It's been a big week for locking up foundational players, with the Houston Astros signing third baseman Alex Bregman to a six year extension, and then a few days later, signing ace pitcher Justin Verlander to the highest annual salary in team history — two years, $66 million.
Living in this "golden age" of Houston sports, there are many more contacts to be hammered out over the next year or two, in order to keep the nuclei of these teams together. The Rockets are pretty much pot-committed on long term deals, with James Harden locked up on a max deal through 2023, Chris Paul locked up on a max deal through 2022, and Clint Capela locked up at $18 million per year through 2023.
The Texans and the Astros, though, still have some other players to address, if not VERY soon, then at least soon enough to be thinking about it. Let's start with the three Texans:
Clowney is currently franchise tagged by the Texans as a linebacker, meaning that if and when he signs his tender offer paperwork, he will play the 2019 season under a $15.9 million guarantee, and then be eligible for free agency (or a second franchise tag) next offseason, a year from now. The Texans and Clowney have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, or else he cannot sign a multiyear contract until after the 2019 season.
PREDICTED OUTCOME: Clowney has another Pro Bowl caliber season, but gets franchise tagged a second time in 2020. He eventually walks in 2021, with the Texans getting a third round compensatory pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Watt has three years left on his monster extension he signed back in 2014, with salaries of $13 million for 2019, $15.5 million for 2020, and $17.5 million for 2021. None of the salaries are guaranteed, and after 2019, there is no dead money left on Watt's contract. When he was coming back from back and leg injuries, it was crazy to think he would make it to the back end of this deal, but now he's a first team All Pro again. Remarkable. If Clowney were to get a long term deal, and Watt is still playing at a high level, I could see him pushing for an extension on his deal, for his final run as a Texan.
PREDICTED OUTCOME: Watt gets an extension after the 2020 season (his age 31 season), resulting in what is in essence, a three year deal, with about $30-$35 million guaranteed. J.J. is royalty, he will be treated as such.
It may seem strange having Watson on this list, what with him being just two seasons into his four year (five years, including the possibility of a team option) rookie deal. Watson is only on the books for cap hits of $3.8 million in 2019 and $4.4 million in 2020, but he's eligible for a long-term extension after this coming season. HIs fifth year option would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million, if he were to play under that clause in 2021.
PREDICTED OUTCOME: Despite some pressure to get a deal done after another ascending season in 2019, the Texans will extend Watson after 2020, on a near top of market deal, something like six years, $200 million, with over $100 million guaranteed. And we will all long for the days when he only counted $4 million against the cap.
And now let's take a look at the remaining three Houston Astro foundational players still seeking long-term deals:
Correa is playing under a $5 million salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility, from winning his case against the team this past winter. The star shortstop has two seasons of arbitration remaining, before he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season. With Bregman under a long-term deal, Correa is the one most will focus on now, but my guess is the Astros want to see him return to his 2017 form before committing the dollar Correa would expect on a long-term deal.
PREDICTED OUTCOME: Correa doesn't sign a long-term deal with the Astros, hitting free agency in the winter of 2022, and some big market team bites on giving him one of these insane ten-year deals for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Cole is working this season under the $13.5 million his final year of arbitration yielded. He will be a free agent after the season, and if he's as good as he was in 2018, he will command a top of market deal while still in his late 20's with elite stuff. (Translation: He will not be sitting around waiting like Dallas Keuchel.)
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PREDICTED OUTCOME: Cole has another very good season and leaves for his native Southern California for a six-year, $190 million deal.
Springer is in the second year of a two year, $24 million deal he signed before 2018. He still has one year of arbitration remaining before becoming a free agent after the 2020 season. Springer will be 31 when he this free agency.
PREDICTED OUTCOME: I'd always assumed, when it came time to pick players who would leave in free agency, Springer was an obvious choice, but I'm not entirely sure now. This case will really test Crane's wherewithal on spending, as Springer is older (for an outfielder hitting free agency) and doesn't play a premium position. I'll take a flyer, and say he signs a four-year, $68 million extension before arbitration next winter.