Astros: Critical time of the off-season

This is a critical time in the off-season for the Astros relative to personnel. The following deadlines occur or have already occurred that drive decisions by the front office.

  • By November 2, teams had to decide whether to offer their own free agents a qualifying offer, a contract for one year at $17.9 million. In the whole of the majors, only seven players were offered Q.O.’s including Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel, the only Astro offered a Q.O. had 10 days to accept the one-year contract or opt to go into free agency and he opted to become a free agent. The Astros will get a compensatory pick when he signs with another team.
  • By this coming Tuesday, November 20, the Astros must finalize their 40-man roster heading into the Rule 5 draft. Players who have been with the organization a certain amount of time (between four and five years depending on their age when drafted) can be picked by other organizations if they are not on the 40-man roster, but they have to be kept on the major league roster for a whole season. So they will add or subtract minor leaguers by Tuesday based on whether they think they risk losing them.
  • By November 30, the teams need to tender arbitration offers to players they wish to keep who are eligible for arbitration. Those who are non-tendered are free agents.

So, the first question is where are the Astros vs. the 40-man roster. Per the Astros web site, the following players are currently on the 40-man roster.

  1. Gerrit Cole. Arb eligible
  2. Dean Deetz.
  3. Chris Devenski. Arb eligible
  4. Reymin Guduan.
  5. Will Harris. Arb eligible
  6. Josh James.
  7. Francis Martes.
  8. Lance McCullers Jr. Arb eligible
  9. Collin McHugh. Arb eligible
  10. Roberto Osuna. Arb eligible
  11. Brad Peacock. Arb eligible
  12. Cionel Perez.
  13. Ryan Pressly. Arb eligible
  14. Brady Rodgers.
  15. Hector Rondon.
  16. Joe Smith.
  17. Framber Valdez.
  18. Justin Verlander.
  19. Chris Hermann. Arb eligible
  20. Max Stassi.
  21. Jose Altuve.
  22. Alex Bregman.
  23. Carlos Correa. Arb eligible
  24. J.D. Davis.
  25. Yuli Gurriel.
  26. A.J. Reed.
  27. Tyler White.
  28. Derek Fisher.
  29. Tony Kemp.
  30. Jake Marisnick. Arb eligible
  31. Josh Reddick.
  32. George Springer.
  33. Myles Straw.
  34. Kyle Tucker.

This means that the Astros could theoretically add six minor league players to the 40-man roster without making any other move. However, this would not take into account any players added by trade or free agency. On the other side there could be more spots available (eventually) if the Astros are not going to tender all the arbitration-eligible players or if they want to part ways with any of the folks on the roster who may be just taking up space.

Likely actions:

  • It is likely the Astros will add four players or so from their minor league rosters – see the following link to “what the heck bobby” for those eligible to be poached from the minors
  • Based on their inclusion on the Arizona Fall league rosters, it would seem that Drew Ferguson, Trent Thornton and Erasmo Pinales would be moved on to the 40-man roster. Due to lack of catchers on the 40-man, Garrett Stubbs should be automatic. If they go beyond adding four, it would seem some of their high-end pitching might be next, such as Cy Sneed, Rogelio Armenteros or Brock Dykxhoorn.
  • If the Astros are looking to move anyone off the 40-man roster by trade or by exposing them to being picked up by others, Brady Rodgers (same age as Cole and Devenski) would seem to be the most at risk.
  • Of the players who might not be offered arbitration, Jake Marisnick, Will Harris and Chris Hermann would seem to be at risk. With what they saw of Myles Straw in a short call-up, Mr. Marisnick would seem to be the most likely to be by-passed.
  • And of course….if the Astros sign FAs or make trades in the early going this could certainly change the dynamics of their decisions.

So, if the Astros add four from their minors, let a Rodgers and a Marisnick go, they will head into the hotter part of the Hot Stove League with four spots open on the 40-man. If they want to add more than four players from outside they will have to expose someone to the Rule 5 draft or possible waiver pickup at a later date or include 40 man player or players in a trade.

What do you think they will do in the next couple days and weeks?


A re-look at 2019 Astros and salaries

There was a little discussion about the 2019 salaries in the previous blog, which just happened to coincide with something that your faithful servant was researching at the time. Back in July, we visited the subject in a three-part series looking at the roster construction from 2019 to 2021.

The 2019 review looked like this –

A few things have changed, but the basics are as follows:

POSITION   Player                                 2019 Salary
1B                YULI GURRIEL                   $10.4 MM
2B                JOSE ALTUVE                     $9.5 MM
SS                CARLOS CORREA (ARB)    $5.1 MM – EST
3B                ALEX BREGMAN                $2 MM – EST
C                  TBD                                       TBD
DH               TYLER WHITE                    $600 K
OF                TBD                                       TBD
OF                GEORGE SPRINGER           $12 MM
OF                JOSH REDDICK                   $13 MM
BENCH        TBD                                       TBD
BENCH        TONY KEMP                        $560 K
BACKUP C   TBD                                      TBD
SP                  JUSTIN VERLANDER        $20 MM
SP                  GERRIT COLE (ARB)          $13.1 MM – EST
SP                  TBD                                       TBD
SP                  TBD                                       TBD
SP                  COLLIN MCHUGH (ARB)  $5.4 MM -EST
RP                  HECTOR RONDON             $4.5 MM
RP                  CHRIS DEVENSKI (ARB)   $1.4 MM – EST
RP                  ROBERTO OSUNA (ARB)   $6.5 MM – EST
RP                  JOE SMITH                           $8 MM
RP                  RYAN PRESSLY                    $3.1 MM – EST
RP                  BRAD PEACOCK (ARB)       $2.9 MM – EST
RP                  TBD TBD
RP                  TBD TBD
MISC.             LANCE MCCULLERS           $4.6 MM – EST

Note – under this scenario, it is assumed that certain folks are gone through free agency (Marwin Gonzalez, Evan Gattis, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann and Tony Sipp, Martin Maldonado) or won’t be pursued in arbitration (Jake Marisnick, Will Harris).

So, what are we looking at….

  • Sure fire money owed unless a player is traded is ~$78 million for Verlander, Springer, Reddick, Gurriel, Altuve, Smith and Rondon.
  • Money estimated (by for arbitration is ~$42 million for Cole, Osuna, McHugh, Correa, Pressly, Peacock, Devenski and which includes a guesstimated $4.6 million for Lance McCullers not to pitch.
  • There is about $3 million estimated total for Bregman, White and Kemp.

So, covering 17 of the 25 spots costs a total of $123 million. The Astros payroll in 2018 came in at around $163 million, so there is some money to play with here, whether we assume it is the same payroll or a bit more.

Let’s look at three options to fill out the 25 man……

“The Po’Boy” roster

The low end choices could include the following folks already on the roster or easily added to it.

  • 2 Catchers. Garrett Stubbs and Max Stassi would cost about a $1 million total. If you used recently picked up Chris Hermann as a backup this would go to about $2 million.
  • Left field. Throw about $600K at young Kyle Tucker and don’t look back
  • Bench. Pickup Jake Marisnick in arbitration for about $2.4 million
  • 2 Starting Pitchers. From Josh James, Framber Valdez, and Cionel Perez, fill out your rotation for about $1 million.
  • 2 Relief Pitchers. Whoever is not in the rotation from James, Valdez and Perez, put them in the bullpen. Add in Dean Deetz and you just filled the spots for about $1 million total or pick up Will Harris in arbitration and fill the two spots for about $4 million.

Po’Boy total – about $129 to 133 million

The “It’s Not My Money” Roster

The high-end choices look a lot different:

  • Go trade for J.T. Realmuto (projected $6.1 million). But the arbitration is not the big cost or sign a free agent like Yasmani Grandal for about $14 million a year
  • Another catcher will be cheap (Stubbs, Stassi, Hermann)
  • Left Field. Go get Bryce Harper for $30+ million for the rest of our lives
  • DH/Bench. Move Tyler White to the bench as you sign free agent Nelson Cruz (estimated $18 million) as your new DH
  • Starting pitchers. Go get James Paxton (projected $9 million) and Corey Kluber (Under contract $17 million)
  • Relief pitchers. Sign free agents Craig Kimbrel ($16 million) and Zach Britton (Let’s guess $12 million after his injuries and recovery)

“It’s Not My Money” Total – 25 man roster for a mere…..$231 to $239 million

“Back to Reality” Roster

The Astros are more likely to end up as follows:

  • Catcher. They will trade for J.T. Realmuto (projected $6.1 million) or sign a free agent like Yasmani Grandal for about $14 million a year and back him up with the cheaper option
  • Left field. I think they give the “Kid” Kyle Tucker a shot at this spot
  • Bench. There were a bunch of DH/corner IF or OF bats available late in the last spring training and don’t be surprised if the Astros chase one for $7 to 10 million for 2019
  • Starting Pitchers. The Astros will fill one of the spots with a youngster and pursue their next Charlie Morton out there. Maybe a Sonny Gray, Marcus Stroman or Robbie Ray. So let’s say $12 million or so
  • Relief Pitchers. The Astros will fill one spot with a youngster and may try to re-sign a Will Harris through arbitration at $3.5 million or so.

“Back to Reality” Total: $163 to $175 million range

This is total speculation at this point, but that is the essence of hot-stove league talk.

Which of these paths do you think the Astros will take and who do you think they will pursue?

The results are in: Final ChipalattAwards for 2018

It’s taken a little time and distance to be able to judge this previous season and hand out awards to our Astros for a season that came up short.  As always, this is one person’s opinion and all other voices are welcome.

Best Everyday. Alex Bregman.
An easy pick as Alex led in most offensive categories for the year for this team. He was first in runs (105), doubles (51), HRs (31), RBIs (103), OBP (.394) and OPS (.926) all while walking (96) times, far more than he struck out (85). Now if we can get him to not poke the opponent on social media during the playoffs….

Runner-up. Yuli Gurriel.
He was a quiet force on the team and was best with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP) .403 BA/.419 OBP/ 1.052 OPS and even better with two outs and RISP – .407/.439/1.179. In only 136 games he had 33 doubles, 13 HRs and 85 RBIs. Now if he could bear down with zero and one outs…….

Best Starting Pitcher. Justin Verlander.
The only category that he was not outstanding in was the category he could not control – wins and losses. He could easily have had close to 25 wins with just a modicum of support. He led the starters in wins (16), ERA (2.52), WHIP (0.902), Innings (214) and Ks (290) and is a finalist for the Cy Young award. And he gets to be a dad soon…

Runner-up. Gerrit Cole.
Just like Cole was a small step behind JV for best starter, Charlie Morton was a small step behind Cole for runner-up. Cole was a terrific pick-up for the Astros posting a 15-5 record with a 2.88 ERA, 1.033 WHIP, and 276 Ks in 200.1 IP. There was not a better 1-2 combo in the majors than Verlander and Cole.

Best Relief Pitcher. Ryan Pressly.
Pressly went from the “other” guy picked up at the trade deadline to a wipe-out weapon coming out of the Astros’ bullpen. In 27 games he had a 1-0 record with 2 saves along with a microscopic 0.77 ERA and tinier WHIP of 0.600. He was nearly untouchable down the stretch for the team.

Runners-up. Tie – Collin McHugh and Roberto Osuna.
McHugh proved to be one of the best “team” guys out there as he went to the bullpen after starting his whole career with the Astros and was dominant with a little tail off at the end of the season. He pitched in 58 games and was 6-2 with a 1.99 ERA and a 0.912 WHIP over 72.1 innings. Osuna came in and quietly pitched well with a 2-2 record and 12 saves in 23 appearances. He had a 1.99 ERA and a terrific 0.882 WHIP.

Most Improved Player. Tyler White.
The Great White went from an injury call-up to the every day DH with a very solid performance in 66 games. He put up a .276 BA/.354 OBP/ .888 OPS slash with 12 doubles, 12 HRs and 42 RBIs.

Runner-Up. Alex Bregman.
He probably should have won this category, but just trying to spread the wealth and Chippies around. At 24 years old he put up a great season that was better than his very good 2017 and left room for more improvement as he had another slow start before hitting his stride.

Biggest Surprise. Tony Kemp.
In two previous shots at the big time, Kemp had been very unimpressive. This time when he got the call-up he immediately hit the ground running, the plate hitting and the field defending big time. His numbers slid a bit towards the end of the season but were still a solid .263/ .351/ .743 with 37 runs, 15 doubles, 6 HRs and 30 RBIs in 97 games.

Runner-Up. Tony Sipp.

OK, Tony was not asked to pitch in too many high leverage situations, but after two seasons of terrible pitching, he gave them 54 appearances with a 3-1 record a 1.86 ERA and a 1.034 WHIP. He performed exactly as they needed in his likely last season with the Astros.

Rookie of the Year. Tie – Framber Valdez and Josh James.
They got here by two separate paths as Valdez walked tons of people, but was not hit by many with his big ball movement and James combined a 100+ fastball with a very effective changeup. James was 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA in 6 games and showed well in the postseason, while Valdez was 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 8 games with the big club.

Most Disappointing. Carlos Correa.
And certainly the way the Astros work (see Dallas Keuchel – 2016) Carlos could easily have been more injured than everyone let on before and after his DL stint, But until more information is coming forth on that we will blame Carlos himself in melting down from a top notch SS to a so-so SS in 2018.

Runner-Up. Tie – Josh Reddick and Ken Giles.
Josh played hard, but still nose-dived from 2017 in almost every category worth tracking – BA (.314 down to .242), OBP (.363 to .318), OPS (.847 to .718), runs (77 to 63), doubles (34 to 13!!), RBIs (82 to 47). Oh, he did hit 4 more HRs – big whoop.

Giles had a very good 2017 regular season, a very rough post-season and a total melt-down during the 2018 regular season that climaxed(?) (what verb should I use for hitting bottom here) with him cussing out his manager, being sent to the minors and then to the Blue Jays in mid-season.

There were plenty of guys who fell off in 2018, like Brian McCann (age and knees) and we could have thrown Kyle Tucker under the bus here for a terrible start to his career, but patience in waiting out Bregman’s and George Springer’s crummy starts to their respective careers proves we should give young K-Tuck a little latitude here.

Top Coach. Brent Strom.

Yes, he had some great material to work with, but the Astros’ pitching coach produced the top rotation and the top bullpen in the majors (at least by ERA….). Just remember that a lot of this “top” material was not that top before he took them under his wing. Cole was coming off a mediocre year in Pittsburgh, Morton off a below average career, McHugh off the scrap heap like Will Harris and Tony Sipp and they all to differing degrees flourished here. He is 70 years old and the Astros need to clone him or at least find out where he gets his pine tar supply…..

Now it is your turn. Any awards for the season? Any disagreements with the awards above? Let it rip.

Astros’ off-season: Would you rather?

The Astros entered the last off-season as the World Champions facing minimal turnover and very few personnel decisions. That was then and this is now as the Astros come off a very good season with a lot more question marks and personnel decisions on their plate. So, to check the pulse of the fanatics, today we will play a little game of “Would You Rather”.

Would you rather…

  1. The Astros re-sign Marwin Gonzalez or Charlie Morton?
  2. Have a return to greatness of Jose Altuve or Carlos Correa?
  3. The Astros sign Gerrit Cole or George Springer to an extension?
  4. Have a repeat of 2018 by Alex Bregman or Justin Verlander?
  5. J.B Bukauskas or Forrest Whitley come up to the big club in 2019?
  6. Have Josh James join the rotation or the back-end of the bullpen?
  7. The Astros pursue Catcher J.T. Realmuto in a trade or sign Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal as a free agent?
  8. Have Kyle Tucker break camp as the full-time left fielder or use him as the centerpiece of an off-season trade?
  9. The Astros fill open rotation spot(s) with internal options (James, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, Framber Valdez) or with a Charlie Morton (circa 2017) free agent or trade pickup?
  10. The Astros make Ryan Pressly the new closer or keep Roberto Osuna as the closer or pursue a free agent closer like Zach Britton?

Just a few questions to whet the Astro appetite today and feel free to throw in a few “Would You Rathers” of your own…..

Carlos Correa at the crossroads?

Does it seem possible that SS Carlos Correa has been in the Astros organization for parts of seven seasons? The word “parts” may be the most significant word in that particular sentence. Obviously, he only played a part of the 2012 season after being drafted overall in early June of 2012. He was only 17 at the time and played okay in 50 games at rookie ball.

In 2013 he played very well in a full season at A ball with 9 HRs, 86 RBIs and an excellent slash line of .320 BA/ .405 OBP/ .872 OPS. In 2014, the injury bug bit hard as he broke his leg sliding at the end of June cutting short a promising season at A+ Lancaster where he had 50 runs scored and 57 RBIs in only 62 games.

This did not slow him down in 2015, when he tore up AA early in the season, played so-so at AAA before being promoted to the big time, where in 99 games he earned Rookie of the Year honors with 22 HRs and 68 RBIs and was a catalyst on a surprise Astros’ playoff team.

In 2016 he played basically the whole season but regressed in performance a tad, which is to say, at 21 he put up as good of a season as a Houston shortstop has ever put up, but not quite an extension of 2015.

In 2017, he was an All Star and cranked out great numbers in 109 games as an injury (a torn up thumb while sliding) cut into his season. His missed a chunk of time bridging July, August and early September and took a while to find his bat again, but he did and helped lead the team to the franchise’s first World Championship.

In 2018, he started off hot in April and then slumped in May before steadying his hitting in June. But June is when he went down with a back injury that he either a) Never fully recovered from or b) Learned bad habits compensating for. He had gone from one of the best offensive SS’s in the game to a below average one by season’s end.

The thing about Carlos is that people like me take his partial seasons like 2015 and 2017 and extrapolate what could be. If you take his numbers for 2017 over 162 games you are looking at someone with 121 runs, 35 HRs and 124 RBIs even with how much he struggled in September returning from the injury. But the big question with Carlos is will he ever reach his potential? Will he stay healthy enough to do it? Does he have enough of that Jose Altuve — never be satisfied — attitude to become the superstar folks expect? Or will he be this generation’s Cesar Cedeno — good to very good, but never matching that talent?

No matter what anyone thinks about Carlos possibly leaving for free agency when he is eligible, it is important to remember that he is under team control through arbitration or through any potential deal for three more seasons. That is enough time to leave a legacy or to fall short.

Something else to remember is that at the end of the 2017 season, Correa, when compared to all shortstops who had played 100 or more games in the majors, was ranked thusly:

  • .315 BA – 1st
  • .394 OBP – 1st
  • .941 OPS – 1st
  • 82 runs scored – 6th
  • 24 HRs – Tied for 5th
  • 84 RBIs – 5th
  • And that for runs, HRs and RBIs, Correa who only played 109 games was trailing shortstops who had played 140 or more games

In 2018, he was a literal disaster. Again vs. shortstops who had played 100 or more games in the majors he was ranked:

  • .239 BA – 25th
  • .323 OBP – 14th
  • .728 OPS – 15th
  • 60 Runs scored – 19th
  • 15 HRs – 13th
  • 65 RBIs – 13th

It is pretty hard to look at those numbers and not think that his back problems hurt him before and after his trip to the DL. For the cynics among us, there are two potential positives relative to the 2018 performance. First, it may hold down what Correa gets in arbitration a tad or even force him to agree to a 2 year or 3-year contract that buys out his arbitration. Second, the next three years he should be highly motivated if money is really what drives him as he will be likely playing for a good arbitration ruling after 2019 and 2020 and for a mega-contract after 2021.

So, what does the future hold? Well, one way to look at Correa’s Astros’ career is that he has only played 471 games for them in his first 3 1/2 years with the team. If he played an average of 157 games the next three years he could match that total. So he may only be halfway through it. And if he can play that many games in a healthy manner he could return to the 2015/2017 version of Correa and be one of the best young SS’s in the majors. The expectation is that if he did that, this team might return and grab the brass ring one more time or beyond.

But as that great philosopher Rick Blaine once said in a northwest African café, “We’ll always have Paris.” The 2018 season and championship and the performance players like Correa cranked out can never be taken away from us.

Astros 2019: You have one wish

You’ve lived and died with your Astros over the years. In many cases that fanaticism covers many seasons. The Astros have just finished two years of some of their most successful baseball. They’ve won the whole enchilada. They’ve won more than 100 games two seasons in a row. They set a club record for wins in a season. After winning it all they made the ALCS before bowing out against the odds-on favorite to win it all – the Boston Red Sox.

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