CHARLIE PALLILO

Astros forced to 'settle' for solid year; will have to retool for next season

Dallas Keuchel has likely seen his time as an Astro come to an end. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros slogan for 2018 was “Never Settle.” A bit of a bummer typing that using past tense. Sometimes in life one is forced to settle. There is zero shame in losing to a team as tremendous as the Boston Red Sox have been all year. And it’s not as if the Astros “settled” via lesser effort or desire. They were beaten by a Sox squad that validated its record as the best team in the American League. So the Astros settle for one World Series championship. At least for now. The Astros had a heckuva team this year and should have a heckuva team for the next several years.

Even having the clearly best team (which the Astros did not) assures little in terms of winning it all in baseball. After the Cubs broke their 108 year championship drought in 2016 the “D” (as in dynasty) word was thrown around. Two years later they haven’t been back to the Series, this year they didn’t even survive the Wild Card game.

The Astros have some serious personnel questions to answer this offseason, but their core remains phenomenal. Having graduated so much talent to the majors, their farm system is no longer one of the three or four best in the game but there is still enough depth to deal. Pursuing Marlins’ catcher J.T. Realmuto should be obligatory for General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Brian McCann is basically at the end of the line. Martin Maldonado isn’t good enough to be resigned and handed the primary job. He had an oddly bad series behind the plate against Boston. Max Stassi is not a prospect of consequence.

Do they try to resign one of Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton? Keuchel probably gets too much money elsewhere. His innings eating has value. Lance McCullers simply cannot be counted on for a healthy full season. And Keuchel had the better ERA this year. Collin McHugh may wind up back in the rotation. Josh James and Framber Valdez are potential factors.

Their top free agent resign priority should be Marwin Gonzalez. After an awful first half Marwin got it back together and his versatility is tremendous. But what will the free agent market offer him?

The Astros are in a manageable payroll situation for 2019. Starting in 2020 they have huge financial balls to juggle or drop. Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole can both be free agents after next season. In 2020 Jose Altuve’s salary jumps from nine and a half to 29 million dollars. George Springer will command a raise from 12 million dollars. Carlos Correa will enter his second year of salary arbitration, Alex Bregman his first.  The Astros aren’t jacking up ticket prices out of pure greed.

Dynasties are never guaranteed.

West’s World

With finality: the Astros were not screwed over on the fan interference call in the first inning of game four. Umpire Joe West will never win Mr. Congeniality, but he’s a good umpire who saw interference clearly occur and made a call. Whether actionable interference occurred was the question. No video or picture conclusively showed Mookie Betts's glove was fully over the wall when the interference occurred.

However, West being West he was full of crap in claiming to a pool reporter that “the replay official said I was right.” Um, no. The call was not confirmed as right, the call was upheld because of the lack of any conclusive evidence to overturn the call.

Defense optional

The Rockets Wednesday night caught a break with Astros-Red Sox dominating the spotlight. I’m pretty sure that getting blown off of their homecourt a la game seven against the Warriors was not the Run It Back the Rockets had in mind.

Overreacting to the first of 82 regular season games is ridiculous, but Carmelo Anthony’s debut was a dud. Three for 10 shooting and a prominent part played in a Rockets’ defense that was an utter joke. The fast-paced Pelicans are potent led by perhaps the best both ends player in the NBA in Anthony Davis, but it was brow raising to see the Rockets torched for 131 points. Brow raising, get it?

There’s a rumor afloat that LeBron James signed with the Lakers over the summer. If so the Rockets certainly have a high profile opportunity to bounce back from their opening night debacle, at Staples Center Saturday night in LeBron’s regular season Laker home debut.

Going South

The AFC South has reverted to stink bomb status which is very helpful for the Texans. As mediocre as they obviously are, should the Texans spring an upset in Jacksonville Sunday they become the definite favorite to win the division. I don’t expect upset springing, unless the Jaguars’ team ego grew so bloated after last season’s run the AFC Championship game that their season is going to continue its recent downward spiral.

Buzzer Beaters

1. It stunk hitting “cancel” on Boston flight reservations.  2. Neither the Longhorns nor Aggies play this weekend. Maybe they could get up a flag football game or something.   3. Best state flags: Bronze-Alaska Silver-California Gold-Texas

 

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Correa could be on his way out. Composite image by Jack Brame.

It has not been the best of times to be a star athlete in Houston. In the last year, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins were solid off for a warm bucket of spit. George Springer won't be back. James Harden and Russell Westbrook rumors are rampant. J.J. Watt might be moving on as well.

Now, reports are the Astros are listening to offers for Carlos Correa.

Predictably, Astros fans are livid. And if it's true, they should be concerned about the bigger picture.

Trading Correa makes sense - if you have no plans on keeping him after next season, as was clearly the case with Springer. If the Astros can get a haul and replenish the farm system, it would be the right move, especially considering Correa's injury history.

But in the long run, it does not bode well for the direction of the team. All recent indications are that the Astros are going cheap.

They would still be a competitive team without Correa, but it would be yet another indication their World Series window has closed. Alex Bregman could slide over to shortstop, but who would play third? And they only have one starting outfielder on the roster as it is. Putting together a competitive lineup around Bregman, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez would still be possible, but if the Astros aren't going to spend money, that could be problematic.

The writing was probably on the wall when the team hired James Click as GM from the notoriously frugal Tampa Bay organization. The good news is the Rays have been successful. But this is a new direction for a team that was not afraid to spend big money to make runs at the World Series.

If they lose Correa, they lose a team leader, one of the few players who embraced the villain role in the wake of the cheating controversy and was not afraid to speak out. But he has never lived up to his MVP potential, has battled injuries and will command big dollars on the open market. He is still young enough to become that kind of player, and someone will gamble big money that he will.

Sadly, if this rumor is true, it won't be the Astros.

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