The Astros aren’t going anywhere


Repeats are hard in baseball. We haven’t had a team win back-to-back World Series titles since the Yankees did it in 1999-2000. As such, it’s always a better bet to pick “field” over one year’s champ winning it again the next year. There are just too many variables and too much randomness involved.

There are some teams, however, who stand a better chance of repeating than others, and it’s hard not to put the Astros in that category. It’s all about the age and development of the core. Let’s run down the key Astros contributors with an eye toward how long they can be expected to be in Houston and contributing at a high level:

  • George Springer: The World Series MVP is 28 now and, while he’s coming off of a 144 OPS+ year which could certainly end up being his best, he still has several years of peak production left. He also has three years of arbitration left — he was a Super Two — and will not be a free agent until after the 2020 season.
  • Jose Altuve: He’ll likely be the MVP of the regular season and, if not, will finish second. Despite his three batting titles and long tenure, Altuve is actually several months younger than Springer and will not turn 28 until May. Based on service time he’d be entering free agency right now, but he signed a team-friendly contract extension in 2013 that has him locked up with a $6 million club option for next season and a $6.5 million option for 2019. Unless he’s hit by a bus tomorrow, both options will be exercised. One could, if one wanted, try to imagine what he’d make on the market this winter if he hadn’t signed that extension. If one doesn’t want to do that, one need merely acknowledge that the Astros have one of the best players in baseball locked up for two more seasons.
  • Carlos Correa: He’s just a baby, having just turned 23. While he missed a lot of time due to torn thumb ligament, he put up MVP-esque rate stats, hitting .315/.391/.550 with 24 homers in 109 games while playing a fine shortstop. He doesn’t even hit arbitration for another year and will be under team control through the 2021 season. The fact that Houston can pay under a million bucks for his production at a key position frees them up to address other needs, of course.
  • Alex Bregman: Houston’s third baseman had a coming out party to the rest of the country during the postseason, with several defensive gems. He’s coming off of his first full season and does not turn 24 until around Opening Day. He has two more years of league minimum salaries, or something close to it, before becoming arbitration eligible and will be under team control for three years after that.
  • Dallas Keuchel: The Astros number one starter until Justin Verlander came to town has one more year of arbitration ahead of him and will be a free agent after the 2018 season barring a contract extension. He’ll turn 30 in January.
  • Justin Verlander: He’s got two guaranteed years left on the contract the Tigers gave him at $28 million per, and could get another year at $22 million in 2020 if he finishes in the top five in the Cy Young voting in 2019. If what we saw from him after the trade is indication of a career renaissance as opposed to just a nice little change-of-scenery surge, it’s not crazy to imagine him getting it. The Astros, of course, would probably welcome that “problem.”
  • Lance McCullers, Jr.: This postseason’s Captain Curveball just turned 24 a month ago and just finished his third season. He won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2018 season and is under team control through 2021.
  • Yulieski Gurriel: While technically a rookie in 2017, he turns 34 next June so it’s not like he’s going to be a fixture at first base for a decade or anything. Still, he was a key contributor this season, hitting .299/.332/.486 with 18 homers. He signed a five-year deal with Houston in July of last year which keeps him under Astros control through 2020.
  • Marwin Gonzalez: The Astros super utlilityman settled nicely into left field for the postseason and hit wonderfully no matter where he played during 2017. He avoided arbitration with a deal last winter that gives the Astros a reasonable team option on him for this 2018. He’ll be a free agent a year from now.

There are some other key contributors, of course, though they’re best thought of as role players more than the central focus. Brian McCann is under contract for 2018 with a 2019 club option that, if I had to guess, will not be exercised for his age-35 season. Josh Reddick, coming off of a fine age-30 season, is under contract through 2020. Back-end starters Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh are arbitration-eligible. So too is reliever Ken Giles.

Contributors of note that the Astros are not guaranteed to have back in 2018 due to their becoming free agents: Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis Francisco Liriano, Cameron Maybin, Luke Gregerson and Tyler Clippard. All of those guys have had their moments, but none of them are essential to an Astros repeat.

Prospects who could fill in the gaps: outfielder Derek Fisher, who had some nice moments in limited major league play in 2017. Outfielder Kyle Tucker, who put up an .874 OPS across high-A and Double-A ball this year. He’ll turn 21 in January. Swingman Francis Martis got knocked around some in 32 games in the bigs. He has potential as a starter down the road a bit. Specific prospects aside, the Astros have a top-10 farm system that will help them fill gaps directly or make trades to do so.

The Astros are not a perfect team. You can piggyback starters on top of starters in the World Series, but you can’t play 162 games without using their relievers. They’ll have to address their bullpen this offseason. And as I said above, picking any team to repeat is sort of a fool’s errand. We could’ve just as easily written this article about the Cubs last season and they watched the World Series from home just like you and I did.

But the Astros are well set up to contend for a long time. Of that there can be no doubt. So get used to seeing them in October, folks. They’re not going anywhere.


Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.