Analyzing the next steps for the Houston Astros
After winning the World Series, the Houston Astros have had quite an eventful offseason. They extended their manager, Dusty Baker and fired their general manager, James Click. Then they re-signed Rafael Montero while letting the reigning Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander walk. Since then, they've made their biggest splashes of the offseason.
First, they made a huge upgrade at first base, signing Jose Abreu to a three-year deal. On Sunday, they reached an agreement with Michael Brantley, bringing the veteran back on a one-year, $12 million deal.
The Brantley signing leaves Houston with roughly $20 million to play with before crossing the luxury tax threshold of $233 million. After letting Verlander walk, it's safe to assume that number won't be crossed. Do they have another splash left in them?
They've still got the money to land Michael Conforto, though it appears Houston is confident in Brantley's health for the season. Could another starter be an option? Last year proved a team can never have too much pitching. Is there a massive trade to be swung for a home run piece like Bryan Reynolds?
While a superstar like Reynolds or a risky signing betting on Conforto's health could be sexy in the headlines, it's likely Houston only makes one or two small moves to shore up their roster before heading into 2023. In the arms race that free agency has become, why is this the case?
Because Houston continues to zig while everybody else zags. Most teams are spending obscene money on long-term contracts in a desparate bid to win now that will leave them handicapped in three-to-four years. All the while Houston has maintained their dominance with no end to their reign in sight.
They stay flexible while the rest of the league handcuffs itself.
Flashy or not, I think the Astros remaining moves will be bench pieces to complete the rest of their 40-man roster. Currently, Houston has 40 men on the roster. It's likely they sign a backup catcher and maybe another arm to complete their squad.
Michael Schwab of the Juice Box Journal reported hearing Houston had continued contract talks with Tucker Barnhart. Houston could do worse at the backup catcher spot than the two-time Gold Glove winner.
Beyond Barnhart, maybe a left-handed reliever to satiate Dusty's desire for a lefty in the bullpen.
Two small moves like that put Houston in the driver's seat for 2023. They already have an elite 1-7 in their lineup in Altuve, Brantley, Alvarez, Bregman, Tucker, Abreu and Peña. Verlander or not, their rotation remains elite. And they bring back the best bullpen in baseball. They've got the best roster in the game and they know how to win under the brightest of lights.
The importance of flexibility will come into play at the trade deadline. They will have plenty of room available for a big splash to be made at the trade deadline, whether it be a rental, a disgruntled superstar liek Reynolds, or a player with a couple of years of control. Notable upcoming free agents not playing for a contender include Shohei Ohtani, Javier Baez, Martin Perez, and Marcus Stroman. If Boston falters again, Rafael Devers could be available. Maybe Seattle falters and needs to push all their eggs to 2024, allowing Teoscar Hernandez to reunite with his former teammates.
In the game of baseball, anything can happen. Teams get hot from out of nowhere and anticipated contenders stumble out of the gates and never recover. Names that were never expected to be available hit the market.
Whatever big names are available come the trade deadline, the Astros are primed to make the necessary move(s). By signing a couple of smaller pieces now, Houston can land the big fish at the most opportune time.