An important lesson to keep in mind as Astros roll to another ALCS

Carlos Correa is going to get all the money from somebody. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Astros are headed to their fifth straight American League Championship Series! This trip was courtesy of the Chicago White Sox, their crotchety old manager Tony La Russa, big mouth relief pitcher Ryan Tepera, and the powers that be who've hated on the Astros (looking at you MLB and ESPN). They upended the White Sox 10-1 in game four of the American League Division Series to win it three games to one. While it might be taboo to look forward to next season, the thoughts about how to keep this gravy train going kept crossing my mind.

The future of a couple key pieces to this run specifically came to mind. Carlos Correa and Justin Verlander have held this team down since their respective arrivals. Correa really stepped up as a leader before last season started in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal and its fallout. Verlander was the unquestioned ace of this staff since his literal last second arrival at the waiver wire trade deadline in 2017. Sure Gerrit Cole fans can make a case for him while he was here, but Verlander helped bring a ring to this city. Both Correa and Verlander are set to be free agents this offseason. Both are at the top of their position groups. Both will command a pretty penny. But should the Astros break the bank to keep both?

In Correa's case, I say no. While his leadership and defense are second to none, his bat can be replaced in the lineup by a cheaper option. He's also 27, looking for a long-term mega deal, and very injury prone. My thought is he'll command somewhere north of seven to eight years averaging $30 million plus per year. It's easy to say Jim Crane should pony up and pay the man, but we have to look at the long-term viability of the team as a whole. Pedro Leon could be the next shortstop if Correa isn't brought back. That, or bring in a third baseman and move Alex Bregman back to his natural position.

When it comes to Verlander, my thoughts run along the same lines. Why pay big money (assuming that's what he's going to want) to a soon-to-be 39-year-old pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery? Sure he's a first ballot Hall of Famer, but this team was able to reach two consecutive ALCS appearances without him. Not to mention the players rejected him throwing out the first pitch at one of the home games in the ALDS because he hasn't been around all year.

Gow Media's own John Granato broke that story last week. Considering his teammates feel this way, why would the team bring him back? There are other starters they could spend money on that are much younger, cheaper, and would love to come play for a contender.

The Astros have options. With these two guys' money, along with Zack Greinke's money, all coming off the books, there's room to spend the freed up cash elsewhere and more wisely. Not to mention they may want to keep some of that money to re-sign guys like Framber Valdez, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker. Keeping the dynasty window open is about playing chess, not checkers. Fans have to understand some tough decisions will be made (like letting Cole and George Springer walk). They may not like those decisions at the moment, but everyone loves a winner. In the end, that's all that matters.

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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