Unless another major deal comes out in the next few weeks, the Houston Astros have signed Jose Altuve to the biggest contract of the winter. The deal is notable for several reasons.
- Under his previous contract, Jose Altuve would not reach free agency for another two years, after the 2019 season.
- Jose Altuve’s agent is Scott Boras, and he has long been loathe to give away any free-agent years ahead of free agency.
As Travis Sawchik noted last night, Altuve will reportedly sign for five years and $151 million, and the contract will begin after Altuve’s current contract runs out. Altuve will earn just $12.5 million over the next two seasons in one of the biggest bargain contracts baseball has ever seen. While he wasn’t all that good when the Astros signed him back in 2013, Altuve has been one of the best players in baseball since 2014, with his 24 wins third to only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson among position players in that span. Altuve just finished off a fantastic MVP season for the World Series champions, and historically, he’s on one of the better runs for a second baseman in history. The table below shows second baseman since 1947 through their age-27 seasons.
|Roberto Alomar||– – –||5064||77||296||118||31.2|
|Willie Randolph||– – –||4178||25||180||110||29.7|
|Joe Morgan||Colt .45’s||3920||61||195||123||25.3|
|Dustin Pedroia||Red Sox||3201||75||82||121||24.7|
|Ryne Sandberg||– – –||4034||90||210||108||23.7|
Five of the 11 non-Altuve players on that list are in the Hall of Fame. Grich and Whitaker, meanwhile, represent some of the biggest snubs of the last half-century, while Pedroia remains active still building a case.
When the Twins signed Logan Morrison to a deal for $6.5 million, most agreed it was a bargain. By comparison, the Astros have the reigning MVP locked up for that price in his prime for the next two seasons. That leads to obvious questions regarding the Astros’ motivation here. Why sign a player to an extension before it is necessary? Anyone who remembers the Ryan Howard contract, for example, might look at this extension and wonder if it’s simply a gift from the Houston front office.
This is not a gift, though. It’s a fair deal.
Two years, when the Royals gave him an extension, Salvador Perez still had four years left on his contract at about $4 million per season. That deal might be considered a gift — as might previous extensions for Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, and Troy Tulowitzki. In fact, after Perez signed his new contract, I wrote about the potential of teams awarding contract extensions essentially out of fairness. Players with similar deals at the time included Chris Archer, Madison Bumgarner, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Sale, and one Jose Altuve. Two years ago, a contract extension for Altuve might have been generous. Now, we just have a team looking for a few more years of control for one of the greatest players in the game — and a player who is willing to sacrifice the chance at a bigger payday down the line to have incredible long-term security.
There is a decent amount of precedent for a deal like the one Altuve is about to sign. In that Salvador Perez piece, I noted multiple players who (a) remained two years from free agency due to previous contract extensions who then (b) signed contracts buying out at least five more years of free agency. Here’s how Altuve compares to those players and their contracts.
|Name||Remaining $||Original Deal End||Added Years||Added $||Added Ages||AVG WAR Prev. 3 YRS|
|Jose Altuve||$12.5 M||2019||5||$151 M||30-34||6.3|
|Miguel Cabrera||$44 M||2015||8||$248 M||33-40||6.8|
|Dustin Pedroia||$21 M||2015||6||$89 M||32-37||5.8|
|Joey Votto||$26.5 M||2013||10||$225 M||30-39||6.0|
|Ryan Zimmerman||$26 M||2013||6||$100 M||29-34||5.1|
|Ryan Howard||$39 M||2011||5||$125 M||32-36||3.5|
These deals aren’t common. Even among the ones present here, however, there are significant differences between the players. The Ryan Howard contract is the extreme example of a deal gone wrong. His career took a downward turn when he injured his Achilles on the final play of the 2011 season — or, basically, the final moment of his original deal. Even without accounting for that injury, though, there are some fairly stark differences between him and Altuve. Prior to signing his contract, Howard had averaged just 3.5 WAR over the previous three years, his skills already showing signs of erosion. The age for Howard was also a big drawback. If we generally assume a player’s prime occurs somewhere between the ages of 25 and 30 years old, Howard was going to be two season into his decline when the contract began. For Altuve, the Astros seem likely to receive one season at prime or close to it plus some early decline years with nothing at 35 years old or older.
While Miguel Cabrera was absolutely destroying baseballs when he signed his contract, the extension didn’t even begin until he was 33 years old. Dustin Pedroia, a second baseman like Altuve, provides an interesting comp, as his deal is similar. It also reflects the age difference between the two players, though. Ryan Zimmerman was actually younger than Altuve, but when he signed his deal, he was coming off a two-win season, nothing close to Altuve’s 7.5 WAR campaign.
Despite its length, the best comp for Altuve’s deal is Joey Votto’s. Votto was the same age as Altuve coming off his impressive season, having also recently added an MVP to his resume. Votto signed for 10 years while Altuve received just five, but the deals aren’t that dissimilar. I took the present-day value of each of the extensions in the table above and adjusted for inflation. Here’s how each of those deals compares with Altuve.
|Name||Age During Extension||2018 Adjusted Present Day Value|
|Miguel Cabrera||33-40||$165 M|
|Joey Votto||30-39||$138 M|
|Jose Altuve||30-34||$109 M|
|Ryan Howard||32-36||$100 M|
|Ryan Zimmerman||29-34||$72 M|
|Dustin Pedroia||32-37||$68 M|
While Votto’s deal pays him $75 million more than Altuve’s without considering inflation, the difference in present-day value — even with inflation — is less than $30 million because his money is spread out over 10 years while Altuve receives his over just five. In this year’s free-agent class, teams have fought hard to avoid paying for players in their mid- to late 30s. In some ways, this Altuve deal is another expression of that preference. Altuve didn’t quite get the Votto contract, but he got pretty close.
As for Scott Boras’s involvement, while he has a reputation for getting his clients to free agency, when he has been able to to get free-agency prices for his clients, he has done so, like with Elvis Andrus, Kyle Lohse, Stephen Strasburg, and now Altuve. Boras negotiated a contract bigger than any one given out in the last two offseasons, and he got it two years ahead of time. The Astros didn’t provide Altuve with a gift, getting some potentially great seasons from a great player without having to worry about the potential of inflation or competition in free agency. We have a well-struck deal for one of the game’s best players to receive one of the game’s highest salaries, even if it doesn’t begin for another two years.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.