Of course, the Astros can’t completely shut down shop in the upcoming off-season. They do have to make decisions on Rule 5 protections, 40 man roster moves, and their own free agents.
But let’s say they decide to not pursue a big free agent like Aroldis Chapman, who if the Cubs win the WS with him closing games will be given the Miracle Mile as compensation. And what if they do not try to go after SP Rich Hill, who would want to be Very Rich Hill. Or they decide to not chase OFs Josh Reddick or Carlos Beltran or Matt Holiday.
What if the Astros decided to more or less stay pat and approach the 2017 season with the following:
- C Evan Gattis
- 1B Luis Valbuena (who they would have to re-sign)
- 2B Jose Altuve
- SS Carlos Correa
- 3B Yulieski Gurriel
- LF Alex Bregman
- CF George Springer
- RF Teoscar Hernandez
- DH Preston Tucker / Tyler White
- Backup C – Tyler Heineman
- Bench – Marwin Gonzalez
- Bench – Tony Kemp
- SP – Dallas Keuchel
- SP – Collin McHugh
- SP – Lance McCullers Jr.
- SP – Joseph Musgrove
- SP – Chris Devenski
- CL – Ken Giles
- RP – Luke Gregerson
- RP – Pat Neshek (pick up the option)
- RP – Will Harris
- RP – Tony Sipp (I tell you Chapman is not coming here as our lefty)
- RP – Michael Feliz
- Swing man – Brad Peacock
What would happen if this was how the Astros started the season in 2017?
Jim Crane would look at the payroll and do a happy dance?
Ok, my apologies Dan – let me play the game with a real answer. On paper that team is good enough to convince me (in the spring after a long winter…not right now) that we can win the AL West. This is, of course, naïve but assumes the following:
– Great health for everyone including Keuchel and LMJ
– Fewer CS
– Fewer baserunning blunders in general
– Strong outfield defense as Springer teaches Teoscar how to catch
– The bullpen doesn’t burn itself out by mid-July as Musgrove and Devenski solidify the rotation
If we had 2015 Keuchel and LMJ on the 2016 Astros we probably are neck and neck with the Rangers for the pennant. Simply playing .500 ball against them would have gotten the job done. The big question in my mind comes back to something either you or Tim said the other day. Do we care if the team is competitive but can’t win in October?
Devin – I have always been of the mind that anyone who makes the playoffs has a shot to win it all. The Astros had a great shot in the 2015 playoffs even though looking at the team objectively they were not as good as other teams in there.
Heck, in 2016 they played .500 ball (5-5) against the two World Series teams and actually won the season series against the Indians.
Once you get to the playoffs it is about what team is hot, which pitchers are hot and matchups. Let’s get to the playoffs and then worry about the winning in October.
And this blog will explode into ‘Bopert’ mode.
Hey Tim, let’s assume Crane will spend money and people like me won’t call Luhnow’s job if he trades prospects. What free agent and/or trades do you think put us over the top? I don’t think we could get it done, by in this fantasy world I’d sign Matt Wieters, trade for Zach Britton, and trade for Adam Eaton (RF…Springer plays CF). If Eaton costs too much I reluctantly sign Josh Reddick…who is a nice player who hasn’t stayed healthy and has reached the point his salary probably outstrips production.
I would rather sign free agents than trade only because I don’t want to drain our farm system anymore. I hope they make a strong push for either Aroldis Chapman or Kenly Jansen. We need another OFer and I think Cespedes will be priced out of our comfort zone. My first preference is Dexter Fowler, but Reddick would be a nice fallback option. Lastly, I would like to re-sign Valbuena to play 1B and either sign Wieters or re-sign Castro (I know most on here are against Castro, but I could live with him if we added Fowler and brought back VB). I would like to add Rich Hill, but I also think he will be out of our price range. I think Luhnow will make a trade to address starting pitching. We can’t count on Keuchel and LMJ to last the entire season so we need some depth.
I like both Britton and Eaton, but I think the cost will be exorbitant. Chapman will be expensive, but he won’t cost a draft pick. Neither would Reddick or Rich Hill.
If the Astros stay the same, I believe they would get the same results as they did last year. Some of the players would have injuries, some will get hot some will get cold, some would get hit and some would pitch well.
Over the length of a season you will have surprises at both ends of the spectrum, thereby balancing out the results and ending up where you started out.
And by the end of the season, Springer, Correa, Altuve, LMJ, and all of your young players are a year older and closer to arbitration and free agency and their benefits to the organization are reduced by one year, and the rainbow is a little bit dimmer.
As my daughter would say, I’d be “madder than a hot dog on a corn dog stick”.
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I noticed the absence of Jake. I think they’d probably keep him and send Kemp down. Either way, staying with essentially the same group of guys would still give us an offensively challenged outfield and a productive infield. I think we’d be okay with Valbuena at first against righty pitching. But if Gattis missed significant time, we might not get any offense out of the catchers position. And with little depth, any injury to a Gurriel, Bregman, Altuve, Springer or Correa would create an immediate void.
Pitching remains the big question mark. We would need a solid, healthy season from Keuchel, McCullers and McHugh, and then a breakout year from one of the other guys. Sipp would have to fix what he could not in 2016. Our closer would need to close from day one.
Dan, it’s a timely post. The present cast may well be able to sneak into a wild card position again. But I want a division winner, with a well rested, healthy roster heading into the 2017 post season. I don’t think this club provides that. Watching teams like the Cubs and Indians, it appears to me anyway, that we’re not nearly as good as the best teams.
I think it is an academic exercise, as there is virtually no chance this FO ‘stands pat’ realizing how badly we were manhandled by the Rangers this year.
Valbuena? His history with us is mostly bad. He had a streak of about half a season in 2016. No way he is who starts the 2017 for the Astros at either 1st or 3rd base. He could be a good sub, but he is simply going to cost too much. I suspect we’ll try Gurriel at 1st, and use Marwin some there as well. Maybe Reed or Moran can show something worthy of another call-up by the All-Star Break, but I have my doubts. I have never seen anyone besides Domingo Santana look worse on a call-up than Reed and Moran did last year.
Gattis/Heineman at catcher? They do, indeed, love Gattis. And he pretty well justified that love in the last half of the 2016 season. As his back-up, I think, based on history, this FO will almost certainly go looking for a catcher with major league experience in the late off-season – possibly off of or headed for the waiver wire. Think Hank Conger. Think Eric Kratz. Heck – think Jason Castro [if he’d sign a 2 or 3 year K at the salary he earned last year]. They seem to regard Heineman and Stassi as ‘insurance’ only – in the event of an injury. And unfortunately, Stubbs is too far away to start the year for us as back-up catcher.
Teoscar in RF? I am hopeful Te Dulce will pan out – and take over the position for a long time by the All-Star Break next year. But I can’t see this FO trusting him to be ‘the guy’ in RF – or anywhere else in the OF – to start off 2017. I suspect they’ll go after an FA outfielder, and award him the position no matter what Teoscar does in ST. Te Dulce better have a good 1st half of 2017 in AAA, however, because Ramon Laureano is coming, and Jason Martin and Myles Straw are behind him.
Kemp on the bench? I did not see much Kemp love from either the FO or Hinch last year. I think he either gets traded or starts the year in Fresno.
Tucker/White as DH? I don’t think the FO will start the year with either. Tucker maybe, but he has to prove that his shoulder has recovered, and he’d have to have a Hunter Pence quality ST to do that. White has a lot to prove yet, and the FO is understandably gun shy after his fast start then total crash and burn last year. I suspect Bregman and Gurriel will alternate at 3rd and DH, with some lefty utility outfielder we pick up off the waiver wire taking a few starts at DH against really tough righties.
Starting pitching? I suspect the FO will look for a Colin McHugh kind of waiver wire ‘prospect’ for Strom to work his occasional magic on. Martes is definitely not ready. Neither is Paulino. Where in your list, though, is Feliz?
But alas, your question was ‘what would happen if . . . .’ I suspect we would do a litte better – primarily because Gomez is gone and Bregman and Gurriel are here, and because we’d hope for a rebound from Keuchel, a healthy year from McCullers, and for Devenski to be better than Fister and Feliz or Peacock to be better than Feldman in the rotation. But we played well against everyone but the team that mattered most. Our main concern has to bew overcoming the great disparity that exists between our hitting approach and that of the Rangers. I am not sure we can do that without substantial changes, so I say we at best get a sneak-into-the- wild-card-and-bow-out-in-round-one result with no FA or trade infusion in two of the following three areas: OF,1B, and SP.
I still Like Domingo Santana.
I understand that, Dave. Especially since the OF we got for him was the ultimate disaster – Carlos Gomez. I was, of course, talking about 2014, when Domingo got his first cup of coffee, and in 18 PAs batted .000 and struck out 14 times. Contrast that to 2016, when for the Brewers Domingo hit for a .256 BA, with a .345 OBP, and a .792 OPS , while stroking 11 HR, 14 DBL, and driving in 32 runs in just 77 games. His offensive numbers last year were as better than we got from any outfielder not named Springer. But even with that, Domingo still struck out about once every three at bats, and we probably wouldn’t want two big strikeout guys in the same outfield.
Two would be an improvement over three (Rasmus – Gomez – Springer…feel the breeze!)
Amen to that, Devin! Fortunately, Gomez is gone and i suspect strongly that Rasmus is going as well.
Some thoughts back at you folks:
– Obviously I don’t think they will stay pat – but what I was hoping to point out is that I think that if they stayed pat they would be marginal playoff material. So if they add in 2 or 3 guys (like Chip always would say) they could be a solid playoff team.
– Mr. Bill – Feliz is in my bullpen if you re-look at the list and would be the next man up in my mind. But I think you are making good points on folks – with my low payroll squad, there is room to re-sign Castro – just not sure they will.
– daveb – Yeah I wobbled on including Jake or not – man if only… he could be slightly below average offensively instead of slightly below ugly.
– op – Yes, there will be ups and downs and injuries, but what if instead of Keuchel and LMJ being hurt, Marwin Gonzalez and Pat Neshek were hurt (all injuries are not created equal). I am hoping if they have a little better luck on who gets injured and adding in a full year of Gurriel, Bregman, a starting Devenski and Musgrove and the catching version of Gattis….they could be a lot better team.
Oh Devin andTim – I think they will look at Relief pitching, starting pitching and the OF and hopefully grab someone who will help us without emptying the minors of top prospects.
Dan, I suspect they will target guys who do not have long term security with their current clubs due to up and coming prospects…similar to how we got Valbuena…only surrendering lower level prospects instead of a guy with one of the best OBP in the league.
For the record, I look at the chances of Arnoldis Chapman, Yeonis Cespedes, or any FA front-line starting pitcher signing to play for the Houston Astros as about as good as the chances of Cole Hamels doing so. But it is not my time, and it is not my money, so I have no problem with the FO knocking itself out trying to reel him in.
Yeah, I think Chapman ends up staying with the Cubs, especially if he pitches well in the Series and they win it. They’ll pay him pretty much whatever anyone else will.
Look for the Yankees to resign Chapman. They want him back.
I agree with you. I think Luhnow will test those waters and find them too deep for his liking. I think Chapman returns to the Yankees, but I wouldn’t rule out the Cubs either. I am hoping Lourdes signs with us soon and Chapman sees the Cuban connection here and is enticed. I think that is our only chance to get him at the going rate.
The Astros are going to spend money. It was always in the plan to fill in the minor leagues, build the team core from those minor leagues and then move the payroll up to the top five or ten payrolls when the time is right.
Crane said that.
I sincerely believe the Astros are going for it in 2017 and they have the bucks to spend.
While we might think signing Castro and Valbuena would be prudent I think both are way too expensive for what they would provide. Correct me if I’m wrong but in order to keep them the Astros would have to offer them a qualifying offer that this year looks to be worth a cool $17 million. To avoid that they would have to sign them to a multi-year deal probably worth at least twice that over the term of the contract. Based on their track records do you really want to commit that much time/roster space to players with at most marginal talent? At least to his credit Valbuena played well in his contract year but his truncated season isn’t enough to make me want to throw that much cash at him.
But, Bill, almost all free agents are overpaid, players you give up prospects for could turn out to be overpaid( see Gomez,Carlos), and some free agents come with your #1 draft pick as an added cost.
So, if you overpay for Valbuena, it’s because you knew enough about him as a clubhouse guy and you already approve of his work habits, versus overpaying for somebody you just have high hopes for, but don’t really know.
At least he doesn’t cost you salary plus draft picks or prospects and the front office knows all his warts and the Astros are very familiar with his health situation, which is not always the case with others. So, all you have to worry about is: Is Valbuena going to be worth the money?
.811, .808, .841. Valbuena against righties over the past three seasons. We don’t have another lefty bat close. And one that plays a solid first base? I don’t care if we have to overpay him.
I agree, Dave. I don’t think Astros fans realize what we have in Valbuena. They get fooled by the below .250 batting average and don’t think he’s worth it. If we can get an .800+ OPS at around 3/$36M I hope the Astros do it.
I love the guy! He’s a good clubhouse guy too.
Would you offer him $17 million for a QO, though?
No, I wouldn’t offer VB a QO. I like the guy, but that is too much too tie up into one player, even for one year. I would decline to offer him a QO and see if you can negotiate a contract during the 5 days after the World Series ends and he can file to be a free agent.
I don’t see VB or Castro getting a multi-year contract with an AAV around $17M. I think both players will get around $10-12M/year for about 3 years.
I would *love* to have Napoli !!! And yeah……spend CRANES money if you have to use prospects for a trade, trade as few of them that you can. We know what we have in Fresno, but there are going to be GREAT players coming up in Corpus! I want to see Martes and Paulino take that next step up, and pitch like we know that CAN.
The Indians have Andrew Miller thru 2018…..ugh. He is absolutely un-hittable.
I think the Cubs will figure out Miller before its over. And tonight he should be sitting, so it will be interesting to see what Francona does with his pen. The Cubs kind of reminded me of the Astros last night. They had chances, but could not get a big hit.
The Crawfish Boxes have a short story alleging the Yankees are trying to sign Valbuena during this offseason…
Well it sounds like my idea of resigning him is DOA
Don’t give up the ship yet Dan. The Astros probably can’t compete with a Yankee offer, but I don’t think Valbuena is ready to became a utility guy. He might not get to start in NY. The opportunity might be more important than the offer to Valbuena. That will have to be our hope. Any number of clubs will offer him more money.
daveb – the only thing is that isn’t it almost always about the money? I guess if he thinks this is the last chance for a big contract he will go for the money. If he thinks that this contract will lead to a bigger one if he plays a lot then he will go for the opportunity.
Wow, what stands out is that they called him one of the prized free agents this off season. It makes sense if they are willing to eat the Headley contract. Also, VB has some mean snake handling skills…maybe that translates to handling rats in the subway tunnels.
Standing pat on that starting rotation will not be something terrible.
*Keuchel admitted that he was hurting for much of the year and didn’t share that with the trainers until it became so bad he had to stop throwing. I’m sure the Astros have talked long and hard about Keuchel’s rehab and 2017 role.
*LMJ is the guy who’s health was most responsible for the 2016 Astros’ pitching woes, as 2 or three pitchers had to take his spot in the 2016 rotation. When he didn’t have surgery, I was assured that the Astros would come up with a whole new plan to have him ready for 2017.
The Astros got to see Musgrove shine initially, but struggle when the league adjusted and he lost focus on what he does best. Then he found himself again and will be ready to assume a full time starter’s role in 2017.
*Devenski was a full time starter in the minors and then was the best pitcher on the team in 2016. What would you do in 2017 with a guy who had those credentials? Why would the Astros do anything different than add him to the rotation, if they are smart?
*McHugh has had a winning record and the best winning percentage on the team the last three years. Why would that not make him and incredible #4 or #5 starter?.
In a discussion about standing pat, this is the part of the team I have the most confidence in.
Going after another pitcher to add to the TOR just makes that rotation much stronger and allows Devenski to resume the dominating role he had in the bullpen, too. So, I’m good with both of those scenarios, but am much more confident with the second scenario, when figuring the 2018 and 2019 seasons into the mix.
My opinion is that if we stand pat on the starting rotation in 2017, we will not make the playoffs again but will be competitive – just like 2016. That’s not enough for me. It’s time for a division title at least in my mind.
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Nance, the reason I talk about standing pat with the scenario listed in Dan’s post is because it is NOT standing pat. The starting rotation for most of the season was:
1. A hurt Keuchel
2. a negative regressing McHugh
3. Feldman/Peacock/Rodgers/Paulino/rookie Musgrove/rookie part-time Devenski/a hurt LMJ
So, a healthy five-some listed above in Dan’s post is not standing pat from what we had in 2016. I couldn’t stand the rotation we had in 2016.
Dan calls his five-some standing pat. I call that five-some a big change.
Maybe I should clarify – this is more “Fill from within” for the starting rotation than standing pat. For relievers and everydays it is mostly standing pat or filling from ones who have been around.
In my mind this 5 is a step up, but I am not going to complain if a TOR is pulled from some other team (OK I will complain if we give up too much – that is my prerogative fair or not)
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I love you all’s optimism here. I look at the 25 man roster right now and I don’t see anything that gets me thinking much more than a .500 record again. the IF I’m ok with, we will probably have another rotating door at 1B, Springer and a bunch of hopes in the OF. A pitching staff that needs a # 1SP and a shut down lefty, and Closer???. I see Castro and whoever at catcher we can live with that
I don’t see Uncle Jeff trading away any more key assets, that hasn’t worked out that great, not horrible , just not great.
So we need to spend some cash on 3 guys. Can UJ pull that off?
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Here is where I am coming from on this Kevin….
– 123 of the 162 games last season were started by pitchers with ERAs above the league average of 4.20. I think with the in-hand rotation I suggested this number (if Keuchel and LMJ are well and subbing Devenski and Musgrove for Fiers and Foster) could get flipped to 120 of the 160 by pitchers with above league average ERAs.
– They also had about 2750 ABs by players with OPSs under the league average of 0.744 (2650 of those BAs were under .700 OPS) The equivalent of about 5 full time starters. I’m hopeful that this number will get knocked down with more ABs going to Bregman and Gurriel and with some guys getting closer to the league average if not over it. It would be good if this could be knocked down to more like 3 equivalent players below the league average. Some of this would come from better performances from some of the young folks who got a cup of Joe at the majors this season.
Yes, I want them to bring in some folks, but the team that won 84 games last season could be better this year – period.
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That was Fister not Foster – have former Texans on the mind I guess….
Dan My concern is LMJ may never stay healthy for a whole year. I know I’m in the minority on DK, I like the guy, but think 2015 was an aberration and will at best be a .500 pitcher.
I’m with you on Bregman and Gurriel helping with the team OPS. I have high Hopes for Musgrove and Devo , but the are still young and who knows what their careers my end up looking like.
Why I think we need those 3 guys a proven, OF, Lefty in the BP, and #1 or 2 SP.
If not I see us winning 81-84 games and be on the outside looking in
I share your fears Kevin.
Found this intriguing…
Interesting article Billy. Out in the working world we know that sometimes somebody is out front and takes the credit while there are other folks who do the critical work to make it happen.
Amen to that!
interesting post dan,
i guess a shortcut answer is this, is the team we now have at the end of the year better than the team we fielded at the beginning of the year? my answer is yes.
A healthy version of the team at the end of the year is better, but a team without Keuchel, McCullers and Valbuena is not better. Are you alluding to having the healthy version?
yes. i havent seen anything so far that says they wont be by opening day. on another note, that cuban lefty we signed apparently has an issue and the team has recended the offer.
i should have read below before i posted. lol. here is that link: http://www.chron.com/sports/astros/article/Astros-reportedly-void-deal-with-Cuban-LHP-Cionel-10415858.php
The Astros voided the contract of Cuban lefty Cionel Perez. It was for $5.15M. No reason was given as to why they voided the contract.
Never even heard of him
Yeah 20 year old they reportedly signed recently who would have cost them twice that $5.15 million because they were over the signing limit. Maybe the tendons in his arm made Brady Aiken look like Popeye.
Maybe they decided to gin up a reason to drop him and offer the money to Lourdes instead….
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Actually Dan, I would not put that past them.
When I wrote it dave I started off joking about it and ended up thinking “Hmmmmm”
Dan…..been rather quiet concerning Lourdes Gurriel. I haven’t seen anymore about him since August. Hmmmmm…..
Yeah it has been tremendously quiet Becky. He is free to sign with anyone. It could just occur out of nowhere.
I would *love*……to superglue Joe Buck’s mouth shut.
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Becky, Would you let me help?