THE PALLILOG

How the Astros can offset the loss of George Springer offensively

A healthy Yordan Alvarez would make a huge difference. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

With spring training scheduled to open in less than a month the Astros have more significant "ifs" attached to their hopes for success than they've had since exploding as elite in 2017.

Losing George Springer to the Blue Jays is an obvious bummer for Astros' fans. Springer and Jose Altuve were the last two player links to the Sucky Stros' era that built into the Golden Age that has now passed its peak. At six years 150 million dollars for a 31 year old, the Jays overpaid but did so tactically going for it as a large market franchise on an outstanding player of outstanding character.

The Astros cannot come close to replacing the overall talent of Springer who was clearly their best player in the shortened 2020 season, and second behind Alex Bregman in 2019. But the Astros did well in retaining Michael Brantley for two years 32 million, especially after multiple reports claimed Brantley was following Springer to the Jays. Unless Father Time makes a sudden move on him, Brantley, who turns 34 in May, is a rock steady dependable offensive player. Not as good as Springer, but very good.

Now for those "ifs." If Yordan Alvarez is healthy and hits at 85 percent of the clip he did as a rookie he offsets the loss of Springer offensively. If Jose Altuve rebounds from his horrid 2020. If Carlos Correa in his walk year finally has a healthy and heavy hitting season. If Bregman does what most expect him to do. With Brantley back that can be the nucleus of a very strong offense. Better if Yuli Gurriel bounces back from a wretched 2020 showing that was washed up looking.

The Astros need a plus defender centerfielder between Brantley in left and Kyle Tucker in right. Myles Straw is the cheap on-campus alternative. Free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. late of the Red Sox makes perfect sense if the price is deemed acceptable. Another plausability is a trade for gifted Tampa Bay glove man Kevin Kiermaier who Astros' General Manager James Click knows well from his time with the Rays. The defending American League champions would be probably be happy to send a check to cover some of the near 26 million dollars Kiermaier has coming over 2021 and '22 and a no-doubt buyout of '23.

Then there's the pitching. Any notion that Lance McCullers, Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier are all likely to deliver quality full seasons in the starting rotation…is silly. Framber Valdez looks like the truth, but he is yet to have a full-length season of success. If ready to answer the bell Zack Greinke should be the opening day starter April 1st. Here's hoping it's April 1st.

The Astros are fortunate to be in the AL West. In the East they'd project behind the Yankees and Jays, and no one should leave the Rays for dead even with their loss of Charlie Morton and trade of Blake Snell. In the Central the Astros would slot behind the White Sox and maybe Twins. In the West, the A's have gotten worse on paper, the Angels haven't gotten markedly better, the Rangers and Mariners are likely to stink again. We still don't know how many teams will be included in the 2021 postseason. As of now it would revert to five teams per league. MLB wants seven but cannot go to that without agreement by the Players' Association.

Rockets roll the dice

The Rockets are not good enough. Which is putting things nicely. The pall that James Harden's presence had become is gone, but so is his talent. Harden was right, the Rockets weren't good enough with him. They certainly aren't without him. They are 4-9 and going nowhere fast. They bought low Thursday night in acquiring 20-year-old guard Kevin Porter Jr. from Cleveland. Raw, gifted, and immature. The last trait is why the Cavaliers dumped the last pick of the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft, for a second round pick. Porter had behavior problems during his one college season at USC, and recently with the Cavs. The Rockets take a shot.

The Rockets have no one who would be any better than the third best player on good teams. Plenty of mediocre to bad teams have better forwards than do the Rockets. P.J. Tucker's days of playing 30-plus minutes per game should be done effective immediately.

John Wall lasting seven mixed bag games before soreness in his twice operated on left knee has had him shut down for over a week now? Geez. Only about 125 mil guaranteed remaining on his deal. At least Russell Westbrook has been worse with the Wizards.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Do the Texans have a Head Coach yet? How about a clue, do they have one of those? Nevertheless, Deshaun Watson should stop with the coy tweets, though they can be fun to parse.

2. The Bills Sunday become the 11th of the 16 AFC teams to play in an AFC Championship Game since the Texans entered the league. The zeros with the Texans: Jets, Dolphins, Browns, and Bengals.

3. Most likely Super Bowl LV matchups (presuming Patrick Mahomes is healthy to play Sunday): Bronze-Bills/Packers Silver-Chiefs/Buccaneers Gold-Chiefs/Packers

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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