Houston Astros (101-61), 1st in AL West, World Series Champs
Notable free agents: Carlos Beltran, Francisco Liriano, Luke Gregerson, Cameron Maybin, Tyler Clippard
This doesn’t feel like a last hurrah or one-hit wonder. Not at all.
Now that the party has died down (well, it probably hasn’t), let’s look ahead to what the Astros will look to do this winter to give themselves the best chance to repeat as world champs and continue their promise to the fans of Houston who suffered years of agony: build a dynasty.
The team is certainly on their way, and have the youth, contract control and talent to make it happen. For Jeff Luhnow and the Astros’ front office, the offseason plan is incredibly straightforward. Simply put, keep your creation intact and make it back to the Fall Classic.
Looking at the team’s free agent class, it’s very optimistic. Carlos Beltran is the most notable, though he went through the 2017 postseason without a home run while recording just three hits. The 40-year-old could just call it a career, though it’s also possible he shows interest to return for another year and see if the Astros could repeat. Would Luhnow even want to bring him back?
Beltran’s .231 batting average and .666 OPS isn’t a great sign when asking if there’s anything left in the tank, but the fact that he highlights the Astros’ free agent class shows how good of a position the team is in to contend again in 2018.
The lineup is locked and loaded. Carlos Correa is just 23, and under contract until 2022. Jose Altuve is under team control until 2020. George Springer won’t have to worry about free agency until 2021. The core of the Astros is set, and so is their entire offense.
There likely isn’t much to change in terms of the starting rotation either. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton (who looked like a stud down the stretch of the postseason) and Lance McCullers are all back. Justin Verlander, once considered a concern due to his bloated contract, is also returning and for what is now seen as a much more reasonable price given his playoff production. Two more years of this version of Verlander seems like a steal for the Astros, despite parting ways with three prospects to get him. It already seems worth it.
More pitching help could be on the way internally. Forrest Whitley, a 6’7’’ right-hander, was a strikeout machine in the minors this season. Francis Martes was at the major league level for a brief stint in 2017 and could be more of a factor next year if he lives up to the hype. Who knows. The Astros could be even better next year.
If they are to become even more dominant, the bullpen needs to be addressed. A.J. Hinch had very little faith in his bullpen during the postseason, and for good reason. Ken Giles was awful, and had the Dodgers’ bullpen not been gassed by ineffective starting pitching and quick hooks from Dave Roberts, we might be talking about the oh-so-close Astros who couldn’t close the deal. Luckily, guys like Morton and McCullers stepped up while Springer and the offense pounded home runs to mask the Astros’ weakness in the bullpen. They may not be so fortunate next season.
Relief arms like Francisco Liriano and Luke Gregerson likely won’t be back next season, which is probably for the best if you’re the Astros. Tyler Clippard, who wasn’t used much at all, will also be heading out the door. Again, probably for the best.
So, who can they go after to improve their relief corps? Wade Davis is a big name, but the Astros will likely stay away from spending the money that Davis will be requesting. Maybe a solid arm like Pat Neshek or Tommy Hunter are possibilities, or maybe the Astros go the internal route. Whitley and/or Martes can find early big league success in the bullpen like many young arms do, or perhaps Brad Peacock could find a home in the pen with a full rotation in front of him. There are options, but the bullpen has to be better, plain and simple.
Aside from that bullpen, the Astros are in an enviable spot. With their first title secured, they will look to repeat with a very similar group, which is great news for Astros fans.