If the Houston Astros win the World Series, the team’s celebration may not last long. Starter Gerrit Cole is set to be a free agent, and by the sound of it, he may have to leave the team if he wants a big payday.
That’s because Astros owner Jim Crane would “prefer not to” exceed the luxury tax next season, according to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle.
Crane said he would "prefer not to" exceed the sport's competitive balance tax which, in 2020, is a $208 million total payroll. Clubs that exceed the threshold for the first time must pay a 20 percent tax on all overages.
"It's too early to say right now. We'd prefer not to get into that," Crane said. “There's only three or four teams over it, and they have a lot more money than we do”
Crane, however, didn’t fully rule out the possibility that they would make a legitimate run at Cole. He implied that things could be different if the team wins the World Series.
Cots Contracts estimates the Astros will have a $156 million payroll going into 2020. That figure doesn’t factor in players who should receive raises through the arbitration process. Carlos Correa, Roberto Osuna and George Springer are among the players set to make more money next season. It’s unclear how much Cole will demand on the open market, though he’s a consensus top-4 starter in baseball, and similar players have received upward of $30 million per season.
That’s a lot of money to spend on one player if the goal is to remain under the luxury tax. The Astros don’t have to do that, of course, but they, like seemingly every other Major League Baseball team, have chosen to treat the luxury tax like a salary cap.
While fewer teams have been willing to exceed the luxury tax, the Astros are one of the teams that could most benefit from paying that penalty. The are slated to be a good team even without Cole, but he could be the one piece that pushes them over the edge and helps them build a dynasty.
As others have pointed out, the penalty for exceeding the luxury tax isn’t all that much when you consider other factors.
The Astros going over the luxury tax to sign literally the best pitcher in baseball this year would cost them like $8 million, or, uh, 0.34% of Jim Crane's net worth https://t.co/9Ek51CkvVD
— Tipping Pitches (@tipping_pitches) October 2, 2019
Since joining the Astros last season, the 29-year-old Cole has transformed himself into one of the best pitchers in the game. He has a 2.68 ERA over 412 2/3 innings with the team, and has posted a 13.4 fWAR over that stretch. Only Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer have been better by that measurement.
Some team is going to get a real good pitcher this offseason. It might just be the Astros depending on how much they care about winning future championships.
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