MLB

Astros: The Post Winter Meeting Christmas Shopping List

The Winter Meetings are over, and the Astros have yet to address their major needs. Let’s take a look at the key items on the Christmas shopping list for Jeff Luhnow. For each position of need we will show the best options for Free Agents and Trades.

In each category this analysis will focus on value. What can the Astros expect in value (overly simplistically represented by projected WAR) for the average annual value of either the player’s current contract or the average of what several sources project the free agent contract to be?

Priority 1: Catcher

Yes, the Astros signed Robinson Chirinos. No, Chirinos is not likely the starting catcher for the 2019 World Series Champion. A battery of Chirinos and Stassi would likely yield the 18th-best performance from catchers in the MLB. The Astros can and will do better.

For Christmas this year Jeff Luhnow will open his first gift box for Astros fans by signing a catcher.

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Looking at this comparison, you may conclude that the Astros should trade for Realmuto instead of signing Ramos. While that would be the better value, it would come at a significant cost trade-wise. If the Marlins were willing to make this deal, then Realmuto would be the potential answer.

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For this trade proposal and all future trades below, I will quote Steamer600 Projected WARs. This will show the value each player could have in 2019 IF they were allowed to have a full time job.

If the Marlins made this trade; Stassi (C), Davis (1B/3B), Fisher (OF), and Perez (RP) could easily start and be an upgrade for the Marlins. Martin would likely be starting games for the Marlins by the end of the year. Is that enough? I doubt it.

Reports are active that Ramos has signed with the Mets. I think the Astros will aggressively go after the switch-hitting Yasmani Grandal. With the heavy RHB lineup, a switch-hitting Grandal who splits more as an LHB would make perfect sense for the Astros. Let’s hope Grandal is in the catching gift box.

Priority 2: Starting Pitching

The Astros may want two starting pitchers to add to the rotation of Verlander, Cole, James and McHugh. If they do add two starting pitchers, then they will have options of sending McHugh or James to the bullpen. They’ll also have a much better buffer so that their pitching won’t be overly dependent on rookies and prospects.

The Free Agent Options

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Given the options that are left on the free agent market, I think the Astros will go for the bigger starting pitcher impact in the trade market. I think they will sign a Morton-like low-risk high-reward possibility in Trevor Cahill, preferably for just one year.

So what are the trade options?

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First, here’s the package I would offer:

For Fulmer: Bukauskas/White/Devenski/Marisnick
For everyone else: Bukauskas/Armenteros/White/Devenski/Marisnick

Let’s go through the list, from the least likely to most likely:

Indians Pitchers (Bauer and Kluber): the Indians have pulled back their offering of these two, at least for now.

Noah Syndergaard: I believe the package I would offer would be insufficient for the Mets.

Robbie Ray: This is my preferred target, but the Diamondbacks are claiming he is not available.

Marcus Stroman: Toronto seems to be in a sell mode. Stroman’s 5.54 ERA was bad. His 3.91 FIP was better than Ray’s. Here is what the deal would look like. Would Toronto take it?

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Michael Fulmer: As shown above, I would not offer same package for Fulmer, as I have less confidence in him. If the Tigers take the package without Armenteros, I might go for that.

What do I think will happen? Toronto seems to be in the biggest sale and shed salary mode. In that package, I am asking for Justin Smoak as well, to possibly upgrade first base (more on that later.) This also allows the Blue Jays to shed more salary.

For Christmas this year, Jeff Luhnow will open his second gift box for starting pitching for Astros fans by trading for Marcus Stroman (#3 starter) and by signing Trevor Cahill (#5 starter or for depth).

Priority 3: First Base/Outfield/DH

For the third gift box, the Astros could improve their first base (White 1.3 WAR, Gurriel 0.9), Corner OF (Reddick 1.9, Tucker 1.9, Kemp 1), and/or DH (the same players).

Below is a short list of options to improve these areas. Some of the options at first base also assume that White is in a trade for either Realmuto or a starting pitcher. How much the Astros can spend in this area is most likely dependent on deals made in the areas examined above. If the Astros are able to add Reddick to the deals for example, OF becomes an even great need to address and there is more payroll flexibility.

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The Trade Options

Brandon Belt would be relatively expensive but would be a significant upgrade at first base. Any deal for Belt would probably require Reddick or Gurriel to go to the Giants. I would not overpay.

Justin Smoak would ideally be in the Stroman deal above. He is also a switch hitter who splits more as an LHB. Smoak would be an upgrade over White or Gurriel and could also DH.

Just say no to Edwin Encarnacion from a value perspective. Unless Seattle is willing to pay half of his salary or more, I am not interested.

Free Agent Options

Mike Moustakas: You might point out that Moustakas is a third baseman. Yes, he is, and he also has dabbled at first. From a perspective of pure value (Projected Cost/ Projected WAR), he is a great option. Moustakas is also an LHB.

Nelson Cruz: Several media reports have the Astros showing interest in Cruz. Given that he is a DH option only, and that he will want more than a one-year deal, I am not really interested.

I’ve saved the best option for last: Michael Brantley has expressed a willingness to play both OF and 1B. This flexibility would allow Brantley to start in LF until the Astros have 100% confidence in Tucker. Brantley could start at 1B over White and Gurriel. The down side with Brantley is durability (games played in 2018: 143, 2017: 90, 2016: 11). However, if Tucker, Kemp, Straw, White, Davis, Reed, and/or Gurriel are available as depth when Brantley is hurt, then the only real question is whether Brantley can be healthy in October.

For Christmas this year, Jeff Luhnow will open his third gift box for Astros fans, and upgrade the outfield and first base, by signing Michael Brantley. He will also get Justin Smoak in the previously mentioned Stroman deal.

This is the Christmas List:

  1. Sign Yasmani Grandal
  2. Trade for Marcus Stroman and Justin Smoak
  3. Sign Michael Brantley
  4. Sign Trevor Cahill

So, Astros fans, have you been naughty or nice this year?

Astros Sign Michael Brantley

The Houston Astros have added some outfield depth by signing outfielder Michael Brantley. According to Ken Rosenthal, the deal for Brantley is reportedly in the range of a two-year, $32 million deal. Other reports suggest there is a possible third-year option tied to this deal.

In the 2018 season, Brantley hit for an average of .309, with 17 homers, 76 runs batted in, 12 steals and only 60 strikeouts in the 143 games played this past season. Brantley joins a crowded outfield with George Springer, prospect Kyle Tucker, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp. This addition will also help bring what is only the third left handed bat to the lineup. The other two: Reddick and Kemp.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers has put it best on Twitter, in my opinion, about what Brantley brings to the table as far as options go for his versatility in the lineup.

Under this theory, manager A.J. Hinch now has a way to figure out the lineup to start the regular season. With this move, the Astros have some options in the outfield. With Springer and Brantley as the two most likely guaranteed starters in the outfield every day, this acquisition now allows for a competition for the final starting spot and most likely two back up outfield positions.

With Marisnick, Kemp and Reddick, this will set up what looks to be an interesting battle during the upcoming spring training to see who will get center field position to start the 2019 regular season. Most likely, we won’t see Tucker join the Astros’ opening day roster. But we might see him show up to the major leagues sometime in July.

Recent rumors have suggested that the Astros are open to shopping Reddick around on the trade block. This could accelerate the possibility of Reddick being shipped elsewhere by the next trade deadline. The Astros, while not as strong as before, are still “in contention” for Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. If the Astros are serious about shopping Reddick and want to have a shot at Realmuto, we might end up seeing Reddick included in a package to Miami for an opportunity to grab their catcher. However, it has been said by Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and Hinch that they are content with the two catchers they already have on the roster. Pulling off this move might create a vacancy for a backup outfield position; Tucker could then fight during spring training for a spot on the opening day roster.

More Astros news may be coming soon, as they are still interested in the services of DH Nelson Cruz, in addition to potentially shopping Reddick. Stay tuned to my twitter page @JordanSmithPXP for more information on the news about Cruz and his destination this offseason.

All stats courtesy of Major League Baseball

Astros: Non-Tendering Herrmann Leads to More Questions

Could the Astros non-tendering Chris Herrmann mean they are close to adding a catcher?

Earlier this evening, there was some breaking news that may not seem like a big deal after claiming catcher Chris Herrmann off waivers earlier this offseason from the Mariners. According to Chandler Rome, the Astros non-tendered Herrmann making him a free agent.

With Brian McCann signing with the Braves and Martin Maldonado still a free agent, this affects the depth of the roster at the catcher spot. This leaves Max Stassi and Garrett Stubbs as the only catchers on the 40-man roster.

Not that Herrmann was the answer as the everyday catcher, he could have been a Triple-A backup option for the Astros. He could have also been an Erik Kratz-like bridge until Stubbs was ready to be the everyday guy. Jeff Luhnow said earlier in the offseason that they would like to have 3-4 guys who can catch the Astros pitchers. With a focus on spin-rate, they need catchers who can block pitches well.

What changed?

On Thursday’s Astroline, Luhnow also mentioned that they expected to tender a contract to all 11 players. Instead, Herrmann is now updating his resume again looking for a job. The timing of this move is intriguing, but there was a deadline to tender the eligible players a contract.

What changed from last night to tonight? Did they need an open roster spot? Maybe they had buyers remorse and were looking to get rid of Herrmann while they could. The 40-man roster now sits at 37. Unless you are a fly in the room, we don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.

With the need to add depth to the catching position, it is odd that they non-tendered Herrmann. That is unless they are pretty confident that they are about to add another catcher. While everyone would like to trade for JT Realmuto, the Marlins appear unwilling to move him without the Astros big prospects involved. As we discussed on Talking Stros last week, the Marlins don’t have the leverage they think they do. There are a couple of top catching free agents on the market they are competing against.

Other options.

Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos wouldn’t require a trade, just a financial commitment to one of them. Grandal would cost you a second-round pick most likely. Once one of the big names fall off the market, expect the others to follow soon after. Could the Astros be about to bring back Maldonado in a multi-year deal? Maybe they are confident that they can add another catcher before the start of spring training.

Maybe the Astros realized how much Herrmann was set to make in arbitration and decided to move on. He was nothing but a minor league depth option, but the team will look elsewhere. Maybe his release will lead to the big move we are waiting for. Fans will have to wait to see.

What was your favorite Chris Herrmann moment?

Houston Trio Milestone Tracker

On November 14th, LeBron James passed Wilt Chamberlain to move to fifth place on the all-time NBA scoring list. At his current pace, he will pass Michael Jordan for fourth on the list in January of 2019, and as long as he averages at least 22 points per game over the next three to four years, he will become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. What’s arguably just as significant is that the 6’8” forward is currently 11th all-time in total assists and will likely finish his career third overall behind only John Stockton and Jason Kidd. Want to go even further down the rabbit hole of ridiculous accomplishments James will achieve? He’s currently 16th in all-time steals, and as long as he keeps his current average of 1.6 per game, he’ll jump to seventh all-time in three years. This is a repetitive jaw dropper for each statistical category about LeBron James, so I will just quickly sum it up by saying when it’s all over with, the somehow still-improving 16-year veteran will likely finish his career top 75 in blocks, top 50 in rebounds, top five in steals, top three in assists, and number one in all-time points.

That got me to thinking, while his career is fun to see polish out as the greatest statistical career of all time, he chose L.A. over Houston. He’s not a Rocket, and that’s ok. We have a trio of guys in our city that we can look forward to celebrating significant milestones one day. Very few cities out there can say they have the luxury of preeminent players across all three sports all in their prime together at the same time.

Here’s what we can all anticipate over the next decade with our Houston core. Don’t take it for granted.

Jose Altuve: All-Time Hits

Jose Altuve is currently at 1,419 career hits and is 28 years old. If you take out his first year when he was called up in July 2011, he has averaged 194 hits per season. At that rate, he will reach 2,000 hits in the 2021 season. By then he will pass up Bob Watson (1,448), Lance Berkman (1,648), Cesar Cedeno (1,659), and Jose Cruz (1,937) for third all-time in franchise history behind only Jeff Bagwell (2,314) and Craig Biggio (3,060). As long as the 5’6” second baseman stays healthy, he should become a member of the 3,000-hit club in just over eight years and then quickly become the franchise’s all-time hit leader. The Astros have secured the second baseman for the next six years, showing they are committed to keeping him for his whole career, so we will all be able to witness this event in 2026 for the second time in franchise history.

Side Note: If you ever want to hear me vent about something, it’s that I had tickets to the game after Craig Biggio reached 3,000. How dare he get five hits in one game.

James Harden: All-Time Points

On November 21st, James Harden passed Rudy Tomjanovich for third on the Rockets’ all-time scoring list behind just Calvin Murphy and Hakeem Olajuwon. As a member of the Houston Rockets at age 29, Harden has a total of 13,518 points scored. Since becoming a Rocket, Harden has averaged 27.9 points per game, which equals out to 2,169 total points per season. At this pace, he will pass Murphy’s 17,949 total in the 2020-2021 season. We can all agree that this feat is inevitable.

Hakeem Olajuwon is the sole leader in Rockets’ points scored at 26,511. I’d like to assume with his durability and style of play not completely dependent on athleticism that we will see his prime continue for four more years. By that time, he will be 33 years old and need to average just 22 points per game over the following three seasons to reach The Dream. It’s a long way away, but we should look forward to seeing Harden pass Olajuwon at least by the 2024-2025 season.

The Beard will be eyeing 30,000 total career points quickly after passing Olajuwon. He has a disadvantage, having started his career with three seasons coming off the bench in Oklahoma City. With those three seasons added to his Houston Rockets total, he will have a career total of 29,306 points upon reaching the top of the Rockets mountain. This will leave him with just 694 points to go, or one half of a season. If or when this happens, we might be celebrating two incredible milestones in the same season.

Despite his first three seasons coming off the bench, this is entirely possible; the only thing holding him back is his durability and longevity. Only seven players have accomplished this feat: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, and Dirk Nowitzki. Can you imagine seeing James Harden join that list?

J.J. Watt All-Time Sacks

Upon J.J. Watt’s 2015 season that resulted in his third career Defensive Player of the Year award, there was some hope that he would one day be the NFL’s all-time leader in career sacks. After his first five seasons, the three-time DPOY was 26 years old, had not missed a single game, and had 74.5 sacks. At the rate he was going, he would have reached 200 sacks in just over eight more years. If you take out his rookie season of 5.5 sacks, he was on pace to reach 200 even quicker with his 17.25 sacks per season in a four-year span. The man was on a completely different level than everyone else in the NFL.

Then, unfortunately, Watt was set back nearly two full years with multiple injuries. From back surgery to a tibial plateau fracture topped with numerous other injuries, it was a consensus thought that we had seen the end of J.J. Watt as we knew him and he would be an average player on a superstar contract with the potential of even being released from the team sooner rather than later. But the difference is that number 99 is a super-human and now has 11.5 sacks through 11 games in the 2018 season. It makes no sense how he is able to be back to a top five defensive player in the league, but I choose to just not question it.

On Monday Night Football against the Titans in week 12, Watt cracked the top 50 list in all-time sacks at 87.5. While odds are against the defensive end to continue this success, who are we to even think we know what this guy can or can’t do? He’s going to make it a fun ride to see how far he can get on the list. He’s on pace to finish this season with 16.5 sacks and go into next season with 92.5 in his career. Let’s just enjoy the history of the greatest player to ever wear a Houston Texans uniform and prepare to celebrate each 10 spots he moves up the rankings. Below are expected dates to pass each landmark by using a baseline rate of 15 sacks per season.

40th All-Time: 95.5 Sacks (Robert Porcher)

Expected To Pass: 2019 Weeks 1-4 (Age 30)

30th All-Time: 100.5 Sacks (William Fuller)

Expected To Pass: 2019 Weeks 9-12 (Age 30)

20th All-Time: 122.0 Sacks (Simeon Rice)

Expected To Pass: 2020 Weeks 13-17 (Age 31)

10th All-Time: 137.5 (Richard Dent & John Randle)

Expected To Pass: 2021 Weeks 13-17 (Age 32)

5th All-Time: 150.5 (Chris Doleman)

Expected to Pass: 2022 Weeks 13-17 (Age 33)

1st All-Time: 200 Sacks (Bruce Smith)

Expected to Pass: 2026 Weeks 1-4 (Age 37)

Bruce Smith can most likely sit comfortable with no worries of being passed and will remain the all-time sacks leader, but Watt will climb far up that list. If only the sports gods wouldn’t have taken away those two years from him…

What Light at the End of the Tunnel?

You know what’s pretty cool? Maybe in a few years we’re talking about Alex Bregman being on the same pace to become the third Astro to reach 3,000 hits. Maybe Deandre Hopkins starts flirting with some all-time receiving records. Deshaun Watson is only 23 years old, what can he accomplish? Let the dominoes fall in Houston, TX.

All stats via baseball-reference.com, basketball-reference.com, and football-reference.com

Justin Verlander Wants to Challenge Charles Barkley in Golf and We Are All Winners, Now

The other day, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods went head-to-head to show everyone just how much money they have in the richest way possible: one-on-one golf. After one hole, as they were strolling along, Tiger casually bet $100,000 on closest to the pin, and I about damn near had a heart attack. I’m having a hard time justifying $20 purchases so yeah, these guys are really your everyday Average-Joes.

#TheMatch as it was pinned on Twitter, got a lot of attention, especially from current Astro Justin Verlander. Verlander challenged Charles Barkley, who was commenting on the match from the booth, to a one-on-one showdown of their own for $100,000 to their favorite charity. Frankly, I think this is the greatest idea in the history of professional sports.

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Who cares about the shot clock? Who cares about free agency? I love this idea, JV. Give the people what they want, and what they want are World Series champs blasting tiny dimpled balls all over the green. Verlander is a professional pitcher, which means by law, he has to be somewhat decent at golf.

That’s all pitchers do in the offseason if you didn’t know. They have their arm-strengthening exercises, they play long toss, and work the 7-iron over the sand trap. That’s it. And Barkley has got some game too, despite being notorious for having a swing that looks like his body is continuously being hijacked by Space Jam Monsters all over again.

The offer by Verlander got some major backing by Rockets PG Chris Paul who offered an additional $100K to make it happen.

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Side note: all these athletes throwing around the phrase “$100K” makes me feel super poor. Carry on.

There was also another offer that I think would be a cherry on the cake: free agent outfielder and American League All-Star Adam Jones wants to caddy for JV.

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How awesome is that? I think if we tried real hard, we could get Shaq to caddy for Barkley, and every hole we would get audio of him ragging on Chuck because he doesn’t have any championship rings. If I remember correctly, I do believe Verlander has a championship ring. Need to check my sources.

I also am a big time fan of anything Justin Verlander does in the offseason. During the Cy Young selection show a few weeks ago, the dude had a big ol’ glass of Pinot Grigio 97’ and didn’t give two f’s about it. Plus, whenever Verlander smack talks retired basketball stars, we all win.

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As we head to the opening tee, JV-1, Chuck-0.

Astros: Could they pull off a Greinke and Goldy trade?

A trade to fill two roster spots in one move for the Astros.

With the winter meetings around the corner, there are a lot of rumors out there about the Astros. GM’s across the league are looking for those Black Friday deals to improve their team for 2019. While the shopping holiday is over, this doesn’t mean the Astros are done trying to get the best deal. They are looking to add a starting pitcher or two, a catcher, and maybe another power bat. There are still many targets out there, but one way to make a big splash.

If the Astros are willing to take on a lot of salary, they can upgrade the rotation and lineup in one swoop. A few years ago, Zack Greinke opted out of his contract with the Dodgers similar to what Clayton Kershaw almost did this offseason. The Dodgers ponied up for Kershaw, but they let the Diamondbacks, a division rival, outbid them for Greinke. He signed with Arizona for 6 years $206.5 million, via Baseball-Reference. That was a hefty price to pay for the ace, but they thought they were one pitcher away.

Then the Shelby Miller trade happened. The Diamondbacks were a good team and Greinke had his moments, but they are looking to shed his $34.5 plus salary for the next three years. Actually, only $21 million goes on the books each year, the rest is deferred via USA Today. Greinke has $62.5 million deferred to be paid equally over five years starting in 2022.

Don’t forget that he would get $2 million if traded and can only be traded to 15 teams without his approval. That’s a lot for Greinke, who had a 15-11 record in 2018 with a 3.21 ERA with 199 strikeouts in 207 ⅔ innings pitched, via Baseball-Reference. The Astros are one of a few teams where Greinke would be the third pitcher in the rotation.

What about Goldy?

That was a lot of money being thrown around right there, which is why Greinke has not been traded yet. The Diamondbacks could also have an ace up their sleeve in Paul Goldschmidt, who will be a free agent after the season. He is one of the best players in the game and the Diamondbacks would not be able to afford him. Unless the Astros are able to extend him during the trade, they most likely couldn't afford him either. For the 2019 season, Goldschmidt is set to make $12.5 million after the team exercised the team option.

Wait, the Astros have Yuli Gurriel, why would they need Goldschmidt? He is a perennial MVP candidate who can hit for power, average, and steal a base here and there. Some have compared his ability to what Astros fans saw in Jeff Bagwell. He is coming off a down year, where he hit .290 with 33 homers and 83 RBI via Baseball-Reference. He added seven steals, but he had such a bad start to the season. He was red hot down the stretch. Goldschmidt is capable of driving in and scoring 100+ runs a year.

A possible trade.

There have been some rumors that the Cardinals are interested in Goldschmidt. If he goes to St. Louis, he may stick around. Anthony Castrovince has been one of the national writers to speculate that the Astros could possibly trade for both. In his article, he suggested a trade that sends Goldschmidt and Greinke plus $29.5 million to Houston. In return, the Diamondbacks would get Corbin Martin, Cionel Perez, and AJ Reed.

While most people would call that a “fanboy” trade offer, but the Astros would be taking on a big chunk of salary. If this trade would happen, it would cost the Astros $138 million, minus the $29.5 million, making it $108.5 million. Technically, they would be paying for the time he served with the Diamondbacks with the deferred money. The Astros would be getting him for the next three seasons, but would greatly increase the team payroll.

Fact or fiction?

Martin would be the centerpiece of the trade and Perez would be a wild card of the trade. Reed needs a change of scenery but is a former top prospect. With this type of trade, the more salary you take on, the less talent you have to give up. However, could this inhibit the Astros from re-signing some of their current players? This is something the Astros would take into consideration. It would give the Astros a third ace in 2019 and possibly the ace of the 2020-21 teams if Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole don’t re-sign.

If the Astros are able to pull this off, I could see Goldschmidt accepting an extension to play for his hometown team. He grew up in the Woodlands area. This trade could be fictional, but the team could trade for one of the two players. Goldschmidt would add a JD Martinez like presence to the lineup. Rumors have the Astros having some type of dialogue over Goldschmidt. The winter meetings could be exciting, keep tuned to Houston Preeminence.

A Post-Marwin World for the Astros

Have we seen the last of Marwin Gonzalez in an Astros uniform?

We may soon know the answer. I hope the Astros find a way to bring back the super utility guy that can play any position on the diamond. In the past seven seasons, we’ve watched Marwin grow into the player he is today. The first move Jeff Luhnow made after becoming the GM was to trade for Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox.

I think after the trade for Aledmys Diaz that the writing is on the wall that Gonzalez is gone. Diaz can play 3rd, shortstop and the outfield. He’ll be a huge asset during the season as last season he batted .263 with 18 home runs and 55 RBI in 130 games, via Baseball-Reference. Compare that to Gonzalez, who batted .247 with 16 homers in 145 games. I think he could play a big part this season and maybe even start the season as the Astros’ everyday left-fielder.

Another option to make up for the absences of Gonzalez’s bat would be trading for Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the Astros do this, Goldschmidt is now the everyday first baseman, and AJ Hinch could move Yuli Gurriel to DH. This option would bring more power to the lineup and make it even deeper than it was in 2017. Moving Yuli Gurriel to DH would take some stress off his body and keep him fresh for the postseason.

If Gonzalez is truly gone, I don’t think only one player can fill the void he leaves behind. It will take multiple guys, but I think it’s possible. The combination of Diaz, Goldschmidt (if they’re able to work out the trade for him) and Gurriel is a great place to start.

The market for Gonzalez is heating up right now, meaning the price for him is going up. If Houston could bring him back for four years and $70 million, I think they should do it. He was a big reason they won the World Series in 2017. His game-tying two home run might be the biggest home run in Astros history. He was a spark off the bench when they needed a clutch at-bat late in the game. He was a plus defender at every position he was asked to field. A.J. Hinch said if he had a problem, Gonzalez was the answer.

In closing, I feel the Astros should do what it takes to re-sign Gonzalez. He’s the best utility player in the game and has come up big in multiple big-time games. He’s a class act on and off the diamond. If they’re not able to re-sign him, then they should move on with one of the options I’ve presented. The Goldschmidt option is what I prefer and from what I’m hearing is a real possibility. With all this said, a post-Marwin world is a real possibility, but I don’t see it as an end to the dominance of the Astros. I see it as a way to get other guys involved in the run.

Top 30 MLB Free Agent Predictions (Part One)

It’s been a little over a month since the 2018 season ended, and while the stoves at home may be revving up for the holidays, the stove for transactions in Major League Baseball has been initially very cold. Frankly, it’s to be expected, because the winter meetings don’t start until December, and that’s usually when moves start happening pretty rapidly. However, that doesn’t stop fans from speculating while the General Managers are deliberating, so why not make a list of predictions for the top thirty free agents on the market.

1.Bryce Harper:

Whether you want to put Harper at the top of this list or Manny Machado, they’re pretty much interchangeable as far as contracts go. Both will command roughly 30 million dollars a year, if not more. Harper had a rough first half but contributed to a sub-par Nationals team in the second half. While his entire 2018 season wasn’t phenomenal, it still lands as one of his best. He’s only twenty-six years old, he’s just entering his prime, and we probably haven’t even seen the best of him yet.

Prediction: 9 yrs/300 million. The Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies are nearly done with a rebuild, and nearly made the playoffs last season without a late-season crumble, and it looks like they’re one or two pieces away from battling the Braves for a division title. Signing Bryce Harper could be the push over the edge they need.

2.Manny Machado:

Much of the same can be said for Machado as was said about Harper except the key to Machado is consistency. While Harper has had injuries that he’s dealt with, he’s finished four out of his first seven seasons with 139 games played or less. Machado has played all but two seasons, in his first seven seasons, of 155 games or more. The tale of the tape can also be said about postseason stats. Neither has been very good when it’s mattered most, and it has to come into play in the decision to sign a player to such a lucrative contract.

Prediction: 8 yrs/302 million. The New York Yankees.

Let’s face it. As much as we don’t like it, the Yankees always have money and will spend it when needed, and they need a more consistent player in their lineup when it comes to getting on base. Machado would fit right in with the evil empire.

3.Patrick Corbin:

Corbin turned in his most dominant season last year pitching 33 games with an ERA of 3.15, hurling 200 innings, the second time in his career he has reached that mark. If not for Jacob DeGrom, he might’ve been a favorite for the CY Young award. Easily the best starting pitcher on the market, and being a lefty, he will command a heavy sum to whoever wants his services come 2019.

Prediction: 6 yrs/162 million. The Philadelphia Phillies.

A young club, needing another star pitcher to go along with Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, he’d be the perfect piece to make a three-headed monster. The Phils could look very dangerous come 2019

4.Dallas Keuchel:

Keuchel turned in a decent season in 2018, overcoming a dreadful first half, where he struggled in the majority of the first innings of games. Keuchel bounced back to the tune of a 3.74 ERA and pitched at least 200 innings for the third time in his career. With injury issues in past years, you wondered at times if Keuchel would ever get back to his CY Young year of 2015. He is still the best groundball pitcher in all of baseball. He’s the king of weak contact and allowed the fewest hits in the majors in 2018.

Prediction: 6 yrs/144 million. The Chicago Cubs.

With Jon Lester only getting older, and Yu Darvish’s status unknown for 2019, and his recent struggles, the Cubs need consistency and a proven veteran on their staff. Their window seems to be closing every so slightly, so maybe Keuchel can give them the shot in the arm they need.

5.Marwin Gonzalez:

The man can play anywhere in the infield and outfield apart from catcher and pitching and a gold glove caliber levels. He can hit for power, he has speed, he’s the most versatile player in the major leagues at the moment, and every team wants him to be wearing their jersey. In what was sort of a down year in 2018, he hit .247 but still hit sixteen homers. For a utility player who values to that of Ben Zobrist who received four years, fifty-six million, from the Chicago Cubs in 2015. Except Marwin Gonzalez is younger, and better.

Prediction: 4 yrs/64 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers.

With Manny Machado not re-signing, the Dodgers will be okay next season when Corey Seager comes back from a season-ending injury. However, with Chase Utley retiring, there’s a utility spot opening on the infield, and whom better to take over than the man of many positions.

6.Yasmani Grandal: While he is the best catcher currently on the market, it is a very thin market. The consistently below average hitter does have a decent amount of pop. He’s hit 20+ home runs for the past three seasons, which is somewhat of a rarity to find in a catcher. Fielding wise, he owns a career .994 fielding percentage, making him an asset. However, a second glance at his caught stealing rate in 2018 at 28% might make you rethink that.

Prediction: 3 yrs/42 million. The Houston Astros.

With the loss of Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado, the Astros current catcher situation is Max Stassi and Garrett Stubbs, a rookie who hasn’t even debuted yet. While Stubbs might be the future at the position, there is clearly a hole behind the dish. They could trade for J.T. Realmuto, but they’d probably have to give up either Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker, which they aren’t too keen on doing, evidenced by past trades.

7. Craig Kimbrel:

In 2018 Kimbrel passed the forty save mark for the first time since 2014, and for the fifth time in his nine-year career. With an ERA of 2.74, Kimbrel still clocks up his fastball around the high 90’s to 100. He still stands like a crane before every pitch, and he’s still one of the most dominant closers of this era of baseball. Making a Hall of Fame case with each passing season, he is a free agent for the second time in his ever-growing illustrious career, and he will once again command a large contract as a free agent. Look at the Aroldis Chapman contract as the most recent evidence of how much he could get. One shouldn’t think he’ll get as much as Chapman, but he’ll be close.

Prediction: 4 yrs/ 66 million. The Atlanta Braves.

I smell a reunion coming this offseason. The Braves were a good team in 2018, and what better way to cap off the rebuild than by adding the man who spent the first five years of his career in Atlanta.

8.Nathan Eovaldi:

Eovaldi is a hard-throwing righty that regularly touches 100. His cutter will tear you up at the plate, and his command is ridiculous. He was a hero for Boston in 2018 coming over from the Rays midseason. Is his tremendous half season, and monstrous postseason performance enough to garner him a large contract? I think if you’re searching for a starter, Eovaldi is a guy to take a chance on. He’s always had the stuff, he just had to put it together, and in Boston, he put it together.

Prediction: 3 yrs/ 45 million. The Houston Astros.

The Astros are going into next season without potentially three out of their main five from 2018. Lance McCullers had Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for over a year, and Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel are free agents and could be headed elsewhere. A move is needed, and why not sign the hometown flame-throwing stud and pry him away from the team that bested you in the American League Championship Series.

9.Nelson Cruz:

He’s thirty-eight years old, but he still mashes. He’s hit thirty-five home runs for the past four seasons, and he doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of losing his pop. He doesn’t play the field much anymore, so he’d be the best fit to sign with an American League club, but there are no shortages of teams that need a powerful righty in the middle of their order.

Prediction: 2 yrs/ 26 million. The Houston Astros.

He won’t command anywhere near a twenty-million-dollar contract, and he won’t command a lengthy contract, as his age creeps up to him. This veteran will probably receive somewhere in between ten and fifteen million at most. Houston needs some power in their lineup after a significant drop off in 2018. Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Yuli Gurriel, and even Jose Altuve, showed signs of regression in the home run department. What team is a better fit, and how many other teams can give Nelson a true shot at a championship as his career winds down?

10.Jeurys Familia:

He’s still twenty-nine years old and is probably the second best closer on the market behind Kimbrel. In the past four years, he’s only posted an ERA higher than 3.15 one time, and it was in 2017; a season in which he only pitched twenty-six innings. He’s consistently good and will probably command somewhere below what Craig Kimbrel does.

Prediction: 5 yrs/ 75 million. The Boston Red Sox.

The Red-Sox will sign a closer this offseason, but it will not be Craig Kimbrel. They’re set to lose two to three major pitching assets from their championship team, however, don’t expect those spots to remain empty, and the sox to do nothing regarding the players leaving. Their window is still open, and Dave Dombrowski doesn’t seem content with one title.

**All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com**

Astros: Could Adam Ottavino be a primary target?

Adam Ottavino could make the Astros bullpen dominant.

The most significant difference between the 2017 Astros and it’s 2018 counterpart was the bullpen. With Ken Giles and company in 2017, the Astros had to rely on starters such as Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, and Collin McHugh as relievers. The front office addressed that last offseason and at the trade deadline. They brought in Joe Smith, Hector Rondon, Ryan Pressly, and Roberto Osuna. McHugh also moved to the bullpen and was a critical piece to the success.

With the losses of Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers for 2019, McHugh will likely head back to the rotation. Josh James and Framber Valez could be options for the rotation or the bullpen. If McHugh is going to the rotation, they would need to look for an arm for the bullpen. Not just your average Joe, they have that in Smith, but a dominating setup guy. Maybe someone who pitched in Colorado last year.

What about Ottavino?

The 32-year-old Adam Ottavino is coming off his best year in 2018, where he had a 6-4 record with a 2.43 ERA while striking out 112 batters in 77 2/3 innings pitched. This is according to Baseball-Reference, where he also got six saves. According to Fangraphs, he also got a career-high 34 holds in 75 games pitched. Ottavino throws his fastball around 94 mph, slider at 81.4 mph, and a cutter at 87 mph.

Ottavino made $7 million in 2018, therein lies the problem, he will not be an easy player to sign. However, he is the type of pitcher the Astros seek out with his high spin-rates on his slider (2787 rpm) and cutter (2605 rpm) via Baseball Savant. We saw how much Pressly improved when he came to Houston.

However, the market price may be on the rise, and that price might take him out of range for the Astros. There will be a high demand for the right-hander who pitched well out of the Rockies bullpen. Even if the Astros are targeting him, would they do what it takes to outbid the competition? Once they decide on the per year value, the next question would be how many years could they offer? Unlike Tony Sipp after the 2015 season, Ottavino is probably seeking a longer-term deal.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session – The Rotation

It is the offseason. When every hardcore baseball fan transforms from Manager of the Year (in their mind) to Executive of the Year (again in their mind.) We will continue with the Off-Season Strategy Session.

MLB Free Agents- Pitching

With the announcement that Lance McCullers has indeed had Tommy John surgery the Starting Pitching is now ranked fourth by WAR in the MLB by Fangraphs.com. The Depth Chart projections assume the following stats by starters.

Potential Starters via Baseball-Reference

If these projections are right, 2019 will indeed be a significant transition year for the starting pitching. In 2018, the Astros had 165.2 innings pitched by starters 26-years-old and under, and 126 of those innings were by Lance McCullers. The 2019 projection here is for 380 innings with McCullers giving them ZERO. Will the Astros do that? I do not think so.

The assumption at this point is that the Astros will turn their starting pitching over to the next generation of young talented pitchers including James, Valdez, Whitley, and Bukauskas. While I believe this is likely partly true, I believe Valdez will be working from the bullpen with Cionel Perez as a Sipp replacement. Also, I do not believe Bukauskas, who pitched six innings in AA in 2019, should be counted on for eight starts and 46 IP. As shown in the Rule 5 draft section, I am not sure Brady Rodgers is on the roster for this team.

What is also interesting in this projection for who is NOT in this list- Colin McHugh. Depth Charts continues to list McHugh as a relief pitcher. I believe McHugh will win the starting pitching spot over Peacock and have a season similar to 2016 (assuming he stays healthy.) I believe Peacock will continue to have a long relief role. Therefore, I think the real state of the starting pitching looks more like this.

Larry 11.png

This would mean there are 25-30 starts and 130-150 IP available. Given the other starters, this would ideally be an LHP. The profile for the ideal LHP in Minute Maid Park is one that tends to keep the ball in play and have a high ground ball percentage. With the Crawford Boxes so close an LHP with a high GB% is really best. This is the Dallas Keuchel formula. Following the same deep strategy analysis we did for catcher earlier, what are the Free Agent options?

Top LHP FA options

I am showing eight options for a left-handed starting pitcher free agent signing. Shown here are their stats in 2018, their Fangraphs Depth Chart projections for 2019. Also shown here are several sources projecting what their contracts will be and an average of these projections.

Finally, a “Value Assessment” is done. This is asking how much is each WAR likely going to cost the Astros. Obviously, the smaller the number; the better the value for the Astros.

Who is out there?

The options are numerous depending on how much the Astros are willing to spend and if they are willing to sign a player who has received the qualifying offer. With the new CBA, if the Astros sign a player who has received the qualifying offer, they would lose their second-round draft pick. Remember; when someone signs Dallas Keuchel (assuming it's not the Astros), the Astros will receive a pick in the 75-80 pick range. For this reason, I suspect the QO penalty will not deter the Astros from getting the player they want.

None of this data is my own, and the projected statistics are not mine. Which option would you pick?

There appear to be three groups

Go Big- Keuchel and Corbin. Both of these players would be at least a four-year commitment and most likely a five-year contract at roughly $20MM/yr AAV. If the Astros go this route, it will likely be because they were unable to find a willing trade partner for a number 2/3 starter.

Go Small- Garcia, and Holland. These two players are the reclamation- risk/reward option. These two are likely to get no more than a two-year contract and may get a one year deal only. If the Astros go this route, they are willing to risk if this signing does not work out that the prospects will.

Just Right?- Happ, Gonzalez, and Miley. With these three it is imperative to understand the final contract parameters. If the predictions are right, Gonzalez and Miley are not likely to be a good investment. J.A. Happ is an interesting option if he can be signed for two years, the Astros are confident he will not drop off dramatically at age 36, and if the AAV is kept at a favorable level.

I am going to say other teams spend the stupid money and the Astros, if they do sign a Free Agent Starting Pitcher, sign J.A. Happ for two years for $25MM total ($12.5MM AAV.)

The trade options are also too numerous to analyze in this space. As shown in the Rule 5 Draft roster listing, the Astros have various trade chips of varying value that could be pooled for a number 2/3 starter. This is a very likely scenario.

Astros: The Off-Season Strategy Session - Rule 5 Update

Looking ahead at the Astros Rule 5 decisions today.

November 20 is the day the Astros have to decide who they protect and don’t protect on their 40 man roster. As you will soon see, this is a significant challenge this year. It is such a challenge I am revisiting my earlier submission to draw focus to this eminent activity.

On 11/2/18, the Astros signed Chris Herrmann in a classic quiet Jeff Luhnow increase your options and low risk- high potential reward type of move. His name shows in green in the table above. This move will set up other potential bigger moves at catcher will discuss in later sections.

On 11/17/18, the Astros made a quiet move you may not understand the consequences fully until after opening day. The Astros traded prospect Trent Thornton (who was likely to be lost in the Rule 5 draft) for needed IF depth Aledmys Diaz. As Eric Huysman highlighted already, Diaz is likely to replace Marwin Gonzalez as the primary utility player.

The following table shows what I believe will be the Rule 5 draft roster IF no Ramon Laureano type trades are made between now and 11/20/18 (the day Rule 5 rosters are set).

The table shows four types of players

  • Black font and shaded Green or White- players who will remain on the 40-man roster
  • Red Font and shaded Red or Pink- Players eligible for Rule 5 who are MOST likely to be added
  • Blue Font and shaded blue- Players eligible for Rule 5 who are not likely to be on roster- Draft eligible. Some of these are targets to be traded
  • Yellow shading- Players not yet eligible for the Rule 5 and ranked as top 30 Astros Prospects by MLB Pipeline.

Projected

Larry 9.PNG

The number is the prospect ranking in the Astros system. A study of this highlights that I have taken Brady Rodgers and Wil Harris OFF of the 40- man roster. There are two groups of additions.

  • Sure bets to be added- shaded red- Garrett Stubbs, Rogelio Armenteros, Riley Ferrell
  • Bubble candidates to be added- shaded pink- Drew Ferguson, Brendan McCurry, Jonathan Arauz

If the Astros added all of these the roster would be at 39 which leaves limited room for Free Agent signings. I think it is more likely one of the three bubble candidates will be added, and the roster will be at 37 players.

Also, as shown, the top prospects such as Whitley, Alvarez, Martin, Beer, and Bukauskas are not on the projected 40-man roster. It is highly possible at least one if not more of these players will be added to the roster in 2019. The Astros will want to be careful to have 40-man roster slots to add these players when they are ready.

What this shows is that the Astros have significant talent other teams may be interested in drafting in the Rule 5 draft. Many of these players may be used as Trent Thornton was to acquire either talent to fill gaps or non-Rule 5 draft eligible prospects. The list of these players is not even complete here but focuses on the highest profile players eligible for the draft.

Astros Bold Prediction 2: J.T. Realmuto deal is in the works.

Time to get the deal done Astros for J.T. Realmuto.

On Tuesday, the Astros will be adding some players to the 40-man roster, or they risk losing them. There are several players eligible for the Rule 5 draft at the end of the Winter Meetings in December. One of those players who were eligible for the Rule 5 draft was Trent Thornton, but he was traded to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz. There are now four other top-30 prospects who need to be protected ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.

We discussed all of the four players on last night’s Talking Stros but focused mostly on one player. That is, Garrett Stubbs, who could battle Max Stassi and Chris Herrmann for the starting catcher job in 2019. If you are an Astros fan, those thoughts should send shivers down your spine. Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are not on the team at the moment as free agents. The Astros will explore all other options before re-signing Maldonado.

This is including looking for free agents and examining the trade market. Not knowing what the future holds, the Astros could be hesitant to add too many players to the 40-man roster. They have to add Rogelio Armenteros, but they may have to move a player to protect Riley Ferrell as well. On Talking Stros last Sunday, we discussed how the Astros were more likely to add via trades versus signing a player. Jeff Passan confirmed that later last week.

Realmuto?

They need a catcher. The Marlins need to trade catcher J.T. Realmuto. It makes too much sense that the two teams get together for a deal. What is the holdup? As we saw with the James Paxton trade to the Yankees, the Astros are not willing to give up Forrest Whitley (or Kyle Tucker). According to rumors, the Marlins still feel like they can get one of those two players in a deal. However, no deal has been made, yet.

This could change quickly. The Washington Nations just added Kurt Suzuki, so they are not looking for a catcher. It has already been reported that the Dodgers are after Realmuto, but they may not have the prospects available that the Astros could offer. J.B. Buskaukas, Stubbs, and a couple of other prospects that would hurt. However, they will try to hold onto Whitley, Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez. As much as you can trust Jeff Luhnow to get the deal done, you see what the Marlins are reportedly asking from the Dodgers. It’s so ridiculous and not worth mentioning.

Realmuto is one of the best catchers in the game stuck in Florida. The team is in a rebuilding phase, but the Marlins held onto him. He batted .274 with 21 homers and 74 RBI, which would fit in well in the Astros lineup. However, as Brandon DelCastillo keeps saying on Talking Stros, two years of Realmuto is not worth seven years of Tucker or Whitley. However, there are other players the Marlins could be interested.

Craig Mish thinks the Astros and Braves are most likely to trade for Realmuto.

The Mets have also joined the catching search, but the Astros appear to have the biggest need. Realmuto is not just a good hitter; he is an all-around player. He throws out 33% of the runners trying to steal and is a good pitch framer. As a bonus, he played eight games at first base last year.

Look for a deal to get done soon, but predicting the players involved is hard to do. They could look to complete a deal soon before Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal are taken off the market. They don’t want to be stuck with a combo of Stassi, Herrmann, or Stubbs at the start of the season. Stay tuned Astros fans, big moves on the horizon.

Astros Bold Prediction 1: Team signs Nelson Cruz with a one-year deal

Could the Astros bring in Nelson Cruz?

Fans have seen it before. The Astros bring in a hated veteran to help the team get to the playoffs. They did it in 2017 by bringing Carlos Beltran back to Houston for a one year deal. While Beltran did not have much of an impact offensively, he offered valuable leadership and added to the culture of the team. Beltran was 39 at the time and played his final game at 40-years-old. Could the Astros do the same in 2019?

The Astros are looking for a big bat, but can’t afford Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. They could add another outfielder if the price is right, but they want to give Kyle Tucker a chance to shine. The only real needs they have offensively is an everyday catcher and possibly a designated hitter. Yes, they have Tyler White, but a team is always looking to add to the depth of the roster.

Since moving to the American League, the Astros have had to face designated hitter Nelson Cruz 19 times a year. Even though it seems like more, but Cruz has hit 25 homers versus the Astros while batting .263 via Baseball-Reference. Cruz has played for the Rangers, Mariners, and one season with the Orioles. Yes, he played a handful of games with the Brewers as a rookie, but who remembers that? He has spent most of his career in the AL West. Maybe he can finish there as well.

With the trade of James Paxton, the Mariners are facing a mini-rebuild. They have no interest in the 38-year-old Cruz. Like Beltran with the Yankees, Cruz’s stats dropped in 2018, but not as drastic. According to Baseball-Reference, his batting average dropped to .256, about 7% lower than his career .274. After three years with an OPS of .900+, it dropped to .850 in 2018. He still managed to hit 37 homers and drive in 97 runs. With the power still there, someone will give him a chance in 2019.

With the winter meetings approaching, it would not be surprising if the Astros were already in talks with Cruz. It makes sense if it is only a one year deal, this would give the Astros a power bat in the five hole. His days of batting third or cleanup are over, but he could provide us with a regular DH. Unlike Evan Gattis, Cruz can still play in the outfield when they play a National League team. However, like Beltran, his outfield days may be behind him.

Talking Stros 2018-11-18 Seth Beer joins the show

8:00 Aledmys Diaz trade - can play shortstop and third base has played in the outfield before

8:20 - Rule 5 protection talk (who gets protected and who doesn't?)

8:40 - Upgrade the rotation via trade

9:00 - Astros rumors, are they really all in for Realmuto?

9:20 - Potential free agents (starting pitchers and catchers)

9:40 - Astros prospect Seth Beer joins the show

Astros Prospect Attachment Syndrome

Hello. I’m Wayne, and I have Prospect Attachment Syndrome as an Astros fan. It started over three years ago.

July 30, 2015, was a rough day. My upstart Houston Astros were in a position to make a playoff run, and the MLB trade deadline was all aflutter with rumors.

I was simultaneously excited that we were about to possibly trade for a big-time bat, a legit veteran starting pitcher, and do so without severely mortgaging the promising future of the organization.

Then, news started trickling in. The Astros were getting Carlos Gomez. I threw up a little in my mouth. “I hope we didn’t give up too much,” I thought to myself. Then, I heard we were also getting Mike Fiers.

I didn’t mind getting Fiers, as the rotation definitely needed another piece. However, my next thought proved correct. I believe it was something similar to what Ralphie said on the side of the road. For the record, I didn’t think “fudge” either.

I knew immediately that acquiring Fiers meant more was going to go back to Milwaukee than I was going to be happy with. Again, I fudging proved correct. Going to the Brewers were four of my favorite Astros prospects: Domingo Santana, Adrian Houser, Josh Hader, and the one that caused me the most heartbreak, Brett Phillips.

I wasn’t alone, either. Several Astros Twitter mainstays also were distraught. Moreover, like me, they were distraught over the same guy, Brett Phillips. Losing a future bulldog on the mound? Meh. Losing a 30-homer outfielder? Bummer. Losing a potential Chris Sale type of lefty? Yeeesh, but okay. Losing a damn good dude that interacted with fans on Twitter and has the best laugh in sports? Oh, hell Nah fam! “Not Brett! Oh dear god, please not Brett!” However, of course, it was him.

Fudge fudge fudgitty fudge fudge fudge!

The rest is history, as we now know. Santana did develop into a 30-homer outfielder. Houser made his big league debut. Hader became arguably the most dominant reliever in the game. Phillips, my first prospect love, has since been dealt with yet another team and has yet to live up to his (actually, mine!) promise on the field. I still miss him and want him back. I cry sometimes.

So why bring this up? Well, a couple of reasons. First, this regrettable trade introduced me to Prospect Attachment Syndrome or PAS. No, the American Psychiatric Association has not deemed PAS worthy of addition to the DSM, but it is real. Second, with suddenly six to seven spots to fill on their 40-man roster this winter, Jeff Luhnow should be busy over the next month or so. This means that there’s a distinct possibility that some of the organization’s top prospects will no longer be with the Astros. In other words, my attachment to prospects Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, and Yordan Alvarez, among others, will be tested.

However, with any malady, there are usually precipitants to full-blown PAS. These warning signs are often overlooked and dismissed as “male menopause,” “irrational emotional outbursts,” or, in its more nascent stages, “onset prospect dysphoria.”

Through my experiences, research, and perusals through social media, I have been able to identify three early identifiers that sufferers of PAS often have before their symptoms become acute. My hope is that I can bring awareness to Astros fans before Luhnow goes to the Winter Meetings in December and trades away our sure-fire future Hall of Famers.

Unusual Knowledge of Minor Leaguers Below Double-A

PAS sufferers tend to know when a minor league player was drafted or signed, for how much, for how much below or above slot they were, what round they were taken in, what hillside village they are from, and how much they’ve improved since joining their country’s baseball youth academy at age 13. This is all important information to the PAS afflicted. When combined with some of the more advanced metrics, it paints a picture that allows our man to lay awake at night furiously typing on their Notes app the projected Opening Day roster for their favorite team in 2025.

Our poor subject will also have an updated organization positional depth chart, for when the inevitable moment a friend wants to know how many people Cody Bohanek has to leapfrog to get his chance to prove what you already know about him, that he’s a freaking stud! In more severe cases of PAS, sufferers also have an unusual knowledge of other team’s low-level minor league players. In this case, they may also be recluses and/or sociopaths.

The Belief That Other Fans Know What the Hell You’re Talking About

You know how this plays out. You see a fellow fan at your local Academy store and immediately bypass the traditional greetings and delve right into the exciting news you wish to share:

You, the PAS Sufferer, wearing a Jon Singleton jersey: Man, did you see Carlos Machado on the MiLB stream last night? Dude is raking, am I right?

Them, the normal fan that actually spends time with his family: Um, yeah, I guess so.

You: Bro, if he keeps this up, he might crack my personal top-50 prospects rankings in the system by July and get promoted to High-A.

Them: (stares bewildered at you)

You: (grins and nods head repeatedly like a used car salesman closing the deal)

Normal-Fan: He related to Manny Machado?

You: Pffft, and you call yourself a fan. Embarrassing, bro.

Those with PAS are also likely to have limited skills in reading social cues. In this case, the PAS sufferer mistakes his friend’s blank stare for what it is, and instead, interprets the reaction as, “yeah, you feel me, bro!” Instead of the actual meaning of, “oh my god, he needs help. I bet this is how Jeffery Dahmer started out.”

The self-aware sufferer of PAS will identify quickly that they may have a problem. A quick inventory of meaningful relationships, for instance, could be helpful in early recognition. If their closest friend is @alsohasnolife, then the self-aware will be able to identify that they are heading in the wrong direction and seek early intervention, such as psychotherapy or support groups, where the sufferers can mingle with other in recovery and develop healthier coping skills.

The Belief That EVERY Prospect in Your Favorite Team’s System Will Make It to The Show and be All-Stars

Associated with this trait is the belief that you, the Uncle Rico of your family, are a capable baseball scout, and that if you could only walk away from your family obligations, you would be the next Jonathan Mayo. After all, based on the six YouTube videos you watched of him, you predicted in 2016 that Josh James would eventually be a top-100 prospect in all of baseball and take every opportunity to tell fellow fans that, “Man I told you! I called that!”

You also know with 100% certainty that the 16-year-old infielder from Venezuela with the name you can’t pronounce and hadn’t heard of the day before is the next Jose Altuve. The harsh reality is that only a ridiculously low percentage of current minor leaguers will ever make it to The Show. However, for our undeterred man, this really only applies to other teams, not their beloved organization. The problem here is obvious. That is if every prospect will make it, how do they eventually find a spot on the MLB roster?

The resulting conundrum is that our sufferer will perform mental gymnastics to lay out HIS plan for the organization which will allow all of the prospects a chance to shine without having to part with any of them. Here, the thought of losing any of these players causes anxiety and depression. To cope, our man looks ahead to the 2021 draft and maps out the organization’s priorities and which players should be targeted.

Another aspect of this trait is the fallacy of scouting statistics, not the player. PAS sufferers love statistics and can predict a player’s future performance based on how they perform in the Gulf Coast League. The PAS sufferer imagines himself in “A Beautiful Mind,” deriving meaning from connected the dots with elaborate formulas and video game statistical projections, drawn out on any random scrap of paper, window, or company letterhead while he sits in a redundant work meeting.

There are, of course, many other traits associated with PAS but the above three are the most common. You may be taking a personal inventory at this point. You may have noticed that you, too, are suffering and require immediate intervention. You may also have identified family members. Acknowledging PAS is the first step. Seek help now!

The timing of this public service announcement cannot be minimized, as soon we will witness on social media the depths of PAS when the Astros acquire J.T. Realmuto, for instance. I will caution those that seek to intervene on behalf of loved ones. Provide them with love and understanding. Let them share of their grief of losing their favorite prospect. There will be other prospects to follow, and in time, the pain subsides.

Stay strong my friends. PS, the Astros just traded Trent Thornton to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz, I’ll see myself out.

Brad Lidge Subconsciously Hates the Astros with FA picks

Former Astros closer doesn't give the Astros a shot to sign the top free agents.

Brad Lidge has made quite a name for himself with his post-playing career. He is a special assistant to the Phillies and has carved out a nice little niche for himself on MLB Radio. He has a gentle speaking voice, but in reality, I’m not buying this nice-guy routine. Houston gave him his start and the only reason he is really famous at all because he gave up a home run to Albert Pujols. I swear to God that that ball still hasn’t landed. The problem with Brad Lidge is that I am 100% convinced he subconsciously hates the Houston Astros.

The first year he left Houston for Philadelphia, he decided to win a World Series with the Phillies. Didn’t want to bring it home for his pride and joy. I mean c’mon Brad, your Baseball-Reference.com picture is you in an Astros cap, dude. You couldn’t do it in 2005, but could in 2008? Judas! He had 123 saves in an Astros uniform and was a top-2 closer in the league in 2005, but for some reason. He even recruited Roy Oswalt to Philly in 2010 just to rub it in our face. Brad Lidge has some built-up hostility in the back of his mind for the Astros and here’s why:

Brad Lidge was cited in a tweet earlier this week by MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM that showed expert opinions on free agent destinations. The three players of interest in this tweet are Nathan Eovaldi, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel.

Image via MLB Network

Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi is from Houston. I would know, I pitched with him growing up and played with him on some all-steam teams in high school. He threw hard then, and he still does now. The Astros like these type of high spin rate guys, and Eovaldi showing a competency for both starting a relieving (as evident in the longest ever world series game where he threw 7 innings in relief) could make him a valuable asset with Lance McCullers out for all of 2019, and Dallas Keuchel most likely leaving for free agency.

He could be a taller, thicker, higher velocity Collin McHugh with his versatility and longevity. So of course, with all of this well-balanced and artfully crafted information, whom does Lidge have Eovaldi going to? The Yankees. He just thinks Eovaldi is a cash-grabbing monster, and I can’t respect someone who believes that of a the second-Alvin-coming of Nolan Ryan.

Yasmani Grandal

Grandal is a catcher, and it’s no surprise that the Astros need a catcher because the last two catchers they’ve had almost entirely qualify for social security by themselves. Side note: God bless Brian McCann. Grandal is all but leaving Los Angeles as no expert has him returning. Even noted Astros-troll and Rangers telecast buffoon C.J. Nitkowski has Grandal going to the Astros, as they look to field one between the $14-17M/year range.

There have been talks about trading for Marlin’s J.T. Realmuto, but the asking price could be too high, as they have requested top prospects, Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker, to be apart of a package. A majority of the experts have him going to the Astros. So who does Lidge have Grandal signing with? The Braves. That’s right, the man who didn’t want to deliver a World Series ring to Houston picked the one team that Houstonian's had nightmares of in October from the years 1997-2003. Lidge apparently wants to hurt us so much that he is the only “expert” to pick Grandal to Atlanta. Cheap shot received Lidge, cheap shot indeed.

Dallas Keuchel

Keuchel is statistically speaking, 99.9% not coming back to Houston. That’s my own stat, and it will be spoken into existence. He even admitted on Fox News he would shave his beard to be a Yankee. That’s the baseball version of a Blue-Footed Booby doing his high-stepping line dance in an attempt to find a mate. After turning down the barely-sub $18M qualifying offer, Keuchel is going to garner much attention from clubs. He finally had a healthy season, has showed a proclivity in coming up big in prime-time games and is of course…left-handed.

The experts are split on DK’s landing spot and to be honest, so am I. The fit though, it would seem, would be a team who is a borderline contender can handle the $19-22M/year that Boras will be asking for him. Most have him going to a team like Washington, or Atlanta, or even Milwaukee. Heck, I would even say Philadelphia. So who does Lidge have signing Keuchel? The Angels. Let me remind you the Angels are IN THE SAME DIVISION as his former team, have the two best players on the freaking planet but no one else, and finished 23 games out of first place last year.

I think it’s pretty obvious that Brad Lidge deep down inside is resentful to the Astros, and it shows here. I loved Lights Out Lidge more than anyone, so it hurts to see his bias showing. Read Common Sense by Thomas Paine Brad and get back to me, sir.

***Stats via Baseball-Reference***

Why the Astros traded for Aledmys Diaz

A look at the reasons why the Astros traded for Aledmys Diaz.

Most people are shopping for their Thanksgiving meals today. Some people are kids birthday party hopping like me. Others are possibly traveling out of state with the kids being off for a week. That’s other people, Jeff Luhnow is trying to work on deals to improve the Astros. With the winter meetings two weeks away, the hot stove is about to get hot. The Astros struck a deal with the Blue Jays earlier.

With the likely departure of Marwin Gonzalez, the Astros appeared set to use Yuli Gurriel in that semi-super utility role. Gurriel probably can’t play shortstop, but if the need arose, then Alex Bregman could have played in that role. Still, who would have played third/first base would have been the question. Tyler White could play first with Gurriel moving to third could have been an option as well.

However, it was nice having Gonzalez in that role.

The market for Gonzalez is very active at the moment, meaning the price to re-sign him would be on the rise. Having a depth piece in the infield wouldn’t hurt until we see options arise in the minors. If the Astros are to let Gonzalez walk, this symbolizes the value they assign to a role player. Gonzalez was valuable for them because of his position flexibility, but also that he was cheap. So they were looking at the trade market for an upgrade, not the free agent class. This is what we discussed on last week’s Talking Stros, look for trades versus free agent signings. Jeff Passan confirmed this.

Monday, the Astros have to protect certain players from the Rule 5 draft. Trent Thornton was one of those players, we will discuss that group in a separate article. If the Astros did not add Thornton to the 40-man roster, a team could have picked him up via the Rule 5 draft. Via the Astros, Luhnow said there has been a lot of trade interest in Thornton, so he would have likely been claimed. Like we saw with Ramon Laureano, they made a deal to get something for him.

The deal.

The Astros made a deal mid-morning in Saturday that will have a lasting effect for the next four years. They make a trade for Aledmys Diaz, a shortstop/third baseman from the Blue Jays. This news was broken by Chandler Rome and others. They do give up an MLB ready arm in Thornton, but that is a position of depth for the team at Triple-A.

This is also what Luhnow mentioned after the trade. With Rogelio Armenteros, Brady Rodgers, Dean Deetz, and Josh James in fold, then Thornton was somewhat expendable. We can reevaluate the deal later in terms of giving him up, but you have to give up something to get something. The Astros now have team control through 2022 via Baseball-Reference. He is in his final season before he is arbitration eligible.

While some may question his defense, his bat is legit. The 28-year-old Diaz batter .263 with 18 homers and 55 RBI in 2018. Diaz only struck out 62 times in 422 at-bats in 2018. With only three years of MLB experience, he brings a lot of talent to Houston after breaking out with the Cardinals in 2016. Look at Diaz as a cheap option to replace Gonzalez. Luhnow did say that he could play multiple positions, even a little left field.

Did I just say that? You can’t replace a player like Gonzalez who carried the Astros offense in the ALDS. Gonzalez became a big part of the team's culture, with his position flexibility and leadership. Unlike Gonzalez, Diaz is not a switch hitter and has not played much outfield, but Tony Kemp can. This move also rules out the need to bring Gonzalez back. Will it pay off? Only time will tell, but it looks good at the moment.

What is the Astros Most Needed Position This Offseason?

There are a few holes to patch up on the Astros roster this offseason.

The offseason will be heating up soon in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the “Hot Stove” will be burning hot as teams will be making moves in preparation of the 2019 season. The Boston Red Sox stopped the Houston Astros in their quest at back-to-back World Series Championships. Every offseason there will be roster turnover, and it’s an unfortunate reality that some crucial players will not be on the team when Spring Training kicks off in March.

Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Charlie Morton are a few names that could be wearing a different uniform in 2019. When we look at the Astros roster, losing key players previously mentioned is a gut-punch, but the Minor League system and current Astros players will have to step up. However, the most pressing need that Houston has for this offseason is the catcher position.

For the Astros in 2018, they fielded a few catchers throughout the season. Brian McCann, Martin Maldonado, Max Stassi, and Tim Federowicz all were behind the plate for Houston. Currently, the only one of those four players is on the roster, Max Stassi. McCann’s 15-million-dollar team option was declined, and Maldonado will hit free agency. It is obvious that General Manager Jeff Luhnow will have to figure out a better option to be the starting catcher for a team that is going to be a World Series contender for many years to come. We will look at what could be going through the mind of Luhnow and the realistic options the team can look at to improve the team.

In-House Candidates

In all honesty, the Astros are thin at catcher from top to bottom. As mentioned before, Max Stassi is the lone backstop on the MLB team from last year and is one of two catchers on the 40-man roster along with the recently acquired Chris Herrmann. Garrett Stubbs is the organization’s 15th best prospect according to MLB.com and is in AAA. If Luhnow believes Stubbs is ready, we could see him in the MLB as early as this season. Another catcher in AAA is Jamie Ritchie, but Stubbs would almost certainly get the call before him.

Outside Options

Jeff Luhnow is always scouring the market seeking ways to improve the organization. This offseason there are options on the free agent market that could entice the Astros general manager into spending some money to get a sizeable upgrade for the squad. The top of the free agent class for catchers are Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. Grandal will come with a hefty price tag. Ramos was the American league’s representative for starting catcher and was traded to the Phillies at the trade deadline. A few other options are Kurt Suzuki, Robinson Chirinos, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Wieters. The Astros could also decide to keep their own free agents with either one of Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado. The “Belle of the ball,” so to speak, of all the possible options, would not be a signing; it would be a trade for arguably the best catcher in the MLB: JT Realmuto of the Miami Marlins. Realmuto has been said to be unhappy with the rebuild in Miami. Especially, after the team traded away other top players Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. There would be a steep price in the form of prospects form any team that would be interested in bringing him on board.

What I would do

Even though no one probably cares what I would do for the Astros, I care, so this is what I would do: trade for J.T. Realmuto. Like I said before, it’s going to take a lot to get Realmuto from the Marlins, but the Astros should be willing to give up a strong package of prospects for the Miami catcher. Realmuto never had interest in being part of a rebuild with the Marlins. Houston has made top prospect right-handed starting pitcher Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker untouchable in trades, but the Astros could interest Miami with a trade package starting with MLB.com’s 3rd best Astros prospect Yordan Alvarez.

My trade package for Realmuto: Alvarez, left-handed pitcher Cionel Perez (#5), right-handed starter JB Bukauskas (#8), and a lower level minor leaguer.

*#’s are MLB.com Astros prospect ranking

Why the Marlins do this:

If you are going to rebuild, you might as well tear it down and start over a la the Astros and Cubs. This trade package gives the Marlins three highly regarded prospects that can play in the majors right now or are close to reaching the MLB; plus a possible “lottery ticket” type minor leaguer as well.

Why the Astros do this:

The Astros are going to be a top team in the league for a long time, but with stiff competition from the A’s, Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians, they need to keep staying at the top and make the rich even richer. The price to pry Realmuto from Miami will be significant, but Houston has a deep farm system and could live with letting some of that minor league depth go. Realmuto is under club control for two more seasons until he becomes a free agent himself, according to Spotrac. Getting an all-star catcher for two full seasons? Sign me up.

By Cameron Villavaso

The offseason will be heating up soon in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the “Hot Stove” will be burning hot as teams will be making moves in preparation of the 2019 season. The Boston Red Sox stopped the Houston Astros in their quest at back-to-back World Series Championships. Every offseason there will be roster turnover, and it’s an unfortunate reality that some crucial players will not be on the team when Spring Training kicks off in March. Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Charlie Morton are a few names that could be wearing a different uniform in 2019. When we look at the Astros roster, losing key players previously mentioned is a gut-punch, but the Minor League system and current Astros players will have to step up. However, the most pressing need that Houston has for this offseason is the catcher position.

For the Astros in 2018, they fielded a few catchers throughout the season. Brian McCann, Martin Maldonado, Max Stassi, and Tim Federowicz all were behind the plate for Houston. Currently, the only one of those four players is on the roster, Max Stassi. McCann’s 15-million-dollar team option was declined, and Maldonado will hit free agency. It is obvious that General Manager Jeff Luhnow will have to figure out a better option to be the starting catcher for a team that is going to be a World Series contender for many years to come. We will look at what could be going through the mind of Luhnow and the realistic options the team can look at to improve the team.

In-House Candidates

In all honesty, the Astros are thin at catcher from top to bottom. As mentioned before, Max Stassi is the lone backstop on the MLB team from last year and is one of two catchers on the 40-man roster along with the recently acquired Chris Herrmann. Garrett Stubbs is the organization’s 15th best prospect according to MLB.com and is in AAA. If Luhnow believes Stubbs is ready, we could see him in the MLB as early as this season. Another catcher in AAA is Jamie Ritchie, but Stubbs would almost certainly get the call before him.

Outside Options

Jeff Luhnow is always scouring the market seeking ways to improve the organization. This offseason there are options on the free agent market that could entice the Astros general manager into spending some money to get a sizeable upgrade for the squad. The top of the free agent class for catchers are Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. Grandal will come with a hefty price tag. Ramos was the American league’s representative for starting catcher and was traded to the Phillies at the trade deadline. A few other options are Kurt Suzuki, Robinson Chirinos, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Wieters. The Astros could also decide to keep their own free agents with either one of Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado. The “Belle of the ball,” so to speak, of all the possible options, would not be a signing; it would be a trade for arguably the best catcher in the MLB: JT Realmuto of the Miami Marlins. Realmuto has been said to be unhappy with the rebuild in Miami. Especially, after the team traded away other top players Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna. There would be a steep price in the form of prospects form any team that would be interested in bringing him on board.

What I would do

Even though no one probably cares what I would do for the Astros, I care, so this is what I would do: trade for JT Realmuto. Like I said before, it’s going to take a lot to get Realmuto from the Marlins, but the Astros should be willing to give up a strong package of prospects for the Miami catcher. Realmuto never had interest in being part of a rebuild with the Marlins. Houston has made top prospect right-handed starting pitcher Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker untouchable in trades, but the Astros could interest Miami with a trade package starting with MLB.com’s 3rd best Astros prospect Yordan Alvarez.

My trade package for Realmuto: Alvarez, left-handed pitcher Cionel Perez (#5), right-handed starter JB Bukauskas (#8), and a lower level minor leaguer.

*#’s are MLB.com Astros prospect ranking

Why the Marlins do this:

If you are going to rebuild, you might as well tear it down and start over a la the Astros and Cubs. This trade package gives the Marlins three highly regarded prospects that can play in the majors right now or are close to reaching the MLB; plus a possible “lottery ticket” type minor leaguer as well.

Why the Astros do this:

The Astros are going to be a top team in the league for a long time, but with stiff competition from the A’s, Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians, they need to keep staying at the top and make the rich even richer. The price to pry Realmuto from Miami will be significant, but Houston has a deep farm system and could live with letting some of that minor league depth go. Realmuto is under club control for two more seasons until he becomes a free agent himself, according to Spotrac. Getting an all-star catcher for two full seasons? Sign me up.

Astros: On to the Next One

“Kimbrel deals, in the air, deep left field, hit well, Benintendi on the run, he’s got it! The Boston Red Sox are moving on to the 2018 World Series!” BOOM! The Houston Astros season came to an early end, and they were not able to repeat as World Series Champions! A quiet Minute Maid Park crowd in complete shock and in despair to see their Astros lose on their home turf, to the Boston Red Sox. Carlos Correa is looking from the dugout, disgusted, while his teammates hit the locker room. Looking at the Red Sox jump up and down, celebrating on the mound, knowing they beat the defending champs, and are moving on to the World Series. Now, what’s next for the Houston Astros?

Well, injuries during the postseason were killing the Astros, such as a one-legged Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa dealing with an aching back, and Lance McCullers Jr. bothered by his pitching arm. Now, we see Jose Altuve having surgery on his bad right knee, repairing a patella fracture, however, he will be ready for Spring Training in 2019. Just after the last game of the season, rumors were going around saying Lance McCullers might need Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL ligament in his elbow. Carlos has told us throughout the whole postseason, saying “I know every time I swing and miss it’s going to hurt.” He’s been dealing with a bad back since the All-Star Break. With an unhealthy Astros roster, it was hard for the ‘Stros to repeat as World Series champs, however, they never gave up and kept playing every game.

The season is over, and have players becoming free agents. Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, and Tony Sipp. Keuchel and Gonzalez spent seven years in the Astros organization from going back-to-back 100 loss seasons, to becoming World Series Champions in 2017. I believe these guys will test free agency and see if they will get a well-qualifying offer. I respect any decision they make and very thankful for their time as a Houston Astro. Charlie Morton has had thoughts on considering retiring from baseball to spend time with his family, but a part of him still wants to play this game. He would like to stay in Houston if he decides not to retire. Brian McCann is an All-Star catcher, but he’s missed almost half the season with an injury and has dealt with some injuries in the past years with Houston. I don’t see the Astros resigning Evan Gattis back since Tyler White has shown the organization that he can replace his role, by having a strong second half of the season.

The Houston Astros have two starting pitchers in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Now, we’re looking for three more starters to fill in the 5-man starting rotation. During the 2018 season, the Astros brought up prospects: Josh James and Framber Valdez, who did not disappoint this year. Collin McHugh was a former starting pitcher in the 2015 season, who was 2nd in Wins in the AL with 19, and behind Keuchel with 20 wins. He could be a strong candidate to get back on the starting rotation.

The Astros have a lot of great pitching prospects, such as Forrest Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, and Corbin Martin, but we could maybe see Whitley come up in the 2019 season. Although, we need one more power, hard-throwing starting, and relief pitcher. It could be very interesting if Clayton Kershaw opts out of his 2-year remaining contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and become a free agent. If this happens, Coshark has the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros as co-favorites to sign him. Why the Rangers you may ask? Well, Kershaw is from Texas for one, the other point is he’s from Dallas, which is close to Arlington where the Rangers play. Since he’s a Texas native, he would like to play in his home state and be closer back home with his family. Nathan Eovaldi would also be a good acquisition for the Astros. With his hard-throwing fastball and nasty slider, the Alvin native could help the Astros by being a powerful 3rd starter in the rotation. Think about it Verlander, Cole, Eovaldi… that’s a scary hard-throwing rotation going into the postseason. Relief pitchers, we need a big-time lefty reliever! Zach Britton would probably be the Astros top target since Tony Sipp is gone, the Astros would need to get a left-handed pitcher for the lefty on lefty matchup in the bullpen.

We all know Max Stassi helped us this 2018 season with Brian McCann being hurt half the season, but he’s not worthy of being a starting catcher. Free agent players like Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos would be great acquisitions because they are excellent defenders behind the plate and could provide a big bat in that deadly lineup they have right now. On the other hand, the Astros could trade for J.T. Realmuto. However, Derek Jeter is not easy to negotiate with. He wants our top prospects, like Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, but that won’t happen with Jeff Luhnow in office. Some trade bait could be Corbin Martin, Josh James, Yordan Alvarez, or even Derek Fisher. Don’t be surprised though if we give away good top prospects for J.T.

Nelson Cruz is a big name on that free agent list. Even though the veteran is 40 years old, he’s missing one thing: A World Series Ring! He had multiple chances with the Texas Rangers in 2011 and 2012, when they faced the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants in the World Series, but came up short. Coming into his 14th year in the big leagues, I believe he would be looking for a championship contending team. Houston is in need of a big stick in that 4-6 hole in the lineup, with Minute Maid Park being 315 ft. in left field and 326 ft. in right field, the “Boomstick” could make a big boom at Minute Maid Park.

Can Kyle Tucker come back in 2019 and show the Astros he has potential to become their next superstar? Before the 2018 Spring Training Season, all eyes weren’t on Bregman, Springer, or Altuve; it was on the #1 top prospect in the Houston Astros Farm System: Kyle Tucker! The 21-year-old showed much talent coming into the 2018 Spring Training. Everyone on the team called him “Ted,” because they compared him to the great Ted Williams. The whole Astros organization has big expectations for Kyle Tucker, that he would become the missing piece in that deep, high flying outfield.

When he made his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox, he had gone 1-4 with a single and three strikeouts. That was just the start for Kyle. Ending the season with 64 at-bats, he batted with a whopping .141 batting average, nine hits, and 4 Runs Batted In. Not a great start, but he’s a rookie and got his feet wet in the Big Leagues. When the season ended, the Astros held a press conference with Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch.

There was a question about Kyle Tucker progress, and Luhnow stated “We’re going to give him a shot, but we're just not going to hand it to him. We’re hoping he takes it.” It’s understandable though that Tucker didn’t look great in 2018, but he would look to bounce back in 2019 with a chance to be on the Houston Astros 2019 Regular Season Roster.

The 2018 Houston Astros is one of the best teams in Franchise History. They had the best starting rotation and bullpen in the MLB. They have the most wins in franchise history and won back-to-back AL West Division Champs. So now what? Well, let’s strap up for the 2019 season, and move on to the next one!

Astros Rumors: Trade talk with the Mariners about a James Paxton trade?

The Houston Astros have three openings in the starting rotation following Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton hitting free agency and Lance McCullers having Tommy John surgery. While they haven’t ruled out bringing Keuchel or Morton back, they could get better deals elsewhere. Something that we have seen in the Jeff Luhnow era is that they don’t like offering pitchers multi-year deals. They could have extended Keuchel after the 2015 season, but instead, they are letting him test the free agent market.

After reaching a franchise record 103 wins in 2018, the Astros realized how important it is to have a strong rotation. This could lead to them looking at free agent starting pitchers, but they could also explore the trade market. With a strong farm system, we have seen Luhnow fulfill his promise to use prospects to improve the MLB roster. He added Justin Verlander in 2017 and Gerrit Cole in 2018; both are in the final year of their current deals.

The Astros should begin to shift their focus to extending Verlander and Cole, but they need a backup plan. With the previous trades, the Astros appear to be comfortable with trading for a starter with two years of control remaining. Robbie Ray could be a target, but another name has surfaced from an unlikely source. This starter has pitched well in his career versus the Astros and are a division foe.

No, not Cole Hamels, he was traded to the Cubs last year. It seems that whenever James Paxton pitches versus the Astros, he is on the top of his game. According to Baseball-Reference, in 12 starts versus the Astros, Paxton has a 7-2 record with a 2.89 ERA while striking out 69 hitters in 71 2/3 innings. He also fits the mold of a Verlander and Cole as a workhorse starter who got 208 strikeouts last year.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 3

Rule 5 draft and the roster- Who will be on the 40-man roster?

Now that we have established who is likely to be leaving the next step will be to assess who will be on the 40-man roster and does the roster address the holes left behind by the players that leave? As we do this we need to consider the Rule 5 draft.

The details of the Rule 5 Draft are available from the Queen of Astros Minor Leagues – Jayne Hansen here

https://whattheheckbobby.blogspot.com/2018/09/2018-rule-5-draft-primer-and-eligible.html

An Rule 5 eligible player is...

1) Anyone who signed prior to the conclusion of the 2014 season.

2) Any player who was 19-years-old at the time of signing after the end of the 2014 season or prior to the conclusion of the 2015 season.

3) Most 2015 drafted college players.

4) Any high school players drafted in 2015 will wait one more year.

What this means is certain minor leaguers whose name you know can be drafted away from the Astros if they are not added to the 40-man roster. The number of players the Astros will want to add from the 2014-2015 drafts partially explains their willingness to let the free agents previously discussed to walk.

On 11/2/18, the Astros signed Chris Herrmann in a classic quiet Jeff Luhnow increase your options and low risk- high potential reward type of move. His name shows in green in the table above. This move will set up other potential bigger moves at catcher will discuss in later sections.

The following table shows what I believe will be the Rule 5 draft roster IF no Ramon Laureano type trades are made between now and 11/20/18 (the day Rule 5 rosters are set).

The players in red font are currently NOT on the 40-man roster and the number is the prospect ranking in the Astros system. This brings the roster to 38 which leaves limited room for Free Agent signings.

Larry 4.PNG

Also, the top prospects such as Whitley, Alvarez, Martin, Beer, and Bukauskas are not on the projected 40-man roster. It is highly possible at least one if not more of these players will be added to the roster in 2019. Before we move forward, it is critical to understand there are only one or two roster spots even available to add a free agent this offseason.

MLB Free Agents

Earlier we said Catcher, First Base, Left Field, and possibly one Starting Pitcher are the biggest needs this offseason.

Catcher- Currently the Astros have three internal options (with 2018 stats per Fangraphs and 2019 projections)

Larry 6.PNG

None of these options inspires confidence. Starting Catcher is a HUGE hole for the 2019 Astros. Any of these CAN be a backup for this team. What are the viable options for a starter?

Best Available via trade

Larry 5.PNG

The Astros fan base has clamored for Realmuto for a year now. He is salaried controlled for two more seasons. The Marlins have multiple needs. Using the same ranking system we did to evaluate the Astros roster earlier (10 is the top 3 teams at the position, and 1 is the bottom 3 at the position), this is how the Marlins rank and the potential tradeable assets from the Astros who could be offered.

Larry 7.PNG

To simplify the analysis here, the Steamer600 projection from Frangraphs.com projects a player into a full-time starter role and projects their full-season value. The Astros are highly unlikely to offer Tucker nor Whitley. However, you can see how many players the Astros MIGHT consider tradeable would be and upgrade for the Marlins in 2019; and as they develop, their projected WAR would also rise. What if the Astros offered Stubbs (1.4), Reed (-0.1), Alvarez (1.7), Bukauskas (1.2), and McCurry (0.2) for Realmuto (3.7)? Should the Astros give up that much for two guaranteed years of Realmuto?

Best Free Agent Options

There are likely three options for a free agent Catcher. Shown here are their stats in 2018, their Fangraphs Depth Chart projections for 2019. Also shown here are several sources projecting what their contracts will be and an average of these projections.

Finally, a “Value Assessment” is done. This is asking how much is each WAR likely going to cost the Astros. Obviously, the smaller the number; the better the value for the Astros.

LArry 8.PNG

This would indicate Grandal and Ramos are the best investments. I believe the Astros will sign one of these two rather quickly or they will get a more cost-effective contract with Maldonado (2 yr/$8MM total.) I believe the Astros will sign a catcher vs. trading for Realmuto.

As for the other positions of need, First Base and Left Field, I do not believe the Astros will sign a top Free Agent, at least not until February.

Next time, we will address what some of the options are at Starting Pitching now with McCullers out all 2019.

Check out the other parts of the series below.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 1

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 2

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, Sportrac, and Fangraphs***

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 2

Contract decisions - who are the free agents leaving, option opt-ins/ outs, arbitration, and qualifying offers

In some ways, this article could come before the 2019 roster projection one. In either case, at the end of the 2018 season, the Astros front office will have free agents leaving with qualifying offers to offer, contract options to decide, and arbitration decisions to make.

The following players (with 2018 salaries) are now Free Agents, and some will receive a qualifying offer ($17.9MM for one year) to stay for one more year:

- Dallas Keuchel ($13.2MM)

- Charlie Morton ($7MM)

- Marwin Gonzalez ($5.12MM)

- Evan Gattis ($6.7MM)- not offered

- Tony Sipp ($6MM)- not offered

- Martin Maldonado ($3.9MM)- not offered. Potential to resign as a Free Agent

The total 2018 salary of these players was $41.92MM. This will come off the books.

Per MLB.com regarding qualifying offers

If the team that loses the player did not receive revenue sharing and did not exceed the luxury-tax salary threshold the previous season, its compensatory pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B (usually about the 75-80 picks). The value of the player's contract doesn't matter in this case. The 12 clubs that fall into this category are the Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, White Sox, and Yankees.

This would mean the Astros are likely to add one additional draft pick in the 75-80 pick range.

The Astros front office also has to decide whether to exercise options on the following contacts (these are complete):

- Brian McCann ($11.5MM net)- $15MM vesting option did not vest and the team did not pick up the option. He is now also a Free Agent. There was no way the Astros would retain McCann at the $15MM contract price. Many believe McCann may want to return to the Atlanta Braves where he began.

- Will Harris ($2.8MM)- $5.5MM team option not exercised but still eligible to be offered arbitration and retained.

McCann’s $11.5MM of 2018 salaries will come off the books. We will hold Harris’s contract for the arbitration section.

The following players are eligible for Arbitration and their projected arbitration amounts per rosterresource.com (2018 salary)

- Gerrit Cole- $13.1MM ($6.75MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Roberto Osuna- $6.5MM ($5.3MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Colin McHugh- $5.4MM ($5.0MM)- offered

- Carlos Correa- $5.1MM ($1.0MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Lance McCullers- $4.6MM ($2.45MM)- offered

- Will Harris- $3.6MM ($2.8MM)- might not be offered due to roster space

- Ryan Pressly- $3.1MM ($1.6MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Brad Peacock- $2.9MM ($2.44MM)- offered

- Jake Marisnick- $2.4MM ($1.9MM)- probably offered

- Chris Devenski- $1.4MM ($0.6MM)- probably offered

Essentially, I am assuming all of these players, except Harris, will be offered arbitration. The total 2018 salary here was $29.84MM. The projected 2019 salaries are $44.5MM.

Therefore, after all of these moves the

- Astros net losses are Keuchel, Gonzalez, Morton, Gattis, Sipp, Maldonado, Harris, and McCann

- The total salary off the books is $83.26MM

- The total arbitration expenses for 2019 is $44.5MM

Next, we will start the process of managing the 40-man roster in preparation for the Rule 5 draft.

Read Part 1 here.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, Sportrac, and Fangraphs***

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 1

It is the offseason. When every hardcore baseball fan transforms from Manager of the Year (in their mind) to Executive of the Year (again in their mind.)

I am no different. In fact, the boys at “Talking Stros” know me as LarrytheGM because this is my time of the year where I have the plan to restore the Astros to the rightful place atop the baseball world.

This year, rather than fill your Twitter feed with ideas, we will submit them for the record here at Houston Preeminence. Hopefully, this will serve as your roadmap and guide until pitchers and catchers report in February. Here, I am released from the tyranny of 280 characters, so buckle in for deep analysis here.

My passion is our team- the Astros, so let us take this systematic approach to go through the decisions already made and the decisions ahead:

  1. Review the strengths and relative weaknesses of this roster and what are the priorities for an upgrade
    1. Looking backward at 2018
    2. Projecting forward in 2019
  2. Contract decisions - who are the free agents leaving, option opt-ins/ outs, arbitrations, qualifying offers
  3. Rule 5 draft and the roster- Who will be on the 40-man roster?
  4. MLB Free Agents
    1. What are the biggest needs?
    2. Who can the Astros REALISTICALLY resign
    3. Who the Astros should target to sign and why
  5. Payroll Management- what does the likely payroll project to grow to over the next 3-4 years
  6. What does the LarrytheGM Astros 2019 roster look like
    1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this 2019 roster
    2. What are the key contingencies to reinforce the potential weaknesses
  7. Predictions for LarrytheGM 2019 Astros

The following sections will serve as your roadmap to the offseason and help you understand why the Astros are doing what they are doing.

This information is separated into two sections. Sections 1-4 are below. Sections 5-7 will be presented next week.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the 2018 roster

What if we could evaluate the Astros roster position by position to get OBJECTIVELY a sense of where the roster was strongest and weakest? My method evaluates the wRC+ each team accumulated at that position and rank that relative to the other teams in MLB. To do this, I used the Fangraphs.com output of team statistics by position in ranking to the other 30 teams. Players are sorted into their primary position for this analysis. For example, the Astros had 86 wRC+ from the catchers in 2018, and this was ranked 14th in the MLB.

Methodology note:

I will address a potential flaw in this analysis. The wRC+ stat does not account for the effect of defense on the value of payers at a position. I would prefer to use WAR and I will in the forward-looking 2019 analysis. WAR is a counting stat and the way Fangraphs sorts the data the Astros actually would rank low at Shortstop because the games Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman played at SS are counted into their primary positions. Given this data sorting, I have chosen to use wRC+ to look back at 2018 and WAR for projecting 2019.

To simplify the value of each position, I took the ranking (14th for a catcher in the example) and reframed on a rating scale of 1 to 10 as such:

Larry 1.png

Therefore, the catching position would be scaled a 6. The table illustrates this wRC+ methodology for each position and for pitching based on ERA. For context, one can compare the Astros with the other LCS teams here, and you can see the 2018 Astros compare very favorably.

Larry 2.png

What is interesting to note is that the Astros had no REAL weaknesses. The lowest rating score is Left Field at 5. The other LCS teams all had at least one position that ranked in the bottom 3 in the MLB. This balance for the Astros helped make them an EXCELLENT regular season team and reflects the depth they had at all positions.

However, as we project forward to decide how to improve the team for 2019, this balance makes it somewhat challenging to decide what areas must be addressed first. If every position is average or above, how you take the average and make them better everywhere? THIS is the challenge the 2018 roster would provide us if we assumed EVERYONE would return for 2019. Since that will not happen, the next step is to project the relative performance by position in 2019 given who is committed to the roster currently.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the current projected 2019 roster

We will address the likely roster decisions in the next article, but for this analysis, we will utilize the projected Depth Chart rosters (under the team's tab) in the Fangraphs.com. These projections are very much fluid as teams make options decisions and either sign or release players. A similar ranking methodology will be deployed but using the projected WAR as the basis.

Larry 3.PNG

This analysis highlights that Catcher, First Base, and Left Field are the positions that project to lag at average or below. Again, the Astros roster projects to have no positions that are bottom of the league weaknesses. I am not positive I believe that.

Catcher- Projected currently as Stassi and Stubbs (backup). It is likely that the Astros will do SOMETHING to replace McCann. As it is today, I would consider the Astros catchers to be at or near the bottom of the MLB. This is a key priority for this offseason.

First Base- Projected as Gurriel and White (backup). As Gurriel ages his contract also contracts ($10MM in 2019 and $8MM in 2020). The playing time between Gurriel vs. White at 1B may shift more to White especially if Gurriel deploys more as a utility backup. More on that later.

Left Field- Projected as Kemp and Tucker (backup). I believe Kyle Tucker starts during most of 2019 to prove he is the top prospect and future star the Astros hope he is. Therefore, I expect the roles to be reversed here with Kemp playing a utility outfielder role or possibly packaged in a trade.

Almost shockingly, the Fangraphs projection still frames the Astros Starting Pitching (without Keuchel, Morton, and McCullers for about half the year) as the number TWO starting pitching staff. The projected staff includes Verlander, Cole, James, McCullers, Peacock, Valdez, Whitley, Bukauskas, and Rodgers. Clearly, they believe Josh James will be given every opportunity to succeed. Interestingly, McHugh in this projection lists still as a Relief Pitcher. I expect that will change. I believe the Astros will get at least one experienced pitcher to add to this group and the last Starting Pitcher will come from the list of the last 5 pitchers listed.

With the look back at 2018 complete and understanding what some project for 2019 in mind, let’s look at the overall likely roster changes for 2019.

Check back for part 2 soon.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs***

Astros Rumors: Are they looking at catcher Yasmani Grandal?

Could the Astros land one of the top catching free agents this offseason?

As of right now, the Astros catcher for the 2019 season would be Max Stassi. He would be backed up by either Chris Hermann or Garrett Stubbs. Even though Stubbs is one of the Astros top 30 prospects, he has no MLB experience but could win the job with a hot spring training. However, the Astros are not really in a position to give kids a chance to play unless they have no other options.

When you are competing for a championship, you need to add to the depth of the roster. This is the problem; they have no proven option in the system at the moment. They have traded away Jacob Nottingham and Jake Rogers over the past three seasons. They were both labeled catchers of the future, but so was Stassi at one point.

Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are now free agents. The Astros declined the 15 million dollar option on McCann after an injury-riddled season. With that move, they have decided to move on from McCann, but they would be interested in retaining Maldonado for the right deal. Until then, they will look what’s on the catching market and monitor the J.T. Realmuto market.

One intriguing name who the Astros could be looking at is Yasmani Grandal. Yes, the Dodgers catcher. The same one whom Dodgers fans have soured on with his hitting and defense in the World Series. Grandal was offered a qualifying offer worth about $17.9 million. Should he decline and sign with another team, that team would have to sacrifice a draft pick. This is something that the Astros don’t like to do, give up draft picks.

Astros: Lance McCullers Officially has Tommy John Surgery

We finally get the news that we have been dreading since Lance McCullers left that game with what was called a strained forearm. According to Chandler Rome, McCullers had Tommy John surgery today, meaning he would miss the entire 2019 season. This was a highly rumored, so this doesn't come as a shocker. We have been discussing this on Talking Stros since the final out of the ALCS.

We had Rome on our show Sunday, an he mentioned that the Astros don't report surgeries until after it happens. This confirms that belief, and this gives Jeff Luhnow some extra work to do this offseason. Last year, McCullers had a 10-6 record with a 3.86 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 128 1/3 via Baseball-Reference. While he missed a significant chunk of time towards the end of 2018, that is a significant loss for the Astros.

McCullers along with the possible departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, opens a hole in the rotation. This may make it more likely that they re-sign Keuchel and/or Morton. As Rome said on Talking Stros, fans will miss Keuchel's arm in the rotation. With high hopes, the Astros will likely add another arm.

Look for someone like Patrick Corbin to be a possible target, but another team might outbid the Astros. They could also look to make a trade for Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks in a trade similar to the Gerrit Cole trade. They will look to make a splash to solidify the rotation after the starting pitchers carried the team last year.

Don't forget about the in-house candidates in Collin McHugh, Framber Valdez, Josh James, and possibly Forrest Whitley. Luhnow even mentioned that McHugh is likely to join the rotation. This void left by McCullers is a big deal that the Astros will now have to address this offseason. Will dig deeper in future posts, but the Astros will play without McCullers in 2019.

Is It an Excuse to Say the Astros Lost Because of Injuries?

The Astros lost. Wow, that hurts to say.

Don’t you just wish they could’ve been winners forever? How great of a feeling was it for your favorite hometown team to finally be on top of the world? Before the Astros won, the last Houston championship was twenty-one years prior, by the Rockets. Many fans weren’t even breathing the last time Houston tasted gold.

The Astros had their shot to do something that hasn’t been done in 18 years, go back to back. However, they were halted in their history-chasing tracks by a Red-Sox team that frankly was a lot better than the Astros were, in this series. However, you’d think the series should have been a lot more even. On paper the Stros’ were the better team simply due to their pitching, so what happened?

You can say whatever you want to help you cope with getting knocked out of the playoffs, but the fact is, Boston played better. No one will debate that. However, one argument that has been on repeat is, “if Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa had been fully healthy, would the series have gone differently?” It’s not a far-fetched question. Altuve’ and Correa are the two rocks in the middle of the Astros lineup. They’re the anchors, the heavy hitters, the cornerstones, one of the best two-men tandems in the game today, but had they been fully healed from injuries, would it have made a difference?

In the American League Championship series, the Astros batted a measly .219 as a team, while Boston hit .233. Not that much of a difference, right? Let’s dive a little deeper. With runners on, the Astros batted .190. That’s abysmal. The Red-Sox batted .257. With runners on base with two outs, the Astros batted .244. The Red-Sox batted .303. They came up in clutch situations and performed. The Astros did not.

With runners in scoring position and two outs, the Red-Sox batted an astonishing .389. Houston batted .280. The Sox took care of most of their offensive opportunities while the Astros just couldn’t cash in. Would Altuve or Carlos have made a difference? Possibly. However, I doubt it would’ve been enough to overcome an offensive unit that seemed to grab you by the throat and feast, every time they smelled blood in the water.

Going into the series everyone thought the Astros pitching would’ve propelled them past the Sox, but in this crazy world of baseball, it was the exact opposite. The Red-Sox starters had an earned run average of 4.38, and the Astros had an earned run average of 5.53. Neither are great numbers, but let’s dive deeper one more time. The Red-Sox bullpen had an earned run average of 3.54, and the Astros, even in their pen that had been so dominant all season, had an earned run average of 5.79. Could even two phenomenal players like Correa and Altuve being 100% make up that much of a difference in this series?

Carlos Correa seemed to be turning a corner, as he was connecting with the ball for the first time in what seemed like an extremely long time. However, the power numbers still weren’t there, so it didn’t matter much. Altuve, always being the little engine that can, played his heart out even on a bum knee. Who knows? Maybe with the heart of your lineup healthy, it might have energized the entire offense. Momentum is a key factor in any playoff series, and without Altuve and Correa, there just seemed to be none.

Could it have gone differently? Certainly. However, even with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve at full capacity, the bullpen would have to have been on par. It wasn’t. The starting pitching would have had to have been stellar like it had been all season. It wasn’t. What we’re left with is a lot of questions, and disappointment, and sad memories of how the Astros were shut down in five games. It should have gone better, but baseball has a way of kicking you in your butt. Injuries played a large part, sure. Many of our hometown heroes were beaten up. However, you can’t put all the fault on it and ignore the obvious that Boston was the better team. Congratulations to the Red Sox, and hopefully we see you right back in October, next year.

**All stats courtesy of Astros.com**

Dallas Keuchel Shares his Opinion on the Astros Qualifying Offers

Dallas Keuchel is surprised that he was the only Astros player extended a qualifying offer.

The Houston Astros have made their final decisions on whom they offered qualifying offers to before last Friday's deadline. A qualifying offer is similar to a franchise tag in the NFL, a one year deal for $17.9 million. The team can extend a qualifying offer to the player who can either accept or decline the offer. If he accepts, the player would be awarded the one year deal, but they can still negotiate an extension. If the player declines, he is free to sign anywhere.

The player can sign anywhere, but the team extending the qualifying offer would receive a compensation pick should that player sign elsewhere. There lies the problem. Teams are hesitant to sign players knowing that they will have to give up a pick. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle to find a team. With the way the Astros value draft picks, you would think that they would extend their three eligible players the qualifying offers.

Instead, the Astros only extend a qualifying offer to Dallas Keuchel and not Marwin Gonzalez and Charlie Morton. The qualifying offer is a gamble because $17.9 million is a large number, so they look at it as a player by player basis. Last year, Keuchel made $13.5 million through arbitration. His projected market value is more than $20 million per season via Sportrac, so if he accepts the offer, the Astros will get a great deal.

Astros: 434 Days Later After the Storm

A look at what 2017 meant for Astros fans after Hurricane Harvey.

At the time of this writing, it’s been exactly 434 days since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and brought with it the heavy rains and heavier hearts. It’s also been 365 days since the Houston Astros raised the commissioner’s trophy, too. I would venture to say if you’re a baseball fan and lived in Houston in late August of 2017, both of those days were pretty memorable. Although separate events, they can most assuredly be thought of in unison for the rest of our lives. This piece you’re reading here is about that time. Moreover, it’s not because we need a constant reminder of the rain and the pain, but because as we sit here a year removed from it all, in it lays a story of identity.

When Hurricane Harvey planted itself on top of the city last Fall, it poured more rain onto our makeshift city of asphalt than any before it; 60.5”. That’s an inch less than the distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate. It flooded over 200,000 homes. It destroyed almost a million cars. It cost over $125 billion worth of damage. Yah, with a “B.” The flooding that covered the state was the size of New Jersey. It was historically, one of the worst hurricanes in history. That is to say; it was going to take an equally historic moment in the lives of affected Houstonians everywhere to gain some sort of healing from it all.

Enter, the Houston Astros.

As these Astros approached the postseason in 2017, they did so with hearts burdened from a city under water. They were forced to play a home series in Florida because the city was still reeling with devastation. Moreover, because the Texas Rangers wouldn’t swap a home & home. However, the team, as somber as they were in returning, took on an identity. They became healers. After the hurricane, the team went 20-8 in September as the hottest team in baseball, and finished the year with 101 wins; good for third in the American League.

They were healthy, they were hot, and they realized pretty quickly they were playing for a community that was desperate for a good story. While the Astros were playing their games in September, homes were still under water. While the Astros were tearing up opposing pitchers on the road, Houstonians were tearing off drywall back home. While the Astros were running around the bases, Houstonians were running around the city registering for FEMA aid packages and making stops at church triage centers. As the Astros were pouring champagne down each other’s backs for their first division title in over a decade, tears were pouring down the faces of thousands and thousands of Houstonians whose homes were classified as “uninsurable” and were damaged beyond repair.

However, then October came.

As the Astros sewed on their, “Houston Strong” patches, there was a “we need this” kind of expectation for the team. Because we did. The city had been through so much. We had been slugged in the face. A big fat black eye that was going to take years to recover from. Our homes destroyed. Entire families trapped in houses only to never get out. Baseball seemed so far off, but it wasn’t. The city needed the true character of the city to emerge from below the flooded streets. The city needed someone in a position of opportunity and authority to show the world who we really were. We needed people to see somehow what was inside the hearts of over 5 million people. All eyes were on Houston; how would we respond? How would they react?

Well…did they ever. Altuve homered three times in Game 1. Bregman launched balls over The Monster. Off belly-button Chris Sale. Justin Verlander went 4-0 heading into the World Series, and Lance McCullers threw 157 straight curveballs against the Yankees (actually it was 24). Marwin hit the most clutch home run in Astros history off Kenley Jenson, Derek Fisher scored the 13th and winning run in the best playoff game ever played during game 5, and George Springer catapulted baseballs into the deep California sky in Game 7.

Just like that, as Seager grounded the last ball of 2017 to the league MVP at second base, the Astros became a group of healers. They took on the heartache of millions of people and if only for a moment, turned it into hope; into tears of joy.

It’s been a full year.

I can still feel the sensation of seeing Yuli’s hands raise to his hands in disbelief. He couldn’t believe they did it. None of us could. None of us could believe that 25 guys could spend three weeks in the cold Fall of South Texas, of Boston, of Southern California and give us hope from a round white ball and brown wooden bat. None of us could believe that after five feet of rain leveled the city, a five-foot something Venezuelan righty could lead a team from disparity to glory. From 100 loses to 100 wins. But he did. Moreover, we will never forget it. The 2017 Astros won the division. They won the pennant. Moreover, they won the World Series. But raising the trophy on Fire Engine 69 meant only one thing to them, and to the city of Houston: we won’t be backed into a corner, we won’t be beat and we will rise up from the challenges that face us and come together as a community to overcome anything that could possibly come our way.

Forrest Whitley: The Next Evolution of Astro Pitching

The sting of losing in the postseason still seems fresh, the offseason is now upon us.

The Houston Astros have some work to do if they are to challenge the new champion Boston Red Sox for the title next season. With free agency in full swing, general manager Jeff Lunhow is sure to work the phones to see what’s available, while also trying to retain some of his own free agents. While its no secret that everyone loves the big sexy free agent to walk through their clubhouse doors, the best addition is homegrown talent.

Thanks to the great work by the Astros front office, and scouting department, the answer to some of the offseason questions might be on the way to a ‘Juice Box’ near you. His name is Forrest Whitley. So, to quote the great film G.I. Jane, “Are you ready for the next evolution!”

Forrest Whitley is not only the Astros top prospect. He is the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. There are some that compared him coming out of high school to the very successful pitcher that wears the number 35 for your Houston Astros. Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name is Justin Verlander. The kid is a mountain, standing six foot seven inches tall. That’s a very intimidating dude standing on the bump coming at you with a serious arsenal of pitches including an above average fastball that can touch 98.

He backs that up with a really sharp curveball that will only get better once the spin rate masters in Houston get their hands on him. He completes his repertoire of pitches with a slider with great movement off the plate and a change that really hasn’t been seen too much because quite frankly he hasn’t needed it. Now that you have the tale of the tape lets talk about how he is dominating the Arizona Fall League.

Going into the AFL Whitley was known as a big strikeout guy and had the numbers to back it. He did not disappoint in the desert heat striking out the first seven batters he faced in his first game. Over five games he would strike out 23 batters in 17 1/3 innings pitched. That effort earned him a place in the AFL fall stars game which is reserved for the top performers throughout the entire league.

This upcoming spring training will be huge for Forrest to see if the dominance he displayed in the minors and the Arizona Fall League can translate into big league success. For a team that could be without possibly three pieces of its rotation from last year, his arm will be a premium addition at a very inexpensive price. If he can make the team and be even half of what Justin Verlander is at his age, the Astros should be in a fantastic spot to make another run at a title.

Source: MLB.com

Market Street: Astros Free Agency Outlook

The foundation of the Houston Astros remains solid and intact heading into the 2019 offseason with Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Lance McCullers all secured for another season at the “Juice Box.” However, this winter will be a bit different then it was following the franchise’s first ever World Series title. Jeff Lunhow has some key decisions to make and a few holes to fill on this roster before making another run towards October success.

Houston will have seven of its players from last year’s roster testing the free agent market in the upcoming months. Starting pitchers Dallas Kuechel and Charlie Morton, lefty reliever Tony Sipp, catchers Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado, designated hitter Evan Gattis and utility superman Marwin Gonzalez.

In all likelihood, the Astros will let Sipp, McCann, Maldonado and Gattis walk and find employment elsewhere. Over the past few seasons, Sipp’s pitching has been up and down and is an expendable part of what is now a loaded bullpen. Gattis had some key moments, with his “lumberjack” look and power at the plate, but overall underproduced.

Maldonado, whom they acquired late in the season when McCann was going to miss some time, is among the best defensive backstops in the game. With a rough postseason behind the plate and quality catchers available the Astros could be looking for a player with a better bat to insert into the line-up.

Charlie Morton has expressed some interest in a possible return to Houston. However, he also stated that retirement is a legitimate option, as well as wanting to be closer to his family in the Northeast. His tenure as an Astro was successful, but he is now 35 and battled injuries most of his career before coming to the Astros. So if he were to return, it would be on a one year deal at a fair market price.

As for Dallas Kuechel, he looks to draw loads of interest on the market. The former Cy Young winner has struggled since winning the award, but the Southpaw out of the University of Arkansas finished off last season strong and will be seeking a long-term deal at a lofty price. I don’t see owner Jim Crane and Lunhow overpaying or wanting to invest in him long term, so the market for him may squeeze the Astros out of signing him. Not to mention, they gave him a qualifying offer so if he does sign elsewhere they will be compensated.

In my opinion, the toughest decision this offseason is Marwin Gonzalez. I have no doubt the Astros brass would love to have their versatile fielder back, but at what cost? A manager’s dream player, one that can be plugged into pretty much any position on the field (outside of pitcher and catcher) will be highly sought after and most likely overpaid regarding what he brings with his bat. Marwin was a clutch hitter the last two seasons, riding the momentous wave during the teams World Series run produced his best season to date. However, his numbers dwindled last season, and if the Astros enter a bidding war, is what he has done enough to warrant what might have to be paid to keep him?

So where does that leave A.J. Hinch and his roster going into free agency? Their biggest needs include an everyday catcher (assuming they don’t resign McCann or Maldonado), a middle infielder, a corner outfielder, and a starting pitcher. Like most teams, they will look to add depth at all levels of the organization. Here are the main areas they will be looking to lock down.

CATCHER

Big names that will most likely be considered are Johnathan Lucroy, Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Wieters and Nick Hundley. The pipeline at catcher is thin within the organization, and surely they will move to bring in an everyday starter, while Max Stassi serves as the primary back up. Lucroy (.241 AVG/4 HR/51 RBI/.617 OPS) has the best major league track record, while Ramos (.297 AVG/ 14 HR/53 RBI/.834 OPS) is considered to have the highest upside. When healthy, Wieters (.238 AVG/8 HR/30 RBI/.704 OBP) is a quality option, but he hasn’t been healthy. Grandal (.241 AVG/24 HR/68 RBI/.815 OPS) has developed into an All-Star caliber player, and Hundley (.241 AVG, 10 HR/31 RBI/.706 OPS) has become a reliable option as well.

MIDDLE INFIELDER

If Marwin Gonzalez signs with another team, the Astros are stranded without an experienced backup infielder. The recent injuries experienced by Altuve and Correa make this role more relevant of a need, and the options in free agency to this point are thin regarding quality. The best option available is Freddy Galvis (.248 AVG/13 HR/ 67 RBI/.680 OPS). His age falls in the more appealing side of 30 and has started showing some promise as a hitter. Jordy Mercer (.251 AVG/2 HR/ 6 RBI/.696 OPS) is coming off of a down year but has a track record of being a versatile utility man in the past. The market is then left with journeymen and guys who don’t play more than one side of the bag.

LEFT FIELD

The left field spot will likely be up for grabs heading into Spring Training. The highly revered youngster, Kyle Tucker, is being groomed for the role. However, unfortunately, during his time at the big league level last season, he showed very little. They may decide to keep him in AAA to start the season and refine his game a bit more and gain some confidence before calling him back up. Thus creating a huge need for a veteran, everyday guy to be a stop gap.

They have some options on possible one year guys, in the likes of Nick Markakis (.297 AVG, 14 HR, 93 RBI, .806 OPS), long-time Oriole Adam Jones (.281 AVG, 15 HR, 63 RBI, .732 OPS) and Carlos Gonzalez (.276 AVG, 16 HR, 64 RBI, .796 OPS). They will demand a bit of money but could be had on a one year deal. A cheaper option is out there as well, a guy like Melky Cabrera (.280 AVG, 6 HR, 39 RBI, .755 OPS) could make a great addition to the Astros.

STARTING PITCHER

With the likely departures of Kuechel and/or Morton, at least one spot in the rotation will need to be filled. Josh James and his 100+ MPH heat impressed last season enough to at least warrant a spot to start the 2019 season. Framber Valdez will get his chance to compete during spring training. Although Brady Rogers and Forrest Whitley are considered to be the future; they won’t be rushed up to the majors to start next year.

Since the Astros will be a legit contender again next year, they will most likely look for another veteran arm to add to the mix. An impressive showing late last season that continued into the playoffs makes Nate Eovaldi (6-7, 3.81 ERA, 101k, 1.13 WHIP, 111 INN) a standout player to be heavily pursued this offseason. Add the facts that he will only be 29 at the start of next season and hails from Houston, then Eovaldi sounds like a perfect fit.

If it’s a lefty they plan to sign to replace Kuechel, a veteran like Gio Gonzalez (10-11, 4.21 ERA, 148K, 1.44 WHIP, 171 INN) can be had and most likely on a short-term deal. Cole was brought in last year hoping to revive his career, and it’s possible the Astros could look to do the same with a guy like Matt Harvey (7-9, 4.94 ERA, 131K, 1.30 WHIP, 15 INN). Not long ago, Harvey was considered the ace of a young and loaded Mets’ rotation.

Other names to consider are Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 3.45 ERA, 65K, 1.07 WHIP, 91.1 INN), Drew Pomeranz (2-6, 6.08, 6k, 1.77 WHIP, 74 INN), Garrett Richards (5-4, 3.66 ERA, 87 K, 1.28 WHIP, 76.1 INN) and Brett Anderson (4-5, 4.48 ERA, 47 K, 1.28 WHIP, 80.1 INN, and is also a lefty. .

“Winter is coming.”

As the long winter progresses, more names will become available when teams start shuffling pieces, dumping salaries and making trades. We have only just begun the “hot stove” portion of MLB, but no matter how Lunhow, Crane, and Hinch plug the holes in the roster, fans can be assured that winning is a priority and the Astros are doing it the right way.

*All stats are from MLB.com and are 2018 stats.

​Astros: Who should the team re-sign this offseason?

Let’s start with who are the guys on the team that will become free agents for the Astros.
Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Tony Sipp, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado.
Let’s look at the pitchers first. Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner, can test the free agency waters for the first time in his career. My guess is he’s gone. The Astros have Verlander and Cole as their 1A and 1B in the starting rotation. The Astros have already extended a qualifying offer to him. If he accepts, great. If not the team gets a pick in the draft. Next, Charlie Morton, or as I affectionately call him CFM. (I’ll let you decide what it stands for.)

If he wants to keep pitching, then I would really like to see him brought back. I think two years for $28 million would be a reasonable offer. I really can’t see the Astros bringing back Tony Sipp. They have Framber Valdez they can use as a lefty in the bullpen to fill the void that Sipp would leave.

Marwin Gonzalez, the super utility player. AJ Hinch, the Astros manager, has said in the past if he has a problem, Marwin is the answer. Gonzalez is going to command a lot on the open market. If I’m the Astros, I match the offer. He is too valuable to the club to let go.

Martin Maldonado is a fascinating player. He’s one of the best defensive catchers in the game, regardless of his struggles in the ALCS. When you have a catcher who can eliminate guys on the bases, it makes it difficult to let him walk away. I think the Astros should re-sign him if you let McCann walk

Evan Gattis is an interesting guy for me. The Astros can fill the DH hole with a better player. Currently, they have Tyler White who can fill the hole and did so for the second half of the season. Alternatively, maybe trade for Paul Goldschmidt. (One can dream, right?) The Diamondbacks are willing to listen to offers and Goldschmidt would be a great fit in his hometown of Houston. I would prefer Goldschmidt and bringing him back to the Lone Star State where he played college ball would be ideal.

In conclusion, the Astros should bring back Morton, Gonzalez, and Maldonado. Marwin will cost the most, but he’s equally as valuable to the team. If they’re not able to re-sign Morton, they have guys in the system ready to go. I’d look for Josh James to get the early nod and expect to see Forrest Whitley called up at some point next season.

​Is Marwin Gonzalez​ the Most Important Astros Player to be Re-signed?

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.

Starting pitchers

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.**

Vegas has the Astros tied as the favorites to land Kershaw if he opts out and leaves

Should Clayton Kershaw leave the Dodgers, there is a chance he could join the Astros.

The Red Sox have won the World Series. Congrats to Alex Cora, I’m sure he’s one of the few first-year managers to win the World Series. That team played better than the Dodgers and unfortunately the Astros in the ALCS. It was long expected that whoever won the AL crown would be the likely winners of the World Series. Now that the season has finally drawn to a close, it’s time to start talking about the Astros options for the starting rotation in 2019. 

We know the Astros will be losing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton potentially to free agency. Also, it is rumored that Lance McCullers could need offseason surgery. Nothing has been named officially, but it could be Tommy John surgery. The were some reports out that McCullers pitched in the playoffs with a torn UCL. Can you imagine having that pain in your elbow and throwing a power curve that Martin Maldonado misses, it had to be frustrating. It could also explain why he struggled in his last appearance. 

Filling in the holes.

With three potential holes in the rotation, we spent almost the entire episode of Talking Stros last night discussing the options for the Astros. While there are several in-house options, like Collin McHugh, Josh James, Framber Valdez, and Forrest Whitely, they could be looking for some options. They would want to get a number three to fit behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. As we discussed, there are a few free agent names that could be intriguing.

Keuchel and Patrick Corbin could be the top free agent starting pitching options going into the offseason. That is, unless a certain Dodgers ace decides to opt out of his deal. Clayton Kershaw still has two years remaining under his big extension he signed with the Dodgers back in 2014. He signed a then-record seven-year deal worth $215 million. That leaves him with two years of player options remaining for $34.6 and $35.6 million respectively for 2019 and 2020. Why would he want to opt out of that deal worth $34 million plus?

At the conclusion of that deal, Kershaw would be 32-years-old. 

He missed a significant amount of time in 2018 due to an injury. This was the third consecutive season where Kershaw could not get close to 200 innings pitched. During that time, his high innings pitched was in 2017 with 175 innings pitched. He still won 18 games in 2018 but took a step back only pitching in 26 games. The biggest red flag with Kershaw in 2018 was only 155 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings pitched. His 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched was his lowest since his 8.4 back in his rookie year in 2008. Stats from Baseball-Reference.

So, an aging pitcher who has trouble staying healthy and his strikeout rates are decreasing, why would he opt out of the guaranteed money? It makes no sense unless he is looking for a longer deal beyond the current deal. It’s not out of the realm of possibility; we saw that with Zack Greinke, who opted out from the Dodgers and ended up with the Diamondbacks. Kershaw could probably see his value take a nose dive if he can’t stay healthy in 2019 and 2020.

The odds are...

After the game last night, he said it will be an eventful three days before he can opt out of the deal. He said that he would be open to having some conversations with the Dodgers, but who knows where this goes from here. Kershaw could opt out an become a free agent, shooting him to the top of the free agent class. According to OddShark, Bravado has the Astros tied for most likely if he leaves the Dodgers. 

The Astros are tied at +375 with the Texas Rangers. The Dodgers are of course the favorite to re-sign Kershaw if he opts out at -150. You could understand why the Astros, a chance to possibly win a championship. You would get to pitch with Verlander and Cole. However, you can’t help to notice the Texas ties for Kershaw, which could explain why the Rangers are the co-favorites. Texas is a big state, but if it puts him closer to home.

Would the Astros sign Kershaw for what it would take would be a better bet? When is the last time they gave a starting pitcher a long-term deal? He would be an upgrade over Keuchel as the lefty in the bullpen. The next most likely are the Cubs and the Giants at +800. This would be a surprise for the Astros, but would be a bold move to make one of the best rotations in history. 

Listen to Talking Stros below where we look at all the options for the rotation.

The Astros will likely offer Dallas Keuchel a qualifying offer

It is unlikely though that Dallas Keuchel will accept the qualifying offer from the Astros.

The Houston Astros are watching the World Series from home this year. After winning the World Series last year, falling short of that goal was disappointing. They look to return to the World Series again in 2019, but there could be some fresh faces next year. As soon as the final out of this year's World Series is recorded, players will file for free agency. The Astros will be stricken by the departures.

We will talk about many of the options for the Astros as the offseason progresses. One of the players the Astros are not likely to retain is Dallas Keuchel. He may be willing to sign with the Astros, but this is his best chance to maximize his value long term. In other words, he wants to test the free agent market. 

With the number of young teams looking for a top of the rotation pitched, he will get more value elsewhere. With that in mind, the Astros would like something in return for their former Cy Young Award winner. Unlike the teams who were tanking, the Astros did not have an opportunity to trade him. This is why the MLB has the qualifying offer system in place. 

The qualifying offer has become somewhat of a stigma for players seeking free agent deals. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle with finding a new home. While they may be worth signing, teams don’t want to give up the pick in compensation. 

For a player like Bryce Harper, the pick is irrelevant, because you are getting potentially one of the best hitters in the game. For people like Keuchel coming off an healthy, so-so year, it could limit the teams trying for him. On the other side, it could prevent Charlie Morton from signing with another team.

The Astros are almost guaranteed to offer Keuchel a qualifying offer. 

According to Joel Sherman, the qualifying offer is $17.9 million. If they do extend the offer to Keuchel, two things can happen. 

  1. He accepts the 1-year deal for $17.9 million and will return to the Astros for 2019. (They could still work on an extension)
  2. Should he reject the offer, he will be able to sign with any other team for as much/long as he can. That team would have to give up a first-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Astros.

From the Astros point of view, either way is a win-win. He made $13.2 million last year via arbitration, via Sportrac, and his market value was going up. Sportrac has his average market value at around $20 million, so it would be below market value. If he declines, they get a first round compensation pick, which you know Jeff Luhnow loves those picks. 

It would not be wise for Keuchel to accept that offer. 

He is coming off his first healthy season since 2015 and pitched 200+ innings, which is rare in this “opener” craved MLB. Keuchel is also 30 years old, meaning this could be his last chance to get that long-term deal. If you take away his stats in the first inning, Keuchel did pitch well in 2018. While is not his 2015 form, his 13-12 record with a 3.76 ERA still qualifies him as a two or three in the rotation. Stats via Baseball-Reference.

When Keuchel tweeted out last week, “I love you Houston,” that could have been his way of saying goodbye. We saw something similar with Marwin Gonzalez this week. As much as Keuchel may want to stay, he knows how the Astros organization works. They assign a value to a player based on the analytics and offer that contract. 

The Astros have yet to lock up a pitcher long-term as well under current management. Hopefully the change their philosophies with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. There are many holes in the roster, but the core players remain intact. Good luck to Keuchel, I would love to have him back, but would like to have money to lock up others later. 

Astros: Could Lance McCullers miss the 2019 season?

Astros fans will be waiting for the news of what is wrong with Lance McCullers. 

The bitter taste of defeat is still in the Astros mouths as they were eliminated from the playoffs. The Red Sox await their opponent in the World Series as the NLCS goes to Game 7. All we know is that the Astros fell short of back to back World Series. It was still a great season with 103 wins and has fans already waiting for spring training to begin. There are important decisions to make between now and then.

The free agents’ conundrum will be discussed often this offseason as who to retain or add to the roster? Will Jose Altuve need to have knee surgery to fix whatever is wrong with it? Can Carlos Correa fully recover from the back pain that plagued him in 2018? Also, what is really going on with Lance McCullers’ elbow?

According to Brian McTaggart, McCullers would likely need offseason surgery. We don’t know exactly what surgery yet, all we got is speculation and reports.

For what it’s worth, Joe Demayo reportedthat McCullers was pitching with a torn UCL and would have surgery after the season. This is a blow to the 2019 Astros team if true because he would likely miss the entire 2019 season. There are several reasons to not believe Demayo because he is not verified or a big-time name. I’m not going to jump to conclusions based on that one Tweet.

But there is more.

According to Ted Berg, Alex Bregman let something slip out after Game 5.

"We were banged up a bit. Lance McCullers was pitching with -- I don’t know if I’m supposed to say what he’s pitching with, but the guy has some heart."

We have all suspected that McCullers was hurt worse than we thought. When he hit the DL on August 4th, it was due to a strained forearm from swinging the bat. By the way, that is another reason why pitchers should not hit on a regular basis. Getting back on track, McCullers was out most of August and September with the injury. He did return as a reliever before the season ended and pitched five innings in the playoffs.

Then, McCullers’ wife (Kara) posted on Instagram with the hashtag #18monthcountdown. After the game on Thursday, via Chandler Rome, McCullers did say that he has “definitely been throwing through some stuff." McCullers and the training staff will do their due diligence to make sure that he can get healthy. 

If it does lead to Tommy John surgery, this will lead to an opening in the rotation for 2019. Collin McHugh will be raising his hands saying put me in coach. If he was pitching in the playoffs with a UCL tear, much respect. But, why did the Astros risk pitching him if they knew what was going on? We will now wait for the news. It won’t be the same without McCullers.