This time last year, the Astros were involved in what was a ho-hum off-season.
Houston had just non-tendered Chris Carter, traded Hank Conger to the Rays for cash, and Jeff Luhnow was about to make his biggest splash of the winter, trading former #1 Mark Appel, Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and others for Ken Giles. Before Thanksgiving 2015, Jed Lowrie and Jonathan Villar were gone in trades and Chad Qualls, Oliver Perez and Scott Kazmir had become free agents. Ho hum.
Wandy Rodriguez and Doug Fister would join the team in January. The biggest attention getter of last off-seaon was Colby Rasmus‘ decision to become the first player to accept a qualifying offer, perhaps providing somewhat of a handcuffing detour for the Astros.
Through it all, though, Luhnow was muddling through another roster restructure in search of the magic potion.
This off-season is different. Owner Jim Crane and Luhnow are making good on the promises they made when they took over five years ago and making Sports Illustrated look pretty good.
With the acquisitions of Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, not to mention Charlie Morton and Nori Aoki, the Astros have put in place much of their roster for 2017. Manager A.J. Hinch can start penciling his lineups and, this year, have resources few Astros’ managers before him have had.
With those five acquisitions and the nucleus of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yulieski Gurriel, Alex Bregman,Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and others, Houston has the largest part of its roster set a full two months before spring training. What must Colin Moran, Tyler White, A.J. Reed and Max Stassi be thinking?
Only once — back in 2009 — has Houston’s payroll topped $100 million. Now, nine players take up combined salaries of $78.5 million. Another six were guaranteed contracts last week and will get a projeted $29.2 million in arbitration. You can do the math: Houston has 15 players under contract for approximately $107.7 million.
And that doesn’t include players like Correa, Bregman, McCullers, Devenski or Musgrove. Fill out the roster with those players and a few others and the budget could start the season approaching $120 million. Here’s a quick look at the payroll as it stands today.
|Brian McCann||$17 million|
|Yulieski Gurriel||$14.4 million|
|Josh Reddick||$13 million|
|Dallas Keuchel||* $9.5 million|
|Charlie Morton||$7 million|
|Luke Gregerson||$6.25 million|
|Tony Sipp||$6 million|
|Nori Aoki||$5.5 million|
|Evan Gattis||$5.2 million|
|George Springer||* $4.7 million|
|Collin McHugh||* $4.6 million|
|Jose Altuve||$4.5 million|
|Mike Fiers||* $4.3 million|
|Marwin Gonzalez||*$3.6 million|
|Will Harris||* $2.5 million|
|Jake Marisnick||* $1.1 million|
*–Projected arbitration salaries. $550,000 is minimum salary this year for other players.
Of course, this roster will change and some of the players — especially those at the bottom of the roster — will change. Granted, the Astros haven’t turned into the Yankees, Dodgers or even the Rangers at this point, but this new-found aggressive budgeting will certainly propel the organization into the top half of spenders (Houston was 23rd last season).
Anyway you stack it, Crane has opened the checkbook and Luhnow has pulled the trigger. While Crane has said you shouldn’t expect another big splash, it’s also clear Houston is still searching for additional characters to play to Sports Illustrated’s 2017 World Series script.
The Astros have attracted the attention of the other 29 teams, and even the media is barking here, here and here. But more importantly, Houston’s fan base is abuzz with anticipation for spring training. And, of course, the next addition to roster that will rival the best in Astros’ history.