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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