom Savage vs. Blaine Gabbert or 24 uninterrupted hours of watching paint dry?    2. Joel Embiid is the first center with more diverse skills than Hakeem Olajuwon had.   3. Best Thanksgiving side dishes:  Bronze: cranberry sauce  Silver: stuffing  Gold: sweet potato casserole.

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The Astros have 12 games left in the regular season. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

A five-year anniversary Astros-Dodgers World Series matchup would be a doozy on several levels. It’s the most likely matchup, but that doesn’t make it probable much less inevitable. Still, my goodness are they towering over their respective leagues as the regular season is into its final two weeks. With an 8-4 finish over their remaining games the Astros equal the franchise record 107 regular wins amassed in 2019. If the Astros don’t lose again and total an awesome 111 victories, they still probably don’t catch the Dodgers for homefield advantage should they meet in the Series. The Astros are heading to their seventh postseason in the last eight years, the Dodgers to their 10th in a row. That is insane sustained excellence for both. However, each has won only one World Series during these runs. Eight different franchises have won the last eight World Series. From 1982 through 1990 nine different franchises won the World Series.

And then, there were twelve

With the Astros down to a dozen games left as they arrived in Baltimore, a dozen Astros thoughts:

Justin Verlander's start in the series opener vs. the Orioles is his antepenultimate (hoity-toity word for third from last) regular season start. Verlander needs the win in all of them to finish 20-3.

Jose Urquidy starts Friday. In his three remaining starts Urquidy must show better than he has in his last couple or there would be no good reason to go with him over Cristian Javier as the Astros fourth starter in the postseason.

Framber Valdez goes Saturday trying to add on to his single season Major League record of 25 consecutive quality starts. It’s not an official statistic, and “quality” is a stretch when three earned runs allowed in six innings qualifies, but it is remarkable that Framber has had zero bad outings 25 straight times out. The evidence can’t be clearer than NO OTHER PITCHER IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME has done it. In 18 of the 25 Valdez has yielded no more than two earned runs. Verlander has been magnificent all season. His longest “quality start” streak is 10. Verlander has made 25 starts, meeting the “quality” definition in 20 of them.

Decisive game five of their American League Division Series matchup, the Astros lead 3-2 after seven innings with the opposition top of the order due up in the eighth. Since the robot managerial handbook dictates Ryan Pressly be saved for the ninth, which Astro reliever do you most trust in the eighth?

Yordan Alvarez is batting .302 with 37 home runs and 94 runs batted in. The only Astros ever to hit .300 with 40 homers and 100 RBI in a season are Jeff Bagwell (twice), Lance Berkman, and Richard Hidalgo. As frame of reference, Albert Pujols did .300/40/100 six times. Mike Trout has never done it.

Yordan is obviously the better hitter but Kyle Tucker is the better all-around player. The Astros signed Alvarez for six years 115 million buying out three years of potential free agency. Tucker is on the same service time schedule as Alvarez was, not free agent eligible until after the 2025 season.

Free agent-to-be Aledmys Diaz looms large in the Astros’ postseason lineup. He largely stunk through July 4th but has been firecracker hot since, giving better production per game played than a healthy Michael Brantley would have given. Doubting me? Don’t. From July 5 forward Diaz has a higher slugging percentage than Yordan.

Yuli Gurriel’s defense at first base remains excellent, but if he looked any more washed up at the plate than he has most of this season he might wake up in front of the Galveston Seawall.

It’s just 41 games but other than an early power surge following his acquisition, Trey Mancini has not impressed. Gurriel needs to be replaced, but Mancini hasn’t made much of a case that he’s the man for the job next year.

Jose Altuve’s spirits seemed fine in the dugout Wednesday night after he was removed from the game an inning after taking a pitch off of his left elbow. The elbow needs to be fine. Like Yordan, an injured or ineffective Altuve renders the Astros’ lineup no better than mediocre.

Chas McCormick is fine as part of a platoon in center field. James Click should be in the market for a left-handed hitting CF complement for next season, or a right-handed hitter who handles right-handed pitching adequately. If Click is back as General Manager. What gives there, Jim Crane?

The Astros have played one game all season with Minute Maid Park’s roof open. That should change on the final home stand. It likely won’t, but it should. Most evenings are comfortable now once the sun is down, and it’s not like the air conditioning has to be turned off as the roof opens. The optimal ballpark experience has the roof open. And…if the Astros make it back to the World Series and MLB then dictates the roof be open if rain is not a factor, it is sensible to get a few games under their belts with roof open conditions.

Finessing the game

Whatever one thinks of the LIV golf tour, it absolutely is hurting interest in the PGA Tour. Too many big name players grabbing LIV megabucks is crushing the marketability of PGA tournament fields. Like the upcoming Houston Open November 10-13 for instance. Want a “free” ticket to any remaining Astros home game this year? Just buy a golf ticket through this Sunday.

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