By Charlie Pallilo
11.17.17 | 1 hour, 16 minutes ago
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.
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