Sports

Astros Sign Altuve, But Tougher Deals Ahead

Evan Gattis is a free agent at the end of the 2018 season.
Evan Gattis is a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. Photo by Jack Gorman
Jose Altuve deserved every penny he got from the Astros and despite the massive price tag of more than $160 million, it 's a reasonable deal considering Altuve's age and skill level. He could, by the end of this deal, be the best player in Astros history since this cuts directly through his prime.

But, at the risk of being a major buzzkill, this is just the first of a number of contract decisions the 'Stros will need to make in the next year or two. And not all of them will be as easy or as amicable. Check the list of notable free agents after this season:

Brian McCann
Charlie Morton
Dallas Keuchel
Marwin Gonzales
Evan Gattis

That is your entire catching staff, two of your starting pitchers and your best bench player. It is unlikely the Astros would decide to keep both McCann and Gattis, but still that leaves one of your two aces and a couple of World Series heroes.

The good news is Morton probably won't command a huge salary at 35. And if they choose one of the two catchers, they should be able to bring back Gonzales if the price is right. But both Gonzales and Keuchel could be looking for big paydays, especially if the Astros go deep into the playoffs again.

Keuchel is the most intriguing. He has not said he expects to be back in Houston and despite the warm fuzzies everyone has at the moment for agent Scott Boras coming off the Altuve deal, there is no love lost between this team and the league's toughest player rep. At this point, odds are probably better than 50-50 Keuchel leaves after this season.

click to enlarge Ken Giles is arbitration eligible after the 2018 season. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Ken Giles is arbitration eligible after the 2018 season.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Then there are the arbitration eligible guys:

Gerrit Cole
Collin McHugh
Ken Giles
Lance McCullers
Brad Peacock
Jake Marisnick
Carlos Correa

What happens with Cole will be entirely dependent upon this season and his ability to not only be a quality starter but healthy. Neither McHugh nor Peacock will force the Astros to break the bank and, unless he really turns it around this season, Giles will have a fight on his hands. And let's be honest, outside of Altuve, it seems like Correa is the one guy who will get locked up long term before he hits arbitration.

Then there is Marisnick and McCullers. Before last season's offensive outburst, no one would have thought Marisnik would command more than a relatively minimal salary, but if he can duplicate that performance, especially those power numbers, this season, he will make it tough on Astro wallets.

This is a critical year for McCullers as well. If he turns into the pitcher many believe he can be, he can keep the Astros from worrying about a loss like Keuchel and perhaps coax them into signing him long term.

The good news is the team continues to have a deep and talented farm system they can use to begin replenishing some of their big league talent and with potentially career-altering contracts on the line, a lot of these guys will have more than just the glory of repeating as motivation for this season.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke