Breen: The visible hand of the baseball economy

From J.P. Breen at Baseball Prospectus on November 12, 2019:

Gerrit Cole laid waste to the American League en route to an eight-win season. Not only that, but he also tied an AL playoff record in October with 15 strikeouts in the ALDS. Yet the Houston Astros, who figure to be competitive for the foreseeable future, have indicated that they don’t feel that the 29-year-old Cy Young candidate will be a good investment for the team going forward.

Not that they can’t afford Cole, of course. They can. Astros’ owner Jim Crane recently intimated as much to reporters. However, the Astros almost certainly would then push their payroll over the luxury tax threshold, which Crane said he’d “prefer not to” do. The language is revealing because he made it clear that this is a matter of preference, rather than capacity—and the latter is the line normally trotted out by executives as to why they won’t pony up the cash to sign a player.

The Astros are the same organization that in 2014 dropped $10 million guaranteed on Jonathan Singleton, who was a sub-replacement-level player for two seasons and is now out of baseball. The luxury tax penalty for signing Cole would figure to be in the neighborhood of that same amount of money.

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Originally published: November 12, 2019. Last Updated: November 12, 2019.