Astros’ offseason picks: 5 options for the defending champs

Although it’s pretty standard for the defending World Series champion to be one of the main characters of the season Houston AstrosHot-stove operation has been routine until now.

It started when owner Jim Crain only offered GM James Click a one-year deal, and then decided to let him go, even though he was successful in building a winning team, which is what general managers are supposed to do. Within a week after that, the crane – along with the formed solid circle a handful of baseball operations managers, as well as club legends such as Jeff Bagwell – courageously assumed the majority of team building responsibilities.

The decision to move forward without a traditional head of baseball operations makes the Astros particularly interesting this winter.

So far, Houston has made two big moves: re-signing Rafael Montero Signed a 3-year, $34.5 million contract and is a former AL MVP Jose Abreu a a three-year, $58.5 million contract One of the biggest buzzwords on the free agent market this year.

Realizing that Crain is going to push this roster, at least in the short term, what are some of the ways he’s going to do it in the coming weeks? Keeping Montero and bringing in Abreu were big moves, but there’s definitely more on the agenda. Let’s guess!

Option 1: Bring it back Justin Verlander and call it the off-season

Verlander is the obvious place to start the Astros’ offseason plans moving forward, and Crain has apparently expressed interest in retaining a future Hall of Famer and AL Cy Young Award winner. However, keeping Verlander for at least $35 million a year would put Houston closer to the $233 million Competitive Balance Tax line (US luxury tax). actually never did. The Astros payroll is currently $183 million. According to RosterResourcetherefore, Verlander would certainly be included in the tax break, but it could reduce their desire to pursue other high-profile free agents.

Option 2: Bring back Verlander and add an outfielder

Retaining Verlander would be costly, but if Crain wants to overpay, the Astros could target one of their second-tier corner outfield options and address their needs in free agency. This means that the veteran will return Michael Brantley or perhaps another contact-prone player, etc Andrew Benintendi. If they want more upside, perhaps a one-year gamble on Michael Conforto or Mitch Haniger It further bolsters the bottom of an already loaded lineup and can be updated on favorites Chas McCormick and Jake Myers.

It’s unclear whether adding an outfielder is a priority for the team compared to a catcher (more on that in a second), but it’s worth noting that it’s important based on Bagwell’s presentation and the way he talks about it. Currently participating in the roster – suggested Houston still wanted Jordan Alvarez Getting a healthy number of reps in left field instead of being a full-time DH.

If so, maybe they’re leaning towards it…

Option 3: Verlander walks and uses the money Wilson Contreras and another outfielder or middle spin arm

Verlander has the highest annual average of Houston’s reported targets. If he were to go on a major deal elsewhere, the Astros would have more flexibility to target many other free agents. Important Martin Maldonado There was an Astros pitching staff whose bat has been below league average for years, and the Astros appear ready to move up and move Maldonado into more of a backup role. Houston will meet Contreras, the best catcher on the market, at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

We also know that former GM James Click was exploring a trade Jose Urquidi Crain and Dusty Baker for Contreras before being terminated late in the process. Now, all the cost to Contrera is money and draft picks, not a pitcher in Urquidy, who the team clearly values. He also won’t cost nearly as much as Verlander’s AAV, and will have the potential to upgrade again in free agency, whether as an outfielder or a Tier 2 starter as described in Scenario 2. Andrew Heaney or Michael Wacha To fill the hole left by Verlander at a lower cost. Based on a potential bidding war for Verlander, some version of the 3rd might be the most likely path forward for Crane & Co.

Option 4: Trade offensive depth to address needs on offense

Whether Verlander stays or goes, the Astros will enter 2023 with more qualified starters than in the rotation. Framber Valdez, Christian Xavierand Lance McCullers Jr. There is a virtual lock, but Luis GarciaUrquidy, young right hand Hunter Brown All of them are more eligible to start at the big league level, so they could be trade targets for other teams. Urquidi seems to be the most likely candidate. Brown may be off limits, but Garcia could be another attractive trade target for an established catcher or outfielder.

Typically, teams competing in this scenario would rather trade prospects than big leaguers, but a strong farm system isn’t something Houston currently boasts compared to other powerhouses around the league. MLB Pipeline ranked him No. 29 after this year’s trade deadline. That’s not to say they don’t have a chance to trade, but it might be easier to get one of Urquidy or Garcia to contribute directly as a key.

Option 5: Go Wild

Forget team harmony and stability; Maybe Crane just wanted a lot more money than we think. Instead of tiptoeing into the luxury tax like in years past, they could bring back Verlander, sign Contreras, and add another free agent with an eight-figure annual salary and zoom into Steve Cohen territory at full speed. It’s not uncommon for owners to be heavily involved in free agency or high-profile trades, but we could be entering uncharted territory like Crain running the show, which leaves quite a few possibilities. .

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Jordan Shusterman is half of it @CespedesBBQ and baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has been active throughout his adult life, including baseball, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan who lives in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he likes the first game at 10 p.m. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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