Astros: The window of contention shouldn’t close anytime soon
By Cody Poage
Yes, the Astros competitive window should remain open for a while. Alas, there could be pitfalls along the way, no matter how optimistic the outlook.
The Astros won the 2017 World Series. That’s all anyone will remember if this current core of players doesn’t accomplish anything else. A freaking World Series title in Houston. They’re automatically local legends for winning the franchise’s first championship title.
That said, this current core has an opportunity to win more World Series. In 2018 and beyond. This team is not a one-trick pony.
Maybe a two- or three-trick pony?
Forget the ponies, these Astros are more like mustangs. At least something more impressive than ponies.
Why am I even making the connection between horses and baseball? That’s just silly.
Anyway, if you have any doubts about my so-called reasonable presumption, look at this roster. And I am not asking for a cursory glance.
Take a good look at this roster.
This roster begins and ends with the current cornerstones.
There are arguably three-to-four franchise cornerstones on this roster. Players that should provide Houston with a three-to-five win seasons on the average.
Not counting the cornerstones, this team is bubbling with talent. The lineup is stacked from top-to-bottom on most days. While the starting rotation has durability issues, the acquisition of Gerrit Cole brings another steady force into a staff that could feature four pitchers with top of the rotation stuff. And despite the continued doubt of whether Ken Giles should be the closer, the bullpen is in decent shape. By the way, Giles is good at what he does. You shouldn’t allow one lousy postseason to cloud your judgement about Giles. The man can throw.
This roster is built to win in 2018.
Fangraphs’ Depth Chart projections currently has the Astros winning 98 games in 2018, which is the best win projection out of all thirty teams. The closest team in terms of projected wins are the Los Angeles Dodgers with 94 wins. For context, there are more projected wins separating the Astros and Dodgers than the Dodgers and the Red Sox. And the Red Sox are projected to win 91 games.
A key reason behind the Astros’ window of contention is the financial aspect. Plenty of the contracts on the roster today are simply favorable towards the Astros. Altuve makes pennies on the dollar compared to what he could’ve earn on the open market if it wasn’t for the two team options on his contract. Correa, Springer and Bregman are on the cheap today thanks to the CBA structure for young players. The same will apply to Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez when their time arrives.
This roster is built to win in 2019, too.
Beyond 2018, the Astros core should remain intact for quite some time. Key players will remain under contract through 2020. The farm system is still churning out quality players. If it wasn’t for the logjam at certain positions, it is quite possible that even more of these prospects would’ve been in the majors by now.
These lovable Astros will eventually become more expensive, though, as they make the trek through the arbitration years. In a way, they’re making their journey through Mordor now. The Astros will once the tables have turned at the negotiating table. It is about to happen with Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton next off-season. Altuve following the 2019 season. The Astros’ own Mordor journey isn’t too far away.
We must take note of the reality facing the Astros in the coming years. If I could be brutally honest for a moment, I have doubt if the organization can devote massive financial obligations to this core. The entire core. This doubt is mainly rooted from a financial standpoint. And, no, that statement isn’t meant to be taken as an indictment of the Astros’ front office or ownership. Rather, this core group of players is so talented, so gifted, that the Astros simply have to choose on whom to keep or let walk away. They may not have enough cold hard cash to keep everyone around. Money will become a sticking point.
General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff will eventually have to prioritize which players they should spend crazy money on. At some point in the future, the front office’s analytic savvy will come into direct confrontation with its own players. This organization likely already knows what its own players will be worth to them in five-to-ten years. We all know how the Astros’ front office operates. In today’s baseball, it is unreasonable to expect any player to spend his entire major league career with just one club. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were the last of a dying breed in baseball.
Front offices, at least the most analytically savvy ones, are well aware that older players are the ones who get the large contracts. Older players also happen to be the ones usually in decline. The younger players, though, are underpaid relative to their actual production. In other words, the current pay structure of the baseball is skewed to players on the decline. Now, this isn’t a universal fact or anything. There are exceptions. Alas, the pay structure in baseball needs to be fixed in some shape or fashion.
Next: Brewers put former Astros prospects on the trade block
Between the potential of the current roster that still has quite a bit of youth and the quality farm system, Houston baseball should be competitive for a while. Anything less than a sustained run through 2021 or 2022 would be disappointing. At the same time, this organization will go through trials in the future. Whatever materializes from those trials may very well determine how long the window of contention remains open for the Astros.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and MLB.com**