Only a year ago in this space, we were discussing the off-season plans of the Astros. Yes, in August 2014, there wasn’t much else to discuss other than complaints. Yes, you were frustrated with Bo, Matt Dominguez, Jonathan Villar, Matt Albers and that guy who was supposed to be the all-that closer, but never pitched an inning for Houston (What was his name again?).
The future looked good with Nick Tropeano and Mike Foltynewicz warming up in the wings and it looked as though Chris Carter may have turned a huge corner. Dallas Keuchel had become a top of rotation pitcher and Collin McHugh had become one of the most pleasant surprises in Astros’ memory.
So while the Astros seem to be on a road trip to the playoffs this season and we’re discussing call ups and 2015 post-season rosters, what about 2016? Who goes? Who stays? What should the priorities be?
Let’s take a quick look at the needs book.
With Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez already proving themselves at the major league level, you could argue this is one area Houston is set for the foreseeable future. Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Velasquez and McCullers could make a dominant rotation for years to come. Scott Kazmir may be the question mark going into the off-season since he can be a free agent. He’ll hold all the cards since the Astros can not submit a Qualifying Offer for him. Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman could be movable parts if Kazmir returns or both could stay on as inexpensive options.
The $64,000 question: Will Mark Appel be ready for prime time in 2016? And what about Michael Feliz, who got a brief stint in Houston?
Notice that names like Asher Wojciechowski, Sam Deduno, Dan Straily, Jake Buchanan and Brad Peacock are no longer considered in the mix. Is it possible that the Astros could enter spring training with a set rotation of quality pieces rather than a battle of also-rans for the fourth and fifth spots?
Biggest move. Re-sign Kazmir to a two-year deal. A repeat of his current two-year, $22 million contract isn’t likely, but the lefty would be the easiest solution to solidifying the rotation and allow Jeff Luhnow to focus the necessary attention to the real needs.
Trade candidates. Feldman, who will be in the last of a three-year deal ($8 million in 2016) and Fiers would seem the obvious options.
Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek are under contract and Houston has an option on Chad Qualls. Tony Sipp is a free agent and both Will Harris and Josh Fields head to arbitration for the first time. Hard to argue with the pen that Luhnow has put together this season. It will be hard to break up, but it’s also obvious that Luhnow wants a hard thrower there to complement Gregerson,
The $64,000 question: Can the Astros afford to keep this group together? Sipp earns $2.4 million this year and Harris and Fields will get a bump as well.
Biggest move. Pick up the Qualls option or shift Velasquez to the bullpen full-time.
Trade candidates. None is obvious, but next to the rotation, there is somewhat of a surplus if you want to call it that.
Jed Lowrie is signed through 2017 and is the most viable option at one of the corners. Luhnow signed him to a long-term deal knowing that he would be supplanted soon by Correa, so it’s likely Lowrie will be penciled in to fill one of the corners. Luis Valbuena has been a disappointment to say the least despite his team-leading 22 home runs. He will earn more than his current $4.2 million in his final year of arbitration, but the Astros could use that money elsewhere.
Carter and Jon Singleton haven’t cut the mustard at first and both could be out of a Houston uniform could opening day 2016. Tyler White will be 26 in October and he’s blooming, but it’s unlikely Luhnow would simply hand him the job without a backup option. He has less than 1,200 plate appearances, but could get a look-see in September. A.J. Reed may also be a consideration.
Otherwise, Marwin Gonzalez continues to earn his keep and he’s under team control through 2018. Does anyone expect him NOT to be back?
The $64,000 question. What to do about Carter and Singleton? Seems their time has come and gone, but is Luhnow ready to move on?
Biggest move. Find a solid piece for at least one of the corners. Don’t depend on internal solutions and don’t bring in sub-par candidates to battle it out.
Trade candidates. Of course, Lowrie could be an option here, though not likely, especially given his injury-prone status and the need for solid pieces on the roster. Carter is under team control with three more years of arbitration, so he (and Singleton) could both be on the block.
Beyond George Springer, your guess is as good as mine. There is a myriad of possibilities, though, the ranks will be slimmed some since Colby Rasmus, Domingo Santana, Alex Presley, Robbie Grossman will not be in the mix.
The $64,000 question: Does Houston keep Carlos Gomez since he’s in his walk year or trade him for major league ready prospects at an infield corner or other spot? Gomez has struggled since arriving in Houston (.188/.226/.250) and he’s a career .259 hitter.
Biggest move. What to do with Gomez. Trade, re-sign or keep him in center until at least the trade deadline.
Trade candidates. Gomez, possibly Marisnick, if the Astros acquire other options.
Is it time to move on from Jason Castro? He may have passed the height of his trade value and he doesn’t appear to be an everyday catcher of the future. Hank Conger is obviously not the answer and Houston doesn’t have a catcher in its Top 30 prospect list either.
The $64,000 question: Do you stick with Castro, the known commodity? Or trade him and hope to find another solution?
Biggest move. Finding a solid backup (didn’t the Astros have that in Carlos Corporan?) as a fail-safe.
Trade candidates. Both Castro and Conger could be on the block.
Folks, I hope you like Evan Gattis. If you don’t, I would suggest finding something about him to hang you hat on. It’s unlikely he’s going anywhere, especially given what Houston gave up to get him in the first place. Perhaps the good news is this: The 29-year-old is entering the prime years, so perhaps there will be an uptick in production in 2016. He earned near the minimum in 2015, is under team control through 2019, so pencil him in at DH and move on to catcher and the infield corners.
Biggest move. Continue to prepare your younger kids for the role in 2017.
Trade candidates. Gattis is going nowhere.
Of course, the names mentioned above don’t include possible trades, free agent acquisitions or one other key area: Is there a surprise lurking in the system? For example, who would have thought McCullers or Velasquez — or even Correa — would have been key components in 2015?
Clearly, the Astros have much more to work with going into this offseason than last. That said, the question marks are still the same for the most part. Plug the holes in the corner infield and at catcher and shore up/finalize the outfield. You would think that Luhnow would play the hold card for the rotation and bullpen, but it won’t be surprising to see moves in both categories.
Questions for you…
- What is the biggest need in the offseason?
- Which of these players is more likely to be traded: Gomez, Castro, Lowrie, Carter?
- Should the Astros re-sign Kazmir? Should that be a top goal?
- What will the opening day outfield look like?
- Other than Qualls, if the Astros were to trade a prominent bullpen piece (Gregerson, Neshek, Harris, Fields), who should go?