The Astros are in an enviable position going into the 2018 offseason.
All of their starting pitchers and everyday players are under contract again for 2018. The Astros have the money for free agent signings, organizational depth for trades, and a championship-caliber allure to entice players to come to Houston. With that in mind, and given the success of some of the Astros’ experiments, here are five moves that the team could make to become an even bigger wrecking ball for the 2018 season.
Sign SP Jake Arrieta
A lot of sites and pundits link Jake Arrieta to the Texas Rangers. This is due to his residency in Austin and time at TCU. It certainly makes sense, as the team needs starting pitching. They have the money and is only a few moves away from contending again in the AL West.
However, the deadline seller Rangers lack a treasure trove of intangibles that Luhnow and Co have. Arrieta should have his pick of either city along I-45, but the Astros have much more to offer. The organization’s world-class commitment to sabermetrics. Their ability to expand already-excellent pitchers’ arsenals (a la Justin Verlander), As well as their emphasis on clubhouse chemistry, would give Arrieta an environment to further thrive and feel even more at home. He will be in a position to win now and for the foreseeable future.
Look at the collection of starters/converted starters in the Astros’ rotation and bullpen:
Arrieta makes a downright scary group even more formidable.
Sign LHP Mike Minor
Minor has a high groundball percentage, excellent curveball, LHP, former starting pitcher, Vanderbilt alum, and Tennessee native. There’s not much more to say here. Mike Minor is tailor-made for the Houston Astros. He should be a top priority for a team seeking left-handed relief.
Another option here is Tony Watson. The former Pittsburgh Pirates closer of the future found new life with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a lefty specialist. He excels against lefties and manages a low exit velocity. However, Watson will likely earn a big contract, and the Astros proved that they would get crafty (a la Francisco Liriano) before they overpay for relief.
Thankfully, there are a lot of good left-handed relievers on the free agent market this offseason. But Minor checks off every possible desire the team could have a reliever and should be a top priority for the Astros.
Sign DH Jose Bautista
Signing Bautista could allow him to slide right into the role that Carlos Beltran occupied so well. Bautista is 37, chasing his first ring, and still hit a formidable 23 HR with the Blue Jays last year. Many of the big time bats on the market will command starting roles on other teams. As much as the Astros would love to have a Logan Morrison, Carlos Gonzalez, or even a Curtis Granderson off the bench, those dreams are unrealistic.
Joey Bats is not exactly the power threat that he once was, but neither was Carlos Beltran. Bautista can still add even more depth to a line-up that is already terrifying and do so at a bargain price. A.J. Reed, Colin Moran, or Tony Kemp could get the call-up for left-handed hitting bench depth.
You could replace Bautista with Granderson or Mitch Moreland to make this a left-handed situation, but both will more than likely earn full-time starting roles from other teams. Give him a Beltran-style one year deal and let him tee off into the Crawford Boxes.
His history with the Rangers is just icing on the cake.
Sign RHP Brandon Kintzler
As much as a Wade Davis or Greg Holland would benefit the team, Kintzler is more of the bargain that the Astros covet. He has a long track record getting ground balls and, similar to Watson, has seen an above-average exit velocity. Kintzler’s strikeout numbers are lower than other relievers, but he gets hitters to hit into soft contact. Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and extreme shifting would work wonders for Kintzler as well.
How could Brent Strom expand Kintzler’s repertoire? What could he unlock? Kintzler is 32 but was an All-Star for the first time this year. Brandon Morrow would be another strong option for this role, but all signs point to him re-signing with the Dodgers. He could be significant for the Astros but do not be surprised if Luhnow doubles down and picks up a second left-handed reliever to go with Mike Minor.
Extend Dallas Keuchel
The last entry on the list just might be the most important. Dallas Keuchel will be a free agent in 2019. That free agent class that looks to be one of the most exciting in history. Keuchel has been with the organization for the dark rebuilding pre-beard years where he was perennially cited as trade bait before becoming an eventual Cy Young winner and World Series Champion. He has certainly earned his spot in the future, but that is not exactly how baseball operates as a business.
Keuchel is from Oklahoma, has established himself as a beloved icon in Houston. He has mastered his lower velocity arsenal to succeed. The team is dedicated to extracting the absolute most they can get out of it. Barring some dramatic performance setback and/or organizational conflict, the Astros should do all that they can to keep Keuchel around and cement his legacy in Houston.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***