The toughest personnel decision for the Astros


The financial decisions the Astros are facing have been coming for years. Blog founder Chip Bailey has hit on this theme a number of times, including this mid-2017 post….

And the financial problems he discussed back then did not include future Astros Justin Verlander ($33 MM for the next two seasons) and Zack Greinke (about $25 MM for the next two seasons).

With the team up against the luxury tax limit, there are a number of personnel decisions that could be nominated for the toughest the team faces. But here are a few possibilities:

  • Say “the heck with the tax” and re-sign Gerrit Cole. Yes, this would be a step the team has not taken under the current regime. The longest-term commitment they have made to a non-arb or non-pre-arb pitcher was the two year extension Verlander signed with one year to go on his contract. The contract cost would put them over the tax line, and in addition, they would be looking at a 7 or 8-year commitment to Cole.
  • Cut the cord with Carlos Correa. They could do nothing and control Correa for the next two seasons through arbitration before he is a free agent heading into the 2022 season. They could try to extend him right now when his worth, dampened by a lot of missed time the last three seasons (109, 110 and 75 games played) might be at its most reasonable. Or they could turn to other teams and dangle a 25 y.o. SS, who was Rookie of the Year, an All Star in their WS season and was headed towards the All Star game when his injuries curtailed him in 2019. Could they get a solid, controllable starting pitcher and a prospect or two for Correa?
  • Figure out what to do about George Springer. They have gotten Springer to accept a two-year contract to buy out a couple arbitration years. It is a good bet they tried to get him to accept a contract that would have also bought out a couple of free agent seasons too. Is there any chance of extending him this offseason, when he is one season away from free agency? Does he hold anything against the Astros for holding him in the minors for a year or more longer than they should have (based on performance)?  He is the heart and soul of the team it would seem along with Jose Altuve. He is one of the most key components to the offense as the most deadly lead-off man in the game. He is coming off his best, though abbreviated, season putting up great full season numbers (96 runs, 39 HRs, 96 RBIs) in only 122 games. He has consistently missed games throughout his career, playing only 140, 140 and 122 the last three seasons and 102 in 2015. Are they going to give him a long, huge contract now when there is no competition or wait until next off-season when they will be competing against the world?

So…

  1. Which is the toughest personnel decision facing the team of these three?
  2. How would you address these three situations?
  3. Is there a tougher personnel decision not mentioned here?
  4. How does the cloud over the team affect their ability to address these types of situations?

72 comments on “The toughest personnel decision for the Astros

  1. 1. To me, the easiest decision is the Cole decision. They can’t afford to sign him, period.
    The second easiest decision is the Correa decision. He won’t cost them a huge amount of money this season so keeping him does not affect the payroll much at all and we do not have a SS in the system to replace him at the moment.
    The hardest decision is Springer. We could afford to extend him because he would cost a lot in arbitration anyway, and from 2021 on we could afford to keep him. He seems like the guy that is the third core member I want to keep because the other two core guys we have tied up for years are infielders. We have Tucker to take Reddick or Brantley’s place even this season. But we have nobody to replace what Springer gives us.
    That’s my two cents on Question #1.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Any thoughts on buying out CC’s remaining two years of arbitration? If it looks like he’s worth keeping then we make a deal, if not trade him in 2021.
    Springer is the guy I want us to hold onto if at all possible.

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  3. 1. Too expensive. 2. Too stupid. 3. It takes two to tango, so too complicated. This is a good to great team for this year. This is also a team in flux in next two years.

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever got in business was “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

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  4. I’ve got no problem with the Astros ignoring the tax implications, but I really think some club will give him much more than is wise in the long run. I’m still bullish on Wheeler. He might be doable. And his 2019 stats mirror Coles 2017 figures.

    I don’t like that Correa plays only when he wants to. I don’t accept the degree of his injuries. But he’s remarkably valuable for the dollar. I think the Astros won close to 70% of the games he played in last year. Now if someone really wants the best SS in the game and is willing to pay a huge price, then it should be considered.

    I thought for a long time that a deal would get done with George. I don’t have the same confidence right now. I think he goes into 2020 planning on putting up big numbers over 150 games and then seeing what the market says.

    Saw another photo of Nephew today. Based on his physical appearance, the Dodgers must be pleased.

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  5. Sandra, to answer your question from above about Toro at 3B.
    I really like Toro as a player. He is a switch hitter who would make the All-star team if he faced only RH pitchers as a left handed batter, but he is lacking batting from the right side against LHP.
    He is an adequate third baseman with an above average arm but he is not as quick or instinctive at 3B as Bregman is and Bregman is not as good defensively at SS as Correa is.
    With those two things in mind, I would truly love to keep Bregman and Correa at their respective positions for the next two years of Correa’s control.
    Toro, in the meantime has come to the majors with some of the most underrated speed I have seen in a while. Let’s face it, his MLB grades give him a 60 arm(above average) and a 40 speed(below average), and we have seen him play now and that 40 speed is absolutely wrong. He’s a big switch hitter with at least average speed and an above average arm and a glove that is quick enough to play a decent 3B. That set of skills seems to make him a natural corner outfielder who absolutely has 1B/3b/2B as good backup positions.
    With the possibility of Reddick, Springer and Brantley all being free agents after this coming season, I love the idea of having the switch-hitting Toro as a corner outfielder for the Astros for years to come, paring him with Tucker at the corner OF positions.
    No matter where he plays, he needs to perform better at the plate from the right hand side. He needs to improve that.
    Since he was drafted, Toro has been a favorite of mine. But a BregmanCorrea combo on the left side of the infield is much better than a Toro/Bregman combo. I would love to see Toro in our outfield, if he can learn to play there, and I think he can.

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    • Here’s my ignorant question. Toro is a switch hitter hitting 273 against RH pitchers and 087 against LH pitching. If you’re that pathetic against LH pitchers as a RH batter just bat LH all the time. Could it get much worse than .087? I couldn’t seem to find his LH/RH splits in the minors so I don’t know the trend there.

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      • In the minors this year Toro was also better against RHP than LHP, but he wasn’t terrible against LHP (.250 BA, .333 OBP and .725 OPS) – it’s a small major league sample – let’s see how he does next time.

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      • It’s a legitimate question. He has been an average or below average hitter from both sides of the plate for much of his career. He exploded from the left side in the last year and got better from the right side, but not great.
        Against major league pitchers he held his own from the left side but not from the right side.
        Your suggestion to go to LH is a fair question, especially in light of how he looked as a RH batter in the majors. The question in my mind is how does he hit lefties as a lefty. If he can’t do that he becomes a platoon player and his usefulness decreases.
        The hope is that he hits righties well and improves against lefties from the right side before he stops switch hitting.
        Believe me, he’s working on his flaws every day in the offseason. You can count on it. As a major leaguer, I’m sure he has access to a lot of help he didn’t have in the minors.

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      • Just remember he only had 23 ABs in the majors from the right side and his babip (batting average for balls in play) from that side was an extremely unlucky .118, which meant he was making contact (only 6 Ks) but nothing was falling
        You would expect that to be better with a bigger sample

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks guys. I knew someone had the answer out there. You can always count on learning something on this blog. One of the many reasons I’m a follower.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. No one is arguing the fact that a Bregman / Correa infield is probably the best in MLB. But if Correa is only going to show up when he has nothing better to do than I’m ready to move on now.
    As for Cole. Love to have him back, but on the other hand, tying up that many millions for six or seven years would probably put us back in the basement.
    So adios Mr Cole.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Please remember (provided I can remember) that Toro was not on World Series Roster. So unless there is an injury, he appears to be either in the minors or a replacement for Diaz if the Astros move on from him.

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  8. Question 3 is the one I haven’t approached and it is the elephant in the room.
    How are the Astros going to field a team that will contend for a world championship, have a reasonable payroll and set themselves up for the future at the same time? That is the “personnel decision” asked about in question 3.
    As we sit right now, we have a contending team that is $30 million dollars over the luxury tax and needs a fifth starter and some relievers and stands to lose all three starting outfielders to free agency at the end of the year.
    How do you fix that?
    Well, you don’t fix that by keeping fringe players who bust the luxury tax ceiling. If you bust the luxury tax limit, you bust it with a top notch player who you can have on your team for years.
    So I non-tender Osuna, Sanchez, Biagini, Devenski, Peacock, Marisnick and Diaz and that knocks $29 million off my potential payroll and puts me under the luxury tax.
    Then I go back over the luxury tax limit by signing a damn good starting pitcher to a four year deal and that gets me my rotation and meets my criteria of breaking the luxury tax barrier with a player who is worth it.
    Then I shop Michael Brantley for pitching. His salary is higher than Reddick’s but he is desirable and will bring a return and get you back down to the luxury tax limit and you have Kyle Tucker, who the club has refused to trade when he was at a premium, to replace Brantley’s defense in the outfield and to put a potentially potent bat lower in the lineup.
    You replace Brantley’s bat near the top of the order with Alvarez’s bat, which the Astros did not have at the start of the season in 2019.
    Then you go at Springer by negotiating his 2020 salary at the projected arbitration levels, but then jacking up his next four or five years with a big figure he could live with. You are not worried about the luxury tax limits down the line because when the next CBA goes into effect after the 2021 season, that luxury tax limit, as we know it now, will be history.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thought I’d summarize separately:
      You lost your closer. I replace him with Pressly to start with and worry about something going wrong when it happens. We don’t have 22 pitchers on the 40-man roster for nothing. And the option for a deadline closer is there if needed.
      You lost some relievers, but your upper minors prospects and the returns from the Brantley trade fills the spots.
      You lost your #4 outfielder, but have Straw to replace him.
      You lost your backup infielder, but have Toro to replace him.
      You are thin at the outfield, but you locked up your CFer for years and there will be players available before the end of spring training to fill a gap.
      You are stuck with Reddick but were not going to be able to move him anyway and maybe he’s a better player in 2020 without a bum shoulder.
      You got your proven starter who will give you several years on his deal, while you continue to develop those minor league arms.
      The only starting position player you are missing is Brantley and you replaced the 33 year old starter with your 23-year old #1 prospect.

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      • I don’t have a problem with any of those scenario’s but a Brantley trade does give me pause for a couple of reasons. I’m not convinced Tucker is the answer. I’d rather not find that out after trading our left fielder. And as I said yesterday, I’m not sure if we are going to get a commitment from George at this point. If I’m George, I wait and see what happens with the mess we’re in. And then I
        might want to go out, have a big year and then sign a deal for much more than the Astros will be willing to pay.

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  9. No matter what happens with George he is going to get his arbitration figure this year, either through regular arbitration or through an extension at the same projected figure.
    What my plan does is get the Astros through this season, which is their luxury tax problem year and then gives Springer what he wants for the following years, when we don’t have a luxury tax problem.
    Tucker showed a heck of a lot more in 2019 than he did in 2018, both in the field and at the plate and he is still only 23. I think he deserves a chance to start. Look at that WAR, wRC+ and his regular numbers. Tucker had 5 stolen bases and 4 HRs in 22 games. He did in the majors what he did in AAA.
    Brantley had three SB and 22 HRs in 148 games. I love Brantley, but he gets you pitching and under the tax limit. I think Tucker is ready to take his place.
    Brantley also went through the entire year with no injuries and he may be due for another, with his history.

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    • 1OP, I’m still thinking the conservative route, which means trying to get 6 or 8 million of Reddick paid for. By all means, I want Tucker to finally get his first real shot at being a full time corner outfielder. Straw is my 4th guy out there. So we don’t save 16 in the outfield, but we do save 10 million or so assuming Jake goes too.

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    • Did not see where Brantley has a no trade deal so he is fair game. This definitely has possibilities if we can’t unload Reddick. I think it’s time for Tucker to play everyday to see what he can do. Same think with Jake. I see no reason that Straw can’t fill his shoes. He doesn’t have the power that Jake has but if you can get hits who cares. Much better than a big K in the box score.

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  10. As always, some thoughtful comments by op. I don’t see the Astros non-tendering guys that clearly have trade value at their estimated arbitration salaries. Certainly Osuna, Jake and Diaz would, maybe Peacock. Those guys can be signed and sent along in trades if that is the desire. There’s also the issue of catcher that needs to be addressed.

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    • It’s a heck of a question – remember that he has been very good to great but just like so many relievers blew a late lead in the playoffs. He would give the Astros that lefty we’ve never had. He would be coming to the AL where they don’t know him as well.
      For someone this good with this much control you would be talking 4 prospects in my mind with two being way up on your list.

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  11. Don’t forget, Hader has a bit of baggage too. I’m trying to think of who else the Brewers have that might take over his role. Why unload the best closer in the game, under team control until 24? Sure prospects, but I don’t think Milwaukee going into re-tool mode. They sure do need some traditional starting pitching though.

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  12. How do you field a world series championship contender without Gerrit Cole? It’s pretty easy – you send the guys currently under control to Spring Training next season and just hope there aren’t any major injuries. Cole was fantastic, but a healthy Houston lineup should win 90 games without breaking a sweat regardless which pitcher(s) from our system we promote to take his place. If they don’t then you have your answer on paying Correa, Springer, and friends in the future. I’d include Altuve and Bregman, but they’re on the books and going to get paid.

    As to your questions:
    1. You offer Cole a competitive contract you’re comfortable with for 2021 and beyond. You make sure the offer is loud and public. The ball is then in his court. If he accepts, you have the best rotation in baseball (again) to go with the best lineup in baseball. If your team stays healthy and fails to win 110 games you ask serious questions about the approach and execution. If he leaves, you did your part. You take the 2020 luxary tax hit and then move on. The increased 2019 revenue, WS gate, and merch pay for it without problem. The draft picks lost and international money were lottery tickets anyhow.

    2. You don’t punt on Correa unless he tells you he wants out, someone makes an offer you can’t refuse, or he rips off a mask like in Scooby Doo and reveals he’s really been Roughned Odor this whole time. Even playing half a season he’s one of the top 5 shortstops in baseball. I know the blog loves Bregman and his posing for the camera, but there is no reason to force him to replace Correa.

    3. When the Astros drafted George Springer I was greatly disappointed. I don’t recall who it was I wanted at the time, but they picked this skinny CF from a conference that doesn’t even play baseball … what were they thinking? Well Bobby Heck sure knows what he was doing and deserves a lot of credit for falling in love with the kid. He’s been fantastic and given maximum effort. You can tell when he doesn’t come through it hurts him more than anyone. His performance with one arm in the playoffs in 2015, amazing redemption in the 2017 WS, and play since has been legendary. I know he’s getting older and his stats will fall off long before a long term contract would complete…but to steal from Seinfeld, I don’t just root for the laundry. Regardless, he’s in the same boat as the first two guys. If he wants to leave the city he will. If he wants to stay I hope they make him an offer that might get it done.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. The deadline for tendering folks eligible for arbitration is at 7 PM central time tonight. There have been some deals done already today for teams/players trying to avoid arbitration – no Astros to this point.

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      • If hypothetically word is out that other clubs don’t want to deal with the Astros and FA’s are not showing an interest in coming this way, that might help explain why Sanchez was the only non tender. Things could be worse. I’ve got to figure we’ll be resigning a couple or three guys. We’ll have a pretty good team even if blacklisted.

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      • I don’t think there are too many teams that would say “we’re not doing business with the Astros because they are cheaters”. If we have what they need or want and there is a mutual benefit I’m pretty sure we’ll see some deals made.

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  14. Some familiar names non-tendered by other teams. A’s Phegley & Treinen (Who could only pitch well against the Astros), Domingo Santana, James Hoyt, Addison Russell & CJ Chron. None that I have followed closely.

    But I don’t understand the Brewers. They made the wild card, won 89. Outdrew the Astros, Have an estimated payroll of $ 58 million, and non-tendered 5 and appear to be shopping Hader. Plus they lost Grandal and Moustakas to free agency.

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    • They have been lousy at drafting and developing their own players. They depend on other teams and free agency to supply them players.

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      • Biagini was a solid reliever with the Blue Jays in 2019 before the trade. 3-1, 3.79 ERA, 1 save in 50 innings. What we don’t know is ….did they try and get him to “change” what he was doing when he came over and he just had trouble adjusting on the fly. Maybe he needed more time to change the way he was pitching than other folks they have picked up along the way.
        Or……he choked being put into meaningful games.

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  15. I think it’s more a case of having enough choices to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.
    Roadkiller said it best yesterday when he said the Astros are not in the habit of just letting guys walk. They want to use them or get something for them in trade.

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  16. well i hit em all on the tender or non tender post, (sanchez was projected to be out till mid season), so ill throw in my guesses on this post.
    i would love to have cole back, and if it was gonna put us just some over the tax threshold i think he would be back, but his signing would put us WAY over. so it wont happened. (one caveat – it would put us WAY over THIS year, in coming years not has bad as we drop alot of payroll, so still a slight hope)
    there aint no cutting the cord with correa, he will be here as long as they can figure a way to keep him.
    springer is a tough one. i want him here as long as the situation fits. but he will be 31 during next season. a long term (5,6,7 years) gigantic contract could possibly backfire. i got one word for you, pujols. those big contracts can look great in the beginning and disastrous towards the end. i’d say 3-4 more years at most.
    toughest of these three? cole followed closely by springer
    how would i address these decisions? if i could find a way to sign cole i would, albeit highly unlikely. there is no decision with correa, he stays put. i would try to resign springer, but not beyond another 3-4 years.
    is there a tougher decision? yes, how do we keep daveb off of correa’s case? (tongue in cheek daveb)
    how does this cloud ….. i dont see a cloud. i dont see any evidence. i dont think it has much affect at all with the players in the league. this will come and go, much like the osuna signing.

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  17. it wouldnt surprise me too much to see the astros try to sign sanchez to a team friendly deal. and it wouldnt surprise me too much to see domingo santana’s name come up as a team friendly FA target.

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    • Sanchez I could see, certainly if the team thinks they can reinvent him once healthy. But as much as I’ve always liked Domingo, he just has a hard time putting a whole season together and remains a defensive liability and sure does strike out more than our club prefers.

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  18. Some observations:
    -I looked on Cots, Spotrac and Roster Resource this morning and after the tenders they all agree that the Astros have the highest payroll and the highest luxury tax payroll in MLB.
    -The Astros have three guys who either currently or prospectively plug in as a #4 outfielder candidate: Marisnick, Straw and Chas McCormick who is in AAA and has only 1 error in three years of minor league ball and has struck out fewer times than he has walked during that time.

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    • I’ve been a big fan of McCormick since he was told he’d be drafted by the Astros in 2016 from tiny Millersville, PA. He had to wait another year before Houston pulled the trigger in the 21st round. Spencer wrote a good article about him earlier this year (if I can post here?)

      https://www.crawfishboxes.com/2019/5/12/18616833/catching-up-with-chas-mccormick

      Chas might get a call-up next season, but Jacob Meyers and Alex McKenna are probably higher ceilings in 2021. Another guy I like is Chandler Taylor over the other two 10th rounders (Stevenson, Adolph). The real question is Ronnie Dawson. He played poorly in CC, but acquitted himself nicely in the AAA playoffs upon his promotion. Count me as a non-believer there.

      Regarding the tax, I believe the Astros will trade Reddick, and look for other means of shedding salary. The Biagini tender has me very confused. It’s a slap in the face to half a dozen prospects, for example. The only thing I can think of is the Astros are trying to prevent any others from “ratting out” trade secrets during the investigation. We will probably try to re-sign Sanchez at an equitable rate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, Grayson – I think they see the lesser tenders (like Biagini) as coins that they can move for something if the time comes. In the world of major league baseball – $1 million is not that far over the minimum – so it is minimum risk.

        Liked by 2 people

      • What you see from that article is why I highlighted him as a future #4 outfielder. He can really run, doesn’t strike out and plays all three outfield positions.
        By the way, notice who the SS is for the CC Hooks in that first highlight video. Yep, by far the best SS in AA ball. #1.

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      • Hey, Dan. Bet you’re loving those Texans these days!

        I suppose I agree with you about Biagini as a lesser financial risk, I just don’t think he’s any good at all. He did abandon the sinker (like so many of Strom’s converts), but I can’t imagine the Astros think that was why he got hit hard.

        If it impedes “progress” of guys who should pitch in HOU next season eventually; Javier, Ivey, Bielak, Framber, Martes, Conine, Luis H. Garcia, Jojanse Torres, Yohan Ramirez, Bailey, Nivaldo, Rivera, Cionel, etc., it’s a poor decision. And especially if The Genie cannot be traded, which I predict will equate to a Tyler White-type of exchange.

        I woke up with this news about the same way I felt about the JD Davis return last off season. Not quite as vehemently opposed, but still very confusing to me. I can’t be too upset about a 26th man in this case though. Ah, think I found the answer. Biagini has an option.

        Liked by 1 person

      • And, if I’m not mistaken, I think Sanchez admitted that his shoulder was hurting before the trade. If that is truly the case, I believe Sanchez is off the Astros radar.

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    • just to be clear the cloud i was speaking to was the sign stealing deal. salary cap is a problem for sure. but it can be worked around with a trade or two or maybe crane just says the heck with it and pays it this year. we have alot of salary coming off in the next few years so its most likely not a long term problem.

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      • In my mind I see Luhnow talking to Crane – “Jim, if you forget about the luxury tax for one season, I promise to give you a World Series win without cheating….”

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      • ah dan, but DID they cheat? i have seen no evidence, only talk. when they show something concrete ill say bad bad bad on us. but it needs to be concrete evidence of electronic and/or camera use. just stealing signs using your baseball acumen and guile has been going on since the early days of baseball. if you are careless enough to tip pitches or give away signs, thats on you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just a reminder that Dan’s musings on a conversation between Crane and Luhnow are a parody of what really happened and should not be construed as either evidence towards impeachment or evidence of cheating by the Astros…..

        Liked by 1 person

    • Good write-up.
      Never been as big a fan of the Texans, than the Oilers. One reason is that twice I’ve been to see the Texans get beat by the Pats, literally snatched out of thin air. One year we were up by 7, ball on our goal line with a few minutes left. Carr throws an INT for TD, and we managed to lose on last second FG. Too frustrating to get invested. Good win yesterday, though!

      To answer OP about Correa, even so, I’m pretty excited about 2021 at SS with Pena, Nova, Straw, Bregman combos. I think we’ll trade Correa when/if we surmise we’re going to lose him. Just a gut feeling.

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      • Yes, the Oilers did. After 1992, I started guarding my heart a little more Ha! Five years later, Bud Adams’ greed took over. The Mike Renfro Catch was the officials’ fault.

        Maybe the Texans will threaten a world championship in a way the Oilers never did?

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  19. There were 56 non-tenders. I see people suggesting they try to bring back Aaron Sanchez, but I don’t understand why. We can get the same production out of a $450k player from our minor leagues. I’d be more interested in Gausman or Taijun Walker. The former just had an awful 2019 and the latter was hurt. I’d feel a lot better paying either of them than Jake Marisnick, Devo, or Osuna.

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    • Devin, obscure question going back several years? Thought of your comment this morning in reviewing Baseball America’s article on Astros International signing this past year for some reason.

      If you recall, were you lamenting that Rob Manfred drug his feet *for over a year*, when he handed down the Cardinals punishment. As it were, we drafted #56 Corbin Martin and#75 JJ Matijevic with those picks, but were you thinking that had he made the decision a full year before, we would have had #23, and #33 in 2016? For some reason, I was thinking you wrote we should have had the #19 pick afforded the Cardinals in 2018, but that only came as a result the Cubs offered Fowler a QO.

      Anyway, it’s interesting looking back how it turned out.

      As for pitching options, I agree we can do better than Sanchez. It always pains me, though when we get beat so badly in trades. Not that Derek Fisher was ever going to have a home here, but there’s
      Laureano for Bailey
      Davis for “prospects”
      Villar for Sneed
      Morgan
      Cuellar
      Wynn
      Staub

      Winning trades
      Verlander
      Cole
      Greinke?

      I’m ready to trade Osuna, personally. Much as I think he’s kept his nose clean, the Astros have failed to avoid the major PR black eye. What are your thoughts, Chippies/Dansters?

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  20. I thought non-tendering Osuna was a possibility, so I think trading him might be a possibility, except… if he gets around $10 million in arbitration as has been predicted I think you would have to package some $$ with him or just take pennies on the dollar

    I like the Ryan Pressly trade as one of the winning ones….

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    • I read somewhere in that Pressly trade that Fangraphs ran an article pointing out Ryan’s elite spin rates, and how the Twins had not been able to exploit it. We had a trade in place with only Quiala, but when that article was published we had to add Celestino. It still turned out really well, true.

      Some think Pressly should be next year’s Closer. Seems like we have a long way to go, though, to see what prospects will come to roost.

      Like

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