Reflecting back on the 2018 season for the Houston Astros, I still feel some disbelief in the way the season ended. Following the news of Lance McCullers out for the 2019 season, following Tommy John surgery, along with Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa on the mend. Key free agent decisions are looming. What should the Astros offseason checklist be?
Resign Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado
Despite the struggles Dallas Keuchel had this season, the Houston Astros have extended a one year $17.9 million qualifying offer which Keuchel rejected today. After the news regarding McCullers and the current outlook of Houston's pitching staff being so right-handed dominant, keeping Dallas whether on a short 2 to 3-year deal or a long-term deal depending on how long Keuchel wants to pitch; retaining him is a must. Keuchel in the past has shown the ability to rebound following a down season, he struggled in 2016 going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA but rebounded nicely in 2017 going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA via ESPN.
Keuchel brings much more than just his pitching. He is also the best defensive pitcher in the game, winning four gold gloves. It is understandable that Keuchel rejected Houston's qualifying offer. He appears to want more than just one more season, good pitching can be hard to find, and as long as the price is right, the Astros should not hesitate to resign Dallas.
Much like Keuchel, Gonzalez grew with the organization through the rebuilding years, to help hoist the franchise's first world championship. Honestly, every team needs a Gonzalez, he can play every position and do it comfortably, and though he does not put up huge numbers at the plate, Marwin brings a switch-hitting bat capable of getting on base as well as hit for some power. For everything Marwin has brought the Astros, Houston would be wise not to let Gonzalez walk without a fight.
Retaining Maldonado would be pretty interesting, but a move the Astros should make. Despite being linked to possibly trading for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Houston currently has no catcher outside Max Stassi on the roster. Maldonado does not bring a consistent bat, though he showed he could build a great rapport with pitchers and handle a pitching staff. Despite having a disastrous performance behind the plate in the ALCS, Maldonado is more well known for being great behind the plate. Should the Astros strike out trading for Realmuto, bringing back, Maldonado would give Houston continuity at that position, as well as they will not have to scramble for anyone.
Contact Cleveland and Seattle about possible trades
Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted the Cleveland Indians, are open to listening to trade offers for Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco, via ESPN. MLB.com Executive reporter also tweeted the Seattle Mariners, have made everyone available for trades, via Feinstein. Regardless of whether Houston can bring back their free agents, or not, the Astros should at least kick the tires with both teams. The big question with Seattle is, would they consider trading inside the division? Houston would also have to be careful trading with the Mariners because the last thing Houston wants is to help a division foe improve.
Cleveland even entertaining the thought of selling is a bit head-scratching. While they weren't as good as Boston, Houston, and New York right now, the Indians are a team a trade and a possible big free agent signing, boom they are back in the mix.
Bolster the bullpen
Collin McHugh figures to slot back into Lance McCullers’ spot in the rotation, which leaves an opening in the bullpen. Relievers Tony Sipp and Will Harris are both free agents, and both may not return which would leave three spots in the pen open. Josh James who was electric in 2018 figures to get at least one of those spots, if he is not in the rotation next year.
2018 ended before the Astros wanted it to, and the roster figures to look a little different next year. Health did play a part in Houston falling short, so regardless of how this team looks on paper going into next season, health will be the biggest key to a return trip to the fall classic in 2019.