Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Houston Astros
It's not the ending anyone in Houston wanted, but there's no shame in losing the American League Championship Series to Kansas City in five games. Especially when your future is as bright as it is for the Astros, a team that wasn't supposed to be here...yet.
With the bulk of the roster under team control, sweeping change doesn't need to come to Minute Maid Park. Changes will certainly be made as the team looks to build off its success in 2015, but they figure to be more tweaking than full-blown remodeling.
What follows is an overview of some of the decisions the team is going to have to make—and some of the players the front office may look at to bolster the roster.
Houston owner Jim Crane promised a nearly $20 million increase in payroll from 2014 to 2015 and delivered, with the Astros opening the 2015 season with a payroll just north of $72 million, roughly $22 million above its $50 million payroll in 2014.
Given the team's success this season, it's fair to wonder whether Crane will give general manager Jeff Luhnow even more cash to play with this winter.
With a number of key players eligible for free agency or due big raises through arbitration—a list that includes staff ace and likely AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel—he may not have much of a choice.
Players Headed for Arbitration (2015 salary)
- DH/1B Chris Carter ($4.175 million)
- C Jason Castro ($4 million)
- C Hank Conger ($1.075 million)
- RHP Samuel Deduno ($525,100)
- RHP Josh Fields ($516,700)
- OF/DH Evan Gattis ($526,500)
- IF Marwin Gonzalez ($1.062 million)
- RHP Will Harris ($513,900)
- LHP Dallas Keuchel ($524,500)
- 3B Luis Valbuena ($4.2 million)
Ideally, the Astros would be able to lock up Dallas Keuchel with a Corey Kluber-like extension, something around five years and $38.5 million.
But Houston's 27-year-old ace may not be willing to forgo his first crack at free agency after the 2018 season, which could find him landing a huge raise in arbitration, especially if takes home the AL Cy Young Award as many believe he will. If he goes to arbitration, he'll get somewhere around $6 million.
El Oso Blanco, Evan Gattis, was a huge success in his first season with the 'Stros, leading the team in home runs (27) and RBI (88) while his 262 total bases trailed only Jose Altuve (293). He figures to see his salary approach the $4 million mark.
It'll be interesting to see how Houston approaches Chris Carter, who provides legitimate power but struggles to hit for average, doesn't get on base often and offers below-average defense at first base. Is that really worth nearly $6 million in 2016?
There just so happens to be a Texas native available that, while he'll cost a much more than it would take to keep Carter, is a far more complete player who plays excellent defense at first base and is one of the game's premier sluggers. But we'll get to that later.
Houston's Own Free Agents and Players with Options
Potential Free Agents
- LHP Scott Kazmir
- LHP Oliver Perez
- RHP Chad Qualls ($3.5 million team option, $250,000 buyout)
- OF Colby Rasmus
- LHP Tony Sipp
- LHP Joe Thatcher
Houston doesn't have a pending free agent that it absolutely has to re-sign, but there are certainly a handful of players the Astros wouldn't mind bringing back into the fold at the right price.
Tony Sipp has been nothing short of brilliant out of the Astros bullpen, pitching to a 1.99 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work. On a one-year, $2.5 million deal, a two-year, $7 million deal sounds about right to keep the 32-year-old in Houston.
Despite delivering a solid performance at the plate with 25 home runs, 67 RBI and a 115 wRC+, Colby Rasmus doesn't figure to be back with the Astros, who have Preston Tucker waiting to take over in left field.
Scott Kazmir limps into free agency after a brutal September (6.52 ERA, 1.79 WHIP), but with his track record and Houston's rotation depth (prospects Mark Appel, Michael Feliz and Vincent Velasquez could all be factors next year), another team will offer more than the Astros are comfortable with.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
While Houston's core remains under team control for the foreseeable future and the farm system figures to continue feeding the big league roster with talent, it never hurts to supplement homegrown talent with someone from outside the organization now and then.
Here are some of the names the Astros could be linked to once free agency begins:
- Antonio Bastardo, LHP: Should Oliver Perez, Chad Qualls or Tony Sipp depart as free agents, the 31-year-old Bastardo would be a fine replacement. Over 66 appearances for Pittsburgh, he pitched to a 2.98 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 64 strikeouts in 57.1 innings of work.
- Wei-Yin Chen, LHP: If the Astros decide they want to add a veteran lefty to replace Kazmir in the rotation, Chen could be the one they turn to. While he's a Scott Boras client, he doesn't figure to command nearly as much as the more ballyhooed free-agent starters available.
- Chris Davis, 1B/OF: Another Boras client and the Texas native I spoke of earlier, Davis would be a massive upgrade over Chris Carter at first base while giving the team an additional corner outfielder in a pinch. He's going to command a monster deal and could be too expensive.
- Darren O'Day, RHP: Has quietly become one of the game's elite non-closing relievers, pitching to a 2.07 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 402 strikeouts over 400 innings of work since 2009. While he's better against right-handed batters, he's become adept at shutting down the opposition from either side of the plate.
Potential Trade Targets
Despite graduating a number of prospects to the big leagues and dealing away others, Houston still has a deep farm system from which it can pull to facilitate a deal. Adding some more reliable arms to the back end of the bullpen would likely be the team's goal.
Keep in mind there's no indication any of the players listed below are readily available...yet. But once the playoffs are over and the offseason kicks into high gear, they could be.
- Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cincinnati Reds: It'd cost Houston a sizable chunk of its remaining upper-echelon minor league talent, but the chance to add the game's most dominant reliever, even as a one-year rental, could be too tempting to pass up.
- Rex Brothers, LHP, Colorado Rockies: He's definitely a risky acquisition, but the 27-year-old could be a terrific buy-low option for the Astros if there's an exodus of southpaws from the bullpen. Has struggled badly over past two years but could bounce back under new coaching.
- Craig Kimbrel, RHP, San Diego Padres: Houston has the shortstop prospect San Diego seeks (Alex Bregman), while Kimbrel would give the Astros their most consistent, reliable closer since the days of Billy Wagner.
- Adam Lind, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers: Entering the final year of his deal, Lind isn't a long-term answer at first base for the Astros. But he crushes right-handed pitching and would be an excellent platoon partner for Chris Carter, should the team decide to keep him around.
Want to talk Astros' offseason plans or anything baseball related? Hit me up on Twitter: @RickWeinerBR