The makeup of the Houston Astros outfield in 2021 is largely uncertain.
With the status of the 2020 season still up in the air, there’s only so much we can talk about with respect to this year. We don’t even know if there will be a season at this point. But we can assume there will be a season in 2021, and there will be some roster questions for the Houston Astros.
The most notable of those is the makeup of the outfield. The team’s three starters from 2019 – George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick – are all slated to hit free agency at the end of this year. This means there’s a distinct possibility that all three will be playing elsewhere.
That would leave Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw as the holdovers. Even if they both start in 2021, there’s still another position to fill, plus a bench role or two. The organization’s best outfield prospects are still in the low minors and highly unlikely to be ready next season, especially if their 2020 is cut short or eliminated altogether. Yordan Alvarez is likely to remain the DH thanks to his recurring knee issues.
Splurging on a couple of high-priced free agents is unlikely. The Astros already have more than $115 million in committed salary on the books for 2021. That figure does not include arbitration-eligible players such as Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Roberto Osuna, nor does it include the many pre-arb players on the roster, so the actual number will be significantly higher.
Still, there will probably be room in the budget for one more veteran to be added to the roster. Whether that means they re-sign one of their current players or add someone new, the Astros should have some flexibility to fill that last remaining spot in the outfield.
Tucker should get ample playing time in 2020 if such a season takes place. Now 23, his stint in the majors in 2019 showed he’s ready to be thrown into the fire. The Astros have all the incentive in the world to give him a starting job in the hopes that he will blossom into the All-Star they’ve long thought he will be.
Straw, now 25, is basically the team’s fifth outfielder for 2020. But he’s played well in his time in the majors and seems ticketed to be the everyday center fielder in 2021. The main question is whether he will hit enough. He offers basically no power, so he’ll need to hit for a decent average and draw walks.
Even if his bat is only league average or slightly below, his elite speed and defense will justify him being able to roam the outfield every day. If he gets on base at a strong enough clip, he could take over the leadoff spot in the batting order if Springer goes elsewhere.
Obviously most Astros fans would love to see the team re-sign Springer for the long haul. He’s one of the team’s most beloved and most important players, and I don’t think anyone will complain if he’s back in 2021. He could play right field every day, with Straw in center and Tucker in left.
The main issue will be the price tag. He will turn 31 this September and will be looking for a multi-year deal. The Astros would probably be fine giving him four years, but he’ll probably shoot for six or seven. If another team is willing to pony up, perhaps it’s best to let them. We still don’t know how new GM James Click will operate, so that’s a big wild card.
The same is true with Brantley. He turns 33 in May, so giving him anything more than a two-year deal could be risky. With Alvarez entrenched as the DH, the Astros need someone who’ll play a solid outfield for the life of the contract. Maybe Brantley will be able to do that, but again, it all depends on the price. I’m sure they’d like to have him back, but overpaying probably isn’t in the cards. If you have to overpay, do it for Springer.
Reddick is probably the least likely to return. His bat has been below average the past two seasons, and while his defense is still strong, it’s doubtful he’ll be worthy of a starting job. The Astros would probably be happy to have him back as a fourth outfielder, but he might want to look for a situation with more playing time.
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It’s entirely possible the Astros look outside the organization for another outfielder. The trade route would be an option, but probably not the ideal one. The club’s prospect depth has taken a big hit with recent trades, so further depleting the farm system may not be the way to go.
The free agent market could have some solid options. It’s not likely that the club will go for the big fish in Mookie Betts, but the next tier of outfielders has some options. Marcell Ozuna may be available, and though his excellent 2017 was probably a fluke, he’s still relatively young and a solid hitter nonetheless.
Another relatively young option would be Joc Pederson, who could provide a powerful left-handed bat. Beaumont native Jay Bruce could probably be had on a cheaper deal if the Astros are looking for a bargain. Kevin Pillar and Enrique Hernandez could potentially be options as well.
Again, most fans would probably prefer that the Astros re-sign Springer, and that would probably be the best option in terms of trying to win in 2021. If they can get him on a contract that’s at least palatable, that could be the way to go. But the bottom line for now is that there’s still plenty left to be determined before we figure out the roster construction for next year.