Here's why MLB struggles to replicate Houston Astros winning formula

Good luck catching up with the Astros. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

Since 2019, one critical player, one year at a time, the Astros have watched superstars leave via free agency rather than mortgage their future on high-risk, overpriced, long-term deals.

2019 – Gerrit Cole, 9 years, $324 million with the Yankees.

2020 – George Springer, 6 years, $150 million with the Blue Jays.

2021 – Carlos Correa, 3 years, $105 million with the Twins.

2022 – Justin Verlander, $2 years, $86 million with the Mets.

The Astros’ ability to create superstars and then decline to match (or even coming close to) those contracts has made more mega-millionaires than that FTX crypto currency guy, Sam Bankman-Fried.

OK, bad example. Let’s say Charles Schwab.

And now former (still weird to say that) Astro Carlos Correa has signed a 13-year, $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. Correa is 28 years old. He will be 41 the last year of his contract in 2036. The way baseball is changing rules and making over the game, who knows what baseball will look like in 2036? One thing is unlikely – a 41-year-old shortstop.

Of course the Giants aren’t thinking 2036 – they’re all in on now. They needed to make a splash in the free agent market, especially since they whiffed on Aaron Judge. California is a competitive market with division rivals San Diego and Los Angeles stocking their rosters with marquee players. Stars sell tickets. Without Correa, the Giants would be fielding a team of … go ahead, name their starting lineup.

The Giants offered 13 years to make Correa happy and to amortize the $350 million to infinity and beyond, thus avoiding luxury tax penalties.

As Michael Corleone would say, if history has taught us anything … it’s that crazy long contracts are bad investments in baseball. But desperate times call for desperate measures. The Giants finished 2022 with an 81-81 record, pretty good, but 30 games behind their arch rival Dodgers in the National League West.

Instead of arch rival Dodgers, maybe we should say traditional rival Dodgers. It’s been pretty one-sided lately.

Even with Verlander leaving the Astros for Mets riches (a 40-year-old will be the highest-paid player next year), the Astros should continue their winning ways without a blink. That’s their thing.

Besides becoming super-wealthy men with Astros pedigree, what do Springer, Cole and Correa – and for sure Verlander next year have in common?

After departing the Astros, none has been back to the World Series. Meanwhile Astros players plan World Series bonuses in their family budgets.

The Astros will be fine in 2023, they’re the betting favorites to repeat. They don’t just reload, they add firepower.

Who’d you rather have in 2023 – Kyle Tucker or George Springer? Framber Valdez or Justin Verlander? And a year ago it would have been a ridiculous question, but Jeremy Peña or Carlos Correa? Apples to apples, their 2022 seasons were very similar. Correa batted .291 with 22 homers and 64 RBI. Peña batted .254 with 22 homers and 63 RBI. Peña added a Gold Glove and World Series MVP. Peña is three years younger.

Correa, Cole, Springer and Verlander will earn about $135 million combined in salary next year.

Depending on arbitration and possible contract extensions, Peña, Tucker, Valdez and let’s add Cristian Javier will earn about $21 million.

Plus, in the case of the Astros quartet: World Series bonus money.

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Nick Caserio's history of drafting injury prone players has become a problem. Composite Getty Image.

Nick Caserio was hired to serve as the general manager (GM) of the Texans on January 7, 2021. Some saw it as another nod to the organization's obsession with the Patriots. Others saw it as the team finally getting their guy after pursuing him previously. They were even hit with a tampering charge while trying to talk to him about the job. Since he's been on the job, there have been highs and lows.

Recently, the news about Kenyon Green and Derek Stingley Jr put a stain on his tenure. Green was placed on season-ending injured reserve (IR) and Stingley Jr is expected to be placed on IR, likely missing six to eight weeks, per Aaron Wilson. Both guys were Caserio's 2022 first rounders. Both guys are starting to look like busts and have fans a little more than just upset.

Green's case was curious because he was said to have needed surgery before he tore his labrum during the Saints preseason game. He had knee surgery this past offseason. There were knee injury concerns when he was coming out of A&M. Adding to his injuries, Green has played poorly. To make matters worse, the Chargers drafted fellow guard Zion Johnson two picks later. Johnson played all 17 games last season as a rookie at right guard and has moved to left guard this season. The pick used to draft Green was part of a trade back with the Eagles. They used the 13th overall pick to take Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a guy at a position this team could desperately use.

Stingley Jr was a highly touted recruit coming into LSU as a freshman. He played as well as any corner in the country that year. Oh, and they won a national title with arguably one of the best teams in college football history. His net two years in Baton Rouge were marred with injuries. Some believed his junior year was more him holding back to stay healthy for the draft. It worked because he was taken third overall, one spot ahead of Sauce Gardner. Gardner went on to be an All Pro as a rookie. While he's surrounded by more talent on the Jets' defense, people will forever link them because Stingley Jr hasn't lived up to expectations. He missed six games last season and is set to miss at least that many this season. When he has played, he's looked okay. “Okay” isn't what you want from a guy drafted third overall ahead of the other guy who was widely considered better than him.

For the 2021 draft, Caserio was handcuffed. He had no first or second rounders, and made a few trades that lessened his draft pool from eight to five picks. Of the five guys drafted that year, only Nico Collins seems to be a player. The 2022 draft was more productive. Although Green and Stingley Jr were the headliners and haven't played up to the hype, the others are carrying the load. Jalen Pitre and Dameon PIerce alone make that draft class dope. This past draft was seen as the one to save the franchise so to speak. Getting C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr got the team a franchise quarterback and edge rusher with picks two and three overall. The price paid to move back up to three was hefty and puts more scrutiny on Anderson Jr. They appear, so far, to have also found a couple other nice players. Tank Dell being the hidden gem of this class.

While people can't, and shouldn't, base Caserio's performance strictly off of the guys he's drafted, one must call it into question. The '21 draft was a wash. The '22 draft looks suspect, but has some redeeming qualities. The '23 draft will most likely be his saving grace. But should it? Former Texans GM Rick Smith nailed almost every first rounder he drafted. Even he was almost run out of town because folks didn't like what he did. Why should Caserio be any different? So what if he cleaned up the mess by the previous regime! That's what he was hired to do!

“Keep that same energy!” That phrase is used when people try to hold others to different standards. Where's that energy everyone had for Bill O'Brien, Jack Easterby, Rick Smith, Gary Kubiak, David Culley, and Lovie Smith? When others weren't performing well, their heads were called for. I see some people holding Caserio accountable. For the most part, it appears as if he's getting a bit of a pass. I'll be interested to see if this continues should the team has another subpar season. If that pick they traded to the Cardinals is another top 10 pick and the Browns pick the Texans own isn't...if Green can't come back and/or Stingley Jr doesn't show any signs of being a lockdown corner...then what? Let's hope none of this comes to fruition. If it does, we'll have to revisit this conversation.

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