Honestly, I’d be awfully surprised if Jose Altuve ever left the Astros for another organization. He is the face of the franchise for all of the good that has occurred in his career up to now. And, deserved or not, the bad that now also serves as part of his legacy. The odds of another contract extension, at least based on the vibes, feel high. The same, however, can’t be stated for Alex Bregman, who also has a contract extension expiring following the 2024 season. The vibes about an extension aren’t exactly optimistic in his case.
It is no secret that Dana Brown has been vocal about extending multiple players on Houston’s roster since being hired as the general manager. Brown has already one extension done with Cristian Javier signed through the 2027 season. In an ideal world, he would presumably prefer to extend Altuve, Bregman, Kyle Tucker, and Framber Valdez this offseason and next. But the odds of all four agreeing to extensions, especially below the perceived market value for their services, is extraordinarily low. I mean, the Braves’ model doesn’t apply to every player. Bregman, who is about to enter his age-30 season, has already signed one below-market extension and I doubt another is in the cards.
Whether Bregman remains an Astro or not depends heavily on what the organization feels comfortable offering to their long-time third baseman. Jim Crane isn’t afraid to authorize extensions, but they have generally been more of the team-friendly variety. Not steep discounts — well, except for the recent Yordan Alvarez extension — but the dollars committed are more palatable to the club. Even Lance McCullers Jr.’s extension in March 2021 (five years, $85 million), which looks a bit more worrisome with each passing season, wasn’t egregious at the time. Even with Bregman’s salary noticeably increasing this season and next, the first couple of years were a boon compared to the production he provided. But the Astros have typically avoided committing top dollar on an annual basis, at least on contracts longer than a season or two. While the organization has avoided some of the decline years, namely with George Springer, it would be a risky gambit to let another star-level player walk away. Sooner or later, this talent drain will come back to haunt the club.
Matt Chapman’s free agency this winter may help determine the general range of what Bregman could expect on the open market, at least on the starting bid, especially since both are only a year apart in age — Chapman is about to enter his age-31 season — and have been roughly similar in terms of overall value. Bregman has maintained the edge at the plate (126 wRC+ to 109) while Chapman is the better option defensively (26.6 defensive runs to 12.5) since 2021, but you get the point. Based on fWAR, Bregman maintains the edge in their respective careers by 0.6 wins dating back to 2017. But the fact that Bregman is roughly a year younger than Chapman, in addition to a more favorable offensive profile, the former is likely to demand more in both years and dollars for his next contract.
The pressing issue for the Astros ought not to be how much Bregman could cost in terms of salary, but how much it would cost the club to let him walk away in free agency. After all, the farm system is relatively thin and there isn’t an heir apparent for third base at this moment. Zach Dezenzo is a potential name to watch in a year or two, but he isn’t a finished product at the plate or defensively. Brown could certainly develop another third baseman to assume the position, but does this possibly coincide with the current shelf life of this roster? The third base free agent market doesn’t figure to improve in the near future beyond Chapman this winter or Bregman next year.
As constructed, the Astros are built to possibly contend into 2025 and 2026, or at least remain in the mix. A new contract for Bregman would be designed with the primary intent to maximize those windows. Would the later years in an extension, especially if it pushes five to six seasons, offer a higher amount of risk? Yes. The decline years are a real factor to consider. But other than a 91-game season in 2021 — excluding 2020 for obvious reasons — Bregman has played in at least 155 games in every other full season since 2017. Plus, his offensive profile does tend to age well.
The drop-off from one of the top third basemen in the game to an unknown isn’t exactly what a contender should aim for in what remains of their prime windows. Not to mention that Tucker isn’t guaranteed to remain an Astro beyond 2025. There is a real possibility that Houston loses both a top-five third baseman and a top-five right fielder in the next couple of offseasons. Again, the talent drain at some point is going to become too much to overcome, at least in a relatively quick fashion. I am not sure how the Astros could overcome both losses without seeing the product on the field suffer as a result. This consideration by itself should give the organization pause about deciding to let another star potentially leave. Thankfully, we have at least we have another season before that possibility hits us square in the face.