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Astro for Life: Altuve Signs Five-Year Extension

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Altuve will be an Astro for life,” read the club’s announcement on Tuesday afternoon. Under different circumstances, that could be construed as a threat. But Altuve will be well-remunerated for the remainder of his time in Houston: His new contract extension will run for five years, starting in 2025, and pay him a guaranteed $125 million.

This is the third long-term contract Altuve has signed with the Astros, the club that signed him as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela all the way back in 2007. By the time it’s over, he will have spent some 23 seasons in the organization, 19 of them in the major leagues. The phrasing of the announcement is a little more concrete than any prediction about 2029 ought to be. It’s possible that Altuve will continue playing once his deal expires. But when it does, he’ll be seven months short of his 40th birthday. That seems like as good a time as any to plan on wrapping things up.

A month ago, I noted with astonishment that 2024 was a contract year for both Altuve and Alex Bregman. Losing both would be a jarring shift in identity for the Astros — Altuve in particular. He’s been with the club so long he was an everyday player back when the Astros wore brick red and pinstripes and played in the National League.

Altuve is already third in franchise history in WAR, pitchers and position players included. He’s fifth in home runs, third in runs, third in stolen bases, third in hits, and fourth in games played. For all the categories in which he ranks third, he trails, in some order, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. He’s in the process of leapfrogging the likes of Lance Berkman, Jimmy Wynn, Roy Oswalt, and Jose Cruz in the others.

All of this is to say that Altuve is the kind of player whose contract doesn’t lend itself to easy critique. The Astros aren’t bidding for his services against other clubs, because he’s worth more to them — and vice-versa — than any other team in the league.

Houston is going to retire Altuve’s number. Based on numbers and accolades, Altuve is on track to make the Hall of Fame. It remains to be seen if the BBWAA voters keep him out for his role in the sign-stealing scandal, and if so, whether that public outrage subsides in time to get him in through a subsequent select committee. Early returns on Carlos Beltrán suggest that Altuve will pay some price, but with another decade to process those events, and Beltrán to soak up most of the opprobrium as the first man over the top, maybe it won’t be enough to keep him out.

Altuve crossed the 2,000-hit threshold last season, and it does not seem like he’s anywhere close to done compiling. In 2020, amid the shortened season, the pandemic, and the peak of public criticism after the banging scheme was revealed, Altuve hit just .219/.286/.344 in 48 games, and suffered a bout of defensive yips in the playoffs. But he’s since rebounded.

He hit 31 home runs and was worth 5.3 WAR in 2021, despite posting only a 128 wRC+, which pails in comparison to his offensive production over the next two seasons. In 2022, he hit .300/.387/.533, a 164 wRC+, which was a hair higher than his MVP campaign of 2017. Last year, he broke his thumb at the World Baseball Classic, then went back on the IL in July with a strained oblique. Those injuries limited him to 90 games, but in those 90 games Altuve was as good as ever: .311/.393/.522, for a 154 wRC+ and 4.0 WAR. More than that, Altuve has evolved after his horrendous 2020 campaign, trading a bit of that preternatural contact ability for more thump as he heads into his mid-30s.

All of which is to say that he’s still a great player, and should remain so for a little while. But the track record for handing out $25 million-a-year extensions that start in a player’s age-35 season — insofar as such a track record exists — is not good.

I’ve delayed getting into the details of Altuve’s contract, and how he figures to perform on this final Astros deal, because this is the rare long-term contract that isn’t really about performance. It’s a victory lap for one of the most important players in franchise history, a rare bit of sentimentality from one of the most ruthlessly unsentimental organizations in the sport.

Altuve’s contract breaks down as follows: A $15 million signing bonus, followed by a $30 million annual salary from 2025 to 2027, and a $10 million annual salary in the final two seasons of the deal.

The deal being frontloaded doesn’t matter in terms of the competitive balance tax, but it does speak to the likelihood that Altuve will probably start to decline pretty severely by the time 2029 rolls around. Don’t take my word for it: Here’s what ZiPS has to say on the issue.

ZiPS Projection – Jose Altuve

2024 .277 .352 .467 469 86 130 27 1 20 67 50 82 10 126 -3 3.4
2025 .268 .343 .442 441 78 118 24 1 17 59 47 79 8 117 -3 2.6
2026 .264 .339 .428 402 68 106 22 1 14 50 42 75 6 112 -4 1.9
2027 .256 .330 .406 360 58 92 19 1 11 42 37 70 5 104 -5 1.2
2028 .244 .320 .375 299 46 73 15 0 8 33 31 61 4 93 -5 0.5
2029 .237 .311 .355 211 31 50 10 0 5 21 21 45 2 86 -4 0.1

If Altuve stays healthy, the outlook is more optimistic. But while he has generally been pretty durable, and the late start to 2023 was a one-off impact injury, we’d expect those nagging aches and pains to start to add up over the next six seasons.

But the Astros aren’t really concerned with the next six seasons, and nor should they be. They’re on an unprecedented run of seven straight ALCS appearances, which includes four pennants and two World Series. Altuve will be a foundational piece of the bid for an eighth consecutive trip to the ALCS. If he’s healthy, he will almost certainly remain integral to Houston’s lineup in 2025 and probably 2026 as well.

After that? Honestly, who cares? Particularly when you consider that Altuve’s first long-term contract with the Astros, which ran from 2014 to 2017 and influenced the first two seasons of the seven-year contract that’s about to expire, was one of the biggest underpays of its era. When Altuve was AL MVP in 2017, he made just $4.5 million. In the ensuing two seasons put together, he made $12.5 million. The Astros owe him.

And even now, $25 million a year isn’t what it used to be. In 2024, that would be the 31st-highest contract AAV in baseball. Once Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, and Jordan Montgomery sign, it might get knocked down a couple more rungs. By 2029, there’ll be a new CBA in force, and in all likelihood the competitive balance tax threshold will go up once more.

Keeping Altuve in the lineup in the short term obviously helps the Astros in the short term. In the long term, this extension ends the uncertainty surrounding the future of a franchise legend, indicates a positive and competitive trajectory for the ballclub, and all but eliminates the possibility of Altuve ending his career with one of those awkward Ichiro-on-the-Yankees experiences. It’s not ruthlessly efficient, but it’s right.


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