THE PALLILOG

Here's how a lockout could impact free agency for Carlos Correa, Astros

The collective bargaining agreement expires December 1st. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Winning a silver medal at the Olympics is a tremendous achievement. It is only disappointing when compared specifically to winning the gold. The "second place is just first loser" position is stupid, if an amusing phrase. The Astros losing the World Series for the second time in three years was disappointing for them and all Astros' fans, but getting there for the third time in five years was spectacular. The Braves were clearly the better team over the run of the series and them winning it is a very, very minor upset. There is nothing to be learned from it for the Astros unless "hit and pitch better" are learning points.

So now what? The white-hot front burner story is the Carlos Correa watch. How many years, how many dollars, and of course, with what team? Correa can cut a deal as soon as Sunday night. As opposed to the NFL and NBA, typically in baseball the megadollar free agent deals don't happen when the green flag for signings drops. This is not a typical start to free agency however. The collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expires December 1st. Without a deal a lockout ensues. Along with shutting off dealmaking, a lockout raises the possibility of an ugly drawn out negotiation that disrupts the start of next season, in turn raising the spectre of significant financial damage going forward. You'd like to think the two sides wouldn't be so stupid as to get there but we'll see. If that were to occur what would that mean for the money landscape? With that in mind does Correa lock in a deal before December 1? It's not as if his soon-to-be son's college fund is riding on it, but it's a consideration.

Let's say Correa commands eight years 250 million dollars. That's three years and 125 million more dollars than the Astros' last offer back in the spring. Would Jim Crane and partners swallow hard and go that far? How would Correa respond to Astros' willingness to match a quarter billion dollar offer as opposed to originating it themselves? Correa has talked of his Astros tenure in the past tense. Is that in part preparing himself for a reality of moving on if the Astros' offer is non-competitive? Is it strictly most years, most dollars? Does he want to become "The Man" elsewhere such as a Detroit or Seattle?

Unless accepting that the end years of the deal will be at least somewhat sunk cost, a team would be silly to offer longer than eight years. Even eight is pushing it. Correa is a big guy. It would be unprecedented for him to be an elite defensive shortstop at 34 or 35 years old. He certainly could move to third base or first base or left field as he ages, but Correa's premium value is because he plays a stellar shortstop in addition to usually being a very good offensive player. He is not an offensive superstar.

Full steam ahead for Texans and Rockets, kind of

The Astros' 2022 season is scheduled to open March 31 (please, please, please!) In the meantime we have the Texans and the Rockets. Gawd. They both enter the weekend with records of 1-7. The Texans Travesty drones on with the passing of the trade deadline and nothing happening with Deshaun Watson. Reports a couple weeks ago of a deal with the Dolphins being close were obviously bogus. No one was ponying up anything close to what Nick Caserio was seeking, so Watson will make his full 11.2 million dollar salary to never play this season.

Reminder, the Rockets are paying John Wall over 44 mil to never play this season. However, with their rebuild underway, while the Rockets won't be good for a while, they are not the laughingstock organization of their sport.

It feels more like 40 seasons ago than four that Chris Paul helped the Rockets get closer to the NBA Finals than they've otherwise been in the last quarter century. Before helping the Phoenix Suns beat the Rockets Thursday, Paul this week jumped Steve Nash for third on the NBA all-time assists list. Going forward, if Paul averaged 10 assists per game and never missed a game until he turns 42, he still wouldn't catch John Stockton for number one. The assists gap from Stockton to CP3 (with Jason Kidd in between) is larger than the gap between Paul and Jose Calderon who is 63rd. No Rocket fan favorite, and like Paul, NBA championship ring-less, but Stockton was amazing.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. The college basketball season starts Tuesday. Yes! Off its Final Four run UH opens ranked 15th. Kelvin Sampson's team is different but I'd bet a small fortune they will D up, pound the boards, and be pretty, pretty, pretty good. Final Four again? Of course not likely, but not impossible.

2. Had Watson been traded to the Dolphins a couple weeks ago he'd play against the Texans Sunday. THAT would have been a must-watch. Instead, the 1-7 Texans at the 1-7 Dolphins? Run! Run away!

3. Greatest Dolphins: Bronze-Artis Gilmore Silver-Dan Marino Gold-Flipper

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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