The Astros entered a brand new phase in this off-season, something this particular front office had not had to face since taking over in Houston.
Major Losses in the front office
After a few nips and tucks over the last few years (like David Stearns going to Milwaukee), this off-season brought a major overhaul as long time right and left-hand men to Jeff Luhnow, Sig Mejdal and Mike Elias, headed off to do a re-build in Baltimore as Assistant GM and GM respectively. A smart guy like Luhnow no doubt has had replacements lined up for Mejdal and Elias, but whoever takes their place will not have all the experience and the years of interface with Luhnow that these two men have. This will be a test whether “The Process” can work as efficiently without their presence.
Losing Valued Free Agents
Before this off-season, who was the best Free Agent that this particular Front Office let walk away since they took over. Mike Fiers? Jason Castro? Pat Neshek? Luke Gregerson? Colby Rasmus? Certainly, these players have had some value after they left, but it would be fairly truthful that up to this season, the team has not really lost any players it really wanted back badly. This season it could be argued that they have lost 3 players they really would have liked back, but thought they would be too expensive to bring back. We know they had tried to extend Dallas Keuchel previously and did extend a qualifying offer to him. Marwin Gonzalez brought a lot of flexibility and value to the team. Charlie Morton was one of their greatest reclamation projects (along with Collin McHugh) and they would have liked him back. But they did not win Morton back, have more or less replaced Marwin and are not likely in the lottery for DK.
This Front Office does not let its heartstrings distract it from its ultimate goal of global domination (in a baseball sense). They lost short term but probably win long term.
Big Arbitration Year
All teams have to face some kind of arbitration decisions each year, but rarely does a team have ten such players at one time. The Astros have come to terms with seven of the individuals, Will Harris, Jake Marisnick, Ryan Pressly, McHugh, Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock and Roberto Osuna. They will attempt to come to an agreement with Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole and Chris Devenski before having to face them in arbitration.
Yesterday, a friend of the blog, Zanuda, wondered if that not agreeing with Cole, Correa and Devo signalled the team would probably lose them eventually to Free Agency. Possibly, because we know that Cole and Correa belong to Scott Boras, who will undoubtedly want to squeeze more juice out of the turnip than this F.O. may think they are worth.
The big elephant in the room that bloggers and fans are talking about, but that the team has not mentioned publicly is potential future losses for the team. They could easily lose 3/5 of their rotation at the end of the season, McHugh, Cole and Justin Verlander. George Springer is under control for two years as is Brad Peacock. Could they try to extend a Correa beyond his three seasons, or attempt to extend (probably unsuccessfully) anyone who is coming off in the next couple years? It would not surprise anyone if the Astros fill in the 2 spots behind the top three with youth to know what they will have after this season.
After having a rock bottom payroll between 2012 and 2015 and not getting above league average (according to Spotrac.com) until 2018, the team is facing a season where there have been murmurings about teasing the $206 million threshold for the luxury tax as a team. Unless the Astros unexpectedly sign a Bryce Harper in the off-season, they won’t get there, but the much bigger payrolls they have been seeing lately also lead to more expectations and possibly more pressure on the front office.
However, this is a front office that has shown ice water in their veins when it comes to player value. The only real extended contract they have handed out was to their very best player, Jose Altuve. Now would they have given him that same contract if he was 32 years old? Probably not.
Bottom line, the Astros front office tore down a rotting structure down to its foundation when they took over in the off-season of 2011. They built a team that has been one of the best in the majors the last two seasons. The challenge at this point is sustainability, something that Luhnow’s former team the Cardinals has been adept at providing. Can he do the same here with the Astros? It would be foolish to vote against him.