Did the Braves screw Albies' chance of passing Altuve's contract earnings record?

Ozzie Albies' contract has been talked about since the day he signed it. With Astros' second baseman Jose Altuve signing his second big contract extension, Albies' contract feels more and more unfair by the day.

Atlanta Braves v Chicago Cubs
Atlanta Braves v Chicago Cubs / Quinn Harris/GettyImages
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If you don't follow baseball news outside of the Atlanta Braves, you may have missed the Houston Astros agreeing to a contract extension with Jose Altuve yesterday evening. Houston gave their beloved second baseman his second big contract extension with the team, this time a five-year $125 million deal.

This latest extension put Altuve in the history books, as by the end of this contract he will become MLB's first $300 million dollar second baseman. This got us thinking if Albies' could've been approaching this number as well, had he not signed his seven-year $35 million contract on April 11, 2019.

Even at the time of signing, Albies' contract looked like it could be a steal, and as the years have passed that has definitely proven to be the case. The Braves have been on the forefront of "team friendly" contract extensions since Alex Anthopoulos took over as GM. However, the value they are getting from Albies' deal is mind-boggling.

Before I dive into this I have to say, the contract was a two-way street. Clearly, Albies felt $35 million was life changing money (rightfully so) and the Braves had only seen 215 games of play at the Major League level from the former highly ranked prospect. Need I remind you of the six-year $24 million contract the Phillies gave Scott Kingery before playing a game in the majors.

For those who don't know, Kingery had his 2024 club option declined after slashing .244/.25/.399 in Triple-A last season. In his 325 games played at the big league level, he produced a wRC+ of 73, and 0.8 fWAR. Just an example of how those early contract extensions can come back to bite.

Circling back to Albies, we find that his career 110 wRC+ and 19.3 fWAR has already more than paid for the value in the contract. In fact, according to Fangraphs, Albies has been worth $154.2 million since debuting in 2017.

Had Albies not signed that deal back in 2019, he would be cashing in for much more as a free agent this offseason. But, would that hypothetical contract and a second contract been enough to put him alongside Altuve in history? To answer that will take some research, so let's find out!

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six
World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Comparing Albies and Altuve

If you were to think of a comparison based on position played and player height, then Ozzie Albies and Jose Altuve would immediately pop into your brain. But the two vertically challenged second basemen have more in common than that.

In fact, when you compare Albies' and Altuve's on-field production it's easy to see why they are among the best second baseman in all of baseball. Since Albies' first full season in 2018, Albies and Altuve have the following rankings among MLB second baseman with at least 850 plate appearances via Fangraphs:

  • Home runs - Albies T2nd (125), Altuve T2nd (125)
  • Stolen bases - Albies 8th (68), Altuve 10th (62)
  • RBI - Albies 2nd (427), Altuve 7th (344)
  • Slugging - Albies 4th (.480), Altuve 1st (.496)
  • wOBA - Albies T7th (.339), Altuve 1st (.369)
  • ISO - Albies 3rd (.209), Altuve T5th (.202)
  • Barrels - Albies 3rd (161), Altuve T6th (155)

Year after year, Albies and Altuve have been among the elite at their position. Yet, one is set to be the richest ever at his position, while the other won't even hit the quarter of a hundred million mark in dollars earned by the end of the 2024 season.

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Three
Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Three / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

What would an Albies' contract looked like this offseason?

The baseball free agent market is among one of the oddest things to follow among the major U.S. sports. Often times it can feel like a drag, and in others we get a frenzy of deals that blow past the initial projections.

Had Ozzie Albies not signed his contract extension back in 2019 he would be a free agent this offseason, thanks to the six years of service time he has accrued. And if Ozzie could've hand picked a market to be a free agent in, this year's free agent market would've ranked quite high.

Considering the largely inconsistent Cody Bellinger (who as of writing is still unsigned) is regarded as the top position player in this year's free agent pool, Albies' consistent excellent play would've made a sound argument to get him a BIG payday.

In each season Albies has played at least 65 games (four seasons to be exact), he has generated at least a 3.7 fWAR in each. Let's circle back to our player comp for Ozzie, that being the second baseman down in Houston. Before signing his first big contract, Jose Altuve had slightly better career numbers and was coming off an MVP season in 2017.

Altuve still had two club option years left on his original contract before he cashed in on the MVP season with a seven-year $163.5 million contract in March of 2018. Given how the market has risen each year since, it's not far-fetched to assume Albies could've gotten $200 million this offseason thanks to his production and age.

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game One
Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game One / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

Does Albies continue to produce as he ages?

Altuve looks to be serious when he says he wants to retire a Houston Astro. But no two baseball players age the same. Altuve set himself up for his most recent payday at age 33, because he is beloved in Houston and he continues to pump out productive seasons.

In our hypothetical Albies contract, let's say he did sign this offseason with the Braves in a free agent bidding between a few teams and found himself on a seven-year $200 million deal to stay in Atlanta. That would hypothetically make him a free agent once again in 2031 at the age of 34 years-old.

Would a 34 year-old Albies be able to get a nine-figure deal that offseason? If, he followed the Jose Altuve production blueprint during those seven years, we certainly think he could. With that, Albies would've added another similarity between himself and Altuve in being two of the highest earners at their respective position.

However, much like life, baseball does not run on hypotheticals. Did Albies miss out on some money down the road by accepting life-changing money early into his career? Could he be rewarded for his production before the end of his current contract is up? Is Jose Altuve a franchise icon in Houston, and one of the best hitters in this current generation? Those questions can all be answered with a resounding yes.

I finish with the reminder that early contract risk for the club, and life-changing money for the player doesn't mean one side has purposely "screwed" the other. As is the case on the actual baseball diamond, timing and situation plays a huge role in each contract signed.

Braves fans love Ozzie Albies, and he has 35 million reasons to smile everyday he steps into Truist Park. Considering the impact Ozzie has made on the field and in the Atlanta community, we are hopeful Alex Anthopoulos rewards his hard work with a nice payday and brings him one step closer to becoming a Brave for life.

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