With another postseason appearance guaranteed, the Astros’ window of contention should remain open beyond this year.
The last time the Astros qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years was in 2004-2005. Until the 2017 championship, Houston’s 2004 and 2005 teams were the gold standard of postseason baseball in the city. Let’s just say that a consistent presence in postseason baseball isn’t a constant reality in Houston.
That said, the Astros should have an open contention window for quite some time. Controllable talent is littered across the active roster with more coming along in the minors. Even if certain players were to leave the team in the coming years, Houston’s front office has built an infrastructure that should provide quality replacements. If you may recall, general manager Jeff Luhnow is originally from the Cardinals organization, who are notorious for producing quality major league talent nearly every season. No, I do not expect for the Astros to witness another sharp decline any time soon.
But how long will the Astros’ current window remain open? That’s a hard question to answer as we do not know the future. Baseball, like many avenues in life, seems to be random at times. Or a lot of the time. There are no guarantees. At the same time, we can make reasonable assumptions. For example, the Astros have Jose Altuve locked up long-term. You know that a long-term contract for each of George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman is on the agenda for Luhnow and the front office sometime in the future. Whether the organization actually succeeds or not is another question.
Say if Houston does retain any combination of those three players, then the core will remain somewhat intact. That’s still an excellent place to start. Multiple players on the roster today figure to be in long-term plans beyond 2019 and 2020. Prospects in the minor leagues are also vital parts of the future. Take the recent performances from Framber Valdez and Josh James as examples. While both pitchers are only at the beginning of their respective major league careers, Valdez and James have shown promise. You can’t help but be excited about their potential. The same goes for Forrest Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, and others. Unlike the Astros’ farm system in the early 2000’s, the farm system shouldn’t evaporate and leave the team with glaring needs. Out of all the positions though, the starting rotation may hold the most extended concern in the long-term. Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton are scheduled to be free agents following the conclusion of the 2018 season with Justin Verlander entering the open market next year.
If I were to make a reasonable assumption, I would expect that the Astros current window should remain open through the 2020 season. If top prospects pan out like we hope they would, the window will stay open. If not, then the franchise should make the appropriate adjustments. While I do not like projecting championships as postseason baseball is a crapshoot at times (see the 1990’s to early 2000’s Braves), the Astros should remain competitive for a long time.