If Sports Illustrated will make good on its 2017 Astros’ World Series prediction, many pieces will have to fall into place for your favorite baseball organization.
Are the Astros close? Could there possibly even be a decade dynasty-like team in the making? Is the team one dominant starter away? One middle of the order hitter? A key bullpen arm?
Yes. When you look at the organization and the current roster makeup, it’s easy to see how a piece here, another piece there, or a key addition could put the Astros over the top.
If you recall, back in 2012, I suggested that the Astros could start adding a nucleus piece or two each season and make it back into contention rather quickly. The list is long of players who most of us thought — or at least hoped would be part of the next contender.
Jordan Lyles, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogusevic, Jimmy Paredes, Matt Dominguez, J.D. Martinez. Even Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez, Jared Cosart. Some thought Jon Singleton, Dexter Fowler, Brad Peacock, Brett Oberholtzer or a myriad of others might play a role. Not to mention names like Scott Kazmir, Asher Wojciechowski, Nick Tropeano, Mike Foltynewicz, Mark Appel, Brady Aiken and others who have been — at some level or another — tapped with that savoir-ness label. You can likely remember a few others you had counted on as well.
In reality, there are probably 10 players on which the Astros’ fortunes will rise or fall in 2017. These 10 are not only critical, but it is necessary for them to produce if the Astros will step out of the contender role and into the league leader role. An * indicates players who should be untouchable, at least for next season.
- * Carlos Correa. No brainer. He’s the foundation.
- * Alex Bregman. No brainer 1A. Is he better than Correa?
- * Dallas Keuchel. If not the anchor, he may be the best 1A pitcher in the league.
- Collin McHugh. Perhaps the best #3 in the majors.
- * Jose Altuve. Is he untouchable? Yes, at least for 2017.
- George Springer. Do you dare even consider moving him?
- * Lance McCullers Jr. Breakout year in ’17 could catapult Astros.
- Yurieski Gurriel. Big question mark becomes huge explanation point!
- * Will Harris. What else does he need to do? Sign him up for the rest of the decade.
- Luke Gregerson or Ken Giles. One of these guys has to become THE guy.
Near misses to the Top 10:
- Marwin Gonzalez. Why waste your time looking for a Super Sub when you have a known entity? Reward him and let him play…anywhere.
- A.J. Hinch. No, he’s not a player, but how he handles HIS staff during the offseason and how he grows as a manager for 2017 may be as important as any player for the WS run.
These are the players who could put the Astros over the top. In other words, not the foundation, but absolutely the weight-bearing walls and doorways to the big rooms. These are the guys who won’t come into the season carrying the load but could have breakout seasons that make a difference for Houston’s ambitions.
- Preston Tucker. Houston needs him to take a spot in the OF.
- Colin Moran. If Gurriel and Bregman make good, is Moran trade bait this winter?
- A.J. Reed. If he’s the first baseman of the future, Houston suddenly is all over the radar.
- Doug Fister. Bring him back? Does he quietly become a key cog in the rotation?
- Michael Feliz. Find a spot for him, settle on it and leave him there. Let him blossom.
And, of course, the winter may hold the key to next season. Will Houston find a major TOR pitcher to slide in ahead of Keuchel, McHugh and McCullers? Does the organization go out and get a prize center fielder or big closing arm (Aroldis Chapman)? There will be a splash. There will be head shaking, eye-popping moves that can move the ball down the field. Or at least around the bases.
But make no mistake. The core of the 2017 World Series Championship team is in Houston now. Or will be by this weekend.