Joel Blank

3 necessary moves to get the Astros back in the World Series

Would the Astros be willing to part with Kyle Tucker? Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Joel Blank takes a look at what moves the Astros need to make in the off-season to put themselves in the best position to make a long playoff run in 2019. There are some free agent decisions to be made, and a trade for a big bat would be icing on the cake.

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Don't be surprised if Yuli Gurriel returns to Houston. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Astros made a big splash in free agency, landing former Chicago White Sox first baseman José Abreu to a three-year deal.

Abreu’s signing sent a clear signal to the rest of Major League Baseball, the Astros want to stay atop the American League and compete for more world championships. Houston owner Jim Crane didn’t mince his words in Tuesday’s introduction press conference, the Astros expect to get back to the World Series.

Abreu, who spent his first nine years with the White Sox, said he joined Houston because he wants to be a part of a family and have a chance to win a championship. The 2020 AL Most Valuable Player posted .304/.378/.446 with 15 home runs in 2022.

One of the key pillars to Houston’s family culture over the years has been first baseman Yuli Gurriel. While the signing of Abreu ends Gurriel’s tenure as the Astros’ first baseman, and likely his time in Houston altogether, Crane said the team will be in communication with him as the free agency period continues.

In a perfect world, the Astros should bring back Gurriel. Abreu said he has a lot of respect for him and acknowledged his role in creating the Astros’ culture that drew him to the team in the first place.

The reason to bring back Gurriel goes beyond him being a first baseman. That ship has sailed, but having a key figure in the clubhouse, and potentially using his bat in a designated hitter role, warrants keeping that door open. He also would add depth to the Astros.

While Gurriel’s injury in the World Series ultimately didn’t hurt Houston, it did leave the Astros with Trey Mancini taking over first base in Game Six. While Mancini rose to the occasion, it should not be something Houston banks on if it can avoid it.

Gurriel struggled throughout the 2022 regular season, posting .242/.288/.360, but he shined in the postseason, playing a big role in Houston’s World Series run. His numbers rose to .347/.360/.490 throughout the 2022 playoffs, one of the best postseason runs in his career.

Gurriel and pitcher Jusitn Verlander are still in the mix, Crane said on Tuesday. He also believes the Astros have room to improve, mainly at catcher and in the outfield. Houston can also never have enough pitching, Crane added. The Astros can never have too many bats either.

With Houston’s mindset at championship or bust, bringing back Gurriel as a DH option along with his role in the clubhouse makes sense for the Astros at the right price. If both sides can reach that mutual ground, which would also require Gurriel to accept a lesser role on top of the right deal, it is a no-brainer. How realistic that is, is a different story.

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