Sunday update: 25-man, playoffs, 2018 and the Verlander Boost


Some quick-hitting baseball thoughts as our prayers are still focused on the real cleanup and rebuild in Southeast Texas.

With the September call ups looming, the re-addition of several injured players and the addition of a starting pitcher to the mix, A.J. Hinch will have his hands full with lineup cards in September.

Further down the road, though, it’s clear the Hinch and Jeff Luhnow team will also be spending some overtime working its 25-man playoff roster.  Here’s a quick look at how that could pan out come October.

Question: Will the Astros dare leave off Liriano or Beltran? Can Moran play himself onto the playoff roster?

The bottleneck just got a bit more bottlenecked.

  • A few years ago, I predicted a bottleneck of salaries and payroll later in the decade. The Justin Verlander acquisition just squeezed the bottleneck a little tighter. Yes, the Astros will have several players coming off the books in a year or two (notably Carlos Beltran, Francisco Liriano and even Cameron Maybin and Luke Gregerson). But what looked to be a clean(er) slate in 2018 and 2019 just a few months ago now shows the Astros will start 2018 with a guaranteed payroll of approximately $137 million before you factor in arbitration numbers for Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Evan Gattis, Collin McHugh and others. And, yes, you can take off about $10 million the Tigers will pay the Astros for Verlander. Enjoy 2017, things could get a little dicey this winter!

In my estimation, some key players will be on the trade block in the next two winters (Springer?) and Luhnow will attempt to sign up some of those (Keuchel? Correa?) Thoughts?

Are the Astros the cream of the crop?

  • I wrote a few days ago that Houston was no longer the obvious choice in the American League. Perhaps they still are not, but the Verlander Boost may change that shortly. Houston is on track to win 98 games, but FanGraphs still shows the Astros are the most likely team (by a slim margin) to win the AL Pennant and represent the league in the World Series (against the Dodgers). Of course, finishing the season with the best record in the AL is quite important since it would mean the World Series run would roll through Houston throughout the playoffs.
  • There are some better with the numbers than I and, admittedly, I haven’t done a game-by-game analysis, but it’s fairly easy to predict the Astros will win 100 games and could surpass the organization’s best record from 1998 (102-60). You could say that 2-3 weeks ago.

Some quick questions:

  • How many wins is the Verlander Boost worth?
  • The Astros are currently on pace to win 98. What do they finish with?
  • Are you concerned about payroll and keeping players in 2018? 2019?
  • Who is most likely not to be in Houston in 2019?
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65 comments on “Sunday update: 25-man, playoffs, 2018 and the Verlander Boost

  1. Answers
    – Verlander boost – I would bet it is worth in the range of 5 games to the team and that does not include expecting JV to win more game than Fiers
    – I think the Astros win 103
    – I am not concerned about the payroll – I think Jim Crane will sanction higher payrolls as we go along
    – Keuchel may be gone – obviously Gregerson, Liriano, Beltran will be gone, Morton and Fiers will probably be gone

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan, agree on Fiers being gone but Morton still has another year on his contract unless we can trade him (7MM). I’m thinking of payroll between 150MM and 160MM. Liriano and Maybin are short term rentals.
      Big $$ on Keuchel, Altuve, and Gonzales (lesser). I think MG has a club option for 2018 at 5.125MM. It’s going to be interesting as we move into those uncharted waters.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Chip – I’m also wondering if it is Morton or McHugh in the playoff rotation.
    I almost feel like that Morton would be better as a 2 or 3 inning option out of the bullpen.

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    • McCullers is a pencil-in! I’ve got big problems with his arm, back and head this yr. Forget about it. Peacock is the Man. Any attempt to shut him out (i.e. Hinch/Strom inserting Liriano, or Sipp to “hold” his games) will be futile. He will rise to solid No.3 on this playoff rotation. Count on it.

      My current hot hand rotation (in order):
      JV
      Peacock
      Morton
      McHugh
      Keuchel

      Pen – Giles, Moose, Devo, Harris, Luke. The rest are struggling. I’d take a gander at LMJ in the pen (or slow starting Fiers) way before Brad Peacock. I’d also be willing to add Armenteros for a look-see, whose been outstanding and rested well.

      Hopefully the order changes, but it’s exactly what I’ve witnessed to date.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The first thing I would like to do is tackle your playoff rotation and bullpen.
    Playoff rotation- Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers, McHugh. McHugh has been there before and pitched well against a real good KC lineup in the playoffs. I am assuming McHugh is healthy and stretched out by the playoffs. I think you have to give him a chance, considering the way he beat KC on the road in Game 1 of the ALDS in 2015.
    Bullpen- Giles, Gregerson, Harris, Devenski, Peacock, Morton, Musgrove, Sipp. Right now I’d rather have Musgrove than Clippard and Sipp than Liriano. Devenski, Peacock, Morton and Musgrove are all caplable of coming in and giving you multiple innings if needed, but are wipeout late inning candidates, too, with those high velocity fastballs and strikeout sliders. The Liriano I have seen would lose games for Houston in the playoffs and there are no wins to give away if you want to win a series.
    I’m not even sure I wouldn’t rather have Fiers or Feliz in the bullpen than Sipp, but we have a month to see if Sipp might have found some of his old groove. Fiers’s walks as a starter are a scary thought when attempting to use him in the bullpen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’d be interested to see if they will just go without a LH in the bullpen altogether. If they put Morton in the pen then you gave him, Devo and Harris that are all tough on LHs. If it was my decision I would go with 12 pitchers for the playoffs. They would be JV, DK, LMJ, McHugh, Giles, Devo, Gregerson, Morton, Gregerson, Musgrove, Peacock and Harris. Martes and Feliz could bump Musgrove and September would be the audition for all 3. I thought about bumping Gregerson, but I think they’ll want a veteran like him who is still tough on RHs in the pen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I came back to look at your list after your reminder to Kevin way down on this blog. I noticed that you could bump one Gregerson from this list and still have one.
        I wish we could have two Peacocks or two Giles’s instead of two Gregersons.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What is it worth to have Justin Verlander, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann in your dugout in September and October?
    What I want from Verlander is stability in the games he’s pitching. When he gets in trouble he summons something better from himself and limits damage. The thing I would most like to get from Verlander is for him to get Devenski, Morton, Musgrove, Peacock, Martes, Feliz. and especially LMJ to understand what they need to be thinking about when they are out on that mound. I want him to also tell them what they should not be thinking about. To me, that could be the greatest contribution he could give to this team. Plus, 4 or 5 wins in the playoffs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Some answers to some injury questions this AM.
    Marisnick dealing with a groin issue. Day to day.
    Beltran with some upper back and neck soreness. Day to day
    Stassi to come off DL tomorrow.
    Gattis to go on rehab assignment to Quad Cities.
    Gurriel could play as early as Monday in Seattle.
    Correa playing SS and batting fourth today. Will wear guard on hand.

    Like

  6. I am looking forward to seeing Verlander pitch for us.
    I am looking forward to Stassi alternating with McCann behind the plate.
    I am looking forward to seeing an Evan Gattis home run.
    I am looking forward to Correa hitting cleanup and playing SS.
    I am looking forward to a hot-hitting Bregman playing 3B and in the lineup with Correa, Altuve, and Springer.
    I’m looking forward to seeing Yuli hitting .300.
    I’m looking forward to Marwin being the best super utility guy in baseball, again.
    I’m looking forward to opposing pitchers saying there are no breaks in our lineup again. That we are relentless, again.
    I’m looking forward to our #9 hitter not striking out so much, again.

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  7. I didn’t expound on some of my choices or reasoning. I don’t disagree that it could easily be McHugh over Morton in a 4-man rotation. Morton is older and, therefore, perhaps not as pliable or resilient on short rests or shorter bursts. However, I think we also should consider that that fourth man in a rotation may never get to start, especially early on in the playoffs, if the Astros are able to set up their rotation (which should not be a problem) down the stretch. Theoretically, it could be Verlander, Keuchel and LMJ (if healthy).

    I only included players like Liriano, Clippard and even Beltran because the team has much invested and it will take some “courage” from Luhnow to admit the mistake, especially on Liriano.

    But, I completely agree that Verlander, McCann and Beltran in the clubhouse come October is HUGE. And, Beltran is one who could certainly get hot (as we’ve seen before). How big would that be?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Getting back to normal, off topic. Pastor Ed Young says please consider better than “getting back to normal” is what part of your life should no longer be normal. This hits me hard. It’s a good question.

    As to Verlander, we were not his first choice. Just hope he will consider us first choice now.

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  9. We will have a better idea about McCullers on Wed, and his next start. If he goes belly up again…..this Verlander trade will loom HUGE. I’d rather have McHugh rather than Morton….at least the last month of McHugh. I don’t want Fires or Liriano in the same zip code as the rest of this team during the playoffs. PERIOD. It must feel awesome for Hinch to have his complete team back together again since early June!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Lets see how many rules you can break in a game:
    Don’t walk leadoff hitters.
    Don’t throw wild pitches.
    Don’t hit batters with pitches.
    Don’t make the last out of an inning at third base.
    Don’t bunt the next at bat after you hit a three run homer.
    Don’t replace a completely ineffective starting pitcher with an equally ineffective reliever.
    When you have a team down, go for the kill shot. Don’t let them back into the game.
    I know I missed something.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Tyler Clippard is starting to worry me. The last 2-3 times he’s been used he’s let runs score. Need to address that little problem, and maybe he’s just rusty but Harris isn’t pitching like he did at the beginning of the season.

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  12. The last question is who is not going to be in Houston in 2019.
    Beltran, Aoki, Gregerson, Liriano, Centeno and Maybin will not be here in 2018.
    I think Gattis, Keuchel, Morton, Gonzalez, Sipp, Fiers, McCann and Harris will not be here in 2019. If I had to choose a replacement for those players I would choose Stassi, Martes, Musgrove, someone from outside to replace Marwin, Valdez, Riley Ferrell, Stubbs and Bukauskas.
    I think the guy they need to go out on a limb and pay a truckload of money to in 2019 is Altuve. I believe you don’t let a future hall of famer walk away. Give him an extension that makes him never have to worry about money again.

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    • On your list, I hope Stassi can finally get his hitting going. But he is a better defensive catcher than Gattis or McCann. I would give Tyler White a year to be a cheaper replacement for Margo, and know he might be 80% as effective. I would hope they would tie up Altuve and Correa long, long term.

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      • I see a big battle among Reed, Moran and White to make this team next season.
        They are going to need a DH and I like Gurriel for that role, Marwin for Super sub, Marisnick as the 4th OF and let the three guys mentioned above fight it out for 1B.

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    • I wouldn’t be surprised if they try and trade Gattis in the off-season. I am getting more and more comfortable letting Dave’s nephew be the primary DH with Moran and Reed as options as well. Gattis is not a good defensive catcher and I think Stassi can handle the backup duties. Gattis is due to make about $6.5M via arbitration next year so he appears to be a likely trade candidate. Does anyone else see this or am I fishing from the pier by myself on this idea?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have always liked Evan as a person and appreciate his inspiring story. But I have never considered him to be part of this team’s future. He is the last surviving member of the ‘Lastros’ model of the dark years. He has played an occasionally nice role for us in the years of transition. But as soon as someone in our youth catching corps steps forward with better health and a higher OBP, Evan’s salary will make him expendable.

        All that being said, Evan may have backed his way into a short reprieve with the trades of Nottingham and Rogers. Are we ready for a catching duo of Stubbs and Stassi for a minimum of 3-4 years? Will either Chuckie Robinson, Anthony Hermelyn, or Ruben Castro develop into a major league quality back-stop? Is Hank Conger eager for a comeback?

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  13. Corpus Christi and Buies Creek are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Quad Cities [though now struggling offensively without Daz Cameron] and Greeneville have already clinched.

    Out and almost done with baseball for 2017 are Fresno and Tri-City.

    Congratulations to our minor league affiliates. Keep the talent stream flowing strong!

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  14. It is funny how things go in life and baseball. We were totally worried about our team for quite a while, then spent a week totally worried about people’s lives, homes, cars, livelihoods, etc. and now the Astros seem like less of a worry and after their 4 game win streak and huge trade, they are less of a worry.
    They can still be shaky at times, but they sure seemed to be a happier and more inspired bunch after getting Verlander and after getting home from the elongated road trip. It sure seems like Reid Ryan hit a home run in getting the team back into Minute Maid and back helping those stranded at the George R Brown and elsewhere.
    Now if Cleveland could lose a game any game (quietly on an eleven game winning streak) I might relax a bit. If we can hold that lead for best AL record – we won’t have to beat both the Indians and the Red Sox (or Yanks) to get to the WS.

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  15. *How many wins is the Verlander Boost worth?*

    I guess I do not understand what the Verlander Boost really consists of. Are we just talking about the positive emotional impact of making any high profile trade at a really, really tough time in Houston on heavily emotion-driven guys like Keuchel and Reddick? That will only last until Justin has one less than Cy Young level outing. In fact, it very well could be over Tuesday night if JV runs into any trouble at all with the tough line-up of Segura, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Haniger and company, while our offense struggles against Seattle lefty Ariel Miranda.

    If, however, we are talking about the upgrade in actual pitching talent and playoff experience for our playoff rotation, we will not find out until October.

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    • Mr. Bill, yes, I was speaking of both, the emotional and the actual direct impact of adding a quality pitching upgrade.

      As much as these million-dollar guys should play the game hard regardless of what happens at the deadline, they’re human just like the rest of us. And, yes, there is an emotional impact. I also believe that Harvey played a role — even if minor — in Luhnow’s decision to get Verlander. Without a deal, even the Harvey toll on players and the city may have created a drag. Verlander may have offset that minor toll.

      As far as actual impact, I would submit that adding a strong rotation piece will cause players to be a little looser, play a little “lighter” and could also make hitters and defense better as well. I know, that’s probably a little on the emotional side, but if his only impact comes in October, I’d submit that’s too late. He needs to be an influence in the here and now, both real and emotional, on the field and in the clubhouse, behind the scenes and on the big stage.

      Just my two and a half cents.

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      • I think this is what Verlander was talking about when he said he and the Astros were a good fit. He gives the Astros a real good starting pitcher. Verlander was the only starting pitcher with a winning record on a Detroit team that was supposed to hit the ball, but ended up being middle of the pack in batting stats and 20 games under. 500.
        But the Astros are the top hitting team in baseball, so maybe he is able to challenge hitters, throw fewer pitches and go deeper into games with the Astros, because he has been pitching around hitters more this year, with a much higher BB rate.

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    • I am still thinking they may decide to go without a lefty in the bullpen for the playoffs. I think yesterday’s game was very telling. They opted not to use Sipp or Liriano in a very close game. Unless one of those 2 step up in the final 4 weeks they both may be off the playoff roster. I don’t see them going with more than 12 pitchers, total, for the ALDS and they may opt to go with just 11 since you only need 4 starting pitchers. What are your thoughts, Kevin? What pitchers would you have on the playoff roster? I listed mine earlier in this blog in a reply to OP.

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  16. *Are you concerned about payroll and keeping players in 2018? 2019?*

    Not really. As far as payroll goes, it is not my money, and I do not want the risk of loss or the headaches that go with this kind of investment, so I will leave all decisions on payroll up to Mr. Crane and his associated. As far as keeping/losing players in 2018/2019, that is just the way the game works. That is why we do not trade away all our prospects – and why with very few exceptions every franchise has a few good to great years followed by a series of rebuilding years. I cried when guys like Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and a young, flashy version of Carlos Beltran left us and went on to play for other teams. I don’t cry anymore. I just root for whoever replaces them, and dream of some young stud coming up behind them whose appearance on the scene for a little while will help ease the pain of the loss.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. McCann is catching Keuchel tonight, and of course he will catch Verlander tomorrow, I guess Stassi will catch McCullers on Wed. Hope the kid can put his big boy pants on, and deal with it. Fires was told by Hinch, he lost his spot in the rotation, and if needed, he will pitch Friday out of the bull pen. The handwriting has been on the wall for Mike Fires for a while…..I’m sure he was not surprised by this. It will be interesting to see how the fellas play tonight. Over the weekend they played with passion because they were in front of their own fans who have been through the worst disaster in history. As Springer said…..”I will run through a wall for our fans”, let’s hope he didn’t mean that literally!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. To put things in perspective, Brad Peacock is #17 in all of baseball in pitching WAR and Charlie Morton is #36 in pitching WAR for the year 2017.
    These two guys have been two of the best pitchers in baseball this season.
    If we have Keuchel, JV, LMJ and McHugh in the starting playoff rotation, then we have just inserted two studs into our playoff bullpen in Peacock and Morton.
    I’m sure Fiers is disappointed in himself, but I am glad Hinch decided to do what is right for the team right now. Fiers stepped up when we were hurting, but he has not pitched well in the last 6 weeks.

    Liked by 2 people

      • We definitely need that McCullers. If he is April/May Lance I like our chances in the AL playoffs considering how good our offense is. A healthy Lance is very important for this team to have a chance bringing home the first World Series title in franchise history.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Exactly!! And Tim….the above question about what lefty out of the bullpen for the playoffs? Lord, I don’t know if I want EITHER one of them, but if I had to choose right now, it would be Sipp.

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    • It’s a very tough call, Becky. Right now, I don’t trust either one and I’m more inclined to go without a lefty. I will see how both do in September and reserve the right to change my mind, but as it sits now I wouldn’t have either one on the playoff roster. If I had to choose one I would probably take Liriano only because he has a history of getting LHs out better than Sipp and he throws at a higher velocity, but this doesn’t mean I want him on the roster at this time.

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  20. That was a nice win to start the road a trip and, yes, it was nice to get our starting pitcher into the 8th inning. Tomorrow when we wake up it will officially be Justin Verlander Astro’s debut day and I am very excited. This win reduces the magic/elimination number to 12 for the Angels, 11 for the Rangers, 10 for the Mariners and the A’s have officially been eliminated from the division race.

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  21. Have been out of the loop, visiting family in New York for a weekend wedding. Now stuck here as all return flights cancelled due to a very significant Hurricane Irma tracking right at my little home base. Ironic, again I’m stuck away from home. Hopeless feeling.

    Looks like or guys are getting ready to play some inspired ball.

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  22. I’m glad Dallas Keuchel is healthy.
    I’m glad Verlander is starting tomorrow.
    I’m glad we signed Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick.
    I’m glad we have Alex Bregman instead of Brady Aiken.
    I’m glad Correa and Altuve have hits saved up for tomorrow.
    I’m glad Seattle did not trade for Nori Aoki today.
    I’m glad a sacrifice bunt resulted in a big rally.
    I’m glad AJ Reed set a Fresno Grizzly record with his 34th HR today.
    I’m happy.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. I can’t wait until tomorrow…..kinda like Christmas morning!! There’s a couple of places out here that show the Astros games, so I’m going to either take my husband or…..I’ll go alone, either way I’m going to see Justin Verlander in his first start for this team! It’s gonna be amazing! The guys behind him will show him, he doesn’t have to worry about defence. They got this! I’m soo excited! Aren’t you?!!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I see a lot of McHugh over Morton in the playoff rotation ideas, I would just counter that remember how McHugh did against KC in the decisive game a few years back. McHugh is a great guy to have in your rotation in the regular season, most of his starts are winnable games, but in the playoffs guys with a little more hop in their fastball tend to be successful. The idea is at number 4 you probably can only expect their best 5 innings, and I think right now Morton’s best 5 innings, in a single game setup against a playoff caliber offense, will be better than McHugh’s 5. Either way, we aren’t exactly blowing the opponent away with that spot in our rotation, we just have to hope the other team isn’t great in that spot either and we know our boys swing it better than their boys.

    If McCullers isn’t a go or is also only a 5 inning trick, you may consider not having JV and DK going back to back at 1/2 to split em, help the BP some.

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