THE BIG DEAL

Arrival of Verlander, Upton gave Astros star power and a World Series title

The arrival of Justin Verlander (and Kate Upton) put the Astros over the top. Roland Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros won the World Series by two seconds.

That was how much time was left when they completed the deal to land Justin Verlander on Aug. 31. And make no mistake, without Verlander, the Astros don’t even make -- much less win -- the World Series.

Verlander was near perfect as an Astro. He did not win a game in the Series, but his presence was huge.

He brought a Hall of Fame resume. He brought star power. And he brought Kate Upton.

When it mattered most, he helped bring Houston a championship.

It almost did not happen. The deal went down to the wire because Verlander was not sure he wanted to come to Houston. In reality, he wanted to go to LA, where he has a home. But the Dodgers did not want to take on his contract, and instead opted for Yu Darvish.

And Houston will be forever grateful.

The city was reeling from Hurricane Harvey. The Astros were faltering, losing the best record in the AL to the Indians. Players grumbled about the team not making any moves at the first trade deadline. A promising season was falling apart.

Then came Aug. 31. The Astros worked out a deal, but had to wait for Verlander to approve it. Phone calls were made back and forth. Verlander and Upton debated, then decided. The paperwork went in two seconds before the deadline. Verlander’s arrival energized the city. The team. He was instantly embraced by both, and immediately made himself at home. By the end of the season, it felt like he had been here forever.

And the rest is history.

Astros history, as in the first World Series win in the franchise’s long, somewhat checkered past.

And make no mistake, it does not happen without the Verlander trade.  

The end result was a moment that was over 50 years in the making.

And it all came down to two seconds.

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The Astros roster will have a different look next season. Composite image by Jack Brame.

With the division won and a likely top seed clinch in the coming days, the Astros are rightly focused on finishing the regular season strong and heading into the postseason with as much momentum as they can bring with them. Still, that won't stop the Hot Stove chatter that will likely pick up steam quickly as we near the offseason.

In recent years, Houston has done a great job of replacing top-tier talent that many would've deemed irreplaceable at the time. The likes of George Springer and Carlos Correa, dear to the hearts of Astros fans, made bittersweet departures, yet the Astros have found the right combination of players to fill those voids.

How long can that be sustained, though? A recent ranking of farm systems put the Astros 29th, better than only the Angels, in terms of their minor-league talent pool. The draft pick hits handed down due to the sign-stealing scandal have been a part of that. So, if it is indeed the case that the well is running dry in terms of home-grown talent, what if the Astros shifted strategy and started being more aggressive in the free agent market?

Houston has several players hitting free agency themselves

Like in the last few years, the Astros will see some turnover this offseason, though to which degree will be determined by who they choose to pick up options or give offers high enough to get re-signings.

Justin Verlander will likely not execute his half of the mutual option, which would bring him back to Houston for $25 million. The presumptive Cy Young winner will probably get much more, whether with Houston in a new contract or elsewhere.

The Astros are in line to lose one of their catchers, with the rental period for Christian Vázquez ending after this season. Yuli Gurriel will also be hitting the market and potentially playing for a team other than Houston for the first time should someone else give him a contract offer he accepts.

Michael Brantley, absent most of this season with an injury, will also see his time with the Astros coming to an end if a new contract doesn't happen. Pair those players leaving potential holes in the roster, along with a strong free agent class this offseason, and what could the 2023 Houston Astros look like if they make some big moves?

Time for upgrades?

Let's assume for these scenarios that the Astros don't work out deals to re-sign some of the players mentioned earlier. With Vázquez gone, who do the Astros turn to at catcher besides Martin Maldonado? Sure, they have some young talent available, like Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz, but what if they want to go further?

The Astros were already part of the rumor mill for Chicago Cubs' Wilson Contreras at this year's trade deadline. He shapes up to be the top catcher available this offseason, so it could make sense for Houston to finally get him on their team. If Gurriel goes elsewhere, a few potential players could also fill his spot, like 2020 AL MVP José Abreu.

To replace Brantley as an outfielder and decent bat, the Astros could take their pick from a long list of outfielders, such as Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Nimmo, and Mitch Haniger, to name a few. Still, the Astros could really make some waves if they bring in some even bigger names.

The huge splashes that would shake things up

Let's talk about the names that will be the focal point of the Hot Stove, though. Jeremy Peña had big shoes to fill this season, and in his first full year at the shortstop position, he has been more than adequate. But what if Carlos Correa opts out of his contract with the Twins, and a potential reunion is in order? Or, what if Houston goes even further and has a chance to go after some of the league's best, like Trea Turner?

There's no question that Houston's pitching in 2022 has been one of, if not the best, staff in all of baseball. If Verlander opts out to get a bigger payday, could the Astros try to get a new elite-tier ace to lead their rotation? Two names could cause a frenzy; Jacob DeGrom and Carlos Rodón, who both have opt-outs available if they think they could garner more money elsewhere.

Then, there's the ultimate signing that some team will get ahead of 2023, and that's Aaron Judge. The Yankees made a costly mistake by not working out a deal with him before this season, as he has gone on to put together one of the best seasons ever. While there may be some lingering animosity on his end from the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, what if, and it's a big if, he buries that hatchet? What if he wants to really stick it to his former team and join the side of the rivalry that has been a thorn in New York's side in recent postseasons?

These scenarios may be, and in the case of Judge likely is, a pipe dream in some cases, but there's no question that the Astros will need to make some moves this winter if they want to keep their championship window open as wide as it is today.

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