It’s been two weeks since the Astros tabbed now-former Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown as their new general manager, but Brown has wasted little time in embarking on extension talks with Houston’s core players. The GM acknowledged earlier this week that he’s had talks with Kyle Tucker’s camp in the run-up to Tucker’s arbitration hearing, but there are far more players under consideration, it seems.
Brown told reporters today that he’s held discussions not only with Tucker and his reps but also with the agents for right-hander Cristian Javier. Furthermore, the newly minted GM publicly expressed interest in extending third baseman Alex Bregman and second baseman Jose Altuve (Twitter links, with video, via Mark Berman of Houston’s FOX 26). Both Bregman and Altuve are currently signed through 2024. Bregman told the media today that Brown and agent Scott Boras have already had conversations.
The Astros haven’t necessarily been shy about extensions under prior front office regimes, but it’s a change of pace to hear the team’s top baseball operations executive so candidly discuss such matters. Houston has, in recent years, brokered long-term deals with Bregman (five years, $100MM), Altuve (five years, $151MM), Yordan Alvarez (six years, $115MM) and Lance McCullers Jr. (five years, $85MM) before each reached free agency.
That said, the team hasn’t been quite so aggressive with players early in their pre-arbitration years — a recent hallmark of the Braves organization which Brown just departed. Outside of Altuve’s original four-year, $12.5MM extension, the Astros have generally waited until their players have accrued three or more years of service time, hence the heftier nature of the annual salaries on those previously mentioned long-term pacts. That, it seems, is something Brown endeavors to change (Twitter links via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle).
“I think [owner Jim Crane] and I are going to meet somewhere in the middle,” said Brown. “I’m more on the aggressive side of signing them, he may be more on the conservative side, but he’s very open to getting these players signed.” Brown also added that he’s told Crane to “fasten his seatbelt — it’s time.”
It’s likely music to the ears of Astros fans, who saw substantial roster turnover from the 2017 World Series team to the 2022 World Championship club. Bregman, Altuve, McCullers, Yuli Gurriel and Justin Verlander — who’s since departed via free agency — were the only players on both rosters. While that quintet eventually signed new contracts (Verlander opted out of his most recent deal to again test free agency; Gurriel took a one-year extension with a club option covering 2021-22), none of the team’s newly emerged core has put pen to paper on a long-term arrangement just yet.
Brown spoke with particular optimism regarding the progress made on a potential long-term deal with Javier, the 25-year-old right-hander who has emerged as one of the team’s best starting pitchers. Javier logged a career-high 148 2/3 innings this past season, notching an outstanding 2.54 ERA and fanning a massive 33.2% of his opponents against a respectable 8.9% walk rate. He’s controlled for another three seasons and, like Tucker, is working to avoid a looming arbitration hearing. Javier filed for a $3.5MM salary to the Astros’ counter of $3MM, but it seems there’s a decent chance the two parties work out a lengthier arrangement. “We feel really good about that one,” Brown stated.
Contract extensions for arbitration-eligible players like Javier tend to be based heavily on precedent, which at least provides some potential clues to where the numbers could eventually fall. Recent examples of long-term deals for pitchers with between three and four years of service time (Javier has three exactly), include Aaron Nola’s four-year, $45MM deal from 2019 (which contained a club option for a fifth season) and, more recently, Sandy Alcantara’s five-year, $56MM extension (with an option for a sixth season).
On a rate basis, Javier stacks up favorably to both Alcantara and Nola at the time of their respective extensions; he’s arguably been even better, with a lower ERA (3.05 to Nola’s 3.35 and Alcantara’s 3.49) and a considerably better strikeout rate (30.9% for Javier, 25.7% for Nola, 21.2% for Alcantara). However, both Nola and Alcantara had amassed vastly higher innings totals heading into their first arbitration seasons. Javier has just 304 1/3 career innings (partly due to ample time in the bullpen before a more permanent move to the rotation in 2022), whereas Alcantara had 487 1/3 innings and Nola had piled up a massive 569 frames.
That workload discrepancy is the primary reason that Javier’s projected $3.3MM salary (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) falls well shy of the $4.5MM at which Alcantara was projected prior to his extension and the $6.6MM at which Nola was projected. That’s not to say Javier can’t find a way to top the guarantees on either deal, but his camp would need to secure a larger AAV on the free-agent years or perhaps agree to a sixth guaranteed year in order to do so, as his arbitration seasons are inherently going to be valued at lesser rates than those recent comps.
Turning back to a broader look at today’s press conference, Brown didn’t tip his hand on every player with whom he plans to pursue a contract extension, though it’s easy enough to look up and down the roster and identify a few speculative candidates. Shortstop Jeremy Pena has just one year of MLB service under his belt. He’s two years from reaching arbitration and another five years from free agency. Lefty Framber Valdez and righty Luis Garcia, meanwhile, are three and four seasons away from reaching the open market, respectively. Looking to how the Braves operated, it also wouldn’t be a shock to see top prospects like Hunter Brown (0.89 ERA in a 20 1/3 inning MLB debut last year) approached about long-term arrangements fairly early on in their MLB tenures.
Not every overture to sign a player will be successful, of course, but Brown made clear that one of his philosophical beliefs about the job is to correctly identify core players early on and aggressively present scenarios intended to keep them with the club beyond their base six years of control.
“I want you guys to know if a guy walks out of here, it’s not going to be because we didn’t go after him aggressively,” said Brown. “We’re trying to sign players.”
Water is wet
Sign ’em now, Dana!
Every mid market should copy what the Braves Astros do. Every small market should copy Tampa Cleveland. Large markets don’t really have a role model. I guess try to be LA but don’t give maximum free agent money for a extension and drop under the tax when you can.
They really are the two model franchises. Honestly more big market teams should be like Atlanta and Houston. Imagine if their front offices were as good as those two with unlimited budgets!
LA has the development. Just need to get the team friendly deals going. Not easy finding people with a eye for talent. Even harder to find smart executives. If every team was well run it wouldn’t be good for baseball. The smart poor teams need teams to make bad trades and blow their money on free agents. Wouldn’t cost them anything to improve though. All they have to do is get on here and ask me what to do.
There is a hidden factor that the market revenue variances rarely addresses. The Dodgers spend so much more on front office and baseball operations than almost every other team that is a distinct competitive advantage.
No matter what they spend in payroll, they still have plenty of cash flow available to throw armies of folks at the process. This is why they have been able to do what they do under the current ownership group. More scouts, more sabergeeks, more consultants, more dollars thrown at uncovering talent and building relationships in Latin America, Far East markets and so on. Credit to them for taking advantage of this. Yankees have picked up steam in that regard, but it is really only the ubermarket teams that have the routine revenue streams to tap for that to that level. Even the next level down, but still large market teams do not have the gross revenues sitting there as a matter of course year after year..
Even beyond the scouting they have an advantage. That’s why teams want a international draft. You want to go to team A that has the best player development. The ability to extend you. Contenders every single year. Or team B where you better be a natural because they can’t unlock as many things as team A. You will spend max time in the minors to get fully developed as possible. Guarantee to have your service time manipulated not that rich successful teams don’t as well but many times they are contending and need you now so you at least get super 2.
I have a feeling this will be en vogue for teams moving forward. If I recall correctly the Giants attempted to do this with their WS core in the mid teens and it backfired. Be interesting to see how teams navigate this and what data teams will use to determine ideal extension candidates.
It should be. It’s nothing new. Just nobody has done it with as many players as the Braves. Pirates did it with 5 guys last decade. If you just hit on one McCutchen or Marte it more than pays for any misses. I see it working out really well for Atlanta.
yeah, I’m a fan but much like 3 closers philosophy after the Royals won the WS or the complete org rebuilds after the Cubs and Astros had success.
Anytime you see something successful you should look to emulate it. Even better to see it done unsuccessful and make it successful for you.
Makes no sense. Why try to extend players that develop a perennial champion? You should learn from the Yankees and pay them triple after they hit FA.
Made me chuckle.
You gotta withold chances from them first. It’s a very effective method. Just ask thw Yankees!
True, although we might now be into year five of Gary Sanchez’s extension and year six of Greg Bird’s extension!
L99: Man, that would only happen with the Yankees too… it sure did with Hicks.
deGrom Texas Ranger
I remember an Astros’ owner once telling fans at a time they had a lower team payroll than many individual players (early 2010s super tank mode), that fans can feel free to write the owners checks if they want to see more spending. That franchise has come quite a long way from then, though they have let many core players go recently due to their whack-a-mole farm system. I say this as someone who generally hates fans demanding teams waste money in free agency.
steven st croix
“saw substantial roster turnover from the 2017 World Series team to the 2022 World Championship club. Bregman, Altuve, McCullers and Justin Verlander — who’s since departed via free agency — were the only four players on both rosters.”
-Yuli was also on both championship teams
Augh! Thank you. Fixing now.
Let’s discuss this after the season in regards to Altuve and Bregman. Bregman will probably want to test free agency and Altuve will be 35 in ‘25.
Next extension I’d like to see is Rutschman. That would give O’s fans a little more to get excited about. It has to drain you when your players start building up their careers and then they end up elsewhere.
I don’t think there’s any rush to lock up Tucker. I would leave Yordan extension on the table and, if he doesn’t want it, you have surplus value for a few seasons. Astros have lost outfielders of his caliber in recent years. Maybe it’s to his detriment Yordan accepted that extension.
For pitchers, I don’t think they will do more than a free agency year or two. Of course they haven’t had Framber, Brown, and Javier types any time recently. Someone will set precedent there like Yordan.
Yordan was extended on a 6 year deal in the first half of the 2022 season.
Monster second half for sure
” I don’t think there’s any rush to lock up Tucker.” This comment has to be made by someone that either doesn’t follow the Astros on a regular basis or someone that doesn’t know what they are talking about. Please give me a few reasons why this isn’t a top priority now before his first year of arbitration. He’s a gold glove right fielder, has an absolute cannon for an arm, I think top 5 or 10 most outfield assists in all of baseball, great teammate, interacts with the fans between innings and stays after for kids.
You can start a sentence with meanwhile, you know. It is allowed.