HOUSTON -- As the Astros begin free agency and a pursuit of pitcher Gerrit Cole, owner Jim Crane said on Monday it’s possible that the club could exceed the luxury tax threshold next year for the first time. The Astros’ estimated payroll next year, according to Baseball-Reference.com, will be about $208 million (the threshold for 2020). Teams that carry payrolls above the set amount are assessed a Competitive Balance Tax on each dollar above it.
Crane, speaking at the grand opening of Memorial Park Golf Course following a redevelopment spearheaded by the Astros Golf Foundation, said the length of the deal would be the biggest challenge of trying to re-sign Cole, who went 24-6 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 373 strikeouts in 249 innings across 38 starts in the regular season and playoffs.
“We’re going to take a run at it,” Crane said. “We don’t know if we can get to where they want to get. [Agent Scott] Boras is tough to deal with.”
The Astros extended Cole a $17.8 million qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline, but he’s a lock to reject it and become a free agent. If he signs before the 2020 MLB Draft, the Astros would get a compensatory pick in June. Cole, 29, could be seeking a record deal for a pitcher.
“We’ll stick our nose in there and see where we’re at and see what we can go with Gerrit,” Crane said. “He did a great job and had a great year and pitched well in the playoffs. Either way, I wish him the best of luck. He’s been a great asset for the team.”
Included in the Astros' estimated payroll are large contract extensions for Justin Verlander ($33 million), José Altuve ($29 million) and Alex Bregman ($13 million). What’s more, the Astros will pay $24.7 million of the $35 million owed to Zack Greinke. Josh Reddick ($13 million) and Michael Brantley ($16 million) will be in the final years of their deals, along with George Springer, who could approach $20 million in his final year of arbitration.
To make room for any free agents, the Astros would have to trim some payroll. That could include trading Reddick, though they’d have to pay some of his salary. Jeff Luhnow, president of baseball operations and general manager, said that any trades would be made with baseball in mind and not salary.
“We’re probably over the line at this point without any added additions,” Luhnow said. “Fortunately, Jim’s been really open to different investment ideas depending on how we justify it and [how it] helps our team. At the end of the day, we’re not going to know our payroll until we start next year. There’s going to be opportunities to improve the team.”
In addition to tendering Cole, the Astros added left-hander Kent Emanuel to their 40-man roster, reinstated right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. from the 60-day injured list and declined the 2020 option on reliever Chris Devenski, who remains with the club as an arbitration-eligible player. Emanuel would have been a Minor League free agent had he not been added to the roster.
Hinch endorses Beltrán
Carlos Beltrán, who was introduced as the manager of the Mets on Monday, is ready for the challenge, said Astros manager AJ Hinch. Beltrán finished his career and won a World Series ring with the Astros in 2017 and learned under Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora, who just finished his second year as manager of the Red Sox.
“It’s incredible to see guys stay in the game,” Hinch said. “I’m happy he wants to work, I’m happy that he wants to lead. He’s a magnet for players. I think it’s going to be very easy for him to galvanize that clubhouse. He’ll absorb all different parts of the job. He’s going to learn parts of the job he had no idea about until later in his career, and he’s going to do good at it.
“I think they hired a good man, they hired an incredible baseball man who wants to work after such a successful career. It’s good for the game.”
Cintron to manage in Puerto Rico
Hitting coach Alex Cintron traveled on Sunday to his native Puerto Rico, where he’ll spend the winter managing the Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Winter League. He was named the league’s Manager of the Year last season in his first season managing in Puerto Rico.
“I learned how to manage players,” Cintron said. “There’s different personalities. It’s way different than here because there’s a lot of Minor League guys, guys who played in the big leagues, guys who were out of the game. It’s crazy.”
Cintron played parts of nine years in the big leagues and has been with the Astros since 2017, when he was hired as the Astros’ Spanish translator, advance scout and assistant coach. He spent the 2018 season as the Astros’ first-base coach before becoming hitting coach prior to last season. He could be in Puerto Rico managing until January, but he loves to stay involved.
“It’s learning more about the game, how to be involved in controlling situations and dealing with players and coaches and running all that,” he said. “I’m preparing myself, and that will help me when I come back here, because I know of the games and am already prepared and thinking about it.”