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Astros offseason: Houston is defying traditional logic in free agent market

Come again? Did a player really turn down more money somewhere else to play for a 300-loss team?


There's a serious question we need to discuss about all these free agent signings the Astros made this winter. I'll let Vince Lombardi bring it up:

Seriously. The hell?

Read this quote from Evan Drellich's story on the Matt Albers signing and tell me if that Lombardi clip doesn't run through your head immediately.

Regardless, Albers was previously regarded as a long man, making this signing something of a promotion. He had a slightly higher offer on the table that he turned down to stay at home.

Matt Albers, who had a fine season and was a free agent, chose to come to Houston, even though he had a higher, multi-year offer on the table. That just doesn't make sense. This Astros team has been really, really bad for three seasons. Albers won't be the closer. Yes, being a late-inning anchor is a step up from the long man role, but is it enough of an upgrade to go to the Astros?

It wouldn't be so perplexing if it hadn't happened multiple times already this offseason. Scott Feldman picked Houston over the Orioles, despite Baltimore being in the playoffs very recently. Chad Qualls signed quickly with the Astros for decent money, but was certainly not an overpay.

In fact, none of Houston's signings were "overpays." All three free agent contracts doled out by the Astros so far have been eminently reasonable. They fit into the market and sometimes fell just south of average market value.

But, we've heard time and again that bad teams need to overpay to bring in free agents. Look no further than what the Mariners were forced to do this offseason, spending crazy big (and maybe even outbidding themselves) for Robinson Cano, before giving Corey Hart $13 million if he's fully healthy.

Same thing happened for the Marlins when they signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and Heath Bell. There's a tax for losing games that shows up in free agent deals. Players know a team is bad, so they cash in when they can if they go play there.

In Albers' comments, though, there's something else going on. For instance:

"Just a few good players from turning it around," Albers said of the Astros' rebuilding plan. "We'll just see. Last year in Cleveland, nobody really expected us to do a whole lot, so anything can happen."

We think that, because we're delusional, pie-in-the-sky bloggers. Why on earth should Matt Albers think this?

It has to be the front office.

Having a smart, committed front office with a plan that's supported by ownership has to be attractive for free agents. They know this stuff. Their agents know this stuff. They deal with the Astros and know this is a team that won't try to win one year and then trade their entire team north of the border the next.

Before reading that article on Albers, I didn't think stuff like that mattered. I thought money is all that counted for free agents and the stink of all those losses the past three years would haunt the franchise. Who wants to go to Houston? More people than I expected.

Yes, Albers is from Houston. He was drafted here and came up with the team. That front office is gone, though. Same for the guys who developed Qualls. He still wanted to come back. Feldman's ties to Houston were only marginal. He wanted to come here. Heck, even Jose Veras was so sold on the fit that he wants to come back.

It's weird. It shouldn't be surprising, but it is. If you needed confirmation that the Astros are doing something right in the front office, it's this. However improbable it may seem, the Astros are convincing guys to sign with them and its for something other than money.