Astros’ spring training decisions

Every season, every team has an ever-morphing set of decisions to make season to season. And so it is with the Astros as they come off the oddest year in baseball history. Some thoughts on some prime decisions that have to be addressed…

  • 13-13? A fairly normal roster split might be 13 pitchers and 13 position players, but this is the first time a season will begin with a 26 man roster, which is normal. Occasionally, the team might boost up the pitching side for a small segment of games. When there are doubleheaders (an archaic practice that saw life again in 2020), an extra body is allowed, but in general, an even split may be what is expected….until we begin discussing bullet two.
  • Five-man rotation vs, ?? With the season going from 60 games to 162 games and pitchers that threw 50-70 innings in 2020 expected to ramp that up this season, several teams have mentioned going to 6 man rotations to try and lighten the individual loads of any particular starter. The problem with heading down this road is that it takes one bullpen arm away unless…..they go back to the first bullet and have 14 pitchers and 12 positional players. The 12 positional players turn the American League bench into a three-man force, which is what it was in the 25-man roster days.
  • Is the rotation set in stone? The Astros ended the season with a pretty solid five of Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. It would seem to be a slam dunk that these five would start the season as THE five. But what if they thought the best way to get young Javier through a whole season after a partial season was to use him out of the bullpen for part of it? How to ramp up all these pitchers will be a constant undercurrent story throughout the season.
  • Will the Astros use the Tampa Bay Ray openers concept? Newly signed Ryne Stanek excelled as an opener to games with the Rays in the past. Will he do the same here?
  • What will that lineup look like – usually? All manager change up the lineup card throughout the season. A.J. Hinch seemed to have almost as many iterations as there were games. But in general, how will the Astros handle losing their long time leadoff hitter George Springer? Will it be stars Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman sliding into that spot? Where will they place the newly returned Yordan Alvarez? Will Kyle Tucker earn a higher spot in the lineup than he had in 2020?
  • Who will be closing? Yes, the reigning closer Ryan Pressly is returning, and he did a good job in his first chance at pitching the end game. But the Astros also have Pedro Baez, who has closed and Steve Cishek, who has closed and returning youngster Enoli Paredes, who has what might be considered closing “stuff”. Will they follow the Rays way of doing things, which is to share saves across multiple relievers?
  • How to cover the outfield? With Springer and Josh Reddick gone and Michael Brantley returning but aging, the outfield coverage will be an interesting area to watch. Tucker will be out there every day, Brantley most days, but how will the centerfield and the backup outfield spots be covered? Myles Straw? Chas McCormick? Steven Souza Jr.? Pedro Leon? Aledmys Diaz? Jose Siri? Who will receive the “other” ABs for the team when the season begins?
  • How many side-winders can they have in the bullpen? Non-roster invitee Steve Cishek and returning veteran Joe Smith both throw out of that right sidearm slot. Would they dare have two of the same kind of pitcher throwing high leverage innings for this team? Or does that hurt their effectiveness?
  • How will youth be served? The Astros used a ton of young pitchers in their major league debuts. Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor, Brandon Bielak, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Humberto Castellanos, Brandon Bailey, Luis Garcia and Carlos Sanabria all debuted for the team. However, Bailey, Castellanos and Sanabria are all gone from the organization. There is no apparent room for all those arms still left on the pitching staff. On top of that, there is the next set of young arms on or off the 40-man roster, including Brian Abreu, Forrest Whitley, Tyler Ivey, Jairo Solis, Peter Solomon, and Brett Conine, who are in line for a shot at the gold ring. How will the two sets of young arms be used to best support the big club?
  • Third catcher? – It would be a surprise if the top two catchers heading out of Spring Training are anyone but Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro. There is always a question about having a third catcher on the roster, even with the newly expanded (26-man) roster. Garrett Stubbs can play the outfield gives him a shot at making the team as a potential utility man/ third catcher. The fact that he has not shown he can hit at the major league level hurts that chance.
  • Next man up? Along with deciding who will break camp with the team, the front office and coaching staff will undoubtedly make some decisions on which youngsters would be the next man up when inevitable injury or illness occurs during the season.

This is just a quick shot at some major decisions to be made during Spring Training. What else do you think needs to be decided?

49 comments on “Astros’ spring training decisions

  1. My guess us they will stick with 13-13 because AA and AAA (unless on the road) are just a short drive away. Stubbs needs to play to see if he ever makes it. (Signing Castro convinced me that the FO has major doubts about him). With there being not major signing except Brantley, I think the FO believes they have a contending team in the field. And it would appear they think they have enough choices in the bullpen to also contend. Finally, if you throw strikes on the corner it makes no difference if you are left, right or under-handed.

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  2. I think we will go with 13-13 and the 5 man rotation we had last year and will rotate our younger pitchers between the minors and the big club.

    The rotation is set unless any of them regress/get injured or someone else (Whitley) shows they can do better.

    I don’t think Dusty would use the opener concept regularly; maybe once in awhile when he wants to give the rotation an extra day of rest.

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  3. Taking five extra players on road trips is going to play havoc with their development. Last season there was no minor leagues. This year there are. Who do you take on road trips, especially when they should be playing every day for Sugarland?
    I believe this is one of the reasons there are so many players in major league camp.

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    • I agree that it is most important for the future Astros to get to play as much as possible this year. Playing makes you better. If “getting older” made one a better player, 1OP and I would both be on the team. Of course, I would be batting between Yordan and Carlos and he would be batting 9th. And Dave would be all the way up to Low A ball.

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      • Heck, I’d take low C ball. Even if it means sitting on the bench all night drinking coffee.

        Seems like we’d want to have a third catcher around for those doubleheader situations. Maldy catches the first game, gets tight, Castro gets thrown out of the nightcap for complaining again and then Maldy has to come back in unless the skinny kid is hanging around.

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  4. I have to believe Stubbs is in camp the entire time and gets as familiar with Astros pitchers as he can, is optioned on the last day of ST and is on the five-man traveling squad. He has two options left. When the Astros are home he plays for the Skeeters. When the Astros are on the road, he travels with them.
    Heck, this is really messed up! The travel squad messes up the player’s careers this year more than it did last year, because the Skeeters go on the road to the West Coast for 13 days starting April 4th, while the Astros only travel for six games on the coast and then come home.
    You’ve got the MLB roster, the Skeeters roster and five players in Limbo on the Travelin’ Band.
    This is crazy. And it makes sense to Rob Manfred, which speaks volumes about Rob Manfred.

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    • It would be great if MLB could post the full details of the rules on their website instead of just a press release. I assume players on the taxi squad must be on the 40 man roster, but the PR states once a road trip concludes the players on said squad must return immediately to the Alternate Training Site. It also says in the event of a covid19 outbreak, no removal from the 40 man roster or optioning of the player(s) testing positive is required.

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  5. I think Dusty will have Altuve lead off; hopefully putting him in a mindset of getting on base so others can drive him in. I think Tucker will have better numbers than Brantley and move up in the order:

    Altuve
    Tucker
    Bregman
    Yordan
    Correa
    Brantley
    Yuli
    Machete/Castro
    Straw

    Liked by 2 people

    • Based on the players we have, that is a good lineup. I am just not sure Baker is ready to move Brantley all the way down to sixth.
      But, what do I know? I didn’t think trading Staub for Clendenon was a good idea, either. Did you know Dusty Baker was playing for the Braves the year the Astros traded Staub? 1969. I was carrying 20 hrs in college and working 40 hrs a week. Crazy good times!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Does The Ghost of Rusty “The Red Rooster” wake you up in the morning?

        Brantley in the 6 spot if he goes on a spell of turning his hands over.
        Instead, I imagine there will be lots of moving the lineup around based on pitching matchups. As much as this crowd might dislike it; Springer gave us all a sense of normalcy, fact is that opposing teams gear more toward matchups. Our lineups will have to adjust.

        Truly, the goal should be to get Straw to leadoff with a 400 OBP like his upside suggests in my viewing of his AAA work, get him 500 AB’s so he can steal 70 bags and wreak havok, but he may run out of time if Leon and others come on strong by end of the yr.

        I would think we roster 14 pitchers most of the time and 12 position players, because Diaz plays Infield and Outfield, and nobody is needed in DH spot except Yordan. Diaz eliminates the need for Jones Toro or Siri/Souza. I want Stubbs learning all the Skeeters staff, to be Castro & Lee’s backup next season. Not sure what Garrett Stubbs fate will be in 2023.

        Greinke LMJ Valdez Urquidy Javier
        Press Baez Stanek Smith Paredes
        Interchangeables: Raley Taylor Abreu Cishek (14)

        Yuli Tuve CC Bregs Diaz
        Maldy Castro Alvarez
        Straw Brantley Tucker McCormick (12)

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      • Actually, the goal should be for Straw to be the fourth outfielder. or fifth.
        And Rusty Staub does not keep me awake even though I am aware of his terrific career numbers. We should never have traded him. He was a terrific player and he took all of his Louisiana Astros fans with him to Montreal. Thousands and thousands of them.

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      • Straw, assuming there won’t be a late surprise from Click, will get the opportunity to win CF. And if he puts up that .400 OBP in the 8th or 9th spot, then he’ll own center and we’ll all be happy.

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    • We’ve got no need to put a .325 OBP guy second in the lineup. Tucker will be an excellent bat to have in the 5th or 6th slot. A pitcher having to battle through the heart of the order and then still having to face Tucker and Yuli is a happy thought. I’m thinking Altuve and Bregman up top in uncertain order. Speaking of OBP, both can go .400 if they really want to.

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    • I used to go to those breakfasts once a year when they’d invite season ticket holders to bring along potential new season ticket holders. What a drag those events were. The Astros were terrible in those days, but guys like Art Howe would get up and dutifully talk about the great rotation when there was no rotation. I liked Art too much to jump up and cry foul. But this February 5th eye opening event would have been remarkably entertaining. Did the guy have a death wish, or had he been out all night?

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    • I am curious what specifically is the issue with Mather’s comments? He sounds like he’s mostly guilty of showing how an executive (“in his position”) like him thinks, but I wonder if other league execs feel the same way about service time, and paying translators for example? In other words, what was the hidden beef the league had with Mathers that he’d get exposed for this? Reading the case built against him and it seemed like there wasn’t any one thing that was that bad, so they brought up a bunch of things to pressure him to resign. I’m asking: is that supposed to have been racially interpreted that the two players who didn’t speak English was a problem?

      Because by my reading this is simply more “cancel culture” in action. Instead of actually dealing with baseball’s dirty little sceret the way they save million$ by delaying players’ ascent deliberately .. why aren’t we talking about those particular players instead? I’ve said as much for Alvarez (Apr-Jun ’19) and Tucker in the past, then there was Springer and Correa just on our team. The same idea for having a bunch of cheap labor by “holding out for 180 free agents.” If teams give out belts for the best to keep arbitration prices lower, do they actually collude to not sign FA’s as quickly to make them sweat? Apparently, so. Wasn’t that already understood as a tactic now that everyone is afraid of covid as financially debilitating the sport? But lo and behold, some players like Tatis are still able to break the bank?

      As usual baseball is just making it up as they go along. Some darlings like La Russa can get in a car and drive drunk, and media will call him contrite afterwards.

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      • Well, and here’s someone who sees it my way.. some Orwellian times we live in when the whistleblower gets the shaft instead of the instigators of the overall climate.

        Thank you Kevin Mather. I sincerely mean it. You just said what everyone already knew, but now we @MLB_PLAYERS have official evidence that is going to help a lot of players. Again, thank you!! Bravo. -Josh Donaldson

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      • We could make a Correa deal happen if he took 6 yrs guaranteed at $24m/yr, add a team buy-out for $5m in each of the next 3 yrs at $20m each.

        He won’t take it, so as I’ve stated over & again, neither party would be smart to sign anything until 2021 concludes and the landscape is better understood.

        1. Pena
        2. Correa health
        3. Other FA’s available and AAV set
        4. Tenor of baseball’s future

        I am mostly against re-signing him because while he’s worth every penny, we cannot stay a balanced team with so many heavy contracts given my view of lesser patrons, and WOKEism infecting sports. Many diehards like myself will simply walk away when fans are completely ignored, I predict. Ticket prices are $335 in the Outfield! It’s absolutely absurd what’s going on in baseball, and not sustainable.

        Also, you’d think we’d hear more positive, as when Springer came on the podcast with Bregman mid-season last year and they asked him if he was coming back. Zip and pip. Yesterday, Lance McCullers was on a podcast and he sure was quiet that while he does a wrestling podcast with Correa, mum was the word on Carlos and the Astros; or even Lance’s plans for the future for that matter. Their agents must give them strict instructions on keeping it close to vest.

        Liked by 1 person

      • How about 8 years total – 2 years – $20 MM, 4 yrs – $25 MM, 2 yrs – $30 MM – $200 MM total?
        Probably neither side agrees to that.

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  6. It’s easy to say “extend Carlos.” But $300 million a year for a team just doesn’t go very far. And at the end of 10 more years, a half billion probably gets you a 7 man roster. Are we playing with Monopoly Money?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This guy has to be the center of attention. He shows up to camp and immediately creates a distraction by going into his song and dance. What was he and his agent doing all winter? He’d like to stay. But he’s fine with being a free agent. He wants to get everything resolved now so that negotiations won’t cause a distraction once the season begins. Give me a break.

    Carlos Correa is a fantastic talent that we’ll likely lose. And that’s really too bad. But at the end of all the drama getting ready to ensue, some of us will be relieved.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carlos goes from fiercely protecting Altuve, playing Field Captain with the pitchers and 100% supportive of the mission, to playing a game with the organization. From a terrible regular season, to turning on a switch and becoming a force. From back injury, to no mention of it for a year.

      I cannot imagine going through these travails every year for the next 10 or so. Is it possible he’d put his head down, keep his mouth shut and just play baseball? Let his agent and the org work things out? Hardly seems possible, no.

      I’ll admit we’ve gotten off VERY cheaply so far. If you look at Trevor Story whose put up similar numbers and making $7 million more this season; or if one WAR = lowball $7m per, Astros should have paid him $200 million and yet we’ve only paid $15 million.

      This sets up for a fight imo because Carlos wants some recompense, and the Astros have already spent that savings, and only concerned with future production. I don’t see this ending well.

      One other theory floating out there is Astros/Crane want to clean house and rid the 2017 players. I don’t believe that will ever “wipe off” anyway, even with this simpleton approach I read from fans all the time (“I’ll root for them again when they’re all gone”), else they’d let it go in the first place since that was 5 seasons ago. I’ll never forgive Hinch ultimately for having left this org in shambles, and for having left the future Hall of Fame players’ reputation in doubt. In that regard, he had ONE JOB to do and couldn’t lay down the law. Instead he lied right through his teeth repeatedly and denied it. Correa had to be a big part of it since he and Beltran were so close, since they played WBC ball together and Beltran came in saying, “the Astros are behind on sign stealing.” Sure, there’s blame to go around everywhere and especially Manfred for singling out the Astros instead of those he had ongoing investigations; and REPEAT offenders getting off scot-free. I just see Correa wanting to escape that narrative. Sadly, we drafted his brother too. Seems like HOU has made overtures and if Correa really wanted to get something done, it’s more to do with his camp.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. If this were a normal year, coming off a normal year last year, not coming off a team oriented scandal that broke last offseason, and not facing a CBA that just blew up in the owners faces in the last two days, I would say there might be a chance we see a Correa extension.
    I have my doubts it is going to happen before the season begins.

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    • I don’t think an extension will get worked out before the season, because I am betting the basis for an extension is going to be difficult to come up with:
      – Do you base it on Correa “figuring” out what was wrong with his swing in the 2020 post season?
      – Do you base it on a healthy 2020 regular season with meh hitting numbers?
      – Do you base it on very good hitting in 2017 and 2019 that was shortened by injury?
      – Do you base it on bad hitting in 2018 which was shortened and affected by injury?
      He is giving the impression that he is OK with not testing the free agency waters, but I’m sure whatever number that is in his head is not that close to the number going through the front office’s heads.
      At least it is not up to Jack Easterby to make this decision for the Astros.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dan, I’ve long been in favor of letting him show how good a contract year he can put together. I hope he has such a good year that we get priced right out of his range. We’ll figure out 2022 when the time comes.

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  9. Non-baseball related for those cattlemen who need to get them in from the frozen tundra.. maybe this will post?

    Instead of asking which player will leadoff, I’ve been thinking Baker tries a half dozen different lineups. As I’ve been “tooting,” the goal is to get Straw involved, and I suppose if he’s hitting and getting on-base, it doesn’t really matter if he turns over the lineup at #9 either way.

    And then this shows up this morning on chron:

    “I’ve thought about that ever since we lost Springer,” Baker said of his vacancy atop the batting order. “We’ve got a few candidates, some like to bat leadoff, some don’t. It’s going to be kind of an experiment in spring training and possibly, you know, as the season goes on make a couple other moves if necessary.”

    When describing his top priorities for a leadoff hitter on Tuesday, Baker mentioned on-base percentage and speed. He named Myles Straw as a candidate to replace Springer atop the batting order, but acknowledged the club will experiment in Grapefruit League games with different lineups.

    “It’s going to be hard to replace (Springer’s) power in that spot,” Baker said. “But we’re looking for guys that are going to get on base. That’s number one, so you can put the pitcher in the stretch. Hopefully someone that’s a threat to steal to have the rest of the guys hitting behind him get some more fastballs.”

    “(Straw needs to) use his tools he’s blessed with: use his speed,” Baker said. “Maybe bunt some more, which he’s a little reluctant to do and doesn’t feel comfortable doing. And stay out of the air. They’re teaching everybody in baseball to hit up in the air, but up in the air, he’s promoting outs. A lot of his outs last year were up in the air to right field.”

    “With his speed, he’s not helping us or himself by not putting the ball in play.”

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    • Miles Straw learning how to bunt? It’s a shame that a guy with his specific abilities is not already one of the best bunters in MLB. I sure find Dusty Bakers candidness refreshing. Miles has a lot of work to get done before Dusty is going to simply put him out in CF.

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  10. Ref for Op,

    Diamond-McNabb Ranch Horses (facebook)
    When the temp is dropping and we have a calf born outside, it needs to get into a warm stall before it becomes dangerously cold. The easiest way to do that is to put it on the calf sled. Our ranch horses earn their stripes pulling these cold babies inside with the momma cow trotting along behind! Dixon is a 2016 gelding, and though he’s only 14.2 hands he puts his shoulder into the pull and doesn’t mind the rope or the sled, even when it hits the concrete. He will be one of the horses offered in our sale on June 5th. We’re thankful for excellent horses to help us do our job of keeping the cattle safe and warm during the challenges of calving season! At the Powderhorn Ranch, Douglas, Wyoming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just as an example, we had a heifer who was close to dropping a calf last week when the highs were 10 degrees. My son and his wife went to our small herd and haltered a cow who was a show calf for two seasons. She will let you halter her because she relates that halter to show feed, and she always will.
      They got her to lead the preggy heifer all the way from the pasture next door to the barn. There, she had her calf during the night in the barn and this morning my son loaded them all into the trailer and carried them back to the herd.
      Heifers who are first-time moms are brought in so that they can be helped if they are in trouble. Last year we pulled three calves from first-time moms who were stuck. This year we have had two first-timers drop their calves without help and the difference could be the new bull. Both of his babies have been 70-75 lbs. and that makes a big difference.
      Any news on that East Texas farm?

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      • Interesting stuff, I follow a couple of rancher girls on twitter who give reports of pulling calves too. My uncle was a vet and earliest memories were of watching him get “hands-on” in the middle of the night.

        The East Texas property(s) were deemed too much under water for the group of guys I had interested. I’ve put it on back burner now that the season is rolling around. It’s my son’s senior yr of HS too, so we need to see that through toward his next phase.

        C Rome reported that Pedro Leon is on a plane headed for West Palm Beach. It ought to be fun if we can see how he is first recv’d by the team, and yet there are so many coming into camp with just as much fanfare.

        First week we begin in OAK. A true test for both teams to establish the heir apparent of the AL West in 2021. Some are saying LAA will be our most difficult competition instead.

        Dan, I think your article begs an answer on “who’s the one player which will be the biggest surprise out of camp?” You named so many good candidates, so I will say Whitley is most likely to be impressive but that’s not really a bold pick. Francis Martes seems to be back and looking more limber than the past — he could definitely be the surprise nobody really saw coming. I’m going to say that Zach Daniels and Hunter Brown will really start to make a name. Santos getting the invite is really impressive. Hmm, I’m still going to go as final answer with Shawn Dubin over Pete Solomon, which will set both pitchers up for 2021 eventual call ups.

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  11. Along the lines of new life in the Spring – we had a second grand child born over night in a galaxy far far away.
    Emilia Melody Peschong was born in Melbourne, Australia to my son Peter and his wife Skye (though Skye was more involved yesterday than Peter).
    She’s 6 lbs – 1 oz and we are so happy, though it may be a long time before we can see her in person.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I like Carlos and think he is a way above average shortstop. But his “press conference” on signing the extension before the season sounds just like those “press conferences” of those unknown and unheard of Congressmen(and women) and Senators stating they “will not seek to be their party’s candidate for President,” Both of these rank about 0.000001 on the Richter Scale.

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  13. I was under the impression a reporter asked Correa directly about the contract situation and Correa replied that there were no current talks and had been none since going to arbitration, but that he would like to remain in Houston if a deal could be done before opening day. Why are we offended? Are you suggesting the question was a plant from Correa or his agent? It’s an obvious topic for discussion given the deal the Padres just gave Tatis, Jr. What I still don’t understand is why so many are happy with Bregman’s contract but don’t want to pay Correa. I’m personally opposed to paying anyone $30M annually, but we’re doing it for Altuve for four more years, Bregman in ’23 and ’24, Verlander in ’21, and almost doing it for Greinke in ’21 ($25M from Astros, $10M from Arizona).

    I can’t see an extension for Correa happening unless his camp presents the Astros with an offer they can’t afford. We have a very low number of nine figure contracts actually working out for the teams that gave them out. Clearly Correa will want to be on this list:
    Trout – 12yr $430
    Betts – 12yr $365
    Tatis, Jr – 14yr $340
    Harper – 13yr $330
    Stanton – 13yr $325
    Cole – 9yr $324
    Machado – 10yr $300
    Arod2 – 10yr $275
    Arenado – 8yr $260
    Arod1 – 10yr $252
    Miguel Cabrera – 8yr $248
    Strasburg – 7yr $245
    Rendon – 7yr $245

    Look at those names. Arod1 was the original with Texas. Recall he got traded to NYY and ended up reworking the deal a few years later. I’m not sure any of those contracts will be seen as wins for the team when all is said and done.

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    • I was not offended by Correa or anyone else. (Assuming you were referring to my post). My point was what he said, and all those others, means nothing. If Carlos goes -0- for April and May, and the Astros offer him 12 years at $4o million on June 1st, he takes it. Even though it is mid-season.

      And it ain’t gonna happen just as you and others said.

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    • The latest word you may have heard, Devin is that Click wanted to wait to talk face-to-face. Those numbers you reported are crazy talk for me, and as such if I were the Owner they’d run me so quick out of town. Click is definitely walking a tightrope here. If he doesn’t get a deal done, not sure how he escapes blame for it! And thus we have to hear for 10 yrs every time Correa goes 2-4 with a HR, even when he’s in NY. Seems like a no-win situation.

      Funny thing I read today was that LMJ and Click both thought Mike Brantley was for sure going to join Springer in TOR. The reason I don’t think it’s possible Correa follows suit is we’ll have offered the QO and once declined, that seems like a harder line in the sand, no? Especially now that Correa apparently can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, ie. play good baseball without a deal for 2022..

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