Call me an optimist, but the $20M increase in payroll that Jeff Luhnow is reportedly going to spend this offseason is enough. The key being this offseason.
The Astros are looking to make the jump to .500 in 2015. That is the realistic, common goal. I have seen people saying that the Astros need to spend $100M to compete in the AL West, and this may be true. Yet, the Astros are not ready to compete just yet. Spending that much money right now would be a waste, and would also detrimentally affect the development of their young talent.
For the Astros to contend in 2015, they would need a repeat performance from Jose Altuve, a better bullpen, George Springer and Jon Singleton to deliver on their talent, Chris Carter to not strike out as much, and also improve his batting average (.227), and Mark Appel to be in the majors, and dominating, early in the season. That’s a lot that would have to go right.
Instead, let’s look at where Houston can improve. It’s not a quick fix, and not rushing to make a change could save the team millions in the long run.
The Astros have holes, mainly in the bullpen, and the left side of the diamond. Jake Marisnick played fairly well with Houston, batting .272 in 51 games. He’s also just 23, and won’t be a free agent until 2021. Let’s give him a shot in left. Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar make one solid player. Unfortunately there is two of them. Let’s see who wins the job this Spring, and go from there. If neither pans out, there is still highly touted shortstop Carlos Correa in the minors that should be ready to go when the Astros are ready to compete.
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Matt Dominguez at third has some pop, but strikes out too much. Dominguez is very similar to catcher Jason Castro. Both showed promise in 2013, and took a step back last season. They both increased their strikeout totals substantially in just a handful of extra at-bats from the previous season. Perhaps they were trying to do too much. This is a young team. Coaching up the talent is important.
That brings us back to the bullpen. The Astros are reportedly “going hard” after free agent closer David Robertson. In 2014, Robertson closed out 39 games and tallied a 3.08 ERA. Whether or not he’s worth the contract he’ll receive, wherever he signs, is up for debate. Adding a closer, especially one of this caliber, is a necessity.
Say Jeff Luhnow signs Robertson, or another of the “elite” closers for around $12M a season. That leaves him room to pick up a setup man as well. Improving the bullpen could be all the Astros need to hit their benchmark of .500 next season. With and improved bullpen, the young talent has one more season to prove what they are really worth, and the Luhnow and the Astros can make some tough decisions next Winter. For now, though, the talent evaluation is still underway.
Many fans may not like the .500 goal for 2015, but this whole rebuild has been a process. The frustration stems from seeing the finish line, and wanting to sprint after it. That’s not how Jeff Luhnow has been operating, and that is seemingly not what he is going to do this offseason. Adding a couple of key bullpen pieces this offseason will keep them here until through at least 2017, when the Astros are once again expected to be a dominant force, not just in the AL West, but in MLB.