After making an unexpected run to the playoffs in 2015, the Houston Astros had a quiet offseason, making only one significant addition in Ken Giles and instead relying on the continued development of their young, cost-controlled players.
Before this offseason’s Winter Meetings even begin, the Astros have shown they learned from their mistakes.
Perhaps 2016 was a reality check of sorts. Dallas Keuchel regressed significantly following his Cy Young season. Carlos Gomez was a bust on the field, there was no career-year from Colby Rasmus and the starting rotation was a mess outside of Lance McCullers, who only threw 81 innings.
But it was also a team devoid of veterans who had been there, done that. The box score doesn’t show championship experience, but it was something missing in the Astros clubhouse.
Instead of sitting back and waiting, the Astros have been one of the most aggressive teams in baseball heading into the Winter Meetings in Washington, D.C. They’ve signed Josh Reddick, traded for Brian McCann and agreed to a deal with Carlos Beltran. All are veterans that can show the still-young Astros the way.
People in the game believe that lack of veteran presence was an issue for Houston last year, and they look at the kind of impact veterans like David Ross, Jon Lester and John Lackey made on the Chicago Cubs’ clubhouse. One NL manager went as far as saying, “Ross was as valuable as anyone on the team for what he did behind the scenes.”
The Cubs and everyone else will take the Kris Bryants and Anthony Rizzos of the world over Ross, obviously, but the point is leadership matters. If the Astros’ veterans can play well in addition to lead, well, that’s just icing on the cake.
This team isn’t perfect on paper, and even the trio of McCann, Reddick and Beltran carry risk. McCann’s oWAR last year was his lowest since 2012. He’s a career .340 OBP player, but hasn’t even reached that mark since 2011 and is only getting older. Beltran is 39 years old and hit .233 as recently as 2014. Reddick struggled with the Dodgers and was virtually unplayable against left-handers, but should benefit from playing at Minute Maid Park.
They still need a starter, but as Jon Heyman reports, the Astros are setting themselves up for that No. 1-type starter. Their bullpen should be better even without a big addition, assuming Giles performs closer to his FIP and Michael Feliz continues to improve.
Oh yeah, and that lineup.
There’s plenty of swing-and-miss still, but the lineup should have a better balance of guys who can get on base, like Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa, along with plenty of power in McCann, Beltran, Reddick, Evan Gattis and Yulieski Gurriel. That doesn’t include Alex Bregman, who will get a full year in Houston. It’s scary to put heavy expectations on him, but he doesn’t have to be Correa to help the Astros win, even if he has the potential to be just that.
Even a worst-case-scenario version the lineup shouldn’t feature three guys failing to hit above .210 or posting OBPs below .300 like it did in 2015.
Whether it works or not, Astros fans should be encouraged by general manager Jeff Luhnow and ownership for spending money to win now. The team lost its three most expensive players from 2016 in Rasmus, Gomez and Scott Feldman, but they’ve reinvested that money and then some to take advantage of a championship window that shouldn’t close any time soon.
With the Beltran signing, which is reportedly $16 million for one year, the Astros’ payroll will continue to increase for the first time in quite a while. The team has been in the bottom-10 in the league every year since 2011, which makes perfect since with the timeline of the team. Houston hasn’t had a top-10 payroll since 2009. And they’re adding to a team that won 84 games last year, not 74, and a team that was a Royals-being-Royals comeback away from the ALCS in 2015.
The Astros aren’t waiting anymore. They’re not just sitting back and hoping for a Keuchel bounce-back or counting on an A.J. Reed to make up for what the team lacked, and it doesn’t appear they’ll look to count on unproven rookies to pick up the slack in the starting rotation. In bringing in quality veterans, it doesn’t look like they’re discounting the impact of experience.
It doesn’t look like the Astros are doing what they’ve done wrong before.