RECIPE FOR GREATNESS

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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The new-look Texans won't get started until September, but the Roughnecks' season is about to begin. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Without much fanfare, or seemingly any, the Houston Roughnecks are preparing for opening night of the XFL 3.0 season just a couple of weeks away.

The Roughnecks will host the Orlando Guardians, 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 at TDECU Stadium on the UH campus. That’s less than a week after the NFL’s Super Bowl.

Before one pass is thrown, one run rushed, or one groin pulled, Las Vegas has set odds for the 2023 XFL season. Our Roughnecks and the Orlandos are tied for the longest odds on the board, +750. The early betting favorite is the St. Louis Battlehawks at +400.

Just a note: if you’re like Cosmo Kramer and think wagering on early-season XFL games is “some sweet action” – well, “you really need help, you need a team of psychiatrists working around the clock, thinking about you” and George Costanza.

Not surprisingly, good seats remain for opening night. Lousy seats, too. And seats in the middle.

If the Houston Texans and the all-mighty NFL couldn’t fill half of NRG Stadium, do the Roughnecks stand a prayer of drawing big crowds to TDECU Stadium?

One thing in the Roughnecks favor: affordable seats for their five home games on the XFL’s 10-game schedule. Season tickets for Roughnecks games start at $110 and go up to $480 at xfl.com. Individual game tickets, available on Ticketmaster, are $24 and higher. Reasonably priced food and drink (I kid because I love), plus an array of team merch will be available, including T-shirts ($25), baseball caps ($28-$34), sweatshirts and sweatpants ($45-$60), and bucket hats ($45).

Of course, nothing sells seats like winning. The Roughnecks were 5-0 and dominating the league last time the XFL played. That was 2020 when Covid-19 cut the season short. That was then …

This is now. Much like the Texans (as of this week), the most recognizable and popular figure on the field will be the head coach. The 2023 Roughnecks will be led by NFL veteran Wade Phillips, who has a lot of history and DNA in Houston. Quarterbacks currently on the roster are Cole McDonald from Hawaii, Kaleb Eleby from Western Michigan and Brandon Silvers from Troy State.

Most of the roster will be new names for Houston fans, although the league is bragging that 255 XFL’ers have been on NFL rosters at some point.

The Roughnecks will compete in the XFL South division along with the Arlington Renegades, Orlando Guardians and San Antonio Brahmas. That’s three out of four teams from Texas. The XFL North is comprised of the D.C. Defenders, Seattle Sea Dragons, St. Louis Battlehawks and Vegas Vipers.

Every XFL game (40 regular season, two playoffs, one championship) will air somewhere across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and FX, plus streaming on ESPN+. As they say, check your local listing to find the Roughnecks.

If you think that the XFL is just “too soon,” hold on until April when the Houston Gamblers take the field for the 2023 USFL season. Although don’t get too excited about attending home games. Houston’s “home” is in Birmingham, Ala. I know, silly.

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