José Altuve extension only the first step toward stretching Astros’ title window

There is a sense of inevitability when José Altuve is at the plate in a clutch spot.

This past October, when the Astros trailed the Rangers in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Altuve crushed a ninth-inning, three-run home run off closer José Leclerc that gave Houston the lead for good. The hair-raising impact was just like all the others: the game-tying, three-run home run off Kenta Maeda in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series; the walk-off homer against Aroldis Chapman to send the Astros to the 2019 World Series. 

Octobers in Houston would look bewildering and foreign without Altuve, the face of the franchise, batting lead off in the Astros’ lineup.

So, it only makes sense that, in classic Altuve style, his contract extension was inevitable, too.

Altuve and the Astros agreed to a five-year extension Tuesday reportedly worth $125 million. The deal ensures that the homegrown second baseman will play in Houston through his age-39 season and likely retire as an Astro. In doing so, owner Jim Crane has started to extend Houston’s title window. Now, the organization must look beyond 2024. 

“Houston is my home,” Altuve told reporters at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday. “I have obviously two homes: I grew up in Venezuela, my country. Every time I go there, I tell my wife, ‘Let’s go home.’ And then when it’s time to come back, I tell her, ‘Let’s come back home.'”

While the Altuve extension is celebratory for the Astros fan base in its own right, forgive the H-town faithful after a quiet offseason for also wondering, what’s next? Or, more specifically, who’s next? The notion that the Astros’ run as a contender could be nearing an end is driven by the significant number of core players who are approaching free agency. And the outcome of those players’ futures is not nearly as inevitable as Altuve’s always seemed.

Alex Bregman is set to enter free agency at the end of this season. Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez currently aren’t under team control after the 2025 season. Justin Verlander, who turns 41 in two weeks, could be taking the mound for the last time in either 2024 or 2025. As of now, only Yordan Álvarez, Jeremy Peña and Altuve are on track to be in the Astros lineup in two years. To top it off, the organization’s farm system is regarded as the worst in baseball. The Astros are the only team with no players on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list.

While all of that is cause for concern, Altuve’s extension really is an optimistic sign of the Astros’ future. The Altuve deal, a no-brainer because it was deeply desired by both sides, suggests that Crane is motivated to support the team’s core. To continue extending their title window, he must make every effort to secure other, more pressing contract extensions. And if Crane is not going to dish out the required capital to green-light those extensions, then he would be wise to get ahead of them by imploring his front office to design trades that could beef up the farm system.

“When I got called up in 2011,” Altuve reflected Wednesday, “they told me it was something temporary until they found another second baseman.”

The 5-foot-6 Venezuelan has defied the odds at nearly every step of his baseball journey. From being one of the most undersized players in MLB history, to proving he can succeed at the big-league level, to surviving an organizational rebuild, to becoming one of the game’s most clutch postseason performers, to holding the best batting average (.307) among all active players and building a Hall of Fame résumé. 

Though Altuve’s contract extension was a matter of when, not if, it’s an exception on multiple fronts. Just ask Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole, George Springer and even Verlander, who all seemed like they’d stay in Houston, but didn’t get the contract they wanted from the Astros. Moreover, Altuve’s agent, Scott Boras, urges clients to explore free agency rather than agree to extensions that are often team-friendly. But Altuve made it clear in the months leading up to the deal that he was motivated to remain an Astro for life. In the end, Altuve’s wish to get a deal done won over Boras’ preferred strategy. Such a mutually easy decision likely won’t be the case with another prominent homegrown Astro tied to Boras.

Bregman is expected to dip his toes into free agency next winter, and it’s possible his asking price will be more than the Astros are comfortable spending. They could consider trading the All-Star third baseman before he potentially departs, but that would significantly weaken a 2024 roster that looks fully capable of contending for another title. A similar scenario could arise next season with Tucker — although he isn’t represented by Boras — if he enters his walk year without an extension in place.

Verlander sheds light on new Astros manager Joe Espada

Verlander sheds light on new Astros manager Joe Espada

So, the options left for Crane include spending significant money to keep his stars in Houston, trading them away for bigger prospect returns that would beef up the farm system, or letting them walk once their contracts expire and risk seeing their title window close. He asserted Wednesday the latter would not happen.

“While I’m here,” Crane said, “the window will always be open.”

Perhaps that statement indicates that Crane has changed, that he’s willing to spend more aggressively. Historically, however, he’s been comfortable letting his stars find a home away from Houston. While there was previously enough young talent in the organization to prolong this run into a dynasty that features seven straight LCS appearances, four World Series trips and two titles, this is no longer the case.

Which is why the Astros’ future still remains a mystery. Sure, the fan base can rest easy knowing Altuve will be around, as he has always been, through good times or bad. But ownership should be taking note of the feelings of jubilation around this extension. There will be a different price to pay if Crane doesn’t keep his word. 

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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