Unlike last year, the Astros will see free agency play a somewhat key role with the club’s immediate future. The minor league depth accumulated by general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff will be tested in 2019.
While it would be nice for baseball and sentimental reasons to see Houston retain the likes of Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and others, the cold reality of baseball free agency will soon set in. Players want to be paid when they hit the open market. Nothing wrong with that as people should be able to seek the best situation and the most money if they so desire. If a player’s desire and a team’s plan overlaps, a fit is possible. When they don’t, well, it is sometimes better to move on.
The degree of influence from the Astros‘ minor league depth may be a key storyline in 2019, dependent on the course of the offseason. For one, the incredible starting rotation from last season could lose sixty percent of its staff. Keuchel, more or less, is likely gone as he likely seeks out a fair offer for his services. Houston is likely to extend a qualifying offer, but the bearded southpaw is looking for his first long-term lucrative contract. Whether it comes from the Astros or not will be a popular topic this winter. Charlie Morton is also a free agent, and he could very well decide to retire. The state of Lance McCullers‘ right elbow will help determine if he misses any time in 2019.
The catcher position is also wide open as Martin Maldonado is a free agent. Brian McCann has a $15 million team option for next season, but no buyout is attached if the Astros don’t exercise it. Gonzalez, a key reserve at multiple positions, could be a well-sought commodity in free agency. While Houston could sign or trade for players to fill these roster spots, the team’s depth is needed. Max Stassi, Tony Kemp, and Tyler White this year proved why it is essential to have quality depth awaiting the wings. Here a list of players who I think has the potential to play a similar role at some point next year:
- Cionel Perez
Will all of these players I’ve listed play meaningful major league innings next year? Probably not. Some will, though. But all have the potential to do something similar to Stassi, Kemp, and White if given a chance. As his time with the Cardinals, Luhnow and his staff are relying on minor league depth to supplement the major league roster. That’s a sign of a healthy organization, no matter the payroll.
I do apologize for sounding too business-like in the next few sentences, but it is accurate. The depth that the Astros have assembled are also excellent trade pieces to acquire top-tier major league talent. JT Realmuto is just one name that comes to mind. Prospects are unproven, while proven major league talent is attractive to a team with a window of contention open. Either way, I’d expect for the minor league depth to play a key role in any Astros’ success next season. It is time to see if the vast array of depth continues to deliver on the promise made in an introductory press conference roughly seven years ago.