WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As a fairly young team, the Astros launched the pursuit of their first World Series title last season with a payroll ranked 16th in the majors.
Success isn’t cheap, so that’s changing dramatically.
The Astros’ payroll is set to climb to fifth this season at about $168 million, and it likely will continue to rise if they expect to retain their core players.
The announcement Monday of a five-year, $151 million extension for second baseman Jose Altuve, the reigning American League most valuable player, figures to mark only the first of several big-money commitments for the Astros.
Former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel can become a free agent after the upcoming season, and so can do-everything utility player Marwin Gonzalez. Star shortstop Carlos Correa, whom the Astros would love to lock up for the long term, will be eligible for arbitration for the first time next offseason after having his contract renewed at $1 million. Third baseman Alex Bregman soon might become an extension candidate, too.
‘‘[Owner] Jim [Crane] is committed to keeping the best team on the field for as long as possible, giving us a chance to win multiple championships,’’ general manager Jeff Luhnow said. ‘‘Part of that is developing our own players and keeping our own players and bringing in the right kinds of players. We’ve done that. We’ll see what the future holds, but we certainly have the desire and intention to keep our core together as long as possible.’’
Altuve, who has led the AL in hits each of the last four seasons and has won three batting crowns, was a logical candidate for a long-term deal. Not only had he been underpaid relative to his production, but Altuve is immensely popular in Houston, where he lives and wanted to stay.
If the average value of Altuve’s extension seems startlingly high for a player who will serve most of the contract in his 30s — he will turn 28 on May 6 — it makes more sense when it’s regarded as a seven-year contract, which is what the Astros are calling it.
Altuve’s $6 million salary in 2018 ranks 11th on the team, and the Astros have a $6.5 million option on him for 2019. This was a way of rewarding Altuve, keeping him in Houston and bringing his salary closer to his market value, with an average of $23.35 million for the seven years.
The sides reached agreement on the contract, which includes a no-trade clause and bonuses for awards, Wednesday and finalized the language during the weekend.
‘‘He was pretty elated,’’ agent Scott Boras said of Altuve. ‘‘This was a goal of his because he was able to stay in Houston [and] got a value he was proud of. . . . It gave him respect.’’
So did the presence of Altuve’s teammates at an on-field news conference to announce the deal. Accompanied by his wife, daughter and brother, Altuve was touched by the show of support from his fellow players.
‘‘The most important thing for me right now is those guys out there being here,’’ he said. ‘‘They don’t have to be here. They’re here because they wanted to do something nice. You guys have made my day.’’
During their years revamping the roster (2012-14), the Astros sank to the bottom of the salary rankings and had a couple of last-place finishes. It’s not lost on the players that, as reigning world champions, they’re spreading the wealth around. Altuve’s contract is the largest in franchise history.
‘‘He just got a huge payday, and we all want to get there at some point,’’ Correa said. ‘‘We’re working hard every day so we can get a big payday like him.’’
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