Astros: Taking stock of the offseason as Winter Meetings begin

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 17: President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jeff Luhnow addresses the media prior to the Game Four of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park on October 17, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 17: President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jeff Luhnow addresses the media prior to the Game Four of the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park on October 17, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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Taking a look at how the Astros’ offseason plans stand at a critical time on the calendar.

Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings begin Sunday, Dec. 9 in Las Vegas and conclude with the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. This is typically an active time in the offseason, as all the key people are together in one space for a few days. Trades and free agency signings are to be expected and the Astros should be no exception.

The Astros have made some progress on their offseason to-do list, but there’s still more work to be done. Here’s a look at what they’ve done so far, what they have yet to do, and what fans can expect from the Winter Meetings.

What They’ve Done So Far

The biggest move so far has been the team acquiring infielder Aledmys Diaz from Toronto in exchange for Trent Thornton. Diaz will essentially take Marwin Gonzalez‘s place as the team’s utility infielder and provide a solid bat for a reasonable price. It all but spells the end of Gonzalez’s time in Houston.

The other notable addition is the recent signing of catcher Robinson Chirinos. While fans clamored for J.T. Realmuto or a top-tier free agent, the team went frugal. Chirinos brings a solid bat for his position but is a bit lacking on defense. Still, he can split time with Max Stassi and be a solid contributor on a reasonable one-year deal. Though this does not preclude the team from adding a big-time catcher, it does make it less likely.

What’s Left to Do

There are two big holes the team needs to fill at this point. The first one is the starting rotation. Behind aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, there’s a litany of question marks. Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton are free agents, while Lance McCullers will miss the entire 2019 season after Tommy John surgery.

Collin McHugh will likely take one of those spots, and the fifth spot can probably be filled internally as well. But the team would do well to add at least a solid mid-rotation arm, either through free agency or trade.

The Astros could also stand to add a hefty bat to a lineup that was ineffective at times in 2018. A DH type like Nelson Cruz would be a fit, as would an outfielder like Michael Brantley. One possible trade target, Paul Goldschmidt, has already been dealt to St. Louis.

What to Expect from the Winter Meetings

The starting pitching market has been the fastest to develop so far this offseason. Top free agent Patrick Corbin is off the board, as is potential Astros target Nathan Eovaldi. Keuchel is probably the best free agent remaining, but the team doesn’t seem particularly interested in a reunion.

Cleveland just signed Carlos Carrasco to an extension, opening the door for a trade of Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. Teams in need of starting pitching will be moving quickly, so if the Astros are intent on adding to the rotation, they may need to strike before the Winter Meetings are over.

I would not expect the Astros to be major players for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, and it could take some time for those two to sign. That may explain why the position player market has yet to take shape. With Corbin signed, dominoes are falling among starting pitchers, but it may take a while for the same to happen with position players.

Don’t be surprised if the Astros leave the Winter Meetings without adding a bat. Jeff Luhnow may decide to wait out the market rather than risk overpaying for a hitter, and he could decide to upgrade the offense via trade instead. At this point, it seems more likely the Astros add a pitcher than a hitter before the meetings are done.

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Don’t Forget the Rule 5 Draft

Though possible, it doesn’t seem likely the Astros make a selection in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. The team currently has just two open spots on the 40-man roster, which they may want to reserve for free agent or trade acquisitions.

However, don’t be surprised if one or two of the team’s farmhands get selected. Of note, the Orioles have the first pick, and new GM Mike Elias knows the Astros’ system well. It would not surprise me at all to see him grab a minor leaguer from the Houston system.

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