The Astros are likely to make sweeping changes this offseason, and *this* would be the perfect lineup for the team entering the 2021 season.
The 2020 Houston Astros, an under .500 regular season team, climbed through the playoffs and fell one game short of their third World Series appearance in four years. With only a 60-game schedule, injuries threatened the dynasty of the 2019 American League Champions. Manager Dusty Baker and general manager James Click didn’t make many changes to what AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow had built, but contracts are soon set to expire, and it is looking like some changes will be made to the starting lineup in 2020. Here is my perfect lineup for the ’21 season that includes current players and hopeful signings. One thing to remember: as much as the Astros want George Springer back, the chances of him returning to Houston are slim to none.
Jose Altuve, 2B
The longest tenured Astros player struggled this year. He was placed on the 10-day Injured List while he dealt with a right knee sprain. The injury lingered through the season and was a factor to his underwhelming performance. Altuve slashed .219/.286/.344 through 49 games, but the postseason was another story. After not getting a hit against the Minnesota Twins, Altuve was raking with a batting average above .400 and an OBP exceeding the .500 mark. This really showed hope and light to that Altuve will be back to form next season.
There were issues on the field in the playoffs and regular season, but the “yips” hopefully won’t last forever. Second base is one of the easiest defensive positions in baseball, and in recent years, we haven’t seen any real stand out fielding percentages, but Altuve has been close to perfect.
Altuve has seen most of his time from the 2-hole to the 3-hole in recent time, but he has spent parts of his career in the leadoff role. The best way to evaluate the role is comparing him to Houston’s former leadoff hitter, George Springer, who had a .359 OBP in 2020. While Altuve had a much smaller number of .286, he still offers not as much but similar skill to the leadoff spot. In past seasons, Altuve has been on the brink of breaking .400 for 6 seasons straight with a .410 OBP in his ’17 MVP season.
Altuve might be entering the back end of his prime, but he still has two to three more seasons of All-Star level baseball. The second baseman is entering his 11th season at the age of 31, and we can only hope he gets back into one of those lethal bats in Minute Maid in 2021.
Alex Bregman, 3B
Bregman was another Astros player who regressed in 2020. The 2019 MVP runner-up didn’t look like himself while dealing with injury. The third baseman hit the 10-day Injured List with hamstring discomfort which also become a lingering injury. Bregman could also be an arguable candidate for the leadoff spot, but he has a little more power than an aging Altuve, and in an analytical stance, you place your best hitter in the 2-hole.
In 2020, Bregman slashed .242/.350/.451, which might not look like an MVP candidate, but an OPS above .800 is a good sign. He only played 42 games, but the most concerning thing from this past season was Bregman strikeout-to-walk rate. As one of the most diligent batter in all of baseball, Bregman led MLB in walks with 119 in 2019, while also only striking out 83 times. This flipped to 24 walks and 26 strikeouts in 2020. A sign of hope, however, could be taken from the ALDS where he was taking more pitches.
Bregman has been every above average glove at the hot corner since 2016, and as a natural shortstop, he plays the position at an elite level. The slow rollers did plague Bregman in 2020 as it was almost 50/50 if he would field the ball, but the injury slowed him down at third base.
Michael Brantley, LF
After signing with the Astros in Dec. 2018, Brantley showed he could still play at an All-Star caliber level. His time in Cleveland was plagued by injuries, and it seemed like his bat was all out of power. Nonetheless, Brantley has been nothing but reliable in Houston.
With Yordan Álvarez undergoing season-ending knee surgery, Brantley saw a lot of time in the designated hitter role and time on the IL with quad discomfort. Although most of his career has been in left field, the gloves of Kyle Tucker and Josh Reddick were seen as more valuable. Despite seeing more time from the dugout, Brantley still played at an elite level. While hitting .300/.364/.476, Brantley was producing 22 RBIs, but he could be interchangeable with the 2-hole Bregman.
Brantley will see more time in left field in 2021 as Álvarez makes his way back. At 33 years old, he is facing some leg injuries. The short porch with the Crawford Boxes provides less room to cover, but the angles in left center haven’t been an issue for the experienced lefty.
Brantley is currently a free agent and is drawing strong interest from the Astros and other teams, so another contender catch snatch him up. The New York Yankees are in the mix to sign the big lefty, but the Astros should do all they can to bring Brantley back for 2-3 years because Álvarez is the future of the DH spot.
Yordan Álvarez, DH
“Air Yordan” is a season removed from his 2019 AL ROY campaign. The 6-foot-5, 225 pound Cuban showed he was the future big bat of the organization after raking .313/.412/.655 while hitting 27 home runs in 87 games. It carried into the postseason with an OPS of .668, though a .170 OPS in the ALC took his overall OPS down to .824.
2020 didn’t go the same way while Álvarez was battling knee discomfort. After two games midway through the season, he was lost for the season due to a knee injury. As the primary DH, he could see time at first base or in left field when playing in National League stadiums, but the universal DH is still up in the air.
As long as he stays healthy after surgery, the Astros could see legit power from Alvarez in the 5 or 6 spots in the lineup.
Carlos Correa, SS
Correa was seen as potential trade piece earlier this offseason, but those rumors were shut down the next day. The shortstop is on his final deal with the Astros and could look for an extension this offseason.
Correa was one of the few players to not miss a game due to injury, and it shows how much he impacted the season. He is falling into fifth in the lineup because of the high number of left-handed hitters projected to be in the ’21 lineup. Correa slashed .264/.326/.383, which is solid, but he made up for it with his glove as he was arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball.
In previous years, Correa has been a big sac-fly hitter, and this might be a great place in the order to produce runs. Correa struggled in 2018, but 2019 seemed like he was back to normal until an undisclosed injury cut half of his season. The ’20 postseason underscored that players such as Correa and Altuve need more games to find a rhythm.
Correa will be the leader of the locker room this next season. We saw great flashes during the postseason and last offseason when dealing with the sign-stealing scandal. He could be hitting as far back in the lineup as seventh, but the left-handed power bats of Brantley, Álvarez and Tucker will vary because we do not want to see them all in a row, but they could all have a case for the heart of the order.
Kyle Tucker, RF
Astros fans waited a few years to see Kyle Tucker’s “raw power” come to be, and it revealed itself this year.
In 2020, Tucker raked .268/.325/.512 in 58 games. As one of the few players who did not go on the Injured List, Tucker saw plenty of time in left field with others in right field and at DH. While Álvarez’s injury led to Tucker seeing an increased role in ’20 season, it led to the end of Josh Reddick’s career in Houston along with his lack of production.
Tucker adds another lefty bat to a right-handed heavy lineup. Along with his bat, Tucker has a great glove and strong arm that can play either corner of the outfield.
Tucker will be 24 and has the potential to be a lethal extra-base hitter for years to come.
Yuli Gurriel, 1B
Gurriel has become a flashy, exciting player, but in 2020, we saw the worst year of his career. He regressed and hit only .232/.274/.384, which are the lowest numbers of his five-year career.
The Astros extended Gurriel, 36, through the 2021 season and it could be his last in Houston if he does not bounce back.
Gurriel started his career at third base, but only sees time there if there if there are injuries. His arm strength has decreased and appears likely to finish his career at first base. The team has rarely seen issues with his glove, but some missed picks in the postseason brought concern. Prospect Taylor Jones could see time there this season.
Martin Maldonado, Catcher
The one-time Gold Glover was a top defensive catcher once again in 2020 with the second highest fielding percentage of all catchers but was snubbed from the Gold Glove finalists. For catchers, you can’t expect every game started, and for 60 games, Maldonado appeared in 48. He showed great reliability at one of the hardest positions in baseball, but a quiet bat might haunt his rating.
Some might want the Astros to use all their money on a catcher such as JT Realmuto, but the chances of bringing such a huge valued player would lead to the downfall of the organization as there would be no money for the future. In this case, the Astros will have to settle for defense over offense with Maldonado.
In 2020, Maldonado hit .215/.350/.378, which are all below average. These numbers will about mirror in 2021, and his bat will not be one the team relies on in big moments. His glove and leadership behind the plate are the reasons the Astros would keep him around.
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
The Astros are in prime position to sign a center fielder this off season, and the perfect fit is JBJ. The former Boston Red Sox center fielder had one of his best seasons in 2020 and while he isn’t Springer, he can help replace some numbers at the plate and in the field.
In 2020, JBJ raked .283/.364/.450. The numbers don’t align with Springer, but his strikeouts were slightly high and walks were too low for him to replace Springer at the leadoff spot. He could fluctuate throughout the order but having him at the 9-hole could help out if the order starts there in an inning.
Bradley Jr.’s speed and glove offer a great replacement in center field as an everyday player, but the missed numbers at the plate can be picked up by Alvarez. He won’t cost as much as Springer, so money can be invested in other players like Brad Hand, Chris Archer, or Blake Treinen.
The final lineup goes: RRLLRLRRL