It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life.
At this point, it’s still in the future, but Jim Crane has promised extra funding, Jeff Luhnow says he could be convinced to spend it all in one place if it warrants and rumors abound that the Astros are engaged this winter.
Yes, there is something in the air. But will 2015 be the year or will it be just another stepping stone to 2017?
A.J. Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey — hey, even Jesus Guzman and Jerome Williams — are off the board or never quite made it there. But with the front office, general manager and manager shuffles, movement is sure to abound in the coming weeks.
What will be in the Astros’ Christmas stocking? Will it be a lump of coal or a nice shiny new diamond?
To be sure, the expectation is at an all-time high. And, perhaps for the first time since he joined the Astros, Luhnow has been somewhat vocal about his plans to upgrade. So, what will make a successful off-season?
One significant upgrade.
- Yes, the Astros need upgrades at several spots, but Luhnow needs to start spring training with a clear, solid, plug-’em-in-and-let-’em-play upgrade at either shortstop, third base or a corner outfield spot. I’m talking head and shoulders, clear cut, absolute upgrade everyone sees as a “wow”! Houston would be fine with a selection from its catching core and Jon Singleton will probably (eventually) be a solution at first base. But, let’s be clear. The Astros can not have Singleton at first, Matt Dominguez at third, Jonathan Villar at shortstop and Robbie Grossman in left field when the season starts. Something has to give.
The bullpen baby.
- Luhnow has taken a hit with the signing of the older trio: Matt Albers, Jesse Crain and Chad Qualls. The Crain signing was a risk, but Albers and Qualls would have been given nice deals by other teams as well. Still, this is one that Luhnow can not miss on this time around. As a result, I’d expect a solid, plug-’em-in closer. He needs an almost can’t miss solution. David Robertson is still out there, but he may be cost prohibitive, for many teams.
Not July, April!
- The Astros have had plenty of time to build a base, gel and prepare. Fans and others can’t wait until the 2015 trade deadline for improvement. Houston needs a strong April, which means Luhnow will need to act between now and spring training, at least to upgrade the foundation. Yes, there will be additions in March and even in July next season, but with a treacherous 2014 behind, a new manager in the fold and higher expectations, a quick start out of the gate is almost mandatory.
- The Astros haven’t been .500 in April since 2006 and, in fact, have won more than 10 games in that kickoff month only once in that time frame. It’s a new day. Or should be.
Add to the foundation.
- While he looks for new faces this winter, Luhnow should also focus on the nucleus. Who should it be? Who will join Jose Altuve and Singleton in the nucleus? Chris Carter? Dallas Keuchel? Collin McHugh? George Springer? Dexter Fowler? The Astros need the stability. Nothing crazy, but stability and familiarity breeds confidence, in both the clubhouse and with fans.
It’s time to make the call…
- The Astros have had plenty of time to watch Jason Castro, Villar and even Grossman and Dominguez and others. Time to make the call. Luhnow may be preparing to do just that with any of these players. He made the call with Jarred Cosart, Nick Tropeano and others. No reason to think he won’t, but the longer some of these drag on, the more it drags down the team. Granted, some of these are stop gaps and there are no immediate options, but this winter should present opportunities to replace at least some of those gaps with long-term solutions.
Questions to start your week on an upbeat, new-day, new-dawn
- How are ya feeling about the Astros’ off-season chances? Upbeat? Skeptical? Excited? Disappointed already?
- Pull the trigger: Which player(s) is it time to make the call on?
- You’ve heard a few rumors about the Astros being tied to certain players. Of the ones you’ve heard, which one excites you the most?
- Of the three positions I mentioned above (SS, 3B, COF), which one is most imperative for significant upgrade?
- Is a fast start in April really important? Or have I over emphasized the significance?
- Other than winning or other general labels, what specifically does Luhnow need to do between now and spring training to have a successful winter?