EYES ON THE PRIZE

5 thrilling Astros New Year's resolutions to keep an eye on

Here's hoping for a championship year in 2022! Composite image by Jack Brame.

Even though it's been a few days since the calendar flipped from 2021 to 2022, It's never too late to make some New Year's resolutions.

For the Astros, their number one goal is to not only make it back to the World Series, but to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy at the end of the season.

If Houston would like to return to the World Series for the 4th time in six years, a few things need to be done prior to the start of their 2022 campaign.

  • Re-sign Correa

Let’s address the elephant in the room, the Astros should be all-in to re-sign the two time All-Star shortstop within reason. It has become public knowledge that Correa wants a 10 plus year deal worth over $300 million.

The Astros offered him a 5-year deal worth $160 million which was rejected, and the Detroit Tigers were willing to give the 27-year-old a 10 year $275 million offer. This was turned down by his party as well.

There were reported talks between Correa and both the Yankees and the Cubs before MLB entered into their lockout. Needless to say, there are still some suitors left vying for his service at that price.

It can be assumed that the Tigers are out of the sweepstakes after they signed Javier Baez to a 6-year $140 million deal. That fills their need at shortstop, leaving only a few teams left in his market.

If New York and Chicago are unwilling to give Correa the contract he desires, he could lower his asking price, bringing the Astros back into the mix to re-sign their All-Star shortstop.

If a different club signs Correa once free agency resumes, Houston needs to look at other options.

  • Have a back-up plan at shortstop just in case

The Astros supposedly had interest in Colorado Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story before the work stoppage occurred.

Of course, Correa’s ceiling is much higher than Story’s, but the 29-year-old Texas native could still provide an All-Star level of production in Houston’s infield.

He is a better option than the Astros have in-house as well.

Theoretically, Houston could move Alex Bregman to a SS role which he is familiar with, but his best baseball seems to be played at 3rd base and a position would need to be filled at the hot corner.

Another option could be Aledmys Diaz as the full-time shortstop, but he seems to be best used in the utility role. He provides much-needed bench depth, and is capable of giving an infielder a day off. Although not a terrible option, Diaz's versatility is best utilized as a bench role, so the team would prefer to use someone else.

The Astros could call up Jeremy Pena or Pedro Leon to fill that void, but they may not be ready just yet.

Signing a veteran like Story would extend their championship window by a few years.

The team still has almost everyone under contract past the 2022 season, except for players like Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley.

Ultimately, if the Astros can’t sign Correa, they should sign Story to play shortstop. He would be a cheaper option, and could still bring an elite level of production to shortstop.

  • Retool the bullpen

With the departures of Kendall Graveman, Yimi Garcia and Brooks Raley, Houston may look to add some necessary arms to upgrade their bullpen this offseason.

Ryan Pressly had an All-Star season as the team's closer and Ryne Stanek has developed into a decent late inning arm who could be used in different spots, but there is always room for more relief pitchers.

The best remaining free agent relievers left include Kenley Jansen, Ryan Tepera, former Astro Collin McHugh and Brad Hand. Any of these players could fill a 7th or 8th inning role and be a serviceable arm out of the pen if the Astros are willing to spend this offseason.

Houston should also be receiving a healthy Pedro Baez back, who could fill that 7th or 8th inning role as well.

Cristian Javier preformed well at the beginning of the season. He was moved from a staring pitcher role to a relief position and could take the mound for some important innings down the stretch in the 2022 season.

The bullpen is already strong, but it can become deadly if some key additions can be made.

  • Starting pitching depth

The Astros realized they had a lack of quality starting pitching depth once Lance McCullers went down with a forearm strain during Game 4 of the ALDS. Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Jose Urqudiy were supposed to fill that void he left behind, but had very hit or miss performances throughout the remainder of the postseason.

Valdez had one great start in which he pitched eight innings and allowed only three hits during Game 5 of the ALCS. Every other postseason appearance the 28-year-old failed to record more than 4.1 innings of work.

Garcia also fell victim to inconsistent outings, as he only threw for more than five innings once during the postseason.

The re-signing of Justin Verlander should help the pitching depth and McCullers could come back and have a strong 2022 campaign.

Houston will most likely not retain veteran Zack Greinke, giving the Astros a potential rotation of Verlander, McCullers, Valdez, Garcia and Urquidy.

Jake Oddorizzi could factor into this pitching staff as well. The 31-year-old still has two years left on his contract, and it seems the Astros will either give him one more opportunity to become a starter or trade him before the season starts.

Houston should sign one more starting pitcher to be safe before the season starts to add a bit more depth.

  • Have baseball in 2022

As of December 1st, Major League Baseball is in a lockout, therefore players cannot sign with any team or even speak to their respected clubs. Aside from a few minor meetings here and there, the owners and the Major League Players Association have yet to formally work out a deal.

Baseball is in a state of limbo with no end in sight. The hope is that a deal will get done before Spring Training starts on Saturday, February 26th.

In order for the Astros to accomplish these resolutions, Major League Baseball must first find an end to this work stoppage.

This year wouldn’t be the same without baseball. Let’s hope both the owners and the MLBPA feel the same way.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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