In general, it’s a bad idea to throw money at the problem of buying your wife or girlfriend a birthday, Christmas or anniversary gift. Sure, a diamond might be pretty, and a vacation might be ostentatious, but if you haven’t really thought deeply about what she would like, what makes you think of her, what makes her think of you, it’s going to go over like a lead balloon.
There’s an exception to that rule, of course. In certain relationships, a time will come at which your significant other needs nothing so much as a show of commitment. If the relationship itself is in trouble, spending big on something unnecessary or imperfect can show that you’re still in it, and want desperately to make it work. In those isolated cases, it’s okay if the gift itself misses the mark: the gesture is what matters. And yes, the gesture can be money.
For the fifth anniversary of their last good team, the Houston Astros got their fans Jose Altuve’s prime. That’s really what this comes down to. At a time when the Astros are just beginning to make headway in what has been a long and painful rebuilding project, they looked around and saw a real lack of either trust or sincere interest on the part of a fan base that, back when the team on the field was worth showing up for, showed up in droves.
In response, they isolated the player with (by far) the highest Q rating of any current Astro, and they shoved money across the metaphorical table at him.
Altuve is, of course, the best jockey in baseball history. He’s about five-foot-five, and is a crummy defender at second base, but because he can play that position, runs well and hits .290 (and if we’re being honest, because former Baseball Prospectus prospect guru and current Astros pro scouting coordinator Kevin Goldstein fell in love and half-jokingly hyped Altuve as he ascended the chain), he’s a popular and marketable player.
The contract extension Houston gave him guarantees just $12.5 million over four years, meaning that even if he becomes a backup, the team can’t really get hurt. In case he keeps the second-base job and blossoms over the next few years, the Astros also have club options for 2018 and 2019 that would more or less double the total value of the contract.
It’s almost purely a P.R. move. It comes just 10 days after the Astros acquired Ronald Torreyes from the Cubs. Torreyes is an Altuve clone (a mini-me, of sorts, with no shrinkage required) who has both more walks and more extra-base hits than strikeouts as a 20-year-old in Double-A. Houston also has Delino DeShields on the way up. (DeShields is not, strictly speaking, a clone of former speedster Delino DeShields, but he’s halfway there.)
Altuve doesn’t even have job security, let alone star status locked up. What he does have now, though, is a guaranteed paycheck through his age-27 season. What the Astros have, with two stud positional prospects already on the doorstep and Jarred Cosart installed in their big-league rotation a bit ahead of schedule, is cost certainty, and a symbol of their commitment to accelerating their return to contention, something they hope will convince their fans that they still care.Next post: Children by Tigers: The AL Central and Distortions in Team Evaluation
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