Is Lance McCullers Jr. the most critical cog entering 2020?

The last time Lance McCullers pitched for the Astros was game 4 of the 2018 ALCS against the Red Sox. The last time Lance McCullers pitched uninjured for the Astros was probably in early July of 2018. He had a 10-3 record and a 3.41 ERA and then gave up 14 runs in his next 13.2 innings before being shut down for most of August and September. He came back and pitched out of the bullpen for the final week of the season and through the playoffs and then underwent Tommy John surgery immediately after the season.

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The Astros and their finest hour

In the movie Apollo 13 there is a special moment when things are looking grim for the three astronauts and the crippled spaceship that the crew and the support staff on the ground are all trying to baby back to Earth. The director of NASA says, “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.” At this Flight Director Gene Kranz replies, “With all due respect sir, I believe this will be our finest hour.” And it was.

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Astros offseason: Dan P has a personal Q&A

The style of this blog has been to bring up Astro related subjects and attempt to engage you, the reader with questions about the subject of the day. Your opinions are valued and add a lot to each post.

 

Today, we will stray a bit from that formula and this will be Dan P asking Dan P what he thinks about a number of topics related to  the Astros off-season.

Q: Who is the most critical Astro-related person this off-season?

A: It may sound surprising to say – but my choice is owner Jim Crane. I see him as the key figure on two major off-season items.

1) The team budget and their dance around the luxury tax line, drives so many personnel decisions. It is key to who they can pursue in free agency. It is key to who, if anyone, they must jettison for salary reasons. It is key to how much of the roster will be filled up with minimum major league wage prospects from the minors.

2) It is probably a good assumption that Crane will be the central figure in whatever punishment is meted out to the team (if any) from the alleged cheating scandal. It is probable that there will be some give and take and maybe a little throwing folks under the bus to get to the final decision. “How about Hinch and Luhnow suspended for a season?” “Or how about I accept Luhnow’s resignation?” Or whatever. That is assuming that they don’t find that Crane had a hand in it…..

Q: Since you brought up the luxury tax, how does that work and how might the Astros address it?

A: Glad you asked. The luxury tax hits the teams for a certain percentage for every dollar spent above an agreed to limit in payroll (plus other items such as benefits, and minor league contracts). The % tax is based on the number of times (in a row) that a team exceeds the tax – starting off as 20% for first offenders and rising with each consecutive season. If a team falls back under it resets so that the next time it exceeds will be as a first offender %.

Right now the Astros are an estimated (by Sportrac) $10 MM over the limit, so they would have to pay a $2 MM tax as a first offender. If they added another starting pitcher (let’s say at $15 MM), a catcher ($7 MM) and a reliever ($5 MM) their tax would go from $2 MM to about $7.5 MM. This is only about a 3-4% increase vs their overall payroll which would have been in the $240 MM range after these changes.

While, the Astros may end up exceeding the luxury tax, it is a good guess that they will make some moves to lessen both the payroll and the tax here. Who might be candidates to head elsewhere by trade and cut these numbers down?

  • Josh Reddick and his $13 MM salary stands out in this regard. It is likely if they traded him they would either have to swallow a chunk of that salary or throw a prospect in to lessen the blow to the next team. This could be a $8-10 MM savings
  • Roberto Osuna and his estimated $10.2 MM arbitration settlement has also been tossed around. You would think his age (not yet 25), and career stats (154 saves/ 2.75 ERA) at that age, along with keeping out of trouble since coming to the Astros would make him very tradable. But the PR side to his situation might make it a tough sell.
  • Carlos Correa and his estimated $7.4 MM arbitration salary might be another spot that would yield savings, but it sure would have to be the offer of the century for the Astros to let Correa and his two years of control to go.
  • The collective piddle of salaries for Jake Marisnick (est. $3 MM), Aledmys Diaz (est. $2.4 MM), Chris Devenski (est. $2 MM) and Joe Biagini (reported $1 MM) would take small bites out of both the payroll and the tax.

Dan P thinks…..that the Astros will sign FAs or trade for vets to add about $20 MM of salary and then will mostly offset that with trades that send Reddick, Marisnick, Devo and Biagini elsewhere. They will take a small hit as a first time offender over the tax limit.

Note: After this was written, but before it was published – it appears that Marisnick is heading to the Mets in a trade. 

Q: And since you also brought it up, what do you think the fall out will be on the alleged electronic cheating by the team?

A: The Astros will be fined $5 MM and will lose a first round pick for the next two seasons. A major figure (Jeff Luhnow) will resign and another (A.J. Hinch) will be suspended for the 2020 season. They will not vacate the crown. These predictions are for entertainment only and should not be used for wagering purposes….

Q: Who might the Astros pursue in free agency?

A: While we hear that the Astros were after Zack Wheeler, who the Phillies reeled in at 5 years / $118 MM and who knows what they may or may not offer Gerrit Cole (who is estimated by mlbtraderumors at 8 yrs/ $256 MM). But I think that more in the Astros wheel house might be a high spin rate, not so high velocity pitcher like Julio Teheran (estimated at 2 yrs / $18 MM) or even revisiting Wade Miley (estimated at 2 yrs/ $16 MM) or …. Dallas Keuchel (3 yrs / $39 MM)? That is probably a big no on the last one at least. Maybe they will take a 1 year flyer on Alex Wood or Adam Wainwright (both estimated at 1 yr/ $8 MM) or perhaps Josh Lindblom (est. 2 yrs/ $8 MM) who is returning from a successful run in Korea. Dan P thinks that Lindblom feels like the Charlie Morton/ Wade Miley flavor of the year.

Catcher needs? I really think the team will bring Robinson Chirinos back (est. 2 yrs / $10 MM), especially if a certain Cy Young award winner has a say in it.

Bullpen help? How about the last guy the Astros faced this season? Daniel Hudson (est. 2 yrs / $12 MM) is again a guy with the high spin rate the Astros love to grab.

Q: How do you feel as a fan this off-season?

A: I feel a bit bummed out. The Astros should have won the World Series at home in one of the last two games and just did not get it done. Then on top of that, the crowning glory of our baseball lives is now being tarnished. I will power through this, but it will take a while.