Last week, the Houston Astros agreed to pay World Series Champion second baseman Jose Altuve a whole bunch of money. According to multiple reports, the 27-year-old will be making $151 million over five years, which kicks in when his current contract ends after next season.
Altuve is known as one of the game’s most consistent players, he occupies a premium position, and his glowing personality is infinitely marketable for the Astros. Sound familiar?
The Cleveland Indians have a very similar situation with their own middle-infielder superstar Francisco Lindor. Like Altuve, Lindor entered the league at a young age. He went on to slash .313/.353/.482 as one of the league’s best defensive shortstops and amass a a 4.4 fWAR in his debut 2015 season. In Altuve’s breakout season, 2014, the second baseman slashed .341/.377/.453 which, combined with mediocre defense at second, netted him 5.1 fWAR.
There’s a key difference between the two, though. Lindor’s breakout season was also his debut season, when he took the league by storm as a baby-faced 21-year-old rookie in 2015. Altuve, on the other hand, didn’t emerge as a superstar until after two and a half years of struggling at the major-league level; he was worth just 2.3 fWAR in three seasons prior to his big 2014 campaign.
Despite his early struggles, the Astros showed faith in the young infielder, signing him to a four-year, $12.5 million deal with two team options that would double the contract through 2019. Needless to say, they picked up the 2018 option and they are going to pick up the one in 2019, too.
The Astros were able to sign Altuve before he had all the leverage. He had potential in 2013, sure, but they were able to take a gamble with their initial deal and lock him up through the initial arbitration years. Now they have him locked up through the entirety of his prime years.
The Indians never had that luxury with Lindor. Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, formerly with the aid of Mark Shapiro, have a reputation for locking up young pitchers such as Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco before things get out of hand. They signed Kluber after his first Cy Young season, locking up through at least 2021 if they pick up all the options. That seems like an easy choice, but remember Kluber came out of absolutely nowhere to put up that 7.1-win season. Prior to that he wasn’t a top prospect, and he hadn’t shown a lot in the majors. Similarly, Carlos Carrasco was signed to an arbitration-dodging extension after just one full year of having a great FIP as a starter. Jose Ramirez, too, got a five-year, $26 million deal with team options after his breakout 2016 campaign. None of these players were ever top prospects, but the Indians made sure to lock them up them at the first sign of stardom.
Francisco Lindor is new territory.
Not only was he a top-flight prospect from the get-go, but he dominated the moment he put on his Indians jersey. If you are Lindor, do you possibly sign anything that takes away even a cent after the rookie half-season he had? I don’t.
Based on information from an inside source who goes by the name “Mike Chernoff’s son, Brody,” the Indians were at one point working on a seven-year deal with the Lindor prior to last season. Since that day, we’ve heard nothing of extension talks between the two, despite my desperate pleas on Twitter for the Indians to sign him to a 75-year deal. I guess I shouldn’t say that, because a month after Brody broke the news, Lindor reportedly turned down a $100 million contract offer from the Indians.
All Lindor has done since turning down a nine-digit salary is become a 30-home run hitter, continue to dominate at shortstop, and adopt a bitchin’ new hair style. It’s safe to say he didn’t cost himself any money by turning down a cool hundred million. Oh yeah, and he’s still three years younger than Jose Altuve.
To summarize, Lindor is three years younger than Altuve, has basically the same track record, but more power and better defense at a more difficult defensive position, and already turned down $100 million. I would say that Lindor is going to use Altuve’s contract for further proof that the Indians owe him a ton of money, but $151 million suddenly looks like a drop in the bucket compared to what he’s going to get.
I wouldn’t say it’s all bad for the Indians, or Indians fans, though. There is still time for the Indians to avoid arbitration and maybe buy out a couple years of free agency (Lindor doesn’t hit his first round of arbitration until 2019), but the clock is ticking, and everything he does this season is only going to make it harder for the Indians to pay him. However, the Indians will have some money to play with, and could still have a competitive team if a few key prospects pan out, when that time rolls around.
I’m not saying the Indians will win a free agent bid war for Lindor — that’s not happening. But if they want to fire up the talks now for three years down the road, kind of like what the Astros and Altuve just did, they too could take a risk to keep a premium player on their roster for several years of free agency.
It just won’t be cheap.