Astros: Off-season thoughts     

The Astros are at the MLB Winter Meetings and arguably have the league’s least question marks. Here are some thoughts about where the team is right now.

  1. If the Astros did not make another move…. How good would they be? It is expected that they would still be a good team but might be a little vulnerable to injury. They would also be taking some chances in the catcher and outfield areas. And they would be assuming that the 6 starters they have now (without Justin Verlander) are adequate. If they went into the season as-is and had average injury luck – a 95-win season would seem possible.
  2. Another thought on the catching situation….if the Astros traded for Sean Murphy or signed Willson Contreras, the inside-the-box question is how would they fit around Martin Maldonado? How about they grab one of those two guys, trade Maldonado, and use Corey Lee (and maybe Yadier Diaz) as backup(s). It’s unclear what Maldy’s value is worth, but he has been a critical cog in multiple long runs into the playoffs. He might have some value out there, even with a bad batting average. Maybe they could pick up a prospect or two for him.
  3. One of the keys to the rotation going forward without Verlander is that no one tries to replace him. The only way this will work is for each pitcher to pitch within themselves and not worry that 18 wins and a Cy Young performance are gone with the wind. The biggest concern has to be injuries. And I’m looking at you, Lance McCullers. The plus side is that very few teams can lose a Justin Verlander and have five solid, experienced, significant league pitchers (Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia) available, plus a top-level prospect (Hunter Brown), who showed in a small sample that pitching down the stretch and in the playoffs was not too big for him. Will they go get a Jake Odorizzi type as insurance this season? It does not feel like it.
  4. The outfield situation is the most problematic. How much do they really want to use Yordan Alvarez in left field? Do they recognize that Chas McCormick was pretty good in centerfield? Do they think that Jake Meyers will be better a year farther away from his serious injury? Do they want to fill in with temporary pieces until Michael Brantley is ready? Who do they prefer, Andrew Benintendi, Cody Bellinger, and Brandon Nimmo? Do they think that any of their prospects – like Justin Dirden and Pedro Leon are anywhere close to ready? This spot probably should not be the amateur (Jim Crane) making the call.
  5. During the post season, I came to an epiphany about Dusty Baker and his forcing folks to get rest, no matter how they play. This team has played late into the off-season for six straight seasons, though not all the individuals have been involved the whole time. Still, they have played many more games than the average team and, notably, have had two to four weeks less off-season than the average team. Dusty knew his team was good enough to “survive” these days off, and maybe it is why his team seemed a bit fresher in the playoffs. Perhaps he is smarter than us…..
  6. Is the front office going to take the tack that they need to be aggressive in the next couple of years while they still have Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve under contract and while they still have their young pitching core under team control? You would think they would be interested in extending some of their folks like Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker. But that is a two-way street, and the players and their agents must also be open to a deal.

Well, there are some things to chew on, my good readers. Enjoy and join in, please.

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51 comments on “Astros: Off-season thoughts     

  1. If the Astros don’t make another move ..

    In my opinion, how good a team we would be would depend largely upon three primary factors: 1. Can LMJ stay healthy AND average at least six innings per start, with an ERA under 3.25, a BAA under 2.25, and a WHIP no greater than 1.25? 2. Can Hunter Brown and Urquidy keep their ERAs under 3.50 and their WHIPs under 1.30? 3. Can Jake Meyers come back from his failed attempt at returning from injury and give us a slash line of at least .260/.333/775 for a whole year, with less than a 25% strikeout rate?

    Beyond that, with the rest of the guys we have, can we avoid significant injuries and long, drawn-out slumps.

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  2. 1. If no other moves, we should win 95 – 100 games assuming the team is relatively healthy.
    2. If we get Murphy or Contreras, I can’t see us trading Maldy. I would let Maldy catch 1/3 of the games and pinch-hit.
    3. I don’t see us signing another pitcher of significance unless any of our current pitchers gets hurt.
    4. Maybe we don’t really want Yordan to play LF so much, but just saying we will so that the asking prices on Nimmo and Benintendi go down.
    5. I think the 2022 “forced rest” strategy was a direct result of what Dusty saw in 2021; how his pitchers were gassed at the end of the year.
    6. I agree.

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  3. Regarding the catching situation … the pitchers like Maldy, he knows them like a book, and he is gold in every way except at the plate. I would rather just keep Maldy, Korey Lee, and use Yainer Diaz as a DH whenever Yordan is in LF. I would far rather spend whetever money/prospects Crane has left to deal this off-season on LF and CF. By the way, we could very likely need some prospects to help us upgrade at the trade deadline.

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  4. 1- They would be better with Nimmo, Benintendi or Contreras but they would also have to deal with the back end of those contracts – which any would have the potential of going Reddick on you, and while never really playing poorly like Rasmus did, Reddick still had us all wondering “how long is left on that deal anyway?” Without them, they are still a playoff team, and as long as the pitching gets guys out, WS contenders.

    2 – Maldy will be in age 36 season. The tires are a little worn. He hit horribly – but he surprisingly had some timely homers. It’s not the end of the world if Lee is his backup, Diaz is at DH and the Astros carry 3 catchers because one can hit his way into other spots. I don’t think he is tradeable unless it’s a non-contender and we certainly aren’t going to get anything of note flipped back our way unless Tim Purpura is back in the league somewhere.

    3 – The Astros won 65% of their games. JV had a 82% win rate. We are not winning as much without him as with him. If you think of LMJ as the replacement he has a 61% win rate. This team would be better with JV, but this pitching staff is still pretty darn good, as is the guy that will get JVs innings. Besides, even JV doesn’t expect to win at that rate again, those are nearly once in a lifetime seasons.

    4 – Any OFer right now is getting the player friendly deal, not the team friendly one. The contract will probably have to be higher than that players contributions in terms of AAV and years. There are multiple buyers in on everyone. Brantley might be the best answer, there is no reason I can see that he shouldn’t come back and at least hit righties very well still. I don’t think Dusty is bluffing about Yordan in LF, he did it in the playoffs. Dirden seems to have a hit tool, but I am always wary of guys that will be 26 before their major league debut. Leon is great at everything except actually putting the bat on the ball consistently, which is kinda important.

    5 – When it comes to baseball he is.

    6 – I think most front office people have been in the rodeo long enough. They know sometimes you think your team is good, and it turns out not so good. Sometimes teams surprise you and perform better. Bullpens are rarely exactly what you think they are. Baseball is an unpredictable sport. I do believe more franchises take things year to year than we think they do (outside of prospects, because they are cheap to plan with). Sometimes you strike gold and a guy like Yordan is looking for something more right now and you can accomodate, but I am betting the agents for Tucker and Framber are looking at doing what Springer and Correa’s did.

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    • Steven, remember, Dirden didn’t reach the minors until he was 23. And he won’t turn 26 until mid July. Who knows, maybe we’ll see him by then. Outside of his late season 32 games in Sugarland, he sure has posted excellent numbers, with great on base skills. Maybe he’s our homegrown version of Nimmo.

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      • I saw that Dave, I also know you almost have to think of it as his age 25 season given that 2020 was a lost season for most minor league development.

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  5. What we’re not considering:
    – Alex Bregman was really good on defense, stayed healthy, and produced at the plate. He did this despite having Pena replace the guy he’d played beside his entire career. We’ll have to see whether not shifting as dramatically might improve things even more.
    – Kyle Tucker was really solid on defense and the basepaths last year. It might be premature, but I’d nominate him for a fictional Jeff Bagwell award to be given to a player who performs better than his athletic ability would indicate was possible. Also, I wanted to point out that many people were suggesting we trade for Bryan Reynolds, but based on the statcast data he would be a poor CF and covers less ground than Kyle Tucker.
    – Verlander had 11 out of 28 starts where he didn’t give up a run. In 3 of those starts he only went 5 innings and in another he got pulled after hurting his calf. Regardless, we’re not likely to get that type of performance from any replacement starter. In other words, we will need the bullpen to be better than last year and the offense to show up in some games where they had the luxury of taking a night off last year.
    – Teams are throwing around funny money offers again. Did the Padres really make that offer to Trea Turner? I think there is a financial cataclysm coming for some of these teams, but maybe the owners have more liquid assets than I realized. I don’t think Jim Crane can or wants to compete in that space. Hopefully these long term deals end up punishing those clubs on the back end and helping more frugal teams out in the end.

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    • Forgot one more thing:
      – Yordan Alvarez may want to play in the field and not DH as much. I can’t recall too many guys who wanted to be full time DH until points in time where they either bulked up too much or their bodies were breaking down from age. If it keeps him happy it makes sense to let him play the field.

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    • Tucker is a five tool guy, the best athlete on the Astros. Hopefully Pena adds to that debate. I look for Tucker to produce more along the lines of his 2021 season next year. He’s also going to be the toughest guy to extend, based on the contracts handed out this week.

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      • A quick Google search will tell you that not only was Tucker’s fastest sprint time in 2022 slower than Yuli Gurriel and his sprint speed was 32nd percentile but that his arm strength is in the 77th percentile of MLB players. Those aren’t attractive numbers for a 25 year old right fielder.

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      • When I saw Bogarts contract I winced. 280 million. Tucker is arguably a more impactful player though he doesn’t play as premium a position. Or does he? There are probably more offensively impactful shortstops in todays game than RFers oddly enough.

        Tucker’s contact negotiation is going to be scary, but we are at least a year away from really talking about it.

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  6. I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s time to stand pat. I’d much rather have a “healthy ” Brantley than almost any of the options mentioned. If that does not materialize then we can look for something at the trade deadline. I’m not a great Chaz fan and he’s not a George Springer but should we try to do better, but what’s the price? I’ll admit I’m not up on who the up and coming prospects are but we’ve made a pretty big splash with the signing of Abreu. Thus do we have to go out and get that #1 catcher or CF/LF? The salary demands and length of contracts that some players are looking for is really beginning to get ridiculous (as if it hasn’t happened already).
    I seem to remember that the Atlanta Braves used to tweak the team a little each year and they continued to get to the playoffs. Maybe that’s all we need. Happy for JV and would have liked to have kept him but not at 3/120. I believe that the only reason we got him for last year at 25MM was that nobody was willing to take that chance, otherwise he’d been gone.

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  7. Just a reminder of how we started last year. At the end of April, 2022:

    Altuve was out; in his place Niko G. was slashing .111/.143/.148;
    Siri was our CF; slashing .214/.267/.357
    Pena was at .222/.305/.458;
    Bregman was at .233/.352/.438;
    Alvarez was at .276/.373/.621;
    Gurriel was at .224/.246/.358
    Tucker was at .224/.277/.408;
    Diaz was at .160/.250/.240
    Maldy was at .095/.235/.190;
    Castro was at .045/.222/.045;
    Our best hitter was Chaz at .290/.328/.419
    2nd best was Brantley at .274/.329/.397

    Verlander was 2-1 (as was Urquidy); Javier was 1-0, Garcia 1-1, and Odorizzi 1-2. McCullers was still on the IL.

    Somehow we managed to go 11-10 in April. Things began to pick up just a little from there.

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  8. Aaron Judge is the best thing that ever happened to Brandon Nimmo. I’m starting to hope we’re not the team that ends up drastically overpaying for the guy.

    I’m so pleased we’re loaded with pitching based on some of the deals middle of the road arms have gotten this week. We’ve got a very valuable, young rotation even without Verlander.

    More and more I’m thinking that Lee and/or Diaz will be on the opening day lineup. Much can happen between now and then. As free agency winds down, the real dealing starts with trades. Maybe that’s how we end up with a stronger outfield. It’s scary though, sending guys from our system to someone else.

    One thing the Astros can’t ever lose sight of is how this juggernaut got built. We’ll be relevant as long as we don’t forget that.

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  9. Devin – relative to your comment up above – a couple Kyle Tucker additional stats

    – Career – 53 steals / 8 caught stealing – That is very, very strong – he’s probably not as fast as a George Springer – but George has stolen 66 and caught stealing 34 times.
    – 2022 – 8 outfield assists – 5th in the AL – he may not have a super strong arm, but 1) He gets to the ball quickly 2) He gets rid of it quickly and 3) Pretty darned accurate throws

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    • Those stats support my assertion that he’s similar to Jeff Bagwell – a player who gets results where more athletic players do not. I think Tucker is an intelligent, fundamentally sound player who occasionally is getting better every year. The Astros were fortunate to draft him.

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  10. We have talked about how our WS Champion Astros were only 11-10 at the end of April, and how hardly anybody was hitting. Let’s now look back at where we were at the end of May:

    Altuve was back, and was hitting .279; Niko Goodrum was gone.
    Siri was still our main CF, and he was still a disaster – BA .216;
    Brantley was hitting .267;
    Pena had gotten hot, and had raised his BA from .222 to .281;
    Bregs was still struggling, only hitting .226;
    Alvarez’ BA was down a bit to .266, but his power numbers were up;
    Gurriel was still mired in a nasty slump, hitting all of .218;
    Chaz did not have a good month; his BA dropped to .230;
    Maldy was hitting .127.

    Most importantly, the pitching staff was killing it, and we went 21-8- never to look back.

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  11. The Astros lost no one in round one of the major league Rule 5 draft and no one was taken by anybody in the second round so I guess we are safe there
    Have not heard anything on the Rule 5 minor league draft

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    • Well, the Padres management is a bit nuts. They’ve been over bidding all week and finally lured in Xander. The guy is a heck of a ballplayer, stays healthy and puts up quality stats offensively and defensively. I guess SD hopes for 6 or 7 good years. In the meantime, Beantown is in mourning. But they also realize that 11 years is foolish. So does Correa take 8 years at 30-35 to go play with Cora?

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      • The Red Sox signed Story to play SS. They always knew they weren’t going to get into the bidding contest Xander’s agent was trying to create with them. I think even their fans know it’s not Henry’s style to go back and forth, he likes to slide the piece of paper over, wow you, and expect you to take it.

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      • I’d almost forgotten about Story. Sox fans don’t seem to be thrilled by the thought of him as their shortstop. His last two years years at the plate have been forgettable and the faithful in Boston have not warmed to him. It will be interesting to see what kind of team they put together.

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    • And they happened to use it in Yankee games down the stretch when Judge was trying to break a kind of contrived record?
      That’s what I heard on the radio was that they used it in Yankee games in August and September – but MLB says “Nothing to see here”

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      • Does anyone else sometimes feel like Rob Manfred turning major league baseball into a cheap imitation of ‘professional wrestling’. The MLB is the new, more sophisticated WWE.

        Watch out for flying chairs – and juiced baseballs!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think we know enough about Manfred to not give them the benefit of the doubt here. As the article mentioned, they changed the balls in the 2017 playoffs and got caught. There was no reason to expect them to do anything different here. It wouldn’t surprise me if the humidor eventually gets blamed as malfunctioning in certain locations if this story ever gets legs.

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  12. -The Astros addressed the most glaring need in their minors organization by selecting 4 pitchers in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Three of them are LHP.
    -MLB Network was frothing at the mouth in awe of the money being spent by teams on players last night. They could hardly control themselves when talking about how the two New York teams were going to spend much more in the coming weeks.
    -I think the Astros win in the 2022 WS is driving the owners nutso!
    -I read the article yesterday concerning MLB using the three different baseballs and wondering if this is going to explode and ruin baseball or if MLB will be able to cover it up and eliminate the people who are revealing it.
    -The Giants have been desperately trying to throw money at players and aren’t succeeding. The Padres are better at doing it.
    -Imagine how high the Qualifying Offer is gonna be next offseason, after the huge increases in top salaries we are seeing now.
    -Top Astros Move of the Week: Willson Contreras to the Cards.

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  13. Meant to put this out there when it was posted….
    https://www.mlb.com/astros/news/four-astros-named-to-2022-all-mlb-first-team

    – Since these spots are awarded across all of MLB, not by league, it is pretty impressive for the Astros to cover 4 of the 16 first team spots when there are 30 teams involved and another two spots of the 16 second team spots
    – Rather amusing that Yordan Alvarez lost out to Ohtani for the AL DH but is the number one DH here across both leagues
    – Pretty impressive to see Tucker in the top 6 of outfielders. Shows what a great overall talent he is.
    – A little surprised to see Pressly in the top 4 of relievers – he was very good this season, but he is not the flashy kind of closer that gets the attention. Glad to see him recognized
    – So, we lose JV but still have on of the top 3 starters in the majors in Framber.
    – Altuve with a very good season that gets recognized – good job Jose.

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  14. I did find it interesting that the most players taken by one team in the Rule 5 Minor League draft was the four taken by the Astros tied with a few others, except…. the Phillies who were the only team to take a player in the 5th, 6th and 7th round of the draft. Interesting strategy.
    I’m not sure if I remember the Astros taking more than one in the minor league draft and here they go with 4.

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    • Dan, it’s pretty simple. They are short on decent minor league pitching and there is very little commitment and very little cost involved in taking these pitchers and putting them into their system and hoping to strike gold with at least one of them.

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      • I was shocked to see some of the arms in AAA games last year. Either the guns are inflating readings or we’re seeing a huge increase in velocity over the last decade. I recall seeing Ken Giles when he pitched for Lehigh Valley come into a game throwing 98mph arrows, getting knocked around, and thinking he was a one trick guy that would never make it. Now, you see five different relievers come in for each team throwing just as hard but having absolutely no command. I suspect many teams are baffled by the inability of their prospects to figure things out and are hoping change of scenery will fix those same issues in guys who didn’t make it through other team’s systems.

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