Astros insider reveals how Correa negotiations may take an interesting turn

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Carlos Correa's production this season is putting a lot of pressure on the Astros organization to make a tough decision on bringing back the All Star shortstop. ESPN Houston's John Granato and Lance Zierlein discuss how the on-field results could dictate the outcome of the team's negotiations with Correa and what they are hearing behind the scenes. Don't miss the inside information at the 4:10 mark of the video.

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The Astros open square off against the Nationals on Saturday. Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images.

The Astros open their Grapefruit League schedule Saturday against the Washington Nationals at the spring training park they share in West Palm Beach. This does not induce goosebumps but we’ll take it since it means the regular season opener is little more than a month away. In 2017 the Astros moved their spring training base east from Kissimmee, the Nationals moved theirs south from Viera. Dusty Baker was the Nationals’ manager that year. 2017 worked out pretty well for the Astros. Dusty got fired after the 2017 season, which in time worked out pretty well for him too. Two years later the Nationals won their first World Series (no need to recap how). In the four seasons since the Astros and Nationals have been pretty much diametrically opposed. For the Astros it’s been another World Series title, four more American League Championship Series appearances, and three more AL West crowns. For the Nats, four consecutive last place finishes in the National League East. Washington’s 71-91 record last season was its best record of the last four seasons. The Astros certainly expect more excellence in 2023. No one expects the Nationals to not stink again this year. I mean, name three current Nationals. Good luck.

Hope springs eternal

Winning and losing in spring training is of no consequence. We’ll hear stories about “building winning expectations, culture, and environment” and other flim-flam. The team results are meaningless. They are not predictive of the regular season ahead. Best spring training record in Florida last year? The Cardinals, who went on to produce their worst season in 28 years. Best spring training record in Arizona last year? The Angels, who went on to be, the Angels.

Individual player statistics aren’t a big deal either, other than where they help guys win big league jobs. You may recall that for a stretch last spring training, Justin Dirden was all the rage at Astros’ camp. He was pounding the ball, batting over .300 with eye-opening power that produced an OPS over 1.000! Dirden didn’t make the big club and went on to have a poor season at AAA Sugar Land. So results should be taken with many grains of salt, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t developments worth tracking and fun to follow.

Being as good as they are, among non-pitchers the Astros have very few roster spots up for grabs, but here are a couple of spring training storylines…

How will the pendulum swing on Jeremy Pena with his retooled swing? Pena had a solid rookie season followed by a superstar postseason. He was great in spring training last year (see what I mean?) then had a lackluster sophomore season. Leaving the financials out of it, there are several American League shortstops you’d take over Pena for 2024. Corey Seager, Bobby Witt Jr., Bo Bichette, J.P. Crawford, and Gunnar Henderson all were obviously better players last season (note that Carlos Correa is not on that list). Witt, Bichette, and Rookie of the Year winner Henderson are all younger than Pena. If Pena winds up the sixth or seventh-best shortstop in the AL that’s a solid starter, but he needs to make a notable leap if there is star level production in his future.

The disappearance of Pena’s power was near total as last year went along. He hit six home runs by the end of April then just four more the rest of the season, not one after July 5. That said, Pena had a fabulous month of August when he hit .333 while drawing more walks than he did in any two other months combined. If Pena can pair his .324 on base percentage of 2023 (it was .289 in ’22) with 2022’s .426 slugging percentage (which plunged to .381 last year) everyone who roots for the Astros should be pleased. That would not be anything approaching a stud offensive player but fine for a guy who should slot eighth in the batting order. A .760 OPS combined with strong defense is a good shortstop.

It seems few believe in the guy who probably bats ninth opening day, Jake Meyers. That he works cheap is definitely a reason the Astros intend to give Meyers a shot as the primary center fielder. It is simple truth that Meyers has been a lousy offensive player the last two years. In 605 at bats as an Astro he has struck out a whopping 192 times. Nevertheless, Meyers should still give the Astros more production out of the nine-hole than did Martin Maldonado. The defensive metrics say Meyers is an excellent glove man, despite having more of a noodle arm than a rifle.

Looking for more Astros content?

A mention that our second season of the Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast is off and running. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics weekly. On our regular schedule the post goes up Monday afternoon. You can get the video version (first part released Monday, second part Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: Stone Cold 'Stros - YouTube with the complete audio available at initial release Monday via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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