Crane weighs in on player extensions, long-term deals

March 30th, 2023

HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane will hand out World Series championship rings on Friday for the second time in six years, punctuating the success he’s had guiding Houston from cellar dweller to perennial contender since purchasing the club late in 2011.

The Astros have played in six consecutive ALCS and won four pennants since 2017, including a pair of World Series titles. Crane said when he bought the team he would spend money to keep it competitive, and he’s done that with a payroll that’s consistently been near the top of the Major Leagues.

While teams around the league have dished out massive deals in terms of dollars and years to retain talent and attract free agents, Crane has taken a more conservative approach with his wallet, and it’s worked. “Balanced risk,” he calls it.

“I think some of those things, as we’ve learned through the years, the back end of those contracts can be difficult,” Crane said. “They all don’t work out. I think we try to plan out pretty far, but nobody I think can tell you what’s going to happen in eight or nine or 10 years, or even five years. If those things don’t work, those teams are going to have difficulty down the road.”

The longest contracts the Astros have given under Crane are the six-year, $115 million extension signed in 2022 and the five-year, $100 million extension to in '19. ’s five-year, $151 million extension signed in '18 is the largest contract in team history. In terms of free agents, the three-year, $58.5 million deal to José Abreu last offseason is the largest under Crane.

The Astros have purposely stayed away from seven-, eight- and nine-year deals and $100 million-plus contracts, which has led to star players like George Springer, Carlos Correa and Gerrit Cole leaving in free agency. Crane didn’t rule out jumping into the deep end of the free-agent pool at some point, but he’s won two titles with his conservative approach.

“I think we’ll take that player by player,” Crane said. “Our goal here is pretty simple. We try to assemble 26 guys. You can’t do it with one big contract. I think some teams have learned that. I think we try to keep who we think we can keep and continue to develop our players with complete flexibility with the roster.

“I’m not saying it’s something we would never do. We’ve done well by constructing the team the way we have and doing some extensions from time to time, when it makes sense. We are probably at the top of the payroll now, right below the Competitive Balance Tax, and we’re not afraid to go over it.”

According to Spotrac, the Astros’ $181 million payroll ranks 10th in baseball to begin the season. Under new general manager Dana Brown, the Astros have explored extensions with 2022 All-Stars Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker, but those talks have been tabled.

“We’ve been back and forth,” Crane said. “I think those things have been put to the side, for now. Maybe they’ll fire back up in the middle of the year. I don’t know. For right now, there’s no more progress there.”

Then there’s Altuve and Bregman. Their contracts expire after the 2024 season, leaving them with two years before hitting free agency. Altuve already has signed two contract extensions to remain in Houston, and Brown has said he wants both of them to retire as Astros. Expect Crane to make it happen.