This happens every year. After running hard for six months of the regular season and if your team is lucky, another month of the postseason it all grinds to a halt. There are some decisions made about the roster, qualifying offers and 40-man shuffling, but what all fans want to know is slowly revealed like a vaudevillian strip show.
What will my team look like next season?
Last off-season large asking prices and front offices waiting things out led to a very slow rolling Tepid Stove League. The Astros made their moves about as early as anybody as they signed Joe Smith last Dec. 13, Hector Rondon on Dec. 15 and made the big move to pick up Gerrit Cole on January 13.
If Jeff Luhnow’s history is a window to the future, he will go do what he needs to do on his own timetable and it will not always be moves the fans foresaw.
So what questions do the fans want answered in this off-season?
- Who fills in those three open starting spots left by the Tommy John surgery to Lance McCullers Jr. and to not re-signing free agents Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton?
It is a pretty good bet that Luhnow is trying to trade for someone with 2 to 3 years of control right now. He is probably not going to try to outbid the world for Patrick Corbin or Nathan Eovaldi (Or Morton or Keuchel). He will be out there looking to see if he can pry away a James Paxton or a Corey Kluber or someone not on the radar with a nice package of prospects. Failing in that he can fill in from such internal names as Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, Josh James, Framber Valdez or whichever AAA pitchers are put on the 40-man in the next couple days.
- Are we going to war with Max Stassi and Chris Hermann behind the plate?
The J.T. Realmuto rumors run high on the radar. Can the front office do what they did with both the Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole trades and pick up a big puzzle piece without touching Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker? If not Realmuto will they pursue a catching free agent like Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos? Or is Garrett Stubbs (.310 BA/.836 OPS at AAA) ready to step up in 2019?
- How will the Astros fill in for the human Swiss Army Knife, Marwin Gonzalez?
A chunk of the answer to this question may have been answered over the weekend as the Astros traded AAA pitcher Trent Thornton for Blue Jay Aledmys Diaz. Diaz has played mostly 3B and SS, but has at least a little experience in LF and at 2B and brings a decent bat with solid power. It would seem that Diaz might get a lot more time in LF and then subbing around the infield or DH’ing in the coming season.
- Will the Astros go out and get a big bat to add to the mix?
The Astros offense was the big problem last season. Would they try to grab a Nelson Cruz or a Josh Donaldson? Or might a left-handed Michael Brantley be a better fit for them? Or as often happens will they trade for someone who is available from a rebuilding team? Or….will they give Kyle Tucker the job and write off his terrible 2018 debut as similar to what George Springer and Alex Bregman put up when they first appeared on the scene?
- In a subset of the previous question…. are the Astros handing the DH job to Tyler White?
He certainly was a much more consistent hitter than the man he replaced, Evan Gattis. But the Astros have turned their back on White a number of times during his career. Will they do it again?
- Will the Astros extend anyone this off-season?
With the types of money and years being thrown around to FAs, would a George Springer, Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander or even a Ryan Pressly sign a preemptive extension? Only if they are not listening to their agents. How about Alex Bregman?
- If the Astros have to fill in so many spots in the rotation, do they need to chase more relief help?
It would help to know if they can get multi-inning specialist Chris Devenski to perform like 2016 and 2017 again. But if say they fill Tony Sipp‘s spot with Framber Valdez, will they have Josh James fill in behind Peacock and/or McHugh? Do they pick up a hidden gem in a trade like they did with Ryan Pressly? Do they bring up another youngster like Rogelio Armenteros?
- Who will be the new hitting coach(es)?
Both assistant hitting coach Jeff Albert and hitting coach Dave Hudgens have moved on to promotions elsewhere in the last few weeks. Fans have wondered and grumbled about whether the Astros hitting success in 2017 belonged to long gone Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora and their 2018 failures belonged to Hudgens. Chances are the answer is not quite that simple, but these will be interesting hirings/promotions to watch.
So, what are you waiting to find out this off-season?