Yes, the act of discussing the Houston Astros offseason plans is still a bit premature. But the handwriting is on the wall.
Let’s be real for one minute: the Houston Astros need help. The 2016 season has proven that much regardless of the head-to-head record against the Texas Rangers.
And you can pretty much forget about the playoffs at this point. With only a 4.5% chance of making the postseason, Houston will need to take care of business and be praying for a lot of help.
So, where do the Astros from here?
The big elephant to address in the room is the starting rotation.
Once a strength the past two seasons, the Astros have received little from any of their starting pitchers when it mattered most.
Between ineffectiveness, regression, and injuries, the 2016 Astros are the living embodiment of why you can never have enough good pitching. See the various struggles of Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, and Mike Fiers as prime examples.
Unfortunately, the upcoming offseason doesn’t feature a plethora of noticeable upgrades for the rotation. Brett Anderson, Andrew Cashner, and the Astros own Doug Fister are some of the more notable names that are scheduled to be free agents. Clay Buchholz, Jaime Garcia, and Gio Gonzalez could also join the open market this winter if their club options are bought out. But none of those pitchers are frontline starters that the Astros need.
There is hope in the team’s minor league system and the option of pursuing a top starter via trade. But there is uncertainty with both options. For example, prospects are never sure things. And trades can go south quickly. See a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers two trade deadlines ago.
Next, the Astros will have to address the catcher situation.
Jason Castro and Evan Gattis are somewhat polar opposites of one another. One is known for his defense and pitch framing. The other is handy with the bat. And both could be in different uniforms next season if certain events transpire.
You see, Castro is scheduled to hit the free agent market for the first time in his career. He will likely receive some interest as a proven catcher that could be an improvement defensively. It remains to be seen how much the Astros value Castro’s skill in a monetary sense.
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Gattis on the other hand has a team option worth $5.2 million for the 2017 season. But the bearded slugger is not known for his stellar defense. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t horrible behind the plate. But he won’t make people forget about Castro. Then there is the issue of pitch framing, an aspect of a catcher’s game that the Astros value.
It wouldn’t be complete surprising to see the Astros actually move on from both Castro and Gattis. However, it is unlikely. A pairing of Max Stassi with either Castro or Gattis is definitely a possibility.
Not to mention that first base remains an ever-occurring concern.
For the first time in years, the Astros appear to have one of their more balanced lineups.
However, there has been one position that has been revolving door since the departure of Lance Berkman back in 2010: first base.
While A.J. Reed remains the likely favorite to eventually claim the job one day, the rookie first baseman has yet to provide an immediate impact. Since August 24th, Reed has approved in just six games. Just six games during the toughest stretch in the 2016 season.
But this is one position that the Astros have to resolve. With Luis Valbuena likely to leave in free agency and Marwin Gonzalez more needed elsewhere, the team can’t have a corner infield spot remain a black hole in the lineup for one more season.
The course of action the Astros choose to go will speak volumes of what the front office thinks of its own first base prospects. One name to keep an eye on is current Texas Ranger Mitch Moreland. I know, I shivered too at the thought of turning to the opposition for help.
Regardless, the Astros have real issues to resolve this offseason. All teams do as well. But there are holes on this baseball team. And it is about time the Astros address them. Let’s just hope that the ownership puts their money where their mouth is this winter.
**Salary information and playoff odds courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs**
**Free agency listing courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors**