The World Series just concluded on Sunday night, and by late Monday afternoon, the Astros are reportedly setting the course for the offseason.
When the Red Sox ended the Astros‘ season in the ALCS, we’d already figured some changes were coming. The latest information from Jon Heyman from Fancred about the team’s plans for extending qualifying offers does little to change that expectation. At the same time, it does produce some inklings about Houston’s plans.
It is hardly of any surprise that the Astros expected to extend a qualifying offer to bearded southpaw Dallas Keuchel. One of the team’s best starters since 2014, Keuchel led the rotation through the initial growing pains of an up-and-coming club. While other factors were involved, one could argue that if it wasn’t for Keuchel’s intervention on August 31st, Justin Verlander may have not agreed to a trade to Houston. If that was the case, then the Astros may have not have a World Series title to their name. If Keuchel decides to sign elsewhere during the offseason, Houston would recoup a draft pick to help offset his loss. The lefty also figures to make more in annual salary on any contract offer he receives. Extending him a qualifying offer is a mere formality at this point, and he will most likely reject it.
Based on Heyman’s information, the possibility of not extending a qualifying offer to Marwin Gonzalez makes sense from a team perspective. While Gonzalez has proven to be a valuable member of the roster, the Astros do have internal options to fill his role for much cheaper. That said, the front office may be incline working out a long-term contract for the super-utility player for a cheaper annual value. Even though the qualifying offer is only for one season, $17.9 million would be a large chunk of the Astros’ payroll. The only player on the roster last season to earn at least $17.9 million was Verlander, who made $20 million from the Astros. The remaining $8 million on his 2018 salary was covered by the Tigers, which will reoccur again in 2019. Gonzalez only earned $5.125 million last season, and it isn’t known to the public whether we would accept the offer.
In the case of Charlie Morton, Heyman is accurate as it is a toss-up whether the Astros extend the veteran pitcher a qualifying offer. By all appearances since the season ended, Morton appears open to staying with the Astros in the short-term. While another team could always swoop in and sign him, the state of his arm and a possible retirement have always seem like the primary obstacles keeping him in Houston. Like Gonzalez, the Astros may want to keep Morton on a short-term deal with a lesser annual value than the qualifying offer amount. Remember that the right-hander made $7 million during the past two seasons. Despite his positive results, a jump of over $10 million for even a single season does seem a bit excessive. But there are worse options than keeping Morton for an additional at $17.9 million.
At this point, I’d consider Morton the most likely to return of the three players mentioned in Heyman’s tweet. Gonzalez is likely to draw plenty of interest from numerous teams seeking out his versatility and respectable bat. Another team may be willing to outbid the Astros if they deem Gonzalez as a good fit, even if he never replicates his incredible 2017 season. Keuchel is the least likely to return as the Astros have internal options to take his place on the roster along with potential suitors who could outbid Houston for his services.