Astros 2021: 10 most critical items for success

Right now we really don’t know what 2021 will bring after a 2020 that brought us tremendous pain in and out of the sports world. Will a vaccine knock COVID down from a pandemic to an annoying flu status? Will herd immunity bring us to a point where enough of us have antibodies that it just won’t spread?

But really what we want to know is when will life be normal again? When can we leave the house without thinking about masks and gloves? When can we stand near people, give them hugs when they need it, shake their hand without thinking we are some kind of carrier?

And for us fanatics that need baseball to forget about everything else, will we have a normal 162 game season?

We certainly don’t know that and probably won’t know until the spring.

But what we do know is that our team, the Astros, need to either improve or hold on to what they have got in a number of areas. Here is one writer’s top 10 items for Astros’ success.

  1. GM James Click makes the team his own. Last season was such a weird time and the Astros suffered enough losses to try Job, so there was no real heat on Click or any real expectations as the team was in survival mode. This year, he will be closely watched in how he fills the OF spots, how he pursues possible extensions with players like Carlos Correa, how he handles the injuries and regression that may occur along the way.
  2. You need three to play. The biggest hole to fill for this team is the outfield, where three of the top 4 OFs, George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick are all free agents. Will they re-sign Springer or Brantley (not likely to sign both or Reddick at all)? Will they pick up some cheaper options either through free agency or through a trade (Jackie Bradley Jr., Robbie Grossman, Jake Marisnick, Outfielder X)? Will they use some combination of Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Myles Straw, Aledmys Diaz, Chas McCormick, Garrett Stubbs or other to fill from within?
  3. He doesn’t have to be an MVP, but he needs to be a VP – Part 1. Alex Bregman was 2nd in the MVP voting in 2019 with a kick-butt season. In 2020, his batting average was down, his power was down, his swagger was gone and he missed 30% of a season that was already less than 40% of a regular season. Was it injury-related or tied to the sign-stealing scandal? Fans don’t care, they just need their star back at full strength.
  4. He doesn’t have to be an MVP, but he needs to be a VP – Part 2. Jose Altuve at least showed some of the good Jose in the postseason after frankly being their worst everyday player during the season. That .219 BA/ .286 OBP/ .629 OPS slash was hideous for someone of Altuve’s talent and it was obvious that this was between the ears. He was trying so hard to make up for the scandal that he ended up looking like someone who needed trash cans banging to be a top-line player. Come back to the five and dime, Jose.
  5. Continued Leadership. What Carlos Correa did in the postseason (6 HRs, 17 RBIs and stellar defense) was critical to the team? But the way he stood up for his team and their talent in post-game interviews was also important and it seemed to inspire Altuve and Springer. With Springer and Brantley likely gone the team will continue to need his veteran leadership on and off the field.
  6. Comeback time. It is possible that his 36th birthday was like the clock chiming midnight in Cinderella and Yuli Gurriel is through as a major league quality player. Or it is possible that he was discombobulated by 2020 like so many and that his 2019 (31 HRs/ 104 RBIs/ .298 BA/ .343 OBP/ .884 OPS) is a better barometer than his .232 BA/ .274 OBP/ .658 OPS slash of 2020.
  7. Return of the Stud. With everything else that was going on in 2020, it was easy to overlook that the Astros had lost a transcendent talent in Yordan Alvarez. In 2019, the team scored 5.12 runs/game in their first 66 games without Yordan. After the Rookie of the Year was brought up to the big team, they scored almost one more run per game, 6.06 runs/game in their next 96 games. In 2020 (when scoring was down throughout baseball) the team only scored 4.65 runs/game when Yordan played in two games. He cannot come back too soon.
  8. Those Young Starters. It would be nice if Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA) and Lance McCullers Jr.(3-3, 3.93 ERA) were a bit better in 2021, though inning eating is almost as important as a better ERA for these two. But it is more important that the three younger starters, Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA), Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA) and Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73 ERA) sustain the fine performances they showed in 2020. Note – I am aware that Framber is only one month younger than Lance – but we are talking young as in MLB experience here.
  9. Those Young Relievers. If Joe Smith returns, if Austin Pruitt gets well and if James Click brings in a veteran reliever or two (Brad Hand?) perhaps the Astros will not have to rely on such a batch of green relievers as they did last season. All making their debut, Andre Scrubb (1-0, 1.90 ERA), Blake Taylor (2-1, 1 Sv, 2.18 ERA) and Enoli Paredes (3-3, 3.05 ERA) availed themselves well in 2020. They may not all have to pitch as many high leveraged innings as they did last season, but it would be great if they become long term reliable arms out of the bullpen.
  10. Bring on some Newbies. With Justin Verlander (who will likely not pitch in 2021), Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers all becoming free agents after 2021, there will be a need to supplement Valdez, Javier and Urquidy heading forward. The Astros just protected four young pitching prospects ahead of the Rule 5 draft, Forrest Whitley, Tyler Ivey, Jairo Solis, and Peter Solomon. It would help the long term health of the team if some of these pitchers get their feet wet this season at the major league level. Adding them to youngsters like Bryan Abreu and Luis Garcia and perhaps Paredes, the team can work on building a low-cost pitching staff, just like they had a low-cost nucleus to their everyday players in 2017. This is how you can extend that window of opportunity for the team.

So, do you agree with the 10? Any others you want to offer?

33 comments on “Astros 2021: 10 most critical items for success

  1. I’ve noticed that we have had an increase of visitors to the blog lately – normally get 250 -300 visitors every week – but it has been increasing the last few weeks up to 450+ last week.
    1) So, welcome new folks – love to have you come by.
    2) GoStros – do I have your “pinning” me on twitter to thank for increased traffic? If so, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anytime, Dan, always trying to get the word out for Astros fans.

      Last few days have been fishing and friends in town who like to go “birding”. I’m learning more about Orioles and Jays — I know it’s sacrilege!

      Still very excited about Solis and the rest getting roster’d.
      I’ll get back later and comment on the article later.
      Happy Thanksgiving week to all!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A few tweeks to suggest:
    1. After five seasons in the Astros system It is time for Forrest Whitley to go to spring training looking to take a starting job in that rotation. This is the year that needs to happen. If it did happen, you would have six starting pitchers to choose from and that means one of them makes a really good arm in the bullpen.
    2. If you lose a stud, you replace him with a stud. And I mean a stud who is the best player at his position in all of baseball. And he is out there for you to sign.
    3. From all those pitchers we have on our roster now, there are at least two of them who are ready to replace weaker pitchers in our bullpen.
    4. Last year Tucker had to replace Alvarez, one of the best hitters on the team. Now, Tucker replaces the player with the lowest WAR on the 2020 team, Josh Reddick. If you sign that stud catcher to take Springer’s place in the batting order, all you need is a good fielding outfielder with an average bat(not below average), to give you the best lineup in the AL.
    5. With 24 pitchers on the 40-man roster, don’t spend money on pitching!

    Liked by 1 person

    • OP
      1. Let’s face it you better go into a season with like seven MLB ready starting pitchers, especially in this COVID world. It does not have to be seven with MLB experience – it could be with a Whitley in your back pocket. Injuries, illness or regression can make this very important
      2. I assume you are talking about signing Jake Marisnick to take George’s spot…..OK, I know you are talking about Realmuto. What’s plan B?
      3. After watching those youngsters help out last year – let’s check out some more to these guys – they are pretty good (and cheap)
      4. Remember we are not only replacing Springer, but likely Brantley – so maybe you are having Tucker take his spot.
      5. I keep wondering if a couple of those 24 pitchers will be sent somewhere to fill an OF spot or a closer spot.

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  3. I look at the fact in 2020 that we had a pretty lackluster – or in some cases pitiful – offensive year from some pretty important returning players, including Altuve (who showed some ugly defense as well), Gurriel, and Bregman, the fact that we lost Verlander, the fact that McCullers was anything but consistent, and the hodgepodge mess of a bullpen we look to be bringing back, and it is really hard for me to expect too much from the 2021 team. I would love to be surprised.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And yet despite all those things they came within a game of the World Series – I’ll give some of these guys a mulligan and see if they have a better 2021 than 2020 – I hope for the same for myself

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  4. I’m not really sure what to make of number 1. Click can bring in some players via free agency or trade, but let’s not get too excited. He’s stuck with Altuve, Bregman, Gurriel, and Greinke due to contracts. I’m not making a statement of judgement which of those he does not want.

    But we know from his time with Tampa that it would be a genuine shock if he deviated from the Luhnow plan for mistreatment of minor leaguers who could help your club win right away. If he wants my opinion, he should go into Spring Training focused on breaking came with the squad that lets them win the most games in 2021 AND has a chance to go deep into the playoffs as 2022 has the potential to be an incredibly disappointing year based on current contract statuses. That means he needs to consider whether a guy like Whitley can pitch at the MLB level despite not mastering AAA in his only shot and missing so much time over the last couple years. Then, given the time missed and inexperience, what do you get for the stretch run/playoffs if he were to make all his starts through the first five months of the season.

    I think we need a reliable, quality starter added to the roster. I’m not suggesting we trade for a Cy Young candidate. Again, this offense will score a lot of runs if Alvarez is healthy and Altuve/Bregman are legitimate hitters in 2021. I think you need someone to balance out the youth/inexperience and McCullers meltdowns.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. 1. Click is going to be somewhat hamstrung initially, but make no mistake, this will be his club. And I don’t expect him to mimic Luhnow, nor do I think that’s what Crane will want. There might well be a head scratcher or two coming up, but I’m looking forward to the unexpected.

    2. I’ve already made it pretty clear that my plan B is Brantley and Jake, but I also recognize that our GM is smarter than me. I don’t expect to see Yordan playing much if any leftfield.

    3 and 4. They will both hit. I’d love to see Jose revert back to 2016 when he walked 60 times and struck out just 70. We need that from him more than we need 25 homers from him.

    5. Which Carlos do we get? Ironically, if there is no extension this winter, we might see his most complete season to date in 2021.

    6. Yuli had a career year in 2019. He won’t be that good again. But at 7 million, I think we got a deal. Maybe Jones is on the bench in 2021 to help him stay fresh.

    7. Boy I sure his wheels are good to go.

    8. It’s time for Lance to become the #2 starter he’s capable of being. Whitney threw 92 innings in 2017. He has not come close since. Even if he gets his dookie together finally, he’s not going to be a savior in 2021. Several other young guys are going to have to provide solid starts consistently.

    9. Does Joe Smith want a job? Andre the Giant? He really lived dangerously with all those walks. I hope Parades can remain in the pen, at least initially.

    10. I think this will be a Click strong point. We won’t always be happy with the results, but our GM has already shown his intentions and more importantly, confidence in using new guys in tough spots. He could have traded a couple of those guys for proven arms late in the year instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 1. Click gets paid the big bucks to put together the best team he can with a limited budget. I think he will try to extend Correa or sign Springer, but not both. Plan A would be to extend Correa.

    2. Plan B: Springer, Brantley & Leon (if they don’t extend Correa).
    Plan C: Brantley, Leon & another lower cost outfielder.
    Plan D: Leon & two other lower cost outfielders.
    Reddick could be part of C or D if he is willing to play for say, 4 mil or less.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Braves sign Charlie Morton for 1 year $15 MM
    The Rays could have kept him on a 1 year option for $15 MM but maybe thought they could sign him for less and did not pick up the option.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s also interesting that there is talk of the Rays looking to make a trade of Blake Snell.
      The Morton signing moves the Braves to a better spot in the NL East and the NL as a whole.
      Morton’s final Hurrah?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues? He had a down year in 2020, not pitching up to his norm and missing 4 weeks injured (which is his norm). He pitched great in the playoffs against the Yanks and Astros and got bombed by the Dodgers in the World Series. I miss that guy – only positive vibes from him as a pitcher and a man.

        Blake Snell could be a good pickup for someone (depending on what the price in prospects is). Had a very good 2020 and solid postseason. He turns 28 next week and he has a friendly contract for a good pitcher in his prime – $11.1 MM in 2021, $13.1 MM in 2022 and $16.6 MM in 2023 (with some incentives thrown in on 2023).
        Wonder if Click would slide some prospects to pick up Snell? Is Whitley still untouchable?

        Liked by 1 person

      • i hope click takes a serious look at snell. a top tier pitcher with really reasonable salary the next three years. i wouldnt trade thefarm for him but i would sure try to work out something. having said that i also dont want to trade an abundance of our good young pitchers coming up.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. The new “journalism” is so frigging wonderful – now Rosenthal is saying the Astros are not having active talks on trading Correa, but have talked to DJ Lemahieu. So which click invoking quotes do we believe

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  9. Pssst, Ken Rosenthal, my boss’s boss had a conversation today with Click about Carlos Correa. It’s supposed to be confidential but I know you hate the Astros like I do, so put it out there.
    Ken: Thanks a lot. Is PayPal okay for you?

    Like

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