ASIDE FROM COLE AND STRASBURG, THERE ARE OTHERS HOUSTON COULD ADD FOR IMMEDIATE HELP

3 free agents and why the Astros should pursue them

Composite photo by Jack Brame

Obviously the talk of free agency this offseason for the Astros is centered around Gerrit Cole. Will he come back? Will he get bigger money elsewhere? All of that remains to be seen, but in the meantime, there are other players out there that can help this team get better immediately. When you look at the roster as it currently stands the obvious position group that needs to be addressed is catcher.

Both catchers from last season are free agents, with Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldanado hit the open market with Houston probably hoping to keep at least one, if not both of them. If they do dabble in the available backstops out there this winter, there is one that could provide an instant upgrade both offensively and defensively. On the pitching front, there are a few starters out there that have the skillset and characteristics that the Astros look for when adding talent to the organization. With that being said, here are three possibilities that Houston should consider adding this off-season.

The bottom of the order was a bit of an issue for the Astros late last season, especially in the playoffs. Even with a big World Series from Robinson Chirinos, they didn't get much offense out of their catchers. Both Chirinos and Maldanado were not only good defensive receivers but great teammates and clubhouse guys. They were beloved by their squad and that goes a long way in a 162 game season, but both were lacking in the box with a bat in hand. Chirinos got off to a hot start but overall it was a hit or miss proposition with the latter the more frequent result.

Jeff Luhnow could bring one or both of them back, but if he wants to upgrade the position there is a player out there that could add immediate offensive punch to an already potent lineup. Yasmani Grandal is one of the most productive offensive catchers in the game. He just put up another stellar season for the Brewers that had him hitting 28 home runs while knocking in 77 RBI. Although he has never hit for average, a career .241 hitter, he did draw 109 walks and has something that the Astros and all playoff teams covet, solid defense, quality fielding and a knack for keeping runners off the bases. He also has postseason experience after several years with the Dodgers, which is an added bonus. He is expected to fetch a salary in the 42 million dollar range for a 3-year deal, so he won't come cheap, but he could pay some serious dividends.

If the Astros lose the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes and don't choose to get involved in the pursuit of Steven Strasburg, Zack Wheeler might be a potential replacement for the Houston rotation with his big arm and 3.77 career ERA. Wheeler and the 'Stros have long been linked to potential trade scenarios as rumors had the Mets and Jeff Luhnow discussing a possible deal for months leading up to last season's trade deadline.

He seems to bring to the table the kind of career and skill set that the Astros covet, a strong-armed, hard-throwing right-hander that needs to be schooled on the fine art of pitching. By that I mean, honing his skills including the 2 seam and 4 seam fastballs, improving his spin rate and implementing analytics and advanced scouting methods. The same way the Houston organization was able to have a positive impact on Charlie Morton and Cole, the potential is there with Wheeler to be the next veteran pitcher to experience immediate success with the Astros.

One other name to keep an eye on this offseason if you are an Astros fan is Michael Pineda. Another right-hander with an above-average fastball that needs to become more of a pitcher and less of a "thrower." He was 11-5 last season with a 4.01 ERA for the Twins before being suspended for PEDs. That suspension will roll into the early part of the 2020 season and thus make him an affordable addition to the rotation if Luhnow and his staff deem him worthy.

He could be next season's Wade Miley, an affordable, innings-eater that could benefit from a change of scenery and the opportunity to learn and work with an organization that has a pension for improving pitchers with their scientific formula of stats, scouting, and advanced teaching techniques. Pineda made 8 million dollars last season and with the suspension preventing teams from offering up a long-term, lucrative deal, you could probably get him for a one-year, "make good" contract in the neighborhood of 5 million a year. That would be a bargain for a veteran starter with potential, like Pineda even if he was your fifth starter next year.

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Houston's offense once again obliterated Baltimore in Wednesday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Owners of a nine-game winning streak, the Astros tried to keep the train rolling to make it double digits and complete the three-game sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore. Not only would they get the win, but they also did it by dominating on both sides of the ball again in a one-sided shutout.

Final Score: Astros 13, Orioles 0

Astros' Record: 46-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (6-3)

Losing Pitcher: Thomas Eshelman (0-1)

Houston keeps mashing

Unlike Tuesday's game which ended 3-1 in a much closer affair, the finale on Wednesday was once again a lopsided affair like Monda's opener, favoring the Astros. Houston once again put up double-digit runs in an offensive explosion. It started right off the bat, with three runs scoring in the top of the first on a two-RBI double by Carlos Correa and an RBI single by Kyle Tucker to grab a 3-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel extended it to 4-0 with a two-out RBI single in the second, then Jose Altuve made it a six-run game with a two-run blast in the top of the fourth. Michael Brantley joined in with an RBI single in the top of the sixth, then Yordan Alvarez led off a four-run seventh with a solo bomb before a three-run homer by Abraham Toro made it 11-0.

Urquidy cruises through seven scoreless

Jose Urquidy was cruising all the while, allowing just three baserunners over that span, a double to start his night, which he erased, then a one-out walk in the second and leadoff single in the sixth. He returned at the bottom of the seventh with a manageable pitch count, where he'd erase a one-out single to keep Baltimore scoreless. With the insurmountable lead, he'd be given the rest of the night off. His final line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 84 P.

Astros complete the sweep and grab tenth straight win

Chas McCormick, who came off the bench defensively in the bottom of the seventh, made it a twelve-run lead with a one-out solo homer in the top of the eighth, then later Abraham Toro notched his fourth RBI with a run-scoring single to make it 13-0. Brandon Bielak took over for Urquidy in the bottom of the eighth, and after loading the bases with no outs, was able to escape with a strikeout and double play.

Ralph Garza Jr. was Houston's third pitcher, wrapping things up at the bottom of the ninth. He erased a one-out walk and a single with a double play to end the game, giving Houston the three-game sweep and extending their winning streak to ten games as they continue to look like baseball's best team.

Up Next: The next stop on this road trip for Houston is Detroit, where they will kick off a four-game set with the Tigers on Thursday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup for the opener will be Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.82 ERA) for Houston and Jose Urena (2-7, 5.79 ERA) for Detroit.

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