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With a busy offseason ahead, here are some big names that could join the Astros

The Astros roster will have a different look next season. Composite image by Jack Brame.

With the division won and a likely top seed clinch in the coming days, the Astros are rightly focused on finishing the regular season strong and heading into the postseason with as much momentum as they can bring with them. Still, that won't stop the Hot Stove chatter that will likely pick up steam quickly as we near the offseason.

In recent years, Houston has done a great job of replacing top-tier talent that many would've deemed irreplaceable at the time. The likes of George Springer and Carlos Correa, dear to the hearts of Astros fans, made bittersweet departures, yet the Astros have found the right combination of players to fill those voids.

How long can that be sustained, though? A recent ranking of farm systems put the Astros 29th, better than only the Angels, in terms of their minor-league talent pool. The draft pick hits handed down due to the sign-stealing scandal have been a part of that. So, if it is indeed the case that the well is running dry in terms of home-grown talent, what if the Astros shifted strategy and started being more aggressive in the free agent market?

Houston has several players hitting free agency themselves

Like in the last few years, the Astros will see some turnover this offseason, though to which degree will be determined by who they choose to pick up options or give offers high enough to get re-signings.

Justin Verlander will likely not execute his half of the mutual option, which would bring him back to Houston for $25 million. The presumptive Cy Young winner will probably get much more, whether with Houston in a new contract or elsewhere.

The Astros are in line to lose one of their catchers, with the rental period for Christian Vázquez ending after this season. Yuli Gurriel will also be hitting the market and potentially playing for a team other than Houston for the first time should someone else give him a contract offer he accepts.

Michael Brantley, absent most of this season with an injury, will also see his time with the Astros coming to an end if a new contract doesn't happen. Pair those players leaving potential holes in the roster, along with a strong free agent class this offseason, and what could the 2023 Houston Astros look like if they make some big moves?

Time for upgrades?

Let's assume for these scenarios that the Astros don't work out deals to re-sign some of the players mentioned earlier. With Vázquez gone, who do the Astros turn to at catcher besides Martin Maldonado? Sure, they have some young talent available, like Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz, but what if they want to go further?

The Astros were already part of the rumor mill for Chicago Cubs' Wilson Contreras at this year's trade deadline. He shapes up to be the top catcher available this offseason, so it could make sense for Houston to finally get him on their team. If Gurriel goes elsewhere, a few potential players could also fill his spot, like 2020 AL MVP José Abreu.

To replace Brantley as an outfielder and decent bat, the Astros could take their pick from a long list of outfielders, such as Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Nimmo, and Mitch Haniger, to name a few. Still, the Astros could really make some waves if they bring in some even bigger names.

The huge splashes that would shake things up

Let's talk about the names that will be the focal point of the Hot Stove, though. Jeremy Peña had big shoes to fill this season, and in his first full year at the shortstop position, he has been more than adequate. But what if Carlos Correa opts out of his contract with the Twins, and a potential reunion is in order? Or, what if Houston goes even further and has a chance to go after some of the league's best, like Trea Turner?

There's no question that Houston's pitching in 2022 has been one of, if not the best, staff in all of baseball. If Verlander opts out to get a bigger payday, could the Astros try to get a new elite-tier ace to lead their rotation? Two names could cause a frenzy; Jacob DeGrom and Carlos Rodón, who both have opt-outs available if they think they could garner more money elsewhere.

Then, there's the ultimate signing that some team will get ahead of 2023, and that's Aaron Judge. The Yankees made a costly mistake by not working out a deal with him before this season, as he has gone on to put together one of the best seasons ever. While there may be some lingering animosity on his end from the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, what if, and it's a big if, he buries that hatchet? What if he wants to really stick it to his former team and join the side of the rivalry that has been a thorn in New York's side in recent postseasons?

These scenarios may be, and in the case of Judge likely is, a pipe dream in some cases, but there's no question that the Astros will need to make some moves this winter if they want to keep their championship window open as wide as it is today.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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