While Astros owner Jim Crane is focused on his team’s ALDS matchup with the White Sox, Crane talked about several impending offseason topics with FOX 26’s Mark Berman, The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome (all multiple links) and other reporters today.
With several major names scheduled to hit free agency, Crane said his team plans to “definitely be in the mix” to sign Carlos Correa, and “I think we have a chance” to retain the shortstop’s services. Of course, “it just depends on where we end up on that and what Carlos wants to do. Certainly dollars are a factor.”
The Astros made attempts to sign Correa to a contract extension last spring, reportedly making offers in the range of five years/$125MM and six years/$120MM. Those numbers seemed low even before Correa delivered an All-Star performance in 2021, and the 27-year-old now seems likely to land at least twice as much money on the open market.
Re-signing Correa would require the Astros to make the biggest financial commitment in franchise history, which Crane at least sounded open to, if a little guardedly. “I never count anything out….We have a history of doing something in the neighborhood of five (years) is the most we’ve ever done since I’ve been here,” Crane said. “Things can change. We’re not counting it out.”
Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Lance McCullers Jr. have all signed five-year extensions with Houston during Crane’s stewardship, and it isn’t as if Crane has been unwilling to spend. Altuve’s five additional years gave the second baseman $151MM in new guaranteed money, Bregman’s extension was worth $100MM, and McCullers landed $85.5MM. That said, Correa said back in April that the Astros “made it clear to me they don’t believe in long contracts, they don’t believe in big contracts,” which could indicate that his contractual expectations go far beyond any commitment the Astros are willing to make.
Crane didn’t bring up the qualifying offer in regards to Correa, in all likelihood because it seems a foregone conclusion that Houston will issue Correa a QO and he’ll reject the one-year offer, leaving the Astros in line to receive draft pick compensation if Correa did sign elsewhere. Justin Verlander is a bit more complicated qualifying-offer case given that the veteran ace has missed virtually all of the last two seasons with injury, but Crane said “we’ll probably” issue Verlander the QO “and then see where it goes.”
Even after two lost seasons and now on the verge of his age-39 season, Verlander is still “looking for a contract of some length,” according to Crane. This would imply that Verlander would reject the one-year qualifying offer (though it would pay in the neighborhood of a $20MM salary for 2022) in search of a longer-term deal, and given Verlander’s track record, it certainly seems possible that at least one or even multiple teams would be willing to sign the future Hall-of-Famer to such a multi-year contract.
If Verlander did reject the QO, the Astros would at least benefit via compensatory draft picks. However, Verlander has 10 days to decide whether or not to accept a qualifying offer, and if he doesn’t get wind of any teams showing interest in a multi-year deal, Verlander might choose to take the QO and remain in a familiar situation in Houston. The Astros and Verlander’s camp could then negotiate a longer-term extension after the QO had been accepted, similar to what Jose Abreu and the White Sox did in the 2019-20 offseason.
There appears to be much less controversy surrounding Yuli Gurriel’s 2022 status. The Astros hold an $8MM club option on Gurriel for next season, which looks to Crane like “a pretty easy decision. I’m sure we’ll execute on that.” The 37-year-old Gurriel is coming off a strong season that saw him hit 15 homers and win the AL batting title as part of an overall .319/.383/.462 performance in 605 plate appearances.
Beyond the player roster, manager Dusty Baker isn’t under contract beyond this season, as Crane said “we haven’t really talked about it. We’re going to wait for things to get over with here” in the Astros’ playoff run. Baker has led the Astros to the postseason in each of his two years in Houston, and the veteran manager has indicated that he would like to continue with the team.
Though Crane noted that GM James Click has authority over the manager’s job, “I’ll certainly weigh in on it and we’ll make a decision probably together on that one because I did hire [Baker] to begin with.” Crane did give Baker some measure of a vote of confidence in noting that Baker “has done a great job for us. I like Dusty a lot.”