Astros 2019: Mid-winter thoughts


Halfway or so through this off-season, here are a string of thoughts about the Houston Astros…

  • The Astros’ world is so different from where they were just three or four seasons ago. The Astros could have made NO moves this off-season and still have had a competitive team in 2019. And by competitive, that means the favorite to win the AL West. Moves they make this off-season are with the World Series in mind and/or the future sustainability of the club.
  • Based purely on the 2018 regular season, the Astros needs entering the off-season would be most offensive. They were the best offense in the majors in 2017, but were a big notch down in 2018, sliding down from a robust 5.53 runs/game to an above average 4.92 runs/game. This was not a bad offense, but at times they looked that way in comparison to the very best pitching staff in the majors that the Astros sported in 2018.
  • On the other hand, the after season losses pointed more to a need for the replacement of starting pitching. They did lose Evan Gattis, but he basically had lost his DH spot to Tyler White towards the end of 2018. They had lost Martin Maldonado and Brian McCann, but they were negatives as far as the offense went. The loss of Marwin Gonzalez is more of a loss of flexibility than of offense as Marwin was back to career norms last year. But they lost Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, who would be at least #2’s in most rotations in the majors and that is the big hole they need to fill for 2019.
  • The Astros off-season to this point has been fairly painless so far and fairly solid. They picked up an All-Star LF in Michael Brantley and a probable starting or backup catcher in Robinson Chirinos just by signing them as free agents. They added Marwin-lite in Aledmys Diaz by trading Trent Thornton a pitcher they might have lost in the Rule 5 draft if he had stayed in the organization.
  • There is more likely some pain coming if some of the proposed moves come to pass. Trades for Catcher J.T. Realmuto, or pitchers like Seth Lugo or Robbie Ray or Corey Kluber or others would cost the team some prospects, perhaps really highly rated prospects in Realmuto’s or Kluber’s cases. Some of the free agents lying around like C Yasmani Grandal or RP Zach Britton could cost a pretty penny and a bunch of years. If history is any guide, Jeff Luhnow will not overcommit prospects or dollars/years above what he sees as the true value of folks out there.
  • The Astros fell just short of the 3 million mark in attendance last season and have not topped that number since they did it in two non-playoff seasons (2006 and 2007). In general, attendance around the majors has seen a dip as people find more and different ways to see the game when and where they want and frankly without incurring the high cost to see one of 81 not always thrilling home games. Will the Astros nudge over that mark this season? Yes, they are likely to do that unless they flop on their faces in 2019.

Any thoughts on your minds?

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33 comments on “Astros 2019: Mid-winter thoughts

  1. As always, you have covered the waterfront well, Dan. Since we rarely get much of a glimpse into the inner working of the Front Office, I wonder how all the losses of personnel are impacting the processes for identifying and developing talent. Are we seeing the effects this winter? Will they appear in the next draft? Maybe no significant effect at all. It’s just very hard to say with this FO. But as you note, they have made some moves already that should strengthen the team. If they make no other moves I would conclude they are upbeat on our young pitchers, and also confident that improved performance from the offense is expected.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A friend and I were discussing the off season this morning and my overall take is that Luhnow is doing a pretty good job. I know there was a lot of speculation around Nelson Cruz and now perhaps Edwin Encarnacion. I think White is going to get his chance in the first half. If he does well we get a lot of production for little $$$. If he falls on his face and it looks like we need a DH I expect both Cruz and Encarnacion will be available and perhaps others.
    One thing that is probably impacting Luhnow’s thinking is that the division is going to be pretty weak. Seattle will be much weaker, The A’s still don’t have any starting pitching, the Rangers will remain woeful and even though the Angels might be better since Mike Sciosa went away their pitching is still pretty miserable and the albatross of Pujol’s contract still weighs them down. I also think that Trout is going to be hard to extend which may make them desperate enough to eventually trade him this year. This is going to allow the FO to take longer looks at our in-house options and since those options are pretty good I’m feeling fairly confident. Barring a catastrophic injury issue we should win 100 games again and if the offense reawakens we might even surpass this year’s 103. (BTW, I think that 103 win total was a result of the plethora of lousy teams in the league and not our own excellence. If the 2017 team had played against 2018 competition they probably would have won 103+++.)

    I’m torn on Realmuto. I really don’t have a big problem with trading Tucker but getting only two years of Realmuto seems like a bad bargain. I’m not thrilled with Chirinos but I guess he’s serviceable and probably overall an upgrade over Maldonado. But if catcher is the only weak link offensively instead of catcher, DH, SS, and LF like 2018 we ought to be pretty well off.

    Finally, Happy New Year to all of you and thanks for your prayers on behalf of my physical ailments this past year. I now have a new hip, a cancer free prostate and a healthy heart. I’m ready for some heart pounding baseball in 2019.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Glad to hear from you Dr. Bill – missed hearing from you lately and roadthriller you are always welcome.

      RT – you point out that we don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to the front office. Really would be interesting to see how much the brain drain starting with David Stearns through Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran and Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal has changed the way they do business.

      Dr. Bill – you are right on – W-L record is as dependent on the competition as it is on the strength of the club.

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  3. I suspect the Astros numbers crunchers have long since discarded the old school “wisdom” of the need for LH relievers. They know we have guys in the pen that can get lefties out and that’s what matters.

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  4. McTaggart was asked about the Astros front office and he said the Astros were prepared for the losses and he mentioned Taubman specifically as a big part of the Astros going forward. I think the Astros had their front office guys replaced before they left.
    The Astros are so disciplined about value, they absolutely will not compromise value. When they see a deal that fits, they strike and when it doesn’t, they walk or start over. I think the Marlins know that the Astros will deliver value for Realmuto. The Marlins are hoping that somebody else will overpay for him.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Brandon Taubman is a friend of mine, and he has been under Luhnow’s wing for several years. He’s a sharp kid who has a great baseball mind. He grew up in New York being a Yankees fan. I’ve teased him about the way we feel about the Yankees here in Texas! I have a lot of faith in his helping the Astros get where they need to be now, and for a long time to come. He’s my son’s age 35, and lives in the Heights.

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  5. Good catching is so valuable and always such a scarce commodity, but I see very little evidence of emphasis on catcher selection/development, by the Astros or really any other team. Seems like an organization could really create value by always having 3 or 4 solid catching prospects in the system. Maybe the first step is persuading kids to play catcher, but I think it could be sold as perhaps the easiest path to MLB, in terms of competition. Plus, good catchers are almost guaranteed a career as managers or coaches after their playing days.

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  6. Funny how we thought we needed much more than we really do! We need three things….actually more like 4-5!
    1. Another starter…..and maybe 2 starters.
    2. A catcher….Chirinos is not the solution I have no idea why they signed him.
    3. A “DH” I don’t know if they REALLY think Tyler White can be the one, so as a fall back I think Luhnow will look around and either trade for or sign a free agent DH.
    If we look around this team is intact, only one I think we will really miss is Marwin, and I for one will be sad if he signs with an American league team that we will play a lot. I know it’s comforting for Verlander and Cole to know they have the best defense playing behind them, and the best offense when they take the mound.
    Drbill14…you had the *BEST. NEWS. EVER*.!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just a thought on why the Astros signed Chirinos. First, he was returning from an injury to start the season (wrist injury I believe) and it looks like his offensive woes in the first half may have been attributed to this. He had a 114 wRC+ in the 2nd half and I am guessing the Astros are banking more on this Chirinos than 1st half Chirinos. Also, he is a pull hitter with flyball tendencies so he is built to hit at MMP. Finally, although he only threw out 10% of attempted basestealers last year, his career is around 25% and Jeff Banister attributed his problems last year more with the Rangers pitchers inability to hold runners well. Chirinos is not a difference maker, but I expect him to upgrade the position from 2018.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You know, when you look at what appears to be available, maybe Luhnow thinks we already have the people that are BETTER on the team. Not saying he will not sign anyone else, just saying he may not have a pat hand, but he is reluctant to discard.

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  8. It is my opinion that the team still needs:

    1. A mid- to back of the rotation starter that can get 20-25 starts, eat some innings and pitch to a sub- 4.00 ERA. I think the young arms can give a lot off effective innings and we need to give them every opportunity to show their stuff before we deal with JV and GC in free agency next year. We really need 2-3 internal options to emerge this season, but we need to build them up and not have them totally gassed come playoff time.

    2. A front- line catcher. I’m worried about Chirinos’ defense, arm and blocking skills. Our entire staff relies on the 59.5′ breaking ball in the dirt to get empty swings after setting up a hitter with heat. If that pitch is taken away, and if runners get a free base off staff ERA will increase. I’m hoping either Stassi or Stubbs step up big time and we don’t have to spend big $$$ or big talent to fill the need. I’m OK with waiting until the trade deadline to see what we really need. Grandal would be a nice fit, but if he really turned down 4/60 from the Mets he is not even an option. JT would be nice, but not at the expense of Whitley, Tucker or Martin.

    I think White can handle the DH and Brantley can provide depth if/ when needed. I just don’t see spending any big money on another bat when it is not sure where ABs will come from.

    My biggest concern is Yuli. Will we get a full- season of production or is age catching up and we see decline. Can he hold up for 150+ starts at 1st? White could shift over to 1st if he falls off or needs rest and Brantley/ Yuli could share some DH ABs. We could look for another bat at the deadline if its a concern.

    This team is very deep as it currently sits; deeper and better than 2018 in every area except pitching and Marwin type flexibility at utility. If Correa hits like a middle of the order bat and we stay healthy we will be a favorite again in 2019.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point on the need for the catchers to be good at blocking the breaking balls. Maldonado fell down in the playoffs doing this and it hurt the team.

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      • Dan, I always thought Maldonado’s problems with passed balls against the Red Sox was because he couldn’t keep up with all the radical sign changes. The Astros were changing signs every time runners got to second and he seem to not know what pitch was coming.

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      • I tend to agree 1OP. I felt the same about Grandal in the NLDS. I know that sign stealing is an art and is very real, but sometimes I wonder if being so overly paranoid and running through multiple signs over and over isn’t more damaging than having a sign stolen every now and then. The Red Sox just got in our heads.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It seemed to me that Martinez wasn’t very quick. He also had some shoulder high pitches sail by him, which is surprising when you call a fastball, you know a FB is coming, and it sails by your shoulder. I know the numbers pre-Astros suggest differently, but I don’t have any confidence in him catching hard throwing pitchers, and our staff is full of them.

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  9. HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE🍾🍸💥🎉🎊
    I *love* January 1 !!!! A brand new year….A brand new baseball season!!⚾
    Spring training starts February 21st! YAAAAAAA-HOOOOO!

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  10. My favorite day of the baseball offseason is the day after the Super Bowl. This way I don’t have to hear anymore silly football talk and most of the talk is back to baseball. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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