Falcon Points

Astros moves set them up for contention this year and beyond

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros made the biggest splash at the trade deadline, acquiring another legitimate ace starter in Zack Greinke. The move makes them the clear favorites to come out of the American League, but also set them up for the future. In addition, they made two other deals to bolster a roster that is now healthy and already loaded. A look at what the moves mean:

Loaded for the stretch in 2019

The Astros might have the best rotation in baseball. They certainly will for the playoffs, when the rotation shortens to three or four pitchers. This is how they will stack up:

Justin Verlander, 14-4, 2.73 ERA

Gerrit Cole 12-5, 2.94

Zack Greinke, 10-4, 2.90

Wade Miley, 9-4, 3.06

Verlander (1), Cole (4) and Miley (6) are all top six in ERA in the American League. Greinke would rank third if he put up the same numbers in the AL. All that means the Astros now have four of the top seven pitchers in the entire American League.

Oh, and with everyone healthy? The lineup is a monster. George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel...That's seven deep of All-Star caliber players.

Throw in a bullpen that when healthy is terrific in the eighth and ninth innings, and there simply is not a better day-in, day-out team in baseball.

The "other" guys

The Astros also re-acquired Martin Maldonado to beef up the catching. They now have two legitimate major league catchers on the roster. Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini add some pitching depth. Biagini adds some more help to the pen, while Sanchez is an intriguing project. At one time, he looked like one of the best young pitchers in baseball. But he has struggled mightily the past few seasons, including this year. But if the Astros can get him right, he could become a nice longterm piece in the rotation, or at least help in the pen. If not? The price was low. It is a low risk, high reward move.

Oh, the future...

The Greinke move also acts as insurance in case Cole leaves in free agency. Of the key players, only Cole and Miley are not under team control next season. So the Astros will be serious contenders in 2020, too. Even if they lose Cole, they will have a top three in the rotation of Verlander/Greinke/Lance McCullers. And odds are they bring at least one of Cole and Miley back. If not? Maybe they fix Sanchez. Maybe Forrest Whitley is finally ready. If they do bring them both back? Next year's rotation will be even better. That's a scary thought. And the everyday lineup will remain virtually the same. If the Astros need to clear some money, they can move Josh Reddick and his $13 million per year if Kyle Tucker is ready. And let's not dismiss the Verlander factor. His acquisition made it cool to be an Astro. Greinke chose to be in Houston and turned down the Yankees. Players want to be in Houston now.

And let's also give the Astros credit for the off-season signings of Brantley and Miley. They were low-risk, manageable contracts that have more than paid off. While Miley will command more money in the off-season, Brantley is back in 2020 at a reasonable number. This team is going to be good for a long time.

The dearly departed

The Astros did give up some assets. But the reality is, trades are supposed to benefit both teams. It also should benefit the players. The Tony Kemp for Maldonado deal helped the Astros and the Cubs. Maldonado was a luxury in Chicago; Kemp had already been designated for assignment. Both should benefit their new teams. As for the Toronto trade, Derek Fisher never quite worked out in Houston and was blocked by Myles Straw and Tucker. Maybe he develops, and at least he gets a chance. As for the Greinke trade? Seth Beer may become a good player. But will he better than Alvarez? J.B. Buskakas is highly regarded but has yet to develop. Corbin Martin just had Tommy John surgery. So who knows? The Astros got a legitimate ace. Even if those players become solid major leaguers, it was worth it.

The bottom line

For the first time, Houston has one of the best run organizations in all of sports. The Rockets try and keep taking chances and maybe it will work out. The Texans? Wasting the careers of DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson by failing to help them. The Astros don't do everything right, but when they make a mistake they correct it. They make bold, thoughtful moves. Will they win another World Series? Maybe. Win or lose, however, they make the right decisions.

And Houston fan should be happy for it.

Houston Astros/Facebook

The Astros had a bad 4-6 road trip and looked forward to getting home to Minute Maid Park where they have been dominant this season. The pitiful Detroit Tigers arrived in Houston with a record since the All Star Break of nine wins and 27 losses. They literally do not have one non-pitcher who would make a healthy Astros' roster. That includes the way over the hill sure fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Splitting four games at home with the Tigers would have been a fail. The Astros did not fail, though "only" taking three out of four seems a little disappointing. The S.S. Astros Good Ship Lollipop has sprung a couple of leaks. Neither that can't be plugged with good health, but the Astros have two notable health issues.

Carlos Correa's next endorsement deal should be for peanut brittle, emphasis not on the peanut. Some guys just have a propensity toward getting injured. Unfortunately the Correa resume grows that he is one of those guys. That back problems have resurfaced is troubling, to no one more so than Correa himself. It's clear the guy loves the game and is spectacularly talented, but durability is one component of greatness and to this point Correa simply has not demonstrated durability. If he can't produce a fully healthy bigtime season or two in the next year or two, any visions of a Manny Machado-like 10 year 300 million dollar contract will be up in smoke. Still, Correa turns only 25 years old next month so there's time to prove sturdiness, but more sand has seeped through the hourglass. For the 2019 Astros the dropdown is huge from Correa at shortstop to either Miles Straw or Aledmys Diaz being in the lineup. As for 2020, please tell anyone saying the Astros should trade Correa to be quiet.

The loss of Ryan Pressly for most if not all of the rest of the regular season is a big blow to the bullpen. Of even bigger concern is whether he can get back and get sharp to start the postseason.

This doesn't mean the ship is sinking. The Astros enter the weekend just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the Astros own the tiebreaker (having won the season series 4-3). They are three back of the Dodgers for best in MLB, the Astros have a three game lead in the tiebreaker with LA (intradivision record). The Yankees play at the Dodgers this weekend so if you're a glass half full person: a Dodger or Yankee loss is guaranteed three days in a row! If you're glass half empty: a Dodger or Yankee win is guaranteed three days in a row!

NFL on the horizon

A little over 2 weeks until the Texans begin their 18th season of play in the National Football League. We've all heard the saying, the 18th time is the charm. So is this the season the Texans are finally a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Probably not. The Texans do not look like a notably improved football team. On paper their schedule is clearly more difficult than last season's. Within the AFC the Chiefs clearly have more overall talent and are better coached. The Patriots still exist. One of these years Tom Brady really will slip. Maybe at age 42 this is the season.

If Jadeveon Clowney opts to sit out, or is traded, anyone thinking he won't be missed, is wrong. Clowney is not a superstar but he's really good. The Texans will be easier to run on without him. And while not an elite pass rusher, Clowney has to be accounted for. Anyone thinking, ah, he's hurt all the time anyway…wrong again. Clowney missed one game last season, and the season before that he played in every game.

If you want a couple of reasons for plausible optimism, here you go. Coming off of last season Deshaun Watson does not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He could well vault into that echelon this season. The Texans' offensive line remains something between a question mark and a glaring weakness, but really, can it be worse than it was the last couple of seasons? DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets today at wide receiver, the same for J.J. Watt at defensive end though the clock is ticking down on his prime.

The Texans probably begin their season by losing at New Orleans. On the other hand the Buccaneers started their 5-11 2018 season by beating the 13-3 to be Saints in New Orleans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Connor McGregor pitches some "number 12" brand of whisky. As a human being he seems much more a piece of number two. 2. Two peas in a pitching pod: Justin Verlander 15-5, 2.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts. Gerrit Cole 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 238 strikeouts. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans


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