If you need even more validation of Astros championship formula, consider this

José Abreu looks like a bargain for the Astros. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Tuesday marked 79 days before the Astros open their regular season March 30 against the Chicago White Sox. What’s the big deal about 79 days? Nothing, but it creates a segue to digging deeper on the Astros’ big free agent acquisition of the offseason. That is first baseman José Abreu who will become the first Astro ever to wear number 79 in a regular season game. Aside: three players have worn number 99 for the Astros. If you can name all three you are either A. a cheater or B. an Astros savant of the highest echelon. Answer at the end of the column.

At the point the Astros signed José Abreu, going to three years at 19 and a half million dollars per season for the soon-to-be 36-year-old seemed a bit long and pricey. Now after the drunken sailor spending in so many other places this offseason, three years 58.5 mil for Abreu seems a bargain. It certainly will be if he produces at his recent level of performance. Should Abreu drop off mildly from his 2022 showing, he’d still be a marked offensive upgrade over Yuli Gurriel. La Piña tumbled over and down the hill last season though at least he delivered some in the postseason. Still, Abreu’s average offensive season over his eight big league seasons is better than Yuli’s best season. Abreu’s home run power dropped off sharply in 2022. In fact it was cut in half: 30 homers in 2021, just 15 last year (and with 35 more at bats). Concerning? Sure. But while the power declined, his batting average and on base percentage improved. Abreu’s .301 average combined with a career high 62 walks gave him an outstanding .378 OBP. Yuli is the better defensive first baseman of the two (Jose Altuve, Jeremy Peña, and Alex Bregman may all have moments where they think “Yuli would have saved me an error on that one.”) but Abreu is no clod there. Unless he falls off a cliff, the rich get richer with Abreu succeeding Gurriel.

Presuming Jeremy Peña gets to pick up where he left off in the batting order (second), Abreu may slot in the six spot behind Altuve, Peña, Yordan Alvarez, Bregman, and Kyle Tucker. That’s one heck of a six-hole threat. In 1268 career starts with the White Sox, no manager ever wrote in Abreu lower than fifth in the batting order (and only six times did he bat fifth).

Father Time gets all who battle him until the end, but until we see it happen, Abreu can be counted upon as a durable and productive performer. Frame of reference time. Carlos Correa (how about the way his free agent ship sailed?) has been on a big league roster for a full-length season six times. In only two of them has he played 136 or more games. José Abreu has eight full-length seasons on his resume, in only two of them has he played fewer than 152 games.

No shortage of Abreus in Houston

The best baseball-playing Abreu of all-time (Bobby) began his career with the Astros, the second best (José) looks to end his career with them. After his explosion to excellence last seat season, Astros’ reliever Bryan Abreu seems in a good spot to be the third best ever Abreu. There have been nine Abreus to make it to the Majors.

Wild stuff

Astros number 99 wearers. The first was “The Wild Thing” Mitch Williams. After having a 43 save season with the 1993 Phillies end with his giving up Joe Carter’s World Series-ending home run, Williams was dealt to the Astros. His Houston tenure was brief and worse than miserable. A 7.65 earned run average with 24 walks allowed in 20 innings pitched got Williams released less than two months into the season.

Two seasons later Furr High School grad and ex-Houston Cougar Anthony Young finished his big league career pitching for his hometown team. Young holds a crummy Major League record it’s hard to see being broken. Over two seasons with the New York Mets in 1992 and ’93 Young lost 27 consecutive decisions. After battling an inoperable brain tumor Anthony Young died tragically young at 51 in 2017.

The most recent Astro number 99 would be only be recalled by his relatives. Some of his relatives. Rudy Owens made the start on the mound for the Astros May 23, 2014 at Seattle. He took the loss after giving up five earned runs in five and two-thirds innings. That was the first and last big league game in which Rudy Owens pitched.

Looking for more Astros content?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I take part in with Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore.

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