At the beginning of the 2020 season, the Houston Astros expected to win their fourth-straight American League West crown. However, a myriad of injuries saw them limp into the postseason (barely) with a 29-31 regular-season record. When the playoffs began, the baseball world was ready to throw dirt on them and bury their scandalous year for good.
Alas, the evil Cinderella run did not come to an end until the ALCS where they went down 3-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays before forcing a Game 7 that they lost. A valiant effort for a team that everyone wanted to see crash and burn.
The team heads into a pivotal offseason where they will more than likely lose some critical parts of their championship nucleus for the first time. How the front office deals with these changes will play a significant factor in the franchise’s direction for 2021.
After the offseason the team had last year, the 2021 strategy should be steady the ship. There are some veterans walking out the door with priceless postseason experience, but there are ways to work around those upcoming losses. Houston gave several rookie pitchers the chance to shine. Continuing to develop those pitchers while supplementing the offensive losses of George Springer and Michael Brantley should be a primary objective over the coming months.
Keys to the Offseason
Retool the Outfield
Springer, Brantley, and Josh Reddick will likely be wearing different jerseys next season. That leaves Kyle Tucker as the only holdover who saw regular playing time in the outfield in 2020. The prospect pipeline in the outfield is weak right now for the Astros, so they will need to address this via free agency.
Extend Carlos Correa
Correa has had an up and down tenure with the franchise. The former No. 1 overall pick has never reached the heights of his unlimited potential. However, the flashes he shows make him a tantalizing piece next to Bregman on the infield’s left side for years to come. His 2020 postseason performance made him a fan favorite in Houston. It would be challenging for the team, and the fanbase, to lose Springer and Correa in back-to-back seasons. Expect the front office to make a push for an extension, but it could be problematic if Correa feels like other suitors will be there next winter.
Reinforce the Bullpen
Roberto Osuna played four games before going on the injured list, and is now a free agent after being waived by the team. Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski will also be free to pursue other suitors. Those three arms were a big part of the bullpen over the last four seasons. However, Ryan Pressly and Joe Smith return with a stable of young relievers who gained valuable experience in 2020. There are always bargains to be had when it comes to bullpen depth. It just remains to be seen whether the front office decides to spend big there or in the outfield.
Getting (and Staying) Healthy
Yordan Alvarez was a massive part of Houston’s success in 2019 as he ran away with the Rookie of the Year award in the American League. Unfortunately, the slugger didn’t have the follow-up season he or the team was hoping for in 2020. The left-handed slugger played two games before undergoing season-ending surgery. Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is likely to miss the majority of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Still, there is always a chance that he returns for a possible playoff push at the end of 2021. With those two back on the diamond, the Astros will be a scary team in the postseason.
The Astros were one game away from their third trip to the Fall Classic in four seasons. There will be some holes to fill, but Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Tucker, Correa, Alvarez, and all of their young pitchers (and Zack Greinke) are set to return. As previously mentioned, the outfield will need some work but the bullpen and back end of the rotation could also do with some depth to strengthen those units.
J.T. Realmuto, 29, Catcher
This would be quite a shock, but one that could work in the short and long-term future. Realmuto’s bat is strong enough to still play at first base when he ages out of his natural position. The Astros have a couple of promising prospects, but the two-time Silver Slugger winner would be a great bridge to the future. Yuli Gurriel signed a one-year extension for 2021, but Realmuto can take over after next season if needed. Realmuto’s bat would go a long way to replacing the offense that is walking out the door this offseason.
Jackie Bradley Jr., 30, Outfielder
If Springer chooses to leave the franchise, Bradley Jr. should shoot to the top of the Astros’ free agency list. His defense has been top-notch for several seasons, but his bat came alive during the shortened 2020 season—the 30-year-old slashed .283/.364/.450 with seven home runs and a 118 OPS+. Springer’s offense will be nearly impossible to replicate, but Bradley Jr. can begin to fill the void if his hot bat can carry over. His defense is also at least on-par, if not better, than the man he would replace.
Blake Treinen, 32, Relief Pitcher
Treinen has flashed greatness, but it comes with an erratic track record. Since entering the league in 2014, the reliever has four seasons with a sub 2.50 ERA and four seasons with a 3.85 ERA or higher. He could be a good alternative as a closer should Pressley miss some time.
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