How the landscape in Houston sports is giving off 2017 vibes

Something similar could be on the horizon. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

There are good times on the horizon. If things go well, all three major pro sports teams in Houston will be in contention for playoff appearances at the same time. I know, I know. The Texans are not good right now and just traded a franchise quarterback. The Rockets just finished with the worst record in the league for the second year in a row. The Astros are back but lost a top star for the second consecutive offseason. Things are fragile, but there is a silver lining for all three. This hasn't been the case since October 2017.

Back then, things were looking up all across the board for every franchise of the major three. The Texans had drafted their franchise quarterback. While they'd end that season 4-12, they went into the bye week 3-3. After a half of football by Tom Savage in the opening game, Deshaun Watson came in and showed why he was drafted so high. He tore his ACL after the week eight loss to Seattle and that sent the season into a tailspin. Despite an abrupt end to their hopes, that team had a bright future.

The 2016-17 Rockets had come off a .500 season previously and would begin that season showing some promise after signing some new pieces to go along with James Harden. They'd finish 3rd in the West losing to the Spurs in the conference semis. It was the beginning of a period of play in which they would be thought of as contenders. Meanwhile, the Astros were busy winning the 2017 World Series and bringing this city its first major pro sports title since the '94-'95 Rockets. They were young, refreshing, and very talented. This was the first of five consecutive ALCS or more appearances.

I see something similar on the horizon. The Astros may have lost a couple stars, but they're still rolling. Some key guys are getting healthy, and the core is older, but this team still has the firepower to contend. They entered this season as a +1000 to win it all which was the third-best odds on the board at the time. The Rockets have a future star in Jalen Green, as well as a couple other guys that show some potential. Owning a potential top three pick in a loaded top half of the draft and armed with an additional first rounder could help propel this team into contention a lot sooner than what most thought. The Texans now own two first rounders in this draft and the next two after that. Rebuilds in the NFL are aided by wise decisions on free agents and drafting well. If they can take advantage of the opportunities in front of them, they too will be back in the playoff picture sooner than later.

In life, we sometimes have to take a few steps back before we can truly move forward. You'll get knocked down and taken off the path you're on many times. What defines you is how many times you continue to get up and persevere despite your circumstances. Each of these teams has had some challenges lately. Some have had more than others. However, I can see the Texans, Rockets, and Astros all giving the city of Houston something to be proud of at the same time very soon.

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Willson Contreras could give the Astros some extra pop in the lineup. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

“The Hot Stove League” is the nickname given to Major League Baseball's offseason. In particular, the free agent signing period in late November/early December. Trades are also made during this period. Now that Astros' owner Jim Crane has ousted all opposition to his idea of how things should be run, he's free to do things the way he sees fit.

He opened it by not hiring a general manager to replace James Click. Instead, he opted for a committee of assistant GMs. Those guys are assisted by some special advisors, like former Astros great Jeff Bagwell. Crane likes and wants to take a big swing at things. He'd probably hit about .250 with 30-plus home runs every season. Can't leave out his guaranteed 80-100 strikeouts. Typical power hitter. It's all or nothing, except Crane has been making great contact and knocking some things out of the park.

Signing Jose Abreu was an example. Yuli Gurriel looked as if he was losing the battle with “Father Time” during the regular season. This was an insurance policy at first, and designated hitter. Another prime example is their reported interest in C/DH/LF Willson Contreras. His bat would be a major upgrade over past Astro catchers. Although Martin Maldonado may not be going anywhere, having a quality bat to relieve him is key. Add the fact that he plays some outfield, and he's almost a “two birds with one stone” type of signing.

Abreu may be 35 years old, but he's coming off a year hitting .304 with 15 home runs. Contreras may be the younger of the two at 30, but his .243 average hurts the fact that he hit 22 home runs. Both sport an OPS above .800 for their careers. Bagwell said he wants Yordan Alvarez to play left field 45% of the time. The other 55% can be Contreras, Chas McCormick (assuming Jake Meyers is still in the mix for center field), and whoever else they sign or bring up from Sugar Land. When Contreras isn't in left, he needs to be behind the plate or hitting DH. I'd really love the idea of him sitting under Maldonado's learning tree for a year and taking over catcher long-term. Not many can be the catcher "Machete" is, but hitting 50 points better than him has its advantages.

Then there's the reported interest other teams have in Justin Verlander. Supposedly, the Mets have met with him via Zoom. The Dodgers are interested and are seemingly the leaders in the clubhouse to sign him. However, I wouldn't count Crane and crew out. He may come to JV last minute and offer him something comparable in order to keep him around. He strikes me as the type of guy who'll keep his plays close to the vest, then make a Godfather type of offer. He negotiated Verlander's last deal with the team himself. Coming off a World Series win, Cy Young win, and opting out of said deal, Verlander is most likely looking to get one final payday that'll also land him on a contender.

Having a winner is one thing. Having a winner committed to winning long-term is another. Crane wants to strike while the iron is hot. Sure, he wants his franchise to be sustainable. But he also wants to keep the World Series window open as long as possible. Kyle Tucker's next deal will be one to watch. Having an embarrassment of riches on the pitching staff means you have trade bait. Keep an eye on old Jimmy Crane. I think he might be the best thing to hit Houston sports in quite some time.

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