Yes, there are options for Astros to hang onto the Fab Four

Disclaimer: To all determined to celebrate the Astros’ world championship through opening day and not consider future payrolls, trade possibilities or other downsides, this blog entry may be hazardous to your sanity or mental health. Proceed to read and interact with the blog community at your own risk.


Yes, Lucille, the Astros can keep the Fab Four — George Springer, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman — for the next decade. But it will cost. And it may hurt a little. Or a lot.

The payroll may get reach calamitous proportions until next off-season, potentially after a second straight World Series appearance. Without significant adjustments, it’s not unreasonable to presume the Astros will finish 2018 with a $150-$160 million (as of today, they’ll start with approximately $142 million) if they add pieces during the year.

With continually increasing arbitration for key players, that number could rise dramatically after 2018 without a dramatic adjustment.

Yes, Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp and Marwin Gonzalez will roll off the books after next season, but so will Dallas Keuchel. Brian McCann may be gone too if the Astros don’t pick up his option.

In other words, Jeff Luhnow faces some major decisions between now and the start of the 2019 season. Standing pat may be an option for 2018, but you can only hold the fort for so long. Here are a couple of options he may consider.

Option #1. Trade Dallas Keuchel.

Yes, that would take a big gulp, especially since Keuchel was so vocal last summer about adding another piece. He’s two years removed from a Cy Young, but he hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since then. Yes, Keuchel can go on a tear as he did at the beginning of last season and he certainly will be a Terrible 2 behind Verlander next season. But consider this: He will be 30 at the start of the 2018 season and he has had injury issues. Moreover, Clayton Kershaw, Madison BumgarnerDavid Price and Chris Sale (among others possibly) could lead a strong free agent market for pitchers this time next year.

Now, considering the Astros won’t be drafting high for the next few years with picks like Correa, Kyle Tucker, Bregman or even Springer, and a trade makes sense from the “haul” perspective. Couple Keuchel with a prospect or two such as Colin Moran or others who may be blocked and the Astros could bring back 6-8 players, some international leverage or competitive balance picks.

Keuchel’s value may never be higher, especially if he endures another season of nagging injuries. Trading him now or trading him at next year’s deadline may give the Astros an advantage without the competition of the above set of quality starters this time next year. Let him play out his contract and Houston could be left with nothing more than a draft pick when he leaves.

Option #2. Lock up Bregman and Correa, Altuve-style.

Correa has already signaled he would consider a deal that would buy out many of his arbitration and even his free agent years.  Making team-friendly deals with Correa and Bregman would give the Astros some cost-certainty into the 2020s and would also provide Houston some extra $ to lock up Altuve and Springer with six-or-seven year deals before they hit free agency.

For example, if you could spread $12-$15 million/season between Correa and Bregman for the next several years starting in 2018 through 2024, Luhnow could then afford $20 million/season paydays for Altuve and Springer. At the very least, that pushes the bottleneck back a few years.

Option #3. Bring in a 1-2-3 punch for the rotation.

Yes, this option could shore up your 2018 rotation while hedging all bets for next off season and into 2019. Keuchel is a free agent after next season and the aging Verlander is signed through 2020. Eventually, Houston will need another #1. That is, if Lance McCullers Jr. or Brad Peacock or one of the young guns becomes the ace. So, why not spend the money on one of the free agents or pull off another unexpected Verlander-like trade and go for broke in 2018? Verlander, Keuchel and fill-in-the-blank followed by Charlie Morton and McCullers/Peacock would be daunting.

While none of these options may be optimal, guaranteed or come without queasiness for fans, they are all likely on the table for Luhnow. With no options going forward to bolster your lineup immediately with a top draft choice, Luhnow and his team will be forced to hone their skills even further in the trade and free agent arenas.

To be sure, Luhnow will be forced to zero in on his nucleus — whoever that is — sooner than later. Only Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick are signed for 2020 (Verlander has a vesting option), but McCann, Morton and a slew of others will likely be gone.

There is no clear path forward, but expect some clarity between now and spring training. Or at least between now and July 31, 2018.

Other than standing pat, what say you?


68 comments on “Yes, there are options for Astros to hang onto the Fab Four

  1. By Correa indicating he’d look at an early deal speaks volumes. Locking up these guys should be the #1 priority for Luhnow. I’m sure it won’t be easy but if they are wanting to stay here then go for it. As for Keuchel, I agree that there is no better time to look at trading him than next year. I like your scenario of packaging him with Moran and getting a boatload of prospects. Reddick’s contract could be problematic if his performance downgrades significantly but let’s hope not. Thinks look good for next year but then the uncertainty kicks in after that. In the meantime we will continue to bask in the glory that is our WS Championship.


    • There was quite a bit of confusion after the deal was done about the option and complete no-trade. Cot’s and Baseball Prospectus, who maintain the contract statuses etc, show the option. I’ll check with a couple of sources to confirm which way it actually came down.


  2. Trade Keuchel – I would be seeing how things look at mid-season 2018. It is possible that through injury or performance of others that we need him to make the playoffs. Plus we will have a better feel for our own needs at that point. Negative – if he goes down again we might not be able to trade him.

    Lock up Bregman and Correa – I would concentrate on Correa first, but this might be a great time to tie up Bregman to something decent through his pre-arb and some of his arb time. I wonder what Correa would be looking for at this time. 4 years $50 million?

    Trading for another TOR type pitcher – Could they get lucky and 1) Get one 2) Have that one actually pitch up to spec like Verlander did.
    I keep picturing Darvish….It is risky business a bit but they don’t have a lot of top pitching prospects knocking on the door (though Rogelio Armenteros may be that guy).


  3. Me personally I would love to see them lock up Altuve for the next 6 years this off season, an Astro and HOF for most of his career. Then figure out Bregman, Springer, and CC. DK you got A CY and WS , TY and I would move him in a package before its to late.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Without looking, do you know which player led the team in these categories: Doubles (YULI 43)? Triples (BREGMAN 5)? Walks (SPRINGER 64)? IP (FIERS 153)? Ks by a pitcher (MORTON 163)? Games started (pitcher) (FIERS 28)?
      The Astros scored an MLB-leading 896 runs in 2017. It’s not an Astros’ record though. Do you know which team scored 938 runs? (1998 team)
      A.J. Hinch should have his fourth complete season as Astros’ manager in 2018. Who was the last manager to make it four full years at the helm of the team? (IT WAS DIERKER, Garner was here for parts of four years.)
      It’s possible that Houston could add another Gold Glove winner or two in 2017. Do you know which players (yes, players plural) have won five Gold Glove awards for the Astros? (Doug Rader and Cesar Cedeno each won 5).
      You read about Silver Slugger awards above, but who is the only pitcher to win a Silver Slugger award for Houston? (MIKE HAMPTON)
      Bonus question: Would you take Carlos Beltran back on a $2 million contract for 2018? (YES!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m working on a prospect post and have a question – why is Ronnie Dawson (2nd round 2016) not on the Top 30 mlb prospect list for the Astros? Did he get traded or something I missed? I know he did not have a good 2016, but he was pretty solid last season at A ball with a cuppa at A+ ball. Anyone know anything?


    • He has average speed but hits a lot of ground balls.
      He has a good arm but is not a great fielder.
      He strikes out more than scouts would like.
      Coming out of college, he has not torn up the lower minor leagues, and last but not least:
      The Astros have acquired a lot of talented players in the draft and through international free agency, since Dawson was drafted, that have legitimately pushed Dawson out of the top 30.


      • I don’t know old pro – he is about the same age as Jason Martin – had very very similar numbers to Martin in 2017 and Martin is #16 and he’s not on the list and this is only his second season in the minors, whereas Martin’s been around awhile.


  5. We don’t have the luxury of flushing money down the toilet the way the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees do annually. I think the smart money is to try to keep Altuve and Correa around as long as possible. Both guys are on a trajectory to Cooperstown. That’s been said about many players before, but with only two Astros enshrined, getting two more can only improve the value of the franchise….but that’s a long game to play.

    My personal feeling is they can’t win another championship without George Springer. However, I don’t know how many years he has to be the engine. I don’t want him to change his game, but as he reaches the end of team control and gets into what the next deal would be, we would have to see a wiser, more patient Springer for him to maintain production that would justify what we think his salary is going to be.

    Bregman…I’m going to have to disagree with most people on him, again. I can’t help but think of the attempts Luhnow made to lock up guys like Matt Dominguez and Robbie Grossman. I’m not against offering him something that buys out arbitration to help create fixed costs and more easily predict how much room there will be in the budget…but buying into his free agency years now just seems like too big of a gamble.


    • I feel 100% comfortable in disagreeing with your disagreeing on Bregman. Dominguez? Grossman? Those guys frankly don’t deserve mention in a Bregman post. I saw enough ballsey clutch play out of Bregman on the grandest of stages to know that this kid is not a one shot wonder. He’ll have his next career year in 2018. And if I’m wrong I’ll send everyone here a bottle of 15 year old El Dorado rum and I’m broke right now. That’s how good I feel about Bregman.


      • I am not sure what they offered Grossman, but, in hindsight, the way he is hitting now, the Astros may have benefitted if he agreed. There is no way they would have benefitted if Dominguez agreed.


      • Wasn’t the offer something like 6/$13M? If so, considering he put up a 0.7 fWAR in 2016 and 0.5 last year, while projected for 0.8 this year he would’ve been underpaid. I am not saying Grossman is a great player, but he is starting to show he can be a regular major leaguer.


  6. Concerning the four guys this post is asking about, let’s start with Altuve.
    Jose Altuve- Altuve’s agent is Scott Boras and Boras absolutely hates his clients to give up free agency for an extension, unless that extension approaches the same amount of money Boras thinks the player would get in free agency.
    For the last three years Altuve has been the best bargain in baseball and is almost guaranteed to be the best bargain in baseball for the next two years.
    The Astros may have to settle for that, give him a QO after those two years and then try to resign him in 2020 competing with everybody else, but not having to pay a draft pick if they sign him and getting one if they don’t. They may not have a choice.
    They could trade Altuve, but how do you get equal return on the absolute best bargain in baseball. You can’t. You keep him and let him provide you many times his value in those two years, especially if you already know that he desires to reach free agency.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You really only need to lock up Altuve because you have Correa through the 2022 season and Bregman through the 2023 season. Springer is under control through the 2020 season, but even if you lose him after that season you still have 2 more years with the other big 3, assuming you lock up Altuve.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. You let any one of those guys go and it’s Katy Bar the Door. It doesn’t take an expert to see that Astros success was built on the camaraderie and sheer joy in playing these guys have with each other. One will follow the other(s). Only a fool would bust this up. And take a close look before you rattle the concentric rings around the fabs by the way.


  8. I just remember the last fearsome foursome plus young 3B combo we had. It was 2004, and it consisted of Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman and Jeff Kent. The promising young 3B was Morgan Ensberg, who exploded onto the scene like a superhero -but unfortunately, only had one more year before his career totally imploded. We also had a young stud OF on the cusp named Hunter Pence. We had a promising high draft pick guy coming along named Chris Burke.

    But then life happened. Bagwell blew out his shoulder. Biggio’s eyes and swing both began to slow down, and the league figured out he was a sucker for both the low and away slider and the high hard one. Berkman tore up his knee playing church league flag-football – and started putting his foot in his mouth every time he talked. Kent left -or was pushed out in favor of Biggio’s hall -of-fame run, however you want to look at it. Burke just couldn’t find a position -or a rhythm. Pence, meanwhile, kept pushing, and made his way into the starting line-up the next year.

    2004 came and went. Then we had our WS year. Then . . . a lot of big contracts, and no big performers. We had to sell off – and rebuild.

    Baseball is a funny game. Guys who start strong and make us think they will be superstars for decades often aren’t. New guys come along all the time.

    Lock up Altuve and Correa, if you can. If Boras won’t let Altuve sign, focus on Correa and Springer. I doubt we have any chance of locking up more than two. That means we give Bregman another year. And we see what Derek Fisher, Tyler White, A.J. Reed, and Tony Kemp bring to the table in ST and early season 2018.


    • Respectfully, Bagwell and Biggio were well past their primes in 2004 and, to pull from a Lloyd Bentsen line, “I know Alex Bregman. He was an all star in college at LSU. He has a World Series ring. Sir, Ensberg is no Bregman.”

      Seriously, we’re talking about four players who are on their way up still who could make an impact for the next decade. Yes, there are obstacles to signing Altuve (re: Boras) and, yes, it may be a year or two early for Bregman (though I did suggest in the next two years to consider it), but this is a unique situation that may require Luhnow’s attention before it gets too far down the road and out of his hands. He may already be there with Keuchel.


      • I agree with both of you. We don’t appear to need Whitley in the rotation so it makes sense to bring him along slowly, let him develop more physically, and hope he’s ready to compete for a spot in 2019. Tucker could probably play at the big league level now, but the more seasoning he gets at AA and/or AAA the better. He also needs to mature more physically. Unless we experience a rash of injuries I don’t see him making an appearance before June 2019.


    • If by WOW you mean be a great major league player, my answer is no.
      I do think Colin Moran has a chance of being a good major league starting first baseman with a great arm and the ability to hit for a high average.
      I do think Yuli has the potential to be an All-Star at least once in the next couple of years at 1B.


    • Yordan Alvarez put up a 1.125 OPS at Quad Cities this year over a small sample fo 32 games. After promotion to Buies Creek he cooled off and only had a .722 OPS over 58 games, but at 20 years old and 6′ 5″ you may see some big things from him over the next couple years.


  9. 2018 was George Springer’s breakout year. He was an All-star and the Silver Slugger winner. How good was Springer this year? Among all qualified batters he finished:
    Tied for 6th in runs scored.
    Tied for 51st in hits.
    Tied for 74th in doubles.
    Tied for last in triples with 0
    Tied for 20th in HRs.
    Tied for 46th in RBIs
    Tied for 57th in BBs
    Tied for 142nd in stolen bases
    Tied for 16th in caught stealing
    47th in batting average
    34th on OBP
    28th in SLG
    25th in OPS
    18th in wRC+
    25th in position player WAR


  10. Interesting comments.
    I’ll say we don’t trade Keuchel, that’s tomfoolery (unless he’s actually torn something or pitched through pain again?) Are you selling, then, tainted goods? No, I say Look somewhere else for career year guys if that’s the term, or guys at their peak. He’s a warrior.

    What is missing in this discussion is we are insulated with plenty of young talent who can be plugged in to rest the vets, preparing for a long long long season. Where is there mention of Paulino, or Martes? Armenteros is a little stiffer than Martes but features a lot of the same stuff. We have serious studs in waiting. Musgrove could always find a starting role if improved; Peacock may not be nearly as effective after the league studies up. Who knows. We won’t be able to tell about Sipp or Liriano, the same as last Spring, until we lace them up. Maybe Laureano finds his old form, or Op gets his wish for Moran (and the Astros decide to keep him)? Maybe Fisher is an absolute stud and by mid season we’re wanting him over Marwin, Reddick? How about a resurgent Jake Marisnick who hit two bombs in Tampa?

    There’s bound to be injury with someone running into a wall, or into each other (Teoscar, Altuve), or a thumb sliding into a base. We don’t need incredible backups, but we have guys like Stassi and Centeno (who homered, and hit a walk off as well).

    I was just talking to a friend in Corpus trying to encourage them to watch next season, who will be around and for how long. Lest we forget, we have so much talent at the major league level, winning with a few “less-than-elite” players is fine when you have the Fab 4.

    The short answer to the question is we have *more than 4* who we own for awhile. Let’s just take it a step at a time. Watch some of the young talent we’ve assembled push the veterans, and make a few deals to bolster the minors. Pick up some free agents maybe even some scrap heapers. Always be looking but realize you have guys on the cusp, like Feliz and Hoyt and Devenski to name only a few. We’ll do the same next season, and that is look real hard at AJ Reed. Give Kemp and White a shot. Those guys can play in the majors. We’re fine for awhile. Give Verlander and Keuchel and LMJ time to heal up if needed between starts. Possibly keep McQ and maybe replace Fiers with his upside. Is that someone I’ve already mentioned? Probably.

    I trust the guy who won 2 out of 3 World Championships before he ever got to Houston, the guy who got us Verlander with 15 seconds to go, bringing the Tigers to the brink with his perfect timing. That’s the guy I trust to determine whether we make a shocking type of deal and trade any of our fabulous players!

    Not sure how I’d feel about Keuchel being traded. His comment about owing his turnaround to Strom was exactly what I’d felt when he and McQ (19) both had 20 win seasons. But his reasoning was that Brent changed his finish to be able to field so well. I guess what I’m saying is it would surprise the hell out of me. To trade a potential 20 game winner is absurd is my feeling. How did he go on a tear last season if not for incredible command and good health. Just keep the guy rested. He still has great separation when he’s on.


    • And to finish the thought. With a solid regimen to strengthen Dallas Keuchel, already knowing how athletic and determined he is, build up his lower body, with such a simple smooth delivery and lower velocity, highly repeatable with good swing miss rate when healthy. That’s not hard on his body, so he’s younger in that respect. What is his cost again? Maybe $14M? Didn’t he arbitrate and get $9 last season? Plus fan favorite Keuchel’s Corner. I mean, what are ya thinkin’? How do you spin the guy who makes the call to Verlander to come, only to be dumped the following year? I thought they were trying to build something here for a FEW years at least. Imagine Keuchel remembering a few years later how Verlander’s 28M forced the Astros to trade him.


      • On the other hand, do you realize that this is Keuchel’s last year before free agency? The only reason to keep him this coming year is this coming year’s success chance, which is good, but definitely not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that he will walk away leaving the Astros with a very late 2nd round pick.
        I haven’t suggested trading Keuchel, but if he is traded I understand it. Keuchel makes the Big Four of this post a Big Five and that will be even harder to pull off signing all of them long-term.
        If you can’t sign all of them long-term, do you sign the ones you can and give the others away for almost nothing, or trade the ones who indicate they won’t sign and get a bunch of prospects for them? That is the dilemma and it is real. That’s why we are talking about it.
        I say we try to trade our TV deal for the Dodger’s TV deal. Then we can just sign them all, pay a huge penalty to MLB and not worry about anything.
        Of course, we got The Trophy by Luhnow being smart, not by spending $265 million a year on players. If we did have $265 million a year to spend, think how much smarter Luhnow would be.

        Liked by 2 people

      • How many long term deals for pitchers can you name that actually benefited the signing team? How many were disasters? I’d make Keuchel a fair offer and hope he accepts after 2018. If someone else wants to break the bank for him in Free Agency, well, I won’t begrudge him taking the money. If Luhnow wants to trade guys like him away instead of playing the Qualifying Offer game I can understand it, but believe that’s just as much of a gamble.


      • Indeed, Grayson, OP and Devin, this is a juggle of a decision. Devin, I believe the bigger risk is going the QO route. Next winter, the QO salary will be around $18 million…for one season. Dallas will be 31 at the start of the 2019 season, so he has only one big contract coming. Unless he has a horrible year, he isn’t likely — in my estimation — to accept a one-year QO at age 31, which means the Astros will be left with a low second-round pick as OP suggests.

        The Astros — in my estimation — will continue to talk with Keuchel over the winter and into the season about a long-term deal. If they feel they are unable to sign him beyond 2017, they will explore trade possibilities. They will get more back in most any trade scenario, though, than a single low, second-round pick.

        Of course there are variables, such as injuries to Morton or Verlander or Peacock etc that would preclude a trade.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. The question is what do you offer Keuchel? 3 years, 5 years? 12, 15, 18, 20 MM a year. Boy, Luhnow is going to be earning his pay on this one. I’d be interested in hearing what our assorted panel of “experts” think. I myself haven’t a clue.


  12. I’m in Ft. Worth visiting my sister Jenny, first time we’ve been together since our brother passed away. I’m reading your posts, but not commenting because some priorities take first place in my life now. I’ll spar with you guys later in the week…..but please don’t trade anyone until I get back home! Becky⚾

    Liked by 2 people

  13. This may ramble, but somewhere there is a coherent thought. I hate the business side of baseball, and love the “human interest” and sport side. So, skipping the business side (which is always there) we can look at all these players, agents, Luhnow, Crane, etc as a bunch of money hungry thieves OR…

    So lets say for argument, all 5-8 suspects might give JL and Crane a hometown discount and ignore the advice of their agent. In the group, who would be their #1 person to be addressed. My guess is Jose Altuve. If the team continues to take advantage of his contract, lack of signing bonus, and perhaps even him just being a stupid “all round good guy” then they know the team, given a chance will do the same to them. They all know that Crane is willing if pressed to the wall to tank it again to win later. There is no reason to think he would NOT do it. Do you want to be the last person on a sinking ship to get into a lifeboat? So I don’t expect DK, Verlander, any of these guys to do anything long term until Altuve is addressed. McCann has already said he wants to finish his career in Atlanta. Reddick, given a chance, would probably do the same.

    These are exceptionally gifted athletes. They can only control a portion of their own destiny. But somewhere in there is a “human” that probably wants to be treated as a human and not chattel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • AC 45, there are 6 things I try to keep in mind when I start to think about the ‘business side of baseball’:

      Rule #1: It’s just money.
      Rule #2: It’s not my money.
      Rule #3: Forget #1 and #2 – absolutely nobody and nothing in sports is worth that kind of money.
      Rule #4: The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Mets, and/or Cubs will probably offer substantially more money than the Astros do.
      Rule #5: We just won the WS, and we have a good chance to do it several times over the next few years. Do they really want to leave us now – just for a little more money?
      Rule #6: Prospects and rookies need love too.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think Crane will do what he can wallet wise to ensure at least one repeat, and Luhnow has the KnowHow to make things happen. We do that, then we’ve officially become one of the Big Boys. We have the potential to become to baseball what the Patriots are to football (minus the cheating ) if we keep our core together, and don’t think our front office doesn’t realize it.


      • Billy, I like the Patriots analogy, but that’s a very high bar. Indeed, they have several things going for them. A great owner who has been hands off. A brilliant coaching mind, whose staff is turned over regularly! And a great quarterback, who meshes with ownership and management.

        Do the Astros have that? While it’s possible, I believe it’s still TBD. In the Astros’ case, though, I believe the “brilliant mind” role would be played, at least in large part, by Jeff Luhnow (who already has lost a few close ‘players’). Is Crane a Kraft? Is Luhnow actually a Belichick? And which player(s) will play Brady as the common thread for the next decade?

        Time will tell.


      • Yes, Chip, I don’t think Crane gets enough credit for being a great owner. He isn’t loud or meddling like prior owners and he trusts the people he hired to make the proper personnel decisions. As far as baseball is concerned I think Crane is the perfect owner.


    • I’ve seen some great designs, and only bought one tshirt before the series. Gurriel prior to his gesture.

      The sales on those shirts/memorabilia have to be through the roof, and to see the parade numbers. I know this is what Crane was betting on if he could just bring a winner home — the city and all its fans abroad will come (and buy-in). If we were a $1.3B company, what will we be by Spring? Our young guys got to witness and be on that grand stage, and they have lots of time to hone their skills. I’m not thinking as much about three years from now. I’m thinking about how razor sharp, well-disciplined this core is, and how much more flexibility we’ll have once guys like Beltran and Fiers fade away. They know their window as a team is two more years, unless they make personal sacrifices. Like Caminiti, you’ve got to want to stick around and play with your brothers. If Altuve is the guy to lead the way (not sure why he got Boras), and he wants to keep playing with Correa (that’s what it boils down to), then the team will likely try to stay together as long as possible. I see a team that feeds off of one another, and if you asked each guy in closed quarters, they’d want to stay. One other thing is how Crane bought the facility in Florida, the investments he’s made to guarantee the guys have what McCann told Mark Derosa, was a “big time” experience. Sophisticated, and geared for future success. Speaking of, I don’t see Brian McCann having anything in the tank by the time we’re done with him, except to coach.


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