There’s been much chatter around the Astros and extensions recently, with Cristian Javier already locked up and the club also interested in deals for players like Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. However, one player who doesn’t seem to be on the verge of signing a lengthy new pact is left-hander Framber Valdez, as his agent Ulises Cabrera tells Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle that no extension talks have taken place thus far.
“That is 1,000 percent categorically false,” Cabrera said in response to a report that Valdez could sign before Opening Day and was looking for over $150MM. “I haven’t even had a conversation with (general manager Dana Brown) with respect to Framber Valdez. There are no negotiations. Whatever conversations that do exist will not be handled in the press.” That’s not to suggest that an extension is off the table, of course. “He likes Houston,” Cabrera says of Valdez. “Whatever conversation (happens) beyond that is something we’ll address if necessary. Until then, there’s no use in speculating.”
Part of the reason that extensions have been in the spotlight in Houston is the hiring of Brown a few weeks ago. He came over from an Atlanta organization that has been the most aggressive in the league when it comes to locking up core players to lengthy extensions. Brown has been quite open about his desire to bring a similar strategy to Houston and the club has already crossed one player off the list. Last week, Javier and the club agreed to a five-year, $64MM guarantee that secured his salary for his three remaining arbitration years as well as buying out two free agent seasons.
The situations with Valdez and Javier have some parallels but also some notable differences. Both players have between three and four years of service time right now, meaning Valdez is currently slated to reach free agency after 2025, just as Javier was before agreeing to his new deal. Valdez’s track record of success is a bit lengthier, but he’s also significantly older since he had a sort of late bloomer trajectory. He was up-and-down over his first couple of seasons and didn’t truly establish himself until the 2020 season, when he was 26. Javier, on the other hand, also cemented himself in that 2020 campaign when he was 23.
Looking at the results, Valdez and Javier have been similarly effective, though they’ve accomplished that in different ways. Valdez has a 3.38 ERA with a 3.66 FIP while his teammate has a 3.05 ERA but a 3.90 FIP. Javier’s 30.9% strikeout rate is much better than the 22.9% rate of Valdez, but the reverse is true in terms of getting ground balls, with Valdez at 66.2% thus far in his career and Javier at only at 27.1%. Valdez has also built this résumé over a large sample size, with his 514 1/3 innings almost twice as large as the 304 1/3 of Javier, and his 8.5 fWAR tally is also heftier than the 4.5 of Javier.
Given the larger sample of quality work, Valdez could perhaps make an argument that he is deserving of an even larger contract than what Javier just secured. He also qualified for arbitration a year ago as a Super Two player, which allowed him to earn $3MM last year and $6.8MM this year. Javier, on the other hand, had requested at $3.5MM for this year while the Astros filed at $3MM, before the extension was agreed upon. With Valdez getting himself to a higher price point, that would give him extra leverage in trying to top Javier in extensions talks.
But it’s possible that the age situation causes the calculus to change. In the case of Javier, the Astros are paying him for five seasons in which he will be aged 26 in the first and 30 in the last. For Valdez, the Astros can already control him via arbitration through his age-31 season and any extension would involve locking him in for his age-32 campaign or beyond. It’s possible that the club would have a bit less motivation to keep Valdez around longer since they already control the bulk of what are likely to be his prime years.
Then there’s also the player perspective to consider. Though Javier gave up two free agent years when he put pen to paper, he’s still slated to become a free agent prior to his age-31 campaign and could be in position to find another lengthy deal. If Valdez were to strike a similar deal that also gave the club two extra years of control, he wouldn’t hit the open market until the offseason where he turns 34, which would likely limit him to short-term deals even if he’s still having good results on the field at that point.
It’s possible that Valdez would prefer to stay on his current trajectory so that he can hold onto his best chance of a mega deal. It’s also possible that the Astros could simply put forth an offer that’s too good for him to pass up, but based on the comments from his agent, that doesn’t seem to be something that’s imminent. For now, he’ll be going into 2023 arguably as the frontman of the Houston rotation, with Justin Verlander now pitching for the Mets. He’ll be looking to build off an excellent season where he made 31 starts with a 2.82 ERA, and then took the ball another four times in the postseason with a 1.44 ERA, helping the club to its second World Series title.