For some of the Astros, the 60-game regular season in 2020 is not that important to their career arc. Main players like Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Zack Greinke, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly are established major leaguers who are signed beyond 2020 and really have nothing to prove. Yes, they want to continue to perform well, but if they have a hiccup in 2020s shortened season it won’t affect how much money they make in 2021 (and for some beyond that) and will be looked on as an anomaly of a small sample.
But for other Astros, this 60 games can mean a lot to them in future earnings, a future secured spot on a team and even can affect whether their career continues. Let’s look at some of the folks who may be most affected by these 60 games.
Free Agents After 2020 – Note these are the potential FAs with the most to gain or lose
George Springer. In these days of high unemployment and general financial angst, it is tough to feel sorry financially for someone who has earned about $29 million in his career entering 2020. But the way the Astros delayed Springer coming up when they stunk, meant he is hitting free agency at the worst possible time with the teams dealing with the financial hit of COVID and with Springer hitting 31 y.o. this fall. After a tremendous (but shortened) 2019 for George, it feels like 2020 can only work to lessen his eventual contract. He will still make more money per game than most people do in a year, but he needs to stay healthy and produce to get close to what the market would have given him as a FA heading into 2020.
Michael Brantley. Just a guess here, but chances are that of all the folks mentioned here, Brantley’s 2020 may not have much effect on his FA value. He is a fairly well-known commodity as a top-flight professional hitter. His game does not rely as much on athleticism as someone like George Springer. And the most important number for him is that he turns 34 in May of 2021. His key is to stay healthy and not let former injury woes become current ones in the minds of potential suitors.
Josh Reddick. Reddick has given the Astros excellent production in 2017, poor production in 2018 and below average (possibly due to injury) in 2019. He hustles and plays above-average defense in right and left field. And he turns 34 next February. At this point, he knows he will likely not play in Houston next season and that he won’t be making $13MM a year anymore. If he continues to struggle offensively in the next 60 games he will likely be offered a 4th OF type spot somewhere or possibly nowhere.
Yuli Gurriel. The Gurriel situation is just so odd. The Astros reworked his contract so he would not be eligible for arbitration for 2021 and 2022 and becomes an FA after 2020. He then put up his very best offensive season after a slow start with a .298 BA/ .884 OPS/ 31 HRs/ 104 RBIs in 2019. Yes, he is going to be a 33 y.o. 1B when 2021 comes around and the free agent market has not been kind to aging corner IFs, but unless he suddenly falls off a cliff, he is a very good hitter and due to the years spent in Cuba playing short seasons, he has a lot less mileage on his body than younger men. If he continues to rake in 2020 as he did the last 4 months of 2019, someone (including the Astros) will offer him decent two-year or three-year contract.
Brad Peacock. The last three seasons Peacock has been the pitching equivalent of Marwin Gonzalez. He started 37 times. He pitched in relief 81 times. Heck, he even saved 3 games. He has been a good soldier normally pitching well until shoulder problems slowed him down in 2019. He is likely only going to be used out of the bullpen in 2020 and if he pitches like he did in 2017 and 2018, he will be on a number of teams dance card heading to 2021. If he has injury problems, his choices may be limited next off-season.
Something to Prove or to Gain
These are players, who are not going to be FAs after 2020 but have a lot to prove or gain in these 60 games.
Carlos Correa. It would be ironic if Correa proves his durability by staying healthy during the shortest MLB season ever, but for him, it is a critical factor. By almost any standards, Correa was an offensive juggernaut in 2019……when healthy. Ah, there’s the rub. He only played 75 games. If you project his totals to a very reasonable 150 games he would have been at 42 HRs and 118 RBIs in 2019. Correa will be making approx. $3 MM in 2020 with his prorated salary for 60 games. Playing well and fully could earn him a lot of money in arbitration and in a potential extension. Missing time – again – could keep him limping along financially far below what his talent should be pulling in.
Lance McCullers Jr. If you were going to map out a return to action after Tommy John surgery for Mr. McCullers, the current plan would seem to be almost ideal for him. It will be more than a year and eight months since his surgery. It is likely that he, like all the other pitchers, will not go too deep into games starting out. And he is only going to have in the area of 10 to 12 regular season starts. For someone who has pitched well for the Astros but never more than 128 IP in any one season, this may be an ideal way to return. And it is critical that he has a positive season because when he gets done with 2020 he will be only one season shy of free agency.
Roberto Osuna. Even though he has a clean slate with the Astros, his presence (and the way the Astros front office mismanaged it) is a PR disaster waiting to get worse. He has one more arbitration session ahead of him and a pro-rated salary of his $10MM arbitration figure this season (a little under $4MM) is coming to him. He has to show he is a good closer when things get a little twitchy and tight in the pennant race and the playoffs or the team might look elsewhere (Ryan Pressly? Josh James? Bryan Abreu?) for its closer.
Jose Urquidy, Josh James, Austin Pruitt, Bryan Abreu, Framber Valdez, Forrest Whitley and a cast of thousands. This 60 game season is a live audition for any pitcher who wants to be a big part of the Astros future. By the end of 2021, barring extensions, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr. Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Chris Devenski, and Joe Smith could all be gone, along with Brad Peacock, who could be gone after 2020. Young, cheap, good arms could easily snag starting spots and high leverage bullpen slots with a good performance in this short season. This may be the most intriguing part of this highly unique (and we hope) one of a kind season.
There you have it. One person’s opinion on the Astro players with the most to gain or lose in 2020. What do you think?