Houston Astros: The challenges of winning again


In reply to the recent “Writer’s Blog” post, good friend of the blog, Old Pro proposed that we write about “How winning a ring might change the Astros as an organization, as a team and individually. Why is it so hard to win another one?”

The last time a team actually repeated as champion was the Yankees who threw up a trifecta of World Series Championships between 1998 and 2000. In the 20 year period from 1998 to 2017 a number of teams have won more than one championship, but the Yankees are the only team to repeat the year after winning one. The Yanks along with winning 1998-2000 also won in 2009. The Red Sox broke the curse in 2004 and won again in 2007 and 2013. The Giants did a little skiptomylou by winning in 2010, 2012 and 2014, while not even making the playoffs in 2011 or 2013. The Cardinals doubled up in 2006 and 2011.

So, it is not impossible to repeat, but fairly rare. It is not too rare for a team to win more than once in the same window. But we will take the bait. Why is it so hard to repeat and what challenges do the Astros face in chasing a second WS crown?

  1. It is hard to do anything that 29 other entities are trying to beat you at. It took the Astros 56 seasons to win one. The Rangers are still chasing a title entering their 58th season. The Indians have not won since John Wayne was driving cattle in a 1948 classic Red River. The Cubs had a 108 year drought; the Red Sox went a mere 86 years without one. It is hard to do once, which makes it really hard to do twice.
  2. Less rest. OK, the Astros get the same rest as the Dodgers and a little less than the other playoff teams, but the teams in their own division get 4 more weeks of rest and that can be big.
  3. The Hunger. The 2017 Astros were hungry, were driven, and played like it. Now, the 2018 Astros may be more relaxed and more confident the second time around, but they will never be as desperate to win as they were in bringing the first WS title to a city that was both thirsty for a title and drowning in the grips of a flood.
  4. The Luck. From micro-watching the playoffs, it is easy to see so many times when the Astros were lucky at the right time. Whether it was scoring the game winner when a simple pitch and catch could have gunned down the winning run or watching balls barely bounce off an opponent’s glove for a critical double or having the opponent whack line drives right at our fielders at a crucial time in the game, there were a lot of times when one play made the difference in winning or losing. The team was excellent, but so were their opponents and sometimes it was the luck that never smiled on them for 55 previous seasons that shone through.
  5. The Rebound. We saw what happened to Dallas Keuchel in 2016 after winning the Cy Young in 2015. He admitted that he did not prepare enough in the off-season, that there was too much wining and dining and schmoozing. After weeks of the guys going to awards shows, going to the late night shows, being wined and dined and schmoozed will they rebound in time for next season?
  6. Too much respect. We’ve seen it in many places, especially with coaches and GMs. They win that first title and they are “made” men. It is like getting tenure. They get a free ride for a number of seasons no matter what poor decisions and poor moves they make.
  7. $$. Sometimes winning the championship makes player’s minds to wander about the money. It is obvious that in their run to the first championship, Jose Altuve did not let the fact that he is grossly underpaid affect the way he performed. But at some time, if thoughts go to ME rather than TEAM, things can unravel.
  8. Worrying too much about the window closing. Big example is the Rockets after winning their second championship. They got tied up too much in worrying about making the BIG moves to get a third or more championship and went and grabbed over the hill Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. This did not make them a better team and in their case made them older and helped the window to close faster rather than bring in another quick championship.

So those are just some thoughts about the challenges facing the Astros. The plus side is that the core of the team is quite young and controlled for a while. But they do have some parts that might start slowing down – like Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, Justin Verlander, etc. I think the Astros will win it again soon, but maybe not in 2018.

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55 comments on “Houston Astros: The challenges of winning again

  1. I think #2 is the biggest one. After 2015, I was concerned with how the extra weeks would impact Keuchel. In a limited amount of innings of 2016 spring training games he was very effective. Then, in April games that counted he had one good game (win on opening day), a bad game losss against MIL, a great game against DET (win), and then two terrible games to end the month in losses to TEX and SEA. His velocity was never there and we later learned he may have been pitching hurt all year.

    I’m not terribly worried about the moves other teams made. If healthy, Houston should be good enough to win the division. I don’t think Springer, Altuve, and Correa are going to let the team lose focus or settle on mediocrity. If they get to the playoffs it’s a matchup game. Taking down Boston, NYY, and the Dodgers wasn’t easy, but they did it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Luck can be a big factor, especially in the playoffs. We can analyze stats until we’re cross-eyed, but luck can’t be quantified or predicted. I define luck pretty narrowly, as being something beyond the control of the players: a pebble on the infield, a bad call by the ump or the action of someone in the stands, for example. The playoffs really magnify those situations. Akin to “luck” is something inherent to the nature of the game. Baseball is a game ruled by failure. A good hitter succeeds only 30% of the time. And the corollary is that the pitcher succeeds 70% of the time. But if a pitcher makes 100 pitches, how many of those pitches are exactly the pitch the pitcher wanted to make? Still a fairly low percentage, I would guess. In a game of failure upon failure, much is left to the vagaries of execution and timing, such that the “best” team doesn’t always win. True of most any competitive sport, I guess, but especially so in baseball over such a long season with so many decision points in each game.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dan, you left out #9: “We was robbed”
    Translation: we’re not the same team because our bench coach, 1st base coach, bullpen coach, assistant hitting coach, three relievers, 3rd catcher, HOF counselor mentor friend and colleague DH, are gone.
    In other words, we won the WS by winning the last game of the year, rather than losing it and we aren’t the same team in 2018 that we were in 2017.
    That can be a difference maker.
    The Cubs had as good a team this year as they had in 2016 with more experience, but they did not have the heart and soul of the team that won the world series. Anyone on that team will point out that David Ross and Dexter Fowler were gone.
    The subtle differences in the makeup of a team can make the difference from one year to the next.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It feels like the Astros should be able to replace the performance of the players that have left, but the bigger concern is any loss of chemistry especially with the bench coach and the HOF DH.

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  4. I’m not going to get all “undone” over this move regarding Keuchel. He’s only looking out for Dallas, just like YOU would if you were him. Jim Crane needs a lesson on how to negotiate to keep a really good pitcher. I love Keuchel and I do believe he honestly wants to stay here…….let’s get something done.

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  5. A pitfall that I did not mention, because I don’t believe it will be a problem with this all business front office is sentimentality. Many a team has floundered because it made decisions on players with its heart not its head after winning the big one.

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  6. Please forgive my example, but as a lifelong Baptist, I have watched numerous pastors being “called ” to another church that pays more money. If we can accept that for our spiritual leaders, then why not a lay person. Yes, some stay or go for reasons other than money, but I for one can not condemn any athlete with such a short career window protecting himself and his family. If this is to stop, the small market teams need to band together to stop LA, NYC, and Chicago.

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    • Isn’t that’s what the intention of the “Luxury tax” was implemented ? Yet, with some clubs it seems to make no difference (Yankees, Dodgers) Sports center this AM says the Stanton deal will be done today. It was stated that he wanted to play for the Dodgers but they were concerned about the latter years of his contract. Keuchel has one more year before he becomes a free agent but my question is, what is he truly worth, And are we willing to pay for it? In the past we kept doing one year deals until the player reached FA. Is this still a viable strategy or do we try to lock up these guys before they reach FA. What we do with DK, Altuve and company will tell a lot about our future. Personally, by looking at Altuve’s situation and us not looking to renegotiate his contract tends to leave me believing that we will play out the string and then wave bye, bye to them.Hope I’m wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luxury tax is more of a concern for some owners than others. Castro was sent to Miami, in part, to keep NYY under the threshold.

        Keuchel has been paid well thanks to arbitration. I don’t begrudge him seeking more. As to his true value, recall Verlander’s contract inspired DET to trade him. Stanton, the MVP, got traded because of his contract. Jason Heyward is the worst contract in sports, but all of these guys that sign huge deals eventually are seen as bad business. I’d offer Keuchel a shorter, high dollar amount contract. He’ll probably want a longer contract even if the annual payout is less.

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    • I, also a Baptist was not aware that serving God has anything to do with money, but there are many pastors out there that “appear” to be more interested in earthly pursuits than those Heavenly ones. Of course, I have no room to talk but I just don’t “cotton” to that. The Bible in many instances speaks about “the love of money”. As far as the rest of us go, we all have probably accepted other positions due to more money but as you indicated it’s not always about the money. I just wonder when is enough, enough. Since I doubt I’ll never experience getting that kind of money I can’t put myself in their place but as a middle class guy it just befuddles me.

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    • Have a couple thoughts ac and zanuda
      – Payroll is not the be all / end all for winning. Based on season opening payrolls (this is what I could find quickly) here are the winners over the last 10 seasons and their rank in mlb payroll.
      – 2017 Astros – 18th
      – 2016 Cubs – 14th
      – 2015 KC – 16th
      – 2014 Giants – 7th
      – 2013 – Boston – 4th
      – 2012 – SFG – 8th
      – 2011 – StL – 11th
      -2010 – SFG – 10th
      -2009 – NYY – 1st
      – 2008 – PHI – 12th

      So, while you probably won’t win the whole enchilada if you are in the bottom 3rd of payroll, more teams won in the middle 3rd of payroll than in the top 3rd of payroll over the last decade.

      – What we don’t know (because this is a closed mouth front office) is whether they have tried to negotiate longer contracts with the best players, but my assumption is that they have not done this with DK because of injury concerns, but have tried this with Altuve and Correa but have not gotten to an agreement because neither side feels compelled yet to make something happen. It will be interesting to see who gets paid and who gets sent elsewhere.

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      • Dan, I think that reaffirms the need to have young stars.
        2017: Correa, Altuve, Bregman, Springer, LMJ, Devesnki, and Peacock to name a few were all underpaid against their contributions
        2016: Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, Russell, Hendricks, Rizzo ($5M)
        2015: Hosmar ($5.5M), Cueto ($4M), Cain ($2.75M), Moustakas ($2.65M), Perez ($1.75M…worse contract than Altuve’s), Ventura (RIP)
        2014: MadBum ($3.75M), Crawford ($560k), Petit … lots of guys paid pretty well though
        2013: I have nothing nice to say about the Red Sox or Yankees
        2012: Sandoval ($3.2M), Romo ($1.5M), Posey ($615k), MadBum ($560k), Crawford ($480k), Petit ($480k)
        2011: Molina ($5.2M), Freese ($416k)…lots of high prices. No one likes the Cardinals anyway

        Locking up guys like Posey, Bumgarner, Correa, Bryant, etc. is smart business as you will have a difficult time replacing their production with lesser paid players. All of the teams had to overpay some veterans, however, to fill out their rosters.

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      • Astute observation. Yes money spent on players is just one of the tangibles that will give a team a World Series. There are many of those and also intangibles like fate and the most bizarre of all, “Dumb Luck.”

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  7. I wonder (or does my mind wander) if:
    1. Luhnow wants to work in LA, NYC, Chicago, etc. , so he doesn’t care if the key players are here in 2-4 years.
    2. Do JL and Crane not agree in that JL sees no need to sign players like Stanton.
    3. JL thinks he is smart enough to find more nuggets even though he is now drafting/and waiver wire at the bottom of the list.
    4. This is an every 7-8 year plan and they plan to dump salary in a couple years.
    5. The Astros think their young (cheap) arms are just as good as what is available in FAs.
    6. With a less than stellar TV contract, are they waiting to see what the attendance increase actual IS before committing to long term contracts.
    7. Was Hinch “in the know” and not a prophet, when he said this is the last time this team will be together.

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    • My point about attendance is MMP seats 41,000. So there were approximately 12,000 empty seats for all the home games. 6th out of 15 AL teams.

      1st-Toronto has 12,000 more seats and outdrew the Astros. 2nd-Yankee Stadium has 13,000 more seats and outdrew the Astros. 3rd- Angel Stadium slightly larger and they outdrew the Astros. 4th – Boston Fenway has 4,000 fewer but outdrew the Astros. 5th – Arlington (Globe Life Park) has 8,000 more seats and outdrew the Astros.

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    • #2 The waiver drop can be significant, but a team like Houston doesn’t have many holes to fill. A guy waived by the Padres is unlikely to fit into our 25. As for the draft, I’m less concerned about this. Figure this is effectively like losing your first round pick, but then picking at the top of every other round (last in 1st is better than 1st in 2nd) . We’ve had enough misses in the first round to know that often times those guys get big money but don’t develop. The upside is with less resources tied up in a guy they don’t block other players as much. For example, if Mark Appel had been paid $1M in bonus money, we would have promoted Josh Hader to CC before him in 2014. This would have prevented the tweets by Hader complaining and perhaps allowed the Astros to work him up their system and keep him off limits in any trades to the city of Selig.

      The attendance thing is interesting. Below is a link with their 2017 schedule and results. You can click on the attendance column to sort by that:
      https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/TOR/2017-schedule-scores.shtml

      Toronto’s lowest, home attendance was 28, 401 against BAL in September.

      The three Rangers games don’t count for this exercise, so the real, lowest home attendance for Houston was 18,362 against SEA in April.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Houston is the exception to the trend of losing inexpensive stars after winning the World Series. Fiers and Gregerson have gotten deals early, possibly because of their association with a World Series winner, but the Astros have not lost one guy who was invaluable in the playoffs.
    My comment above was not doom comment about Keuchel or Boras, but simply stating a fact which occurred recently.
    My big concern about Keuchel is that he will be a 31 year old free agent seeking big bucks and multiple years from the Astros. He is a pitcher that has to be perfect to get guys out. Frankly, losing him and Morton next year is something I would like to prevent. Even though Morton doesn’t have Keuchel’s success or finesse, he does have that 96 mph fastball and might look at a one year extension for a modest raise to close out his career and buy some time for Feliz, Martes, Paulino, Musgrove, Armenteros, Whitley and the Perez’s to find their groove.
    One thing Devin’s list above does reveal like a wet towel to the face is that star players move on after getting that ring, and they move on to the tune of money.
    When players look at Alex Gordon and Pablo Sandoval’s contracts after their World Series ventures they give a big fist pump. What do GMs do when they look at those two scenarios.? They break out into a cold sweat.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have been on record here many times on DK. I like him , good guy, but of the core group, he would be my first choice to loose. A 31 yr old soft tossing guy , who needs to be location perfect., and has seen the injury bug lately. I would happy for him to get that big pay day -5 years 125 mill , just not from us.

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  10. So Marwin has now just signed with Boras. It all comes down to the business of baseball. That’s reality. Let’s not expect a hometown discount from anyone. During our 2017 run, everything was aligned, everyone was playing for the love of the game, we were somewhat the underdogs, we had the city come together around the catastrophe that was Harvey.

    If this team does not repeat, the biggest reason will be unlucky #7. The big payday! The innocent joy of that first World Series win is gone. I’m sure there is already some resentment deep down with some. And Scott Boras has pounded that point home to his new clients assuring them how much money he’s going to make on their behalf.

    If our GM does not get some preemptive work done done with extensions this winter, I think most all of our guys will scatter just as soon as they’ve got their shot at the big contract. Altuve as an example. He already lives in Miami. He keeps a house here for the season, but it’s not his home. I think he’ll go where the most attractive offer is long term. How much money can there guys make in a career? That’s the goal.

    Luhnow has perhaps his toughest job ahead of him.

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  11. For players on the Astros, signing with Scott Boras is like holding up a big, flashing sign in front of the fan base that says: “Nothing personal, Astros’ fans,, but I am getting out of Houston as fast as I can!

    Well, nothing personal here either, DK, Marwin, Jose et al. We like you, but we realize liking has nothing to do with it. The Times They are A-Changin’, right? We’ve seen it all a hundred times before. So Thanks for the Memories. Those were the Days, My Friend. And Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’.

    Meanwhile, we’ve got 2018 and in some cases 2019. If you are going to make the big money you want after that, you’ve got to realize you can’t rest on your laurels in your contract year.. You better play your heart out for Stros Nation the last year you are under contract, just to maximize the FA offers you covet from Boston, NY, LA, and Chicago. It’s just ‘Takin’ Care of Business’.

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  12. While I understand that Boras may be harder to deal with than many other agents….
    1) Just because the fan base is panicking about this – the front office is probably not.
    2) This is not Drayton McLane either – The Astros have dealt with Boras before – Mark Appel is one example that I can think of
    3) This front office thinks pretty far ahead. They probably already know who they are not planning to sign long term as an FA (I’m thinking Keuchel) and probably are thinking about how to not lose all value for him by trading him before the trade deadline.
    4) I think they also know who they will go hard after and I’m betting Altuve and Correa are on top of that list. If they were willing to talk like they could afford Stanton, willing to take on Verlander, etc. I’m sure they will figure out how to sign Tuve long term

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  13. Heck, Boras might be my choice of agent if I was a part of that world. I’d want the most effective guy in the business representing me. It’s not over though. Luhnow will work very hard to keep some of these guys. At this point, baseball players really do want to play in Houston. And I’m sure some if these guys would like to keep playing together. We are a winner. And having no income tax is worth more than a few bucks. However, there is no way of really knowing if Jose or others are unhappy with what they’ve been paid to date. No doubt there are tough negotiations ahead. As I said earlier, Luhnow has a tough job ahead.

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    • My gut feeling is that they know they could more easily replace Keuchel (especially as he ages) than a 2B and SS that bring so much to the plate. The interesting one to me is Springer. They might be able to replace him statistically with a Kyle Tucker, but can they replace the intangible of how he is the heart and soul of this team.

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      • dave
        You almost have to let Marwin play a bit in 2018 to even know how to value him.
        – Is he the tremendous hitter he turned into in 2017, .303 BA vs. career .268 BA, .377 OBP vs. career OBP .317, .907 OPS vs. career OPS .738?
        – Is he the guy who all of a sudden was drawing walks while lowering his K rate?
        – Is he the guy who could not hit in the playoffs or the guy who hit the most important HR in the playoffs (Game 2 WS 9th inning)
        – He had more RBIs in 2017 than in any two of his other seasons. Is that the new norm?
        – Is he going to revert to his crappy 2016 numbers or is this the real Marwin?
        The one thing that is not a question is that his versatility is of tremendous value to the Astros – being able to not only play at all those positions, but to play very well is priceless when they have a limited bench.

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  14. I’m with Kevin regarding Keuchel. I have very little interest in bringing him back at what he is projected to make. I think part of the reason the Astros are looking at some top tier starting pitchers this off-season is because they expect to part ways with Keuchel after next season. He can be dominant, but his injury history, need to rely on location to be successful and his age at the end of next season give me pause to commit big dollars to him.

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    • Marwin is too valuable a piece as part of our back to back WS quest. So unless this club falls apart next year, he’s too important an asset to trade, unless Luhnow invents his replacement(s) in the next 6 to 8 months. But if he puts up numbers again, he’s almost definitely gone in 2019.

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  15. If there’s only a $5M difference in McHugh or Keuchel, I’m keeping Dallas!!! I don’t buy that purely location, on or off, injury prone. He’s a beast who carried us – how quickly and wishy washy is this blog Lol!

    Trade Marwin? Wow just wow!

    By the time this thread is done, Dan, we’ll be seller dwellers because we won’t be able to field a team.

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    • I am just speculating on how the team will go forward – as far as I know Crane will sell off a country club or two and give Luhnow a blank check budget.

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  16. Keuchel will lose velocity as he ages. That combined with his health decline tells me he will probably be gone by the AS break.
    Looking at this situation without emotion, I think it’s the right thing to do.
    MLB says Astros are interested in Darvish and Attieta. Hope/wish we could get both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Z, if you are talking about McTag’s comments, I thought he said he expected the Astros to stay conservative as in the past. Then used the Verlander trade as something outside of what they normally do. He did say he expects them to stay mid to upper mid range in total salary. So he does not expect either Darvish or Arrieta. If it was someone else, then please ignore my reply.

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      • Forgot who it was that made the comment as I only caught a glimpse of the program but the statement was that management was more interested in using the money to tie up Altuve, Correa, and others rather than spend $20 – $25MM on Darvish. I have no problem with that if it’s accurate.

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  17. – Contrary to what we have heard, Gia Stanton told MLB Sirius Radio today that he gave Jeter his list of the four clubs he would approve a trade to before all the bidding began and Jeter still negotiated with other teams and got Stanton to give them interviews. Stanton was courteous and did the interviews but did not want to join the Giants or Cards.
    – Brian Cashman said that originally the Yankees were not too keen on Stanton’s contract but after the Giants and Cards were eliminated, he saw a chance to swoop in and get Stanton at a better deal and he did. Cashman said that his biggest motivation for getting the deal done was the Houston Astros, and I heard him call the Astros “beasts”. He also said that because of Houston, the Yankees are not “done”.
    -I don’t have feelings one way or the other about Keuchel. If Luhnow wants to keep him and can do that, I’m fine with it. If Luhnow can’t keep him, and and issues a QO , or trades him and gets prospects, I’m fine with that, too.
    I am not guilty of being unfaithful to Dallas Keuchel by talking about the different scenarios, any more than Dallas Keuchel is guilty for going out there and listening to multple offers as a free agent. This is what baseball has come to and we still follow it, so we must love it and have to understand that it is mostly about money.
    -Jeff Luhnow knows every move that has been made so far and about how those moves changes the competition we will be facing. This is the guy who went and got Verlander. So, he knows how the Astros have to improve to keep up with teams who are gunning for us.
    – I look at the Astros from every angle, especially how long we have control over our young players. One of the things I noticed is that we have team control over Joe Musgrove through the 2022 season, and as expensive as relievers are today(have you seen what second and third tier relievers are getting?). I giggle every time I see Musgrove’s name come up in trade talks. Unless the Astros have soured on him, I don’t see how we would want to get rid of a guy who could be on the verge of being a great reliever. I don’t think Brett Strom has scratched the surface of this guy’s best three pitches yet. I see this guy being the pitcher Ken Giles wishes to be in the 2018 playoffs.
    I’ve got more, but I’m going to watch ” The Voice”.
    Love you, 1OP.

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    • Last winter I argued Musgrove’s numbers were comparable, in smaller sample, to Jose Quintana. Well, that didn’t hold up as the sample increased, but we did see some fantastic innings out of the pen from Musgrove. I still think he could be a rotation piece in the future. If people here are proposing we trade him I missed it. If it’s elsewhere, well, those people are obviously not reading our amazing, Astros analysis at Chipalatta.

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  18. – In the Midwest low A league this year, Brady Aiken pitched 132 innings. I am not kidding: in 132 IP, Aiken gave up 134 hits and 101 walks.
    -The other day I mentioned the Astros had around 29 WAR from position players in 2017, but Fangraphs actually had it at 33, which was tops in Baseball. Fangraphs has every Astros position player except Correa regressing this year in their projections and project the Astros at 29+ WAR with their current team on the batting side. They also project every starting pitcher to regress in the win dept.
    – I read an article this morning in which the writer sees the AL turning more like the NL with five teams becoming dominant and the rest being below par. He sees the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Astros and Angels as winners and every other team being second tier for years to come.
    – Right now, with the players each team has, the Astros projected payroll is $139 mil and the Yankees are at $169 mil. Cashman figures to have around $25-30 mil more to work with to be able to stay under the cap.
    – The Astros travel schedule for April and May is brutal, especially in May, when they are back and forth and up and down across the country.
    -If what I read is true, Springer’s wedding is scheduled for January 20th.

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