Areas of concern for the Astros heading into the offseason

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HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 18: Justin Verlander #35 and Martin Maldonado #15 of the Houston Astros walk to the dug out before the game against the Boston Red Sox during Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 18, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 18: Justin Verlander #35 and Martin Maldonado #15 of the Houston Astros walk to the dug out before the game against the Boston Red Sox during Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 18, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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The atmosphere surrounding the Astros today is a bit different than roughly one year ago. Although there is a reason to hope for another championship run next season, there are a few areas of concern to address this offseason.

To borrow a slogan from Houston’s NBA franchise, the mantra “Run It Back” should apply to the Astros this offseason. After all, the core is still intact and there is gobs of talent littered throughout the organization. It’s a good time for Houston baseball, although the end result of the ALCS does leave a bitter taste.

But the Astros are not without their concerns. For example, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton are free agents. We still don’t know the full extent of Lance McCullers‘ injuries. Right now, the starting rotation is Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. A top one-two combo, sure, but the team needs a few more capable starters. Keuchel looks prime to leave if he receives a lucrative contract offer that he can’t, and shouldn’t, refuse. If Morton decides to leave or retire, then there is a spot to fill. Another spot likely opens if McCullers needs surgery to repair his right arm. The course of the offseason along with doctor opinions will determine how many openings Houston could have in the rotation.

Based on general manager Jeff Luhnow’s latest comments, the Astros at least have confidence in their young arms.

Forrest Whitley, Josh James, and J.B. Bukauskas are mentioned as possible candidates. I also presume that Framber Valdez is a candidate due to his successful, albeit brief, time as a major league starter to close out the season. There also are plenty of young, exciting arms in the team’s minor league pipeline who were not mentioned.

Veteran right-hander Collin McHugh should receive another opportunity to start. Yes, he did quite well in the bullpen this year, but it was mainly due to roster limitations in the rotation. The experience and success he offers would be highly attractive on the open market. If the stars aligned, I also wouldn’t be oppose to Houston making a run at Nathan Eovaldi, an Alvin, TX native, in free agency.

The catcher position also looks like a prime area to address as Martin Maldonado is a free agent and Brian McCann has a $15 million club option for 2019. Hint: I don’t think the Astros will exercise that club option. The route the front office chooses in free agency or the trade market is something to watch. JT Realmuto of the Marlins is a popular trade candidate for most teams. Veteran catcher Wilson Ramos is another interesting option, who is a free agent. Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy, Matt Wieters, and Kurt Suzuki are also free agents this winter. Not sure on how much interest that the Astros have in a reunion with Maldonado and McCann. Unlike past years, though, there are some intriguing options at catcher to consider.

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Both the outfield and bullpen are areas that could need some fine tuning. Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher, and Myles Straw could force themselves into meaningful playing time next year. Any development would likely hinge on Marwin Gonzalez‘s free agency. The lone left-handed reliever on the postseason roster, Tony Sipp, finished his three-year, $18 million contract that he signed prior to the 2016 season. The two sides could be interested in a reunion, but I don’t view that as a likely scenario. I feel like the Astros are aiming in a different direction. With a plethora of relief arms, Houston will have to sort out who stays or goes during the offseason.

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