Heading into the 2018 offseason, the Houston Astros have some very important decisions to make.
With it being a vast market in between seasons, meaning this is one of the steepest pools of free agents that we’ve ever seen hit the open market. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for other teams in the league to add depth and talent to their rosters. Many players are going to find new homes, and the Astros hometown 25 isn’t going to be immune to losing favorite faces that they’ve grown accustomed to seeing day in and day out. Let’s take a look at just who will be seeking a new contract in the coming months.
Notable Astros that are now without a home are Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp, Martin Maldonado, and Marwin Gonzalez. They will all be free agents going into the winter. These are some very crucial names that play important roles for the Astros.
Keuchel is the number three starter in the rotation behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. He’s spent seven years in Houston, three or four as the Ace of the staff, compiling a 3.74 era, a Cy Young Award, and two all-star appearances. However, there have been talks that Keuchel has never been quite the same after his Cy Young winning season in 2015. No longer a spring chicken, you could argue that he’s still got a year or two left in his prime.
He’s not a real hard thrower, and he relies heavily on getting weak contact and ground balls, meaning he might last a few years longer than most hard-throwing pitchers. He’s an effective starter when he’s on and could easily be an ace on any staff, but he also does have an injury history and will command a hefty sum. Do you re-sign Keuchel? You will have to potentially pay other budding stars such as Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. The Astros have options at AAA in Forrest Whitley, but he’s not a lefty. Effective lefties are hard to come by.
Charlie Morton is a player that the entire Astros fan base would love to see come back for a season or two more. Morton debated retirement at the end of this season, but has spoken up and stated, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, that, “I’d love to keep playing,” “I’d love to be an Astro. I’d love to be a part of this again.
Ultimately, it’s not really up to me. It’s not solely up to me.” He’s become a fan favorite. Morton won two game sevens in the Astros first World Series championship run. He won’t soon be forgotten, and the way he’s pitched the past two seasons, why should he be? He’d only be looking for a one- or two-year deal, it just depends once again on the price tag he commands. There’s no doubt other teams will be speaking to him as well.
Key but minor players.
Gattis, Maldonado, and Sipp, frankly, can all be grouped in the same circle. All have had productive moments as a member of the Astros, but options are waiting patiently behind them, or options that are fairly easy to attain
El Oso Blanco has a love of a fan base like few players do due to his backstory and what he’s personally overcome to get where he is. Though throughout his career he’s either hot as burning lava or as cold as ice, he’s hit at least twenty home runs in every one of his major league seasons except one. He’s a career .250 hitter. Apart from your love of the lumberjack, is there really a reason to bring him back, as much as that hurts to say? There are other options at DH, and that’s mainly what he is nowadays.
Maldonado is a special case because he’s a gold glove defender and is one of the best at catching base-stealers in both the National and American league. His bat also seemed to awaken during his second half go around with Astros. The only question you have with Maldonado is can his bat stay the same next season or is it worth pursuing a proven upgrade offensively such as J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, or Jonathan Lucroy.
Sipp has had a topsy-turvy stint as an Astro, and even he’ll admit to it. He’s been with the team since 2014 and only had two genuinely productive seasons, both being in contract years. “I know what it looks like and it still looks like,” Sipp said. “Looks like I just got my money and stopped worrying about baseball,” per Chandler Rome. Sipp knows the opinions, he’s heard them, and while it looks like he truly has turned it around in 2018, he still is turning thirty-six next season, and the Astros have lefty options ready to go in Cionel Perez and Reymin Guduan.
But is anyone as crucial as Marwin?
All the players above are loved. Keuchel took to twitter and said, “I love you Houston.” We love you too. We truly do. However, one player took to Instagram to say roughly the same thing, but with more depth and ended the post with, “Forever #Houstonstrong.” What followed were thoughts of, “What will this Houston team do without certain key players from the past six or seven seasons,” and it stretched into, “Who can this team not afford to lose,” and unanimously the decision kept landing on Gonzalez, the man of many positions.
Who else can play nearly every spot on the field at gold glove caliber levels? Who else can swing the bat from both sides of the plate and have the power and contact ability that he does from each side? How many games would have been different in the past seven seasons had Gonzalez not been able to take over defensively? How many games would have turned out differently had Gonzalez not stepped up to the plate and delivered?
The Astros might not have won a World Series in 2017 if not for his blast off Kenley Jansen. The Astros might not have even advanced to the World Series if not for his cannon of a throw home to get Greg Bird at the plate in the American League Championship series. Time and time again, Gonzalez, purely with his versatility at every position, and his versatility at the plate, have delivered for the Astros.
He will get paid, this I’m sure of.
In 2015, Ben Zobrist received a four year, fifty-six-million-dollar contract from the cubs, and Gonzalez is even better than Zobrist. How much he will receive is unknown but expect it to be a hefty contract. Should the Astros pursue such a contract for a player that doesn’t have a single position that he calls his own? Yes, they should. He’s going into his age thirty season, he’s still in his prime, and the Houston Astros should do everything in their power to re-sign such a dynamic talent. If Gonzalez isn’t back in a Houston Uniform come Opening Day next season, there will be quite a large hole to fill not only defensively, and at the plate, but also in the clubhouse and in the hearts of every single fan packing Minute Maid Park.
**Stats, quotes and sources courtesy of Sportrac, Baseball-Reference, MLB Trade Rumors, and the Houston Chronicle.**