In a move that surprised nobody, the Houston Astros picked up star second baseman Jose Altuve's option for the 2018 season today. Jake Kaplan of The Houston Chronicle reported the decision, which also included Marwin Gonzalez's option getting picked up, and Altuve will earn $6m next year.
Make no mistake, baseball fans. Altuve is underpaid as it is and though GM Jeff Luhnow is sure to take care of him eventually, it should really be a priority this offseason.
Underpaid and underrated
Altuve's 2017 season alone is the latest reason he deserves a lucrative extension. The 5-foot-6 sensation won his third career American League batting title and his second in a row, batting an MLB-best and career-high .346. Altuve also led the AL with 204 hits, his fourth year in a row leading the league in that category.
The stats only get better from there. Altuve matched a career high with 24 home runs, plus had 81 RBI and 32 stolen bases. Throw in a 7.5 WAR, and it's clear just how elite a player Jose Altuve is.
Now let's talk about Altuve's contract. He's playing on a four-year, $12.5 million extension signed prior to 2014 and he earned just $4.5m in 2017. On top of the $6m option the Astros hold for 2018, there is also one worth $6.5m for the following season.
Though that extension total seems low, keep in mind that Altuve did not have as strong a reputation he does today. For the first three years of his career, he never hit over seven home runs in a season and was considered a leadoff man with elite speed as opposed to an all-around threat.
Times have now changed and Altuve deserves better. He found his power, has played in four consecutive All-Star Games and played a big role in the Astros bringing Houston its first ever World Series championship. He hit .310 with seven home runs and 14 RBI in the postseason and even though he only hit .194 in the playoffs, his two home runs in the round came in must-win games for the Astros, Games 2 and 5.
Make no mistake, the man is the face of the franchise and should have a salary which shows that.
Your move, front office
Now the onus is on Luhnow and owner Jim Crane to open the coffers to pay Altuve. The money is definitely there to spend as Houston's active payroll for 2017 was $132.5m and a grand total of $82m was spent in free agency last offseason.
Houston's active payroll for next year stands at under $90m ahead of salary arbitration and free agency and barring a major effort to sign a top free agent this offseason, odds are greater than none that money is being budgeted for the next couple of years so that Altuve can get paid.
Just how much remains to be seen. He is arguably the best contact hitter in the game today and the power he has showcased in recent years, plus his speed, make him a valuable asset. He isn't going to get an annual salary close to Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout's $33.25m set for next season, but he could exceed someone else's money.
Consider Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, the highest earner at his position with a 2018 salary of $24m. He has proven himself more a power hitter than Altuve has and has hit 25 home runs or more in six of his 13 seasons, and is about to reach the halfway mark of his 10-year, $240m deal, so some may raise their eyebrows if Altuve gets a comparable salary.
But the fact of the matter is that Altuve has put on a hitting clinic for the past four years, batting .334 with 845 total hits.
Houston isn't anywhere close to being in danger of losing him and probably never will, but that could all change unless extension talks start sooner rather than later.