2019 record – (American League West Champions – 107-55) – Lost World Series 4-3 to the Nationals
Major departures – Gerrit Cole (Yankees, free agency), Wade Miley (Reds, free agency), Jake Marisnick (Mets, trade), Will Harris (Nationals, free agency), Robinson Chirinos (Rangers, ree agency), The legitimacy of their 2017 Championship
After losing Game 7 to the Washington Nationals at the end of October, the biggest issue facing the Astros was the impending departure Gerrit Cole…
Then Mike Fiers confirmed what many had suspected for years, revealing to The Athletic a sophisticated sign stealing operation involving centre field cameras, trash cans, Carlos Beltran, Alex Cora and many others. The actions of the franchise cost GM Jeff Lunhow and manager AJ Hinch their jobs and has somewhat overshadowed their quiet offseason with regards to player acquisition.
With the experienced Dusty Baker now in the dugout and former Rays executive James Click overseeing baseball operations, they have recruited well to replace their disgraced employees. Baker will have a huge task to keep the players focussed on playing the game, as the receptions they will get on the road will be hostile to say the least.
On the playing side the loss of Cole is significant, although the deadline acquisition of Zack Greinke was made with this situation in mind. The offence remains incredibly strong with Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman anchoring a deep every-day line-up.
Acquired in a surprise trade at the deadline with the impending loss of Cole in mind, he becomes the number two starter in the rotation.
He is certainly still a top of the rotation starter, pitching to a 2.93 ERA in 208 innings in 2019, and has a long history of being durable and effective. The lack of proven pitching depth makes another durable and effective season from Greinke important.
In 2019 the future Hall of Famer finally won his second Cy Young, reached 3000 career strikeouts and struck out 300 batters for the first time in his illustrious career. Now the undisputed ace of the staff after Cole’s departure, he looks to continue his late career resurgence that was unlikely had he stayed in Detroit.
He accumulated 8.4 WAR in 2019, making the jump from All-Star to MVP candidate.
With Mookie Betts departing for the National League he becomes the second best player in the AL. Bregman has become the best offensive player for the Astros in a line up full of stars and at 26 he is entering his prime years – it isn’t unreasonable to think he could improve even more in 2020.
The Astros can roll out an everyday line-up that compares favourably to almost every team in the majors. Other than Martin Maldonado, a defensive catcher, the lowest projected OPS per FanGraphs in the everyday line-up is Josh Reddick’s .740, pretty good for the eighth man in the line-up.
George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman could all realistically challenge for the MVP award and Carlos Correa has that sort of talent and is surely due an injury free season. They also benefit from a full year of Yordan Alvarez who hit 27 homers in just 313 plate appearances in 2019.
Dusty Baker is the perfect manager to take over the crisis hit franchise. He has managed 3500 games in the majors and has won the manager of the year three times. He has been overlooked by other franchises in favour of younger managers, but his pedigree makes him a great fit for a team looking to win a championship without cheating.
They must replace 66 starts, or 379 innings, that have been lost from the departures of Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. Since they have added just Austin Pruitt, who has not started full time since 2016 in AAA, the Astros are confident that they can replace them internally. Part of the solution is Lance McCullers Jr.returning from Tommy John surgery. He has been an effective starter in the Majors, but his career high in innings is just 128, and it is hard to see him topping that after rehabbing for 18 months.
There is upside with James and Urquidy, particularly considering the Astros excellent reputation with getting the most from pitchers. There is no guarantee that they can succeed in the majors which puts pressure on the two excellent but ageing pitchers at the top of their rotation.
The Astros have dominated the AL West for the past few years, but their staring depth has steadily diminished over the years to the point that the Angels and their line up of superstars will provide a legitimate threat to their crown.
How they deal with the hostile environments they will encounter throughout the season alongside constant sign stealing questions will be a factor of how they go, but there is plenty of offensive talent on this roster. They will be determined to win a Championship that will not be forever questioned, and it is certainly a realistic prospect.