This offseason continues to become more interesting as news about qualifying offers come in.
In a surprising twist, only Dallas Keuchel will receive a qualifying offer from the Astros. Marwin Gonzalez, Evan Gattis, and Charlie Morton, three key players in the pursuit of Houston’s lone World Series title, were also eligible, but will not receive the $17.9 offer. Here is the official word from Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle:
Keuchel’s qualifying offer shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone as he is one of the top starters on the open market. He has ten days to accept or reject the Astros’ offer. If the speculation is accurate, the bearded southpaw is expected to reject the offer as he tests the free agent market. Mark Berman of KRIV Fox 26 in Houston reports that Keuchel’s camp will determine “what the best route is for us.”
Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports that Keuchel will likely turn the offer down as he heads towards free agency.
The main reason that Houston’s front office extended a qualifying offer to Keuchel is for the draft pick compensation. The exact positioning of the pick will be determined by a myriad of factors, which you can read further here. The left-handed starter is expected to draw plenty of interest on the open market. While it is possible that he returns to Houston with a new contract, the Astros aren’t likely to match the potentially lucrative offers that Keuchel can receive elsewhere.
The decisions to not extend Gonzalez and Morton are met with various levels of confusion. Thanks to his versatility in the field along with a capable bat, Gonzalez is expected to draw plenty of interest in free agency. The super-utility player has a 123 wRC+ since the beginning of the 2017 season, which is the 35th-best in baseball out of all qualified hitters. There is no denying that Gonzalez filled a vital role for Houston, and he could be back under the right circumstances.
However, I doubt his return takes place based on the expected demand for him on the free agent market. Like I detailed here in late October, Gonzalez is likely to command a sizable raise over his $5.125 million salary in 2018. If the offseason doesn’t halt to the slow crawl that affected numerous free agents last year, I’d expect at least a three-year contract with an annual value starting around $16 million. For a team with multiple internal options to replace him as a utility player for much cheaper, I don’t anticipate Gonzalez back as an Astro in 2019. There is also the long-term statuses of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman to consider in the coming years, which could force Houston to act more prudently this offseason.
For Morton, I’m not sure what to expect. Unless he decides to retire, the veteran right-hander will also draw notable interest on the free agent market. In two seasons with Houston, he posted a combined 6.3 fWAR (Wins Above Replacment). His 3.13 ERA across 167 innings this season along with an average fastball velocity of 96 MPH is a major draw to any team looking for another starter. For what it is worth, Morton did seem to enjoy his time in Houston quite a bit. I can’t help but wonder if they already have arrangements for another short-term contract.
Gattis will join Gonzalez and Morton on the free agent market this offseason. While he has experience as a catcher and a bit as a left fielder, he will likely find another job as the DH for another team in the AL. Regardless of the ending, he filled an important role in this Astros’ lineup throughout his tenure, although the team started to phase him out as Tyler White bursted onto the scene in 2018. He ranks 17th all-time in home runs by an Astro with 96.