Okay, so the season’s over (for Houston) with a 19-game improvement. The Astros have a new manager, so that question has now been answered. Jim Crane seems to believe he’ll have a new TV deal in place by opening day.
And, Jeff Luhnow can now turn his full attention to giving A.J. Hinch a winning roster for 2015.
What does that look like? Well, here are a few suggestions of how that process might play out. Not a prediction, mind you, only a possible scenario or two of what may lie ahead.
- Luhnow has already proven he doesn’t mind trading bonafide prospects and even major league talent to upgrade the lineup or position for the future. Jordan Lyles, Jarred Cosart or even Kike Hernandez or Brandon Barnes might have fit into the future for Houston, but Luhnow saw opportunities to upgrade for the near future and took them. Now, don’t think for a minute that a Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, Collin Moran, Dallas Keuchel or even Collin McHugh are going anywhere. But it wouldn’t be surprising if names like Jason Castro, Brad Peacock, Jake Buchanan or Domingo Santana are tossed around this winter. Perhaps even Delino Deshields or even Nolan Fontana.
- Some people called the Hinch hiring bold. Remember, Luhnow is facing some challenges with the 40-man roster, so his bold moves may not be done. Prediction: Get ready to bite your lip, there will be surprise moves this winter.
Thorn in the left side.
- Yes, the Astros could use help at first base. Of course, a middle-of-the-order hitter in one of the corner outfield spots would be great. But with the pitching staff improving — and more improvement likely to come next year — the left side of the infield has to get better. Lots better. Maybe Correa and/or Moran are the answers for the future, but Houston can ill afford to find itself with Matt Dominguez and Jonathan Villar manning the left side come next July.
- Question: If you can only have one, which position would you rather resolve for opening day, shortstop or third base?
- The main thing going for Villar and Dominguez is that they aren’t arb-eligible and the Astros can spend the money on other positions.
- Prediction: The Astros are still banking on Matty D (he did play in 157 games and apparently discussed a long-term extension in spring training), so Villar may be gone for a temporary upgrade while the organization waits for Correa. Still, it wouldn’t be shocking if neither player is in the opening day lineup.
The time is now.
- No matter what you think of the Luhnow Plan, there is no better time than now. Maybe for Luhnow, there is no other time than now. Clearly, fans are frustrated. It seems that ownership recognizes wins are the way to put butts in the seats. And even Luhnow must recognize that, even if he isn’t on the hot seat today, it’s probably warming up. When the 2015 season starts, bank on it: Luhnow’s name will appear on a few “hot seat” lists. Let there be no doubt: This is the most critical winter of his Astros’ career to date.
- That doesn’t mean The Plan isn’t working and it doesn’t mean that Crane is second-guessing his GM. It does mean the Astros have reached a tipping point and the expectations are growing.
81 may not be enough.
- A 30-game improvement over two seasons sounds good (51 wins in 2013 to 81 in 2015), but that may not be good enough for weary fans in a city that still remembers the days of Bagwell, Biggio, Clemens, Pettitte and even Kent. Sure, a .500 season may be what the doctor ordered, but it may not be good enough. A 15-game improvement over 2014 and 85 wins would put the Astros in Wild Card territory and be more of a salve on a long-standing wound than .500.
- Question: Is .500 a good enough improvement for 2015?
- Prediction: Adding a solid closer and a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat could position the Astros for a run — a run — at 85 wins. Barring major injuries. Barring regression by Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve et al. And, banking on another prospect or two (perhaps Michael Foltynewicz, Jon Singleton, Moran or even Correa or Appel) contributing at some point in 2015.