Jose Altuve is one of the ten best players in baseball. He's getting paid like a 6th-inning reliever. So how do you plan for his impending contract. Let's look at the possibilities:
2018: $6m (Team Option)
2019: $6.5m (Team Option)
When 2020 hits Altuve will be in his Age 30 season.
Let his contract play out.
You don't know what's going to happen with injuries, previously statistically-unsupported collapse, etc. This Altuve could be a fluke. His BABIP could come crashing down. There were risks taken on both sides when the Astros offered him this contract (see: Singleton, Jon), so the Astros presented a deal that worked for both sides, and he signed it. If he has suffers some sort of injury over the course of the next three seasons that could impact the very long-term, you have the flexibility to adjust. Or if, somehow, the Altuve we've seen so far - the Pete Rose/Rod Carew version - isn't the actual Altuve, then you got an awful lot of production for not a lot of money. Isn't that how it's supposed to work? Wait and see. There's no reason to make any determination beyond the next three seasons.
If in three seasons Altuve doesn't look like he's worth a major investment, there's always Alex Bregman who could play 2B and free up a corner infield spot.
Pay him...in 2020
Just to reiterate, because it's still unreal to me: in 2017 Altuve will make $4.5m with the final $187,500 quarter of his signing bonus. Then the Astros have team options in 2018 and 2019 for $6m and $6.5m, respectively. That means you're getting Jose Altuve in his Age 24-29 seasons for a total of $25m. That's amazing. Absolutely amazing. Jose Altuve will be very cheap when the Astros are projected to be very good, and isn't that what you want? Keep the cost of your very best player low and build around him with possible free agents (whomever that may be) and maximize your window while Altuve's cost is low. Then, when you get to 2020, you can reevaluate the market and figure out an extension that works for both sides.
But let's consider that, in 2018, the Astros owe Yulieski Gurriel whatever part of his $47.5m is remaining - let's just call it $10m. Dallas Keuchel will be in his 3rd year of arbitration, Collin McHugh, Will Harris, and George Springer will be in their second year of arbitration, Ken Giles will be in his 1st year of arbitration. Who knows how many of *those* dudes will be on the team in 2018, but stay with me. The team is getting more expensive, and we all know that paydays are coming, especially for Altuve who fairly recently re-hired Scott Boras as his agent. Might it be better to go ahead and pay Altuve ASAP and front-load that contract so that you pay a chunk of his salary early and get it out of the way?
I don't think I'm being crazy to think that 8yrs/$200m is in the realm of possibility for Altuve. Mike Trout will make $122m+ over the next four seasons, which works out to about $30.5m/year. So $25m for the game's best 2B seems reasonable to me. What if the Astros work out a deal with Scott Boras/Altuve to decline the team option for 2018 and 2019 with an 8yr/$200m deal to begin in 2018. I'm thinking out loud here but let's front-load it and see how I - an idiot - would do it:
By structuring it this way, or any way you like, or at least by paying Altuve a decent chunk of his salary (my plan would cover about 30% of his total salary in the first 25% of the deal), you're getting ahead of what's looking like will be the biggest contract extension in franchise history before your major core gets really expensive. Correa won't hit arbitration until 2019 and he won't be a free agent until 2022. Springer gets four turns through arbitration before becoming a free agent in 2021. Keuchel will be a free agent in 2019.
If the Astros structure his contract in this way, they're still giving Altuve a massive amount of money while the rest of the team is cheap, relatively speaking. Then, as the Astros' payroll logically increases, Altuve is making less money because you've structured the deal to take advantage of payroll while it's naturally lower. And keep in mind that this year's free agent class doesn't have a Bryce Harper/Clayton Kershaw-type player that's going to command $200m. If the Astros trade for a piece - unless it's Joey Votto - their price tag isn't going to be cash-high (it'll be prospect-high).
Is there risk? Sure there is. Do I know what I'm talking about? Probably not! I advocated giving Altuve 6yrs/$40m two months before he signed a deal for $15m less. Earlier this season Patrick and I floated giving Colby Rasmus 4yrs/$70-80m. LOL we're dumb. But I also think that Altuve is worth the length of the contract and the money owed. According to FanGraphs, Altuve has been worth $38.4m, $36m, and $53.4m in 2014-2016, respectively. Might as well pay more for that kind of production now, and give yourself more flexibility later.