Astros Contracts: You Play the GM

(Update: See the postscript to this article to compare my predictions to the details of the recent re-signing of Alex Bregman and Ryan Pressly)

The folks that post on Astros Twitter have become a demanding bunch. The Astros should sign every good free agent, and every player should want to play here, right? This manifested recently when the Astros did not sign Marwin Gonzalez and will repeat when/if Dallas Keuchel goes to another team.

The key for Astros fans is to understand the wave of potential free agents the team has over the next 3-4 years. It would be impossible to sign all the players that will hit free agency. In the table below, I have highlighted what I consider the most critical free agents and before what season each player will move on as a free agent if they are not re-signed.

Let’s just look at the players I listed as critical free agents. Every year for the next three years, the Astros will have more than one critical free agent. In this article, you can play the Astros GM. How will you prioritize signing the critical free agents listed and how much will it cost you? Furthermore, what will the payroll look like as you execute your plan?

To do all of this, I will give you my plan. You can go to Twitter and give me yours. Let’s start with some principles:

  • The Astros will leverage the current fear of the free agent market (ask Dallas Keuchel) to sign each critical player before he hits free agency. Correa and Bregman will be signed two years early. Therefore:
    • Verlander, Cole, and Pressly will be signed to extensions prior to this season.
    • Springer, Osuna, and Correa will be signed prior to the 2020 season.
    • McCullers and Bregman will be signed prior to the 2021 season.
  • Players not listed as critical will traded before they reach their final year of arbitration to keep the cumulative cost of arbitration agreements down. Therefore:
    • Marisnick will be traded prior to the 2020 season.
    • Devenski will be traded prior to the 2021 season.
    • Diaz and Stassi will be traded prior to the 2022 season.

This table illustrates these assumptions:

The hardest part of this exercise is to estimate what it will take to sign each player before they are allowed to hit the open market. I will take a shot here:

  • Verlander: now (2yr/$64MM) — $32MM AAV
  • Cole: now (6yr/$144MM) — $24MM AAV
  • Pressly: now (3yr/$27MM) — $9MM AAV
  • Springer: before 2020 (5yr/$100MM) — $20MM AAV
  • Osuna: before 2020 (5yr/$60MM) — $12MM AAV
  • Correa: before 2020 (7yr/$175MM) — $25MM AAV
  • McCullers: before 2021 (6yr/$120MM) — $20MM AAV
  • Bregman: before 2021 (8yr/$208MM) — $26MM AAV

If these are close to being correct, or if the aggregate balances out as correct, the payroll would look like this. I have also included estimates for the arbitration years. Pay particular attention to the lines in green:

The Competitive Balance Threshold (CBT) only goes up $2MM per year for the next two years (the free agent situation is only going to get worse if this does not change.) If the Astros sign all eight of the free agents per the timing and contracts I projected they will be over the CBT by $25MM in 2020 and nearly $19MM in 2021. Projections beyond 2022 are hard to really trust, because younger players will be entering arbitration and it is hard to project their cost.

Astros owner Jim Crane has indicated he does not intend to go over the CBT and certainly would not for an extended period. The truth is that not all eight players can be signed. Possibly six of them can be signed and stay under the CBT. So how would you shed $20MM+ from the payroll? Which of these eight player deals would you not sign adding up to $20MM?

As if that question was not hard enough: If the Astros were to sign a free agent that is not one of these eight, it would mean that the six could drop to five and possibly four. Perhaps the best way to frame the situation is this: If the Astros were to sign Dallas Keuchel for $60MM/3 years, would you be willing to forego signing Springer or forego signing McCullers?

That is the question the front office is answering when considering free agents in the 2019-2021 seasons. To sign a free agent, the Astros must be convinced that player will be better that the internal players they will want to sign.

The point is that the Astros will not be able to sign the internal players they want to sign, much less go after other players. Don’t expect big deals other than the signings of these players. Be happy if the team can get six of these stars re-signed.

This is the reality of having your championship team come of age. Let’s see how Jeff Luhnow navigates us through this time.

P.S. I just checked the news after finishing this article. What did I see?

  • Alex Bregman reportedly agreeing to sign for $100MM/6yr. This is an excellent deal and exactly what I have been hoping to see. The front office is not even waiting until 2021 as I laid out above, because they believe in Alex Bregman that much.
  • Ryan Pressly signing for 2020-2021 for $17.5MM with a vesting option of $10MM for 2022. You will see that is almost exactly what I projected the AAV to be. Another excellent deal.

This is exactly what I expected. Now wait for a Cole and/or a Verlander deal.

With these deals in place, here is what the last table becomes:

My guess is that my numbers are slightly off, and the Astros are close to $200MM right now. They have a deal to trade someone very soon. The details will matter in how these contracts affect 2019 CBT. Hold on, Astros fans. Jeff Luhnow is teaching you how to be a general manager.

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