The “Hot Stove” season has started off with a bang this year with quite a few big signings and trades, except for the Astros. Is it time to start worrying?
This offseason seems to be a lot more active earlier than what we’ve seen in the last few years. Top tier starting pitchers are flying off the shelves and the options at the catcher position are dwindling. Although the Astros have failed to make a move, I wouldn’t panic just yet.
The Astros’ front office still maintains that the needs for the team are pitchers, starters and relievers, and an everyday catcher. But at the same time, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory, a payroll that tops the luxury tax threshold and a roster that is still unfulfilled.
According to spotrac.com, Houston’s total tax allocations are sitting dangerously close to $228 million for 2020. That’s not only over the $208 million threshold, it nearly tops it by $20 million, which would put them in double tax penalty territory. Owner Jim Crane seems to have already accepted that they’ll end up over the threshold, but he may want to avoid hitting that second tier of penalties.
"“I think anybody can do the math on where we’re at,” Crane told MLB.com via phone Monday. “We’ve got a few holes. We need to sign a catcher, need a few arms — bullpen, maybe a starter. When you look at those ingredients and look at where we’re at, more than likely that will put us over the luxury tax.” via Brian McTaggart of MLB.com."
So it seems at some point, to fill the current roster vacancies, some payroll will need to be pared. Where that comes from is anybody’s guess. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has hinted that it’s unlikely that any “core players” will be moved. Whether that is actually going to be the case remains to be seen. I personally feel it’s going to be very difficult without shedding a Josh Reddick or Carlos Correa type salary.
We’ve already seen the likes of Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Madison Bumgarner sign with other teams, along with the recent trade of Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers. Eight of what are considered to be the top ten free-agent starting pitchers are already off the board.
Barring some type of trade, that essentially leaves a middle-tier pitcher as the most likely option for the Astros at this point, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke headlining your starting rotation, you’re off to a pretty good start. Then there are the younger prospects to consider that showed some promise last season, namely, Jose Urquidy and Bryan Abreu. Plus, the possibility that Forrest Whitley finally makes it up to the Big Leagues.
They also have Lance McCullers Jr. who will most likely have an innings limitation. But I suspect the Astros won’t want to rely on two young and inexperienced pitchers in their starting rotation. My guess is they’re looking to sign another veteran starter. Maybe another reclamation project for pitching coach Brent Strom is in the cards, like Julio Teheran of the Braves or maybe even giving Wade Miley a second chance.
The bullpen is another area of great need with nearly half of the Astros 2019 reliever squad on the free-agent market. Will Harris is just about the only top reliever still available and I’d love to see the Astros make it a top priority to keep him in a Houston uniform, but that could prove to be too costly.
Finally, there’s the catcher situation. Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado are still unemployed and it would be nice to have one of them return, but there are other options still out there. Their #3 prospect Korey Lee is expected to be ready in a year or two, so a short term rental for a backstop is feasible.
It’s going to take some real creativity to satisfy the Astros’ current needs while keeping their future in mind and at the same time balance the payroll to where they are comfortable. But Jeff Luhnow seems to pull it off every year and I don’t see any reason for pushing the panic button – yet.