What do Astros’ fans want?

This week’s announcement that Jim Crane will have the Astros (either as individuals or as a group) apologize for the electronic cheating scandal seemingly rubbed many Astros’ fans the wrong way.

Today’s post will be pretty simple. What do you as an Astro fan want from this organization?

  • Do you want the players to get up and read a carefully crafted apology to the fans for the heartbreak they have caused?
  • Do you want Jim Crane to get up and apologize for all this happening on his watch?
  • Do you want Commissioner Manfred to get up and apologize for all this happening on his watch? (Don’t hold your breath on this)
  • Do you want the team to give away “stuff”? Free hotdogs? Half price caps?
  • Do you want Crane to make some big splash acquisition of a pitcher – luxury tax be damned?
  • Do you just want the players to shut up and play and win?
  • Do you want MLB to investigate every team as deeply as they investigated the Astros with immunity for all the players involved?
  • Do you want more information on what the Astros actually did? Did they cheat in every single game? Did they cheat only at home (where they performed worse than on the road)? Did they cheat more in the playoffs? Did some players try it and then they said, no thanks?
  • Or do you want it all to go underground and go quiet?

This is your turn! Let us know what you want as a fan of baseball or as a fan of the Astros.

When it comes to the new Astros manager, who may not be as important as what

In between their spats of anger about “IT” fans have been using their peripheral vision to track the stories about who the Astros are bringing in to interview for their open manager’s spot and who else they are considering. We know they have talked to experienced managers Buck Showalter, John Gibbons and dusted the cobwebs off Dusty Baker. It has been written that they will bring in old Rangers nemesis Jeff Banister and newbie Eduardo Perez and rumor has it another newbie Will Venable may get an interview. Bench coach Joe Espada (who may or may not be tainted by the scandal) has been mentioned and of course some folks would love them some Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell for A.J. Hinch’s open spot.

But perhaps who is not as important a question as what when it comes to the new manager.

  • What is Jim Crane thinking at this point?
  • What power will this new manager have?
  • What oversight will this manager have from a GM who is likely to be chosen after he has been chosen?
  • What say (if any) does MLB have on this hiring?
  • What difference will this make in the long run to the success of the club?

This will be the third manager hiring that will occur under owner Jim Crane. The first hiring was the ill fated Bo Porter, who seemed to spend too much time throwing his players under the bus (and then driving it over them) and who likely was a little too old school to mesh with the Astros 21st century nerd cave. Crane then was involved with the hiring of A.J. Hinch, which seemed like a brilliant choice until the hay in the barn caught fire with him and Jeff Luhnow inside. So what is Jim Crane thinking here? Do they really need a get tough, old school manager to “control” these players? Does anybody think after what has just happened and the personal bullets the players dodged that they really need to be told to toe the line on cheating? Will Jim make a choice that is more in alignment with the modern nerd cave he already owns or will he make an old school choice that might rein in that part of the organization?

What kind of power will the new manager have? The feeling from what has been leaked about Hinch destroying monitors rather than confronting his players is that he did not necessarily feel he had power over the players. Will the new manager be more of a figure head, who like Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own” pops out of the dugout to wave his hat and smile at the masses? Will the manager be there to oversee the players or will he be looking over his shoulder at the front office and possibly the MLB personnel overseeing him?

Since the GM is likely hired second and will not be involved in the hunt for the manager – does that signal that these two areas of the club will be separate, but equal? Will they both report to Crane rather than the manager reporting to the GM, who reports to the owner?

There is already suspicion that is more than a conspiracy theory that MLB reached agreement with Jim Crane ahead of time on the suspension followed by the firing of both Luhnow and Hinch. Does MLB have a say (beyond diversity issues) on who Crane interviews and eventually who he hires?

How this works out for the club in the long run is the real question here. Most competent managers should do pretty well with the type of club that the Astros will be this season. A heck of a lot of talent with a huge chip on their shoulder sounds like a formula for a good season. But since the manager is not the GM’s pick, there might be some bumpy roads down the way if they are not in or near synch on personnel and their use. How will they make this team a sustainable juggernaut? Can they regain the confidence of their fan base and can they bury a past that will be dug up at every venue along the way?

We all want to hear who will be named the manager of the Astros. But what went into that decision and what it means down the line may be the more critical points.

 

 

Can we get back to baseball? Probably not, ‘IT’ keeps getting in the way

This offseason, that can’t end too soon and may not end well for the Astros feels like that first big breakup you had in school. You try to get over it and yet everything reminds you of the breakup. You see the other person. You see their friends. You go to places you used to go with them. You wake up and have no place to go on Saturday because that is when you spent the day with them. Ad infinitum…Everything ties back to IT.

And so the Astros and especially their fans are getting constant reminders of a different IT this off-season.

  • The Astros are on a manager search. But of course, they would not be on a manager search except for IT…
  • The Astros are on a general manager search. But of course, they would not be on a general manager search except for IT…
  • The Astro players are supporting the team’s off-season caravan around the state and of course since it is different players at different stops, we get a daily dance of the seven veils with whichever player the media attempts to get the big scoop about IT from…..
  • You turn on sports talk radio and you get everyone speculating about IT. You get Clint Stoerner (who I actually like) telling you that this cheating put the Astros at a much bigger advantage than anything that happened during the steroid era because everyone was doing steroids back then. Of course, he does not “know” that everyone was doing it back then, just like he does not “know” that everyone was not doing this now. But IT hovers…
  • The web is full of speculation. You have crazy folks taking IT and running with it. You have anonymous sources sending tweets or Instagrams or some other crap from people claiming to be people that they are not and saying this or that is proven by a picture of graffiti or a guy protecting his jersey when he crosses home plate. Someone was on the radio saying they went to one of these sites and the site was pointing to a laptop in the dugout being proof of a conspiracy. Except there was a picture of a pizza box, not a laptop. IT is lowering IQs (and this country sure can’t afford that).
  • There are stories every day about players from other teams or other eras talking about how this team, that manager used buzzers and light bulbs and every other thing and were doing IT to get the edge. This would make one feel better, except it is like someone telling you that your ex made a big mistake dumping you. Yes, they are trying to be consoling, but they are reminding you of IT.
  • We have polls telling us what the man on the street thinks about all this. They tell us that 56% of them think the Astros should give back their title and 53% of them think the Red Sox should give back their title. My son, Thomas, said that means 3% are avid Red Sox fans and/or hypocrites. I said 80% think we should both give our titles back and give it to the Yanks even though the Dodgers were in both World Series. Of course, it might be a good guess that the poll was taken about 10 feet from the news outlets offices in NYC. When I see what polls show people think these days about any number of topics,  I am not too interested in what they think about IT.

We thought the off-season was going to be highlighted with discussions about whether the Astros can get by without adding another starting pitcher, whether the bullpen will hold up and how they will tip-toe around the luxury tax levels. But instead, the off-season (and likely most everything this season) has been hijacked by IT.

Random thoughts of a grumpy fan

Today I have been accused twice (and deservedly so) of being grumpy in some of my blog comments. Normally I am a very Zen and loveable person, maybe even more so on the blog than in person. But, heck,  yes I’m grumpy, and I think it is the proper response to all that has happened here the last few days in the city of Houston. Here are some thoughts on the matter:

  • In Houston, we are facing the fact that in one sport – football – we can’t get rid of the GM/head coach Bill O’Brien, even though most of us know in our hearts he will never even do like Moses and take us to within sight of the Promised Land. Meanwhile, we have jettisoned the two guys in baseball, who not only took us to the Promised Land, but came oh so close a couple of other times and appeared to be ready to establish this team as a dynasty. I know that they both needed to be punished (which I thought a suspension would suffice) but from my standpoint these are the best two in their respective positions to front any of the Houston teams, ever. This irony is eating me up.
  • I waited 52 seasons for the Astros to win a championship. I don’t have 52 more years to wait for the next.
  • What type of GM should the Astros pick? Do they pull somebody up from the organization (Pete Putila), who the powers that be may want to take down because they are tainted by the Taubman and cheating scandals? Do they pick a number knocking dweeb from somewhere else? Do they pick a number knocking dweeb who has some human qualities from another organization? Guys like Matt Arnold (Brewers), Josh Byrnes (Dodgers), Peter Bendix (Rays) and Jared Porter and Amiel Sawdaye (D’Backs) have been mentioned. Why am I grumpy about this? Because I am an engineer with Asperger tendencies and I DON’T LIKE CHANGE!!
  • What about manager? Do they pick a solid baseball man, who may not be that tech savvy (Buck Showalter, John Gibbons, Bruce Bochy), ? Do they go for a newbie who does not have a track record, but also knows how to sift through the stats pouring in from the front office (Will Venable)? Do they pull up from within (Joe Espada?) Do they hire the Anti-Christ (Jeff Banister)? I have this feeling I will be more disappointed in the M choice than the GM choice.
  • I have not been one that said we cheated, but…..everyone was doing that. Our team did some bad stuff, got caught and has been punished. What sufficed as justice for my kids will suffice as justice for my team. But with that I want MLB to clean house on this issue and leave no stone unturned in rooting out the bad stuff that happened with all teams. Instead I think they are taking those stones and piling them up as a dam area with the Astros isolated off by themselves as “THE CHEATERS”. That part is unfair and hacks me off royally.
  • I have to ask – what prevents players in the future from cheating. They did not get any punishment at all. Again I go back to how we discipline kids. You lead by example; you do what you say you are going to do, etc. So our example here is you can get rings, big contracts and accolades and as long as you confess when asked we will punish someone else and you have to live with a stain on your name and your accomplishments the rest of your life. OK – maybe I have no reason to be grumpy here.
  • I am not going to enjoy watching the team play and be boo’ed everywhere, signs in the stands, feature after feature by the national press on this issue. I am not going to enjoy all the idiots go on and on about this was not enough punishment and we need to kill all of their first born children, burn down MMP with all of us inside and mail in all the trophies and rings to the league office. This will be a continuous rash on my behind in the future.

Anyways, I feel better now. No longer grumpy, just mildly irritated.

What must be said

I was thinking about this whole “cheating” situation with the Astros and one of the things that came to mind was how my friends and I would play outside back in the day. It didn’t matter whether we were playing touch football on Terry Brown’s side yard or playing some one on one on David Nees’ basket or even playing some hot box in our back yard. We mostly played fair. So fair that we never had a third-party ump or ref. We called the fouls, safe/outs and catch/no catch ourselves. Sure, there were disagreements and arguments, but they were normally settled quickly and the disagreements were because both sides really thought they were right on bang-bang plays. We did not think about cheating to win. We won because we did something better than the opponent that day.

There are a lot of things that bother me about this whole cheating scandal, but probably the biggest piece was how unnecessary this was. This version of the Astros was one of the most talented teams I’ve ever seen. They did not need to do this to be an excellent, winning team. And in fact, many of us wonder if doing this helped or hindered them.

It is funny, but there has been obvious cheating going on right in front of our eyes for years that never was pointed out. How many times over the seasons did players act like they made a tag that they knew they did not make? Or act like they caught a ball that they knew hit short of their glove? Or acted like they were hit by a pitch that they knew did not hit them? This is and has been cheating and was accepted as gamesmanship, but has been fortunately undercut by the proliferation of instant replay.

At this point, I don’t care if our team was or was not the only one performing electronic sign stealing. I don’t care that this punishment may be a bit unfair because we were trying to “compete” with other teams in electronic espionage. I just care that the true joy that I felt on Nov. 1st, 2017 has been stolen from me. After the Rockets won their titles I had to live with the quasi-asterisk of “You only won because Michael Jordan retired”. Now I have to live with “You only won because your team is a bunch of cheaters.” After waiting for a title for 52 years (in my case) that is grossly unfair. And it is the fault of the Astros.

Speaking of fault, the guys in charge are taking it in the neck because of the old rule that they knew or should have known this was occurring on their watch.  I wish we were not losing these two men, they were very good at their jobs, but I accept that this was the only way the team could move forward. But I don’t give MLB or Jim Crane a free pass on this.

I recently read the excellent book Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof about the Black Sox scandal of 1919. There is no doubt that the players involved did the wrong thing in even entertaining the thought of throwing World Series games for money. But it is also true that the “culture” of baseball and especially that of their owner, Charles Comiskey was complicit in what happened. Baseball was set up to chain the players to a single team and the team owners abused the system by going take it or leave it with the players. Comiskey significantly underpaid his players even versus the other owners and had his henchmen go out and strong arm the players, even lying to Shoeless Joe Jackson (who could not read) about what was in the contract he signed. It was no surprise that the players (who knew that other players had thrown games for money before them and were unpunished) would want a single big payday that they felt they had earned and had been denied them. Obviously, the culture today is not one of underpay. But it seems to have been one of win at all cost and to me that does not stop at the GM, but also should extend to the owner as far as “knew or should have known”.

It would be naïve to think that what happened in the suspension and firing of AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow was not completely orchestrated between MLB and Jim Crane. They undoubtedly negotiated the final scenario out that allowed MLB to hand down a big punishment to show how pristine they are and also allowed Jim Crane to go beyond that to show how pristine he and his organization is (or will be).  Of course, the problem Crane has now is that he has only removed 2 people from his organization involved in this controversy. He still has players, coaches and front office personnel that were here during that time and undoubtedly ones who participated or knew what had happened. How will he deal with that, especially with in-house openings?

Did the Astros deserve the punishment they were given? Yes they did. Did Hinch and Luhnow deserve the punishments they were given? Yes they did. But baseball, who gave a small slap on the wrist to the Red Sox and Yankees for stealing signs back in 2017 should have whacked those teams at the time. They also better not pretend that this encompasses all the cheating that has occurred over the last few years. Alex Cora should be punished, all teams should be investigated and only after they have put equal effort into this that they put into the Astros investigation should they rest and pat themselves on the back.

I will continue to be a fan of baseball and of the “new” Astros. I will not allow the actions of a few individuals steal that joy from me. Will I have a little more cynical approach in my thoughts and my writings? Probably.

I’ve known for decades that I can’t go back to the days of self-policing sports in the front yard. But today I wish I could.

Astros’ Monday musings

On a gloomy Houston Monday after watching the Texans continue a story arc of sadness and despair, it is time to turn away from that and back to thoughts about the 2020 Astros.

The $5 Million Question

George Springer and the Astros exchanged arbitration figures on Friday and they are the largest gap ($5 million) of any potential salaries exchanged by any player or team. The Astros offered $17.5 MM, while Springer (undoubtedly through his agent) asked for $22.5 MM. If there is no settlement before then, the arbitration hearings will occur between Feb. 3 and 21. Since the Astros supposedly have chosen what is called a file and trial process in the past, they supposedly will go to arbitration with both Aledmys Diaz ($2.6 vs 2.0 MM) and Springer rather than reach a settlement. Matt Swartz, a statistician and contributor to mlbtraderumors.com, who has been doing this for a while came up with an expected arb salary of $21.4 MM for Springer, which obviously tracks a lot closer to George’s number than the teams.

The arbitration process is an all or nothing system. Both sides will present why their number is the correct one and the arbitrator will pick one. It has been suggested that the Astros lower number may be based on them knowing he will not produce as well without the electronic “assistance” for which they are being investigated. Since, the team cannot use this argument in the hearings they just could not base the number on that. The only reasonable thought here is that they will work on downgrading his performance figures with availability. During the duration of his current 2 year contract, Springer has played in about 81% of the 324 games due to injuries. If you took that $21.4 MM figure and multiplied it by 81% you would end up near the $17.5 MM figure.

What will happen? Well the Astros could decide to not apply file and trial here and work in the next 3 weeks or so to settle with Springer. Maybe they are hoping that Springer, afraid of ending up with the $17.5 MM figure will settle at a $20 MM number or so. I am sure they have already tried to extend George and I am sure that George’s agent has told him that nice as that may be, if he just holds on for another season he will get paid well in 2020 and will be offered a contract that will be higher per season and longer than anything the Astros may offer after 2020 as Gerrit Cole did. The most likely thing that will happen here is that Springer will win the arbitration hearing, the Astros will be squeezed even more in the luxury tax arena and that we will see George Springer for only one more wonderful season.

The Sword of Damocles

Are the Astros really being affected by the potential punishments hanging over the team’s collective head? It doesn’t feel like it. They were not going to be out there trying to bring in a bunch of free agents this off-season anyways and most definitely not the upper crust types, but they have signed Dustin Garneau, Martin Maldonado and Joe Smith with no drama involved. Teams have been trading with them as normal (Jake Marisnick to the Mets, Austin Pruitt from the Rays). Right now this “sword” is more a psychological one that the fans sense, not necessarily anything affecting the day-to-day workings of the team……yet.

The 4th and 5th spots

The back end of the rotation will be the focal point all through Spring Training. After Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers, the last two spots seem to be up for grabs.

In truth, we need to look at the last two spots in two different ways. First, pitchers who will be competing for a spot in Spring Training. Second, pitchers who will be more likely competing for a mid-season spot. There are some pitchers, who look really attractive, but based on how the team has handled pitching promotions previously a lot of the attractive ones need to show something at AAA before being brought up.

  • The Spring Training competitors would seem to consist of the following pitchers with varying levels of MLB experience – Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock, Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdez, Francis Martes, Rogelio Armenteros, Cy Sneed, Cionel Perez and Bryan Abreu. Considering the limitations on how many starts and innings are available in the major league camp, this set of pitchers is likely to be smaller than that during ST (barring injuries). Obviously, the Astros may pick up another pitcher along the way who may be in the mix, but this seems like the reasonable bunch to look at for the final two spots.
  • The mid-season set are intriguing and could include any of those above who do not get a starting spot, but perform well either in the minors or out of the major league bullpen during the early season. Added to this list would be some of the young studs, who have not had exposure or much exposure at the highest minor league levels. This of course includes Forrest Whitley, Cristian Javier, Brandon Bielak, Tyler Ivey or even the pitcher good friend of the blog – GoStros – featured on Monday, Brett Conine. These are talented pitchers, who could earn a spot with continued high performance at the highest minor league levels.

Anyways – a few thoughts to chew on today. What do you think?

 

Astros 2020: Month by month, from the mouth of a seer

I have this long-time friend. Let’s call him Mr. X.  Way back in 1975 he fell down the steps in his parent’s house bumping his head on his sister’s Pet Rock and ever since, strange things happen with him. He gets “visions” that he will share with me occasionally and, well, they have been pretty amazing. Among the things he has predicted ahead of time were the Larry Andersen trade for Jeff Bagwell, the shift of Craig Biggio to second base and that Patrick Duffy’s character had not really died in the TV show “Dallas” and that he would return the next season.

So when he calls me up and tells me he has had a “vision” of the Astros whole 2020 season, well I not only have to pay attention, I need to record it for posterity and my loyal bloggers.

We met at a local Chuy’s where I bought him his usual “Elvis Presley Memorial Combo”. This is usually the only payment he requires, though occasionally he needs a ride back and forth from his parent’s house where he still lives in his old 10′ X 10′ bedroom in the back and makes money broadcasting his “Gambler’s Investors Daily” radio shows on the weekends.

Dan P:  Hey X, thanks for meeting me today. I understand that you had a vision laying out the whole of the 2020 season for the Astros. How did that come to happen?

Mr. X:  Well, you know my parents are the last people in the Greater Houston area to still own and use a rooftop aerial for their 1953 Philco black and white TV.  Well, I was up there on the roof adjusting it when that storm we had last week kicked up and a bolt of lightning decided I was part of the shortest route to the ground. I fell off the roof luckily landing on my sister’s trampoline and the nurse next door came over and started CPR on me within a couple minutes. But while I was out – I was sucked in towards the light and met a trio of the late Loel Passe, Spec Richardson and Jose Lima. They quickly told me how the 2020 season would unfold for the Astros. I don’t know how they fit it all into a couple minutes or how the heck I remembered it – but they did and I did.

Dan P:  That’s a fascinating story X. Can you take me through what you can remember?

Mr. X:  Sure. Here’s what I can remember…..

January will start off quietly and morph into a jarring month. The Astros will exchange arbitration figures with all their eligible players and will come to agreements with Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, and Aledmys Diaz. They will go to actual hearings in February with George Springer, Carlos Correa and Roberto Osuna. Then the Astros surprise a few teams by signing the oft-injured, but effective when healthy Alex Wood on a 1 year/$8 MM deal for the back of the rotation.

The month will turn on the announcement of the results of the cheating scandal. The Astros championship trophy remains untouched. The team is fined $5 MM and loses a 1st round pick in 2020 and a 2nd round pick in 2021. Jeff Luhnow is handed a one-year suspension and A.J. Hinch gets a 3 month regular season suspension, but cannot manage in the 2020 playoffs should the Astros make it and the honor of managing the All Star team is given to Yanks’ manager Aaron Boone. No players are punished, but Dean Wormer places them on double-secret probation. Major league baseball is very unclear about what other teams it has or will investigate based on what they found out. They have assigned a former Secret Service agent to stand next to Mike Fiers when he takes the mound in 2020.

In February, the Astros will go to arbitration with Springer, Osuna and Correa. The first two win their hearings, while the team beats Correa. The players report in mid-February to Spring Training and amazingly every one of them is in the best shape of their lives. The Astros beat the Nationals in the first game of Spring training on the February 22, but the Nats are still the World Series champions.

In March, the Astros decide they have seen enough good things out of some of their younger pitchers for bullpen spots, like Bryan Abreu and a surprising dark horse, Francis Martes and they trade Chris Devenski to the Pirates and release Joe Biagini. The Astros start the season on the road in Oakland and for some reason, Mike Fiers is not able to answer the bell for the first three games. Reasons given are “He has a case of the Mondays”, “His feng shui consultant has not approved changes to the stadium, yet” and “His dog ate his homework”.

The Astros struggle a bit in April as they seem to be trying to over-prove they are not cheaters. George Springer is leading the league in strikeouts and Jose Altuve is on top with the most infield pop-ups. They settle down a bit and end the month with a 14-17 record (including 6 games played in March). Carlos Correa plays every game, but everyone walks around him like they are in an antique store, hoping to not be the one to trigger glass breakage. The Astros, while they wait for Hinch to come back from suspension install Larry Dierker as interim manager to start the season. After one week he has had enough of the pointy head patrol telling him what to do and Phil Garner takes over. He lasts two weeks and Art Howe comes in to prove that what he said about not being like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Moneyball is true. The A’s come into Houston for a 3 game series without Mike Fiers. He has taken maternity leave as he has a guppy who is expecting.

The Astros get their mojo back in May as they go 20-9 including an eight-game winning streak. Justin Verlander is the AL Pitcher of the month with a 4-0 record and the 4th no-hitter of his Hall of Fame career. One of the down points is when the Yankees come into town and Gerrit Cole throws a complete game shutout and the Yanks take 2 out of 3 at Minute Maid. Towards the end of the month the Athletics visit for a four-game series. Mike Fiers starts two games in a row in the previous series and is unavailable until the next series after they leave Houston.

In June the Astros go 15-9 against a fairly easy schedule. The injury problems that they normally face every year hit them in waves again as Michael Brantley pulls a hammy, Yuli Gurriel hurts his thumb trying to catch an errant throw into a runner and Carlos Correa goes down with prolapsed hemorrhoids. Luckily, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez share AL player of the month honors with 12 HRs and 30 RBIs apiece. Zack Greinke continues his steady work in the rotation and Lance McCullers misses two starts with a tired arm. The MLB draft is held June 10-12 and the Astros have to wait for the last pick of the 2nd round for their first pick of the draft and then the last compensation pick after the 2nd round for the loss of Cole. Oh, the Astros visit Oakland for a three-game series and Mike Fiers is supposed to pitch the Sunday get-away game, but it is postponed after a mysterious bomb threat is received just before the game.

The Astros have a very solid month in July going 16-9. There is controversy on the All Star team selection as not one of the Astros is voted onto the team by the fans (9 position players) despite at least three of the players (Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and George Springer) deserving the honor. The player voting, which covered 5 starters, 3 relievers and a backup at eight positions does not include any Astros even though this ignores the seasons that Verlander, Roberto Osuna, and Yuli Gurriel have put up. Manager Boone chooses 8 additional players and only picks Verlander (who pitched on Sunday and won’t be available for the Tuesday game) and the fans choose a non-Astro for the last spot in the game.

The Astros play the Nationals in DC in early July and sweep the Nats. They are still not the World Series champs. They play their last seven games of the season (3 home and 4 on the road including the makeup game) against the A’s between July 17 and 29. Mike Fiers goes on the IL with anal fissures on July 16 and comes off on the 31st. In the last couple of days before the trade deadline, Josh Reddick is sent to the Mets for a couple of so-so prospects. The Astros pick up a pitching rental who will be a free agent at the end of the season in Cole Hamels from the Braves, who have had an unexpected disappointing season.

The Astros take advantage of an August schedule liberally sprinkled with the Mariners, D’Backs, Blue Jays and Tigers and go 21-7. They have not been happy campers after the All Star game disrespect. Altuve goes off and raises his batting average above .330, while Brantley goes on a 20 game hitting streak. Verlander misses his first time since joining the Astros when he has to have his appendix out. Jose Urquidy and Lance McCullers win 7 games between them and Ryan Pressley allows no runs for the second month in a row.

In September the Astros have an early month swoon, but buoyed by a 4 game sweep of the Yankees they put up a 14-11 record and become the first team in MLB history to reach 100 wins four games in a row. They win the AL West by 6 games over the resurgent Angels and head to the playoffs with the 2nd best record in the AL and the majors behind the Yanks.

In October, the Astros, utilize a manager by committee with Dierker, Garner and Howe sharing the dugout and take on the Twins and beat them 3-1 in the ALDS, losing the opener and then sweeping the next three games. This sets up the matchup everyone wanted to see with the Yanks hosting the Astros in the ALCS. It is a heavyweight matchup as the teams take turns – splitting the first 6 games. In Yankee Stadium in game 7 with the world watching, the Astros win 2-1 on a Yordan Alvarez 7th inning blast as Verlander beats Cole to send the team to the World Series again.

The World Series is a rare repeat (the last was when the Dodgers and Yankees met in 1977 and 1978) as the Nationals again go up against the Astros. Rob Manfred comes down with anal fissures and says he is not able to go to the opener in Houston. He asks Bud Selig to attend in his place, but he comes down with a case of prolapsed hemorrhoids. Manfred invites Nolan Ryan to his office and asks him to attend in his place. Nolan beats the holy hell out of Manfred and tells him to go face the booing in Houston or he will come back and do it again.

Manfred faces 10 minutes of booing for the first game and that is in the parking lot. The crowd settles down and the Astros do, also. The team’s offense is on fire in this series scoring an average of 8 runs per game. There are no accusations of cheating or trash can pounding as the only pounding is what the Astros are doing to the Nats’ pitchers. They take the Nats out 4-1, but the MVP is Verlander, who wins game 3 for his first World Series career win and then comes in for 2 shutout innings in Game 5 for the save that gives the Astros an untainted championship.

In November, the Astros don’t take home the Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award, the MVP or the Manager of the Year awards, but they don’t care. In the week after the win they have one heckuva parade that has even more people in attendance than the one in 2017.

Dan P: That is an amazing story, X.

Mr. X: This is an amazing team and an amazing city.

Astros off-season: Arbitration on deck

The next step in the Astros’ offseason involves the team exchanging salary numbers by this Friday Jan. 10th with the arbitration eligible players. They could come to terms with some of their arbitration eligible players before reaching that exchange point, or during the time between exchanging numbers and holding hearings. Here is a look at all the arbitration eligible players on the team:

  1. Alex Bregman. They do not have to go to arbitration with Alex after signing him to a back loaded $100 MM over 5 years last season
  2. Lance McCullers Jr. The team and Lance agreed to a 1 yr / $4.1 MM contract (the same amount he made for not playing in 2019) to avoid arbitration
  3. Joe Biagini. This one is an interesting situation. Back in early December, ESPN reported that Biagini had agreed to a 1 yr / $1 MM contract. CBS reported that Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (spit!!) had reported that Biagini had agreed to a contract without stating a $$ amount. However, I cannot find any place in mlb.com or on the Astros site where they reported this. And he is still shown on mlbtraderumors.com as predicting he will get $1.5 MM in arbitration. So, I don’t know the story, but the $1 MM sounds closer to reality…..
  4. George Springer – George just finished off a contract that bought out two seasons of arbitration for 2 yrs / $24 MM. The predictions out there are that he will make $21.4 MM in arbitration this time around. That sounds right as far as production goes, but high considering he has played only 140 and 122 games the last two seasons and will turn 31 at the end of next season. Will they fight him on this? Will they try and sign him to an extension? If they signed him to a backloaded extension like they did with Bregman that might work and could get them past the Verlander/Greinke $$$ bubble. But if I were Springer I might bet on myself – take the $20 MM or so in arbitration and see what the open market brings me after 2020.
  5. Carlos Correa. Correa was arb eligible last off-season and got a $5 MM contract out of it. After missing 53, 52, and 87 games the last three seasons the predictors have him down for a healthy, but quite affordable raise to $7.4 MM in 2020. Would the Astros try to extend him while he is at the bottom of his earnings? They might try, but it is more likely that he will wait until he is coming off a better season to sign anything long term (and that may not be until he is a free agent after 2021).
  6. Roberto Osuna. Osuna made $6.5 MM in 2019. He is predicted to get $10.2 MM in 2020. With the off-season Brandon Taubman “to-do” that was about Osuna’s past (even though he has been behaving very well since joining the Astros) an extension would be a surprise at this point.
  7. Brad Peacock. Peacock made $3.11 MM in 2019, but struggled with shoulder issues and had his worst numbers since 2015. He is predicted to make $4.6 MM in arbitration this season, which is a fairly small raise these days. Brad feels like a guy they will not extend, but they could be offering him around at the trade deadline knowing they will likely lose him to better opportunities when he hits free agency after 2020.
  8. Chris Devenski. Devo made about $1.5 MM in 2019 and had his worst year as an Astro. They are predicting he will make $2 MM in arbitration. If the Astros think they can correct whatever is wrong with him an extension would make a heck of a lot of sense at this point. Either way, even though $2 MM is a dream to us fans, it is chump change in the insane financial world of baseball, so expect Devo to be used a bunch out of the bullpen (at least until one of the young bucks bumps him out).
  9. Aledmys Diaz. Diaz made $2 MM in 2019 and is projected to make $2.4 MM in 2020 after hitting well, but missing June and most of July on the IL. He might be a candidate to try and buy out some or all of his remaining arbitration seasons (through 2022), but he may not be willing to sign that coming off an injury shortened season.

An interesting item to watch will be the accuracy of the salaries estimated for the arbitration participants. These same sources have been underestimating the majority of the free agent contracts being doled out this off-season after a couple of seasons of mostly over-estimating those contracts. It is a little apples to oranges as these players are not eligible to be free agents, but it is likely that their agents will be pointing at these dollar touch points as they try to earn higher arbitration numbers for their clients.

So…..

  • Who do you think the Astros should extend?
  • Who do you think they will extend?
  • Are any of these projected numbers way out of whack in your estimation? (I know that for some, making any money playing a kid’s game is way out of whack).
  • Who do you think will not make it through the season with the team?