Evaluating the Astros at the halfway point

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Image

Tuesday's doubleheader against the Angels represented games 30 and 31 of the shortened 60 game season, pushing the Astros past the halfway point of the year. The Astros are 17-14, which is 2nd in the AL West, 4.5 GB of the division leading Athletics. Of course, because of the expanded playoffs this season, 2nd place is good enough to get the Astros in the playoffs as a six seed. If the playoffs started today, they would square off against the Yankees.

What have the major storylines of the first half been (brawling aside)?


This bears repeating from a previous story. Take a gander at this pitching staff.

Gerrit Cole

Justin Verlander

Wade Miley

Collin McHugh

Jose Urquidy

Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon, Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski, Joe Biagini, Cionel Perez

While, yes, a majority of the names on that staff are unavailable due to free agent departure, the likes of Verlander, Urquidy, Osuna, Smith, Peacock, Biagini, and Perez have all been unavailable for all of or portions of the season due to injury. Now, one could argue that the Astros would be better off with some of these guys on the IL instead, but that's a discussion for another day. The Astros staff has been ravaged by injuries, and that's just on the pitching side.

Yordan Alvarez was available for less than a week, Michael Brantley spent a stint on the IL, George Springer missed time with injury, and Alex Bregman is currently unavailable due to injury. Those guys alone would create one of the most fearsome foursomes in MLB regardless of the supporting cast. Luckily for the Astros, the rest of the supporting staff is pretty good, which is why the team has stayed afloat, but the injury bug has certainly bit the Astros.

New Faces

People say when a door closes another one opens. The exodus of talent and injury issues have provided opportunity for some youngsters to seize. Kyle Tucker has played the best baseball of his big league career over the last two weeks, Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor seem like legitimate bullpen options long term, Framber Valdez has been the Astros second best starter, and Cristian Javier has been impressive at times. All-in-all, the Astros can't be too upset with what they've gotten from their young crop of players.

Struggling Stars

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer have all stumbled out of the gates to different degrees. Springer and Altuve's batting averages add up to .400 (.207 and .193 respectively), which isn't very good. Bregman was just starting to really heat up before straining his hamstring in Colorado and hitting the IL. With Alvarez out of the lineup for the year, it's hard to take the Astros seriously as a contender without these guys posing a threat and clicking. Let's hope they can get it together sooner rather than later.

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Life after Correa may not be the worst thing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Carlos Correa is having a damn good year. The Astros shortstop is hitting .285 with 24 homers, 87 RBI, 72 walks, .862 OPS, a 7.2 WAR, and a .981 fielding percentage. In any other year, those would be numbers worthy of being in the mix for AL MVP (if it weren't for that dastardly Shohei Otani). Correa is also in a contract year. He and the Astros were far enough apart that the season started and he's held true to not wanting to negotiate midseason.

The offers of six years for $120 million and five years for $125 million were both rejected by he and his camp. They're seeking something much longer and for more money on the annual average. With the team unwilling to meet those demands, it seems as if the team and the player are headed for a split.

Lots of Astros fans are not happy with the prospect of Correa leaving via free agency. Some think the team isn't doing enough and should pony up to bring him back. Some feel Correa should take what they're offering because it's a fair deal that'll allow the team to sign other players. Then, there's that small band of us that are totally okay with him leaving.

One of the main reasons I'm okay with him leaving is the players the team still has under control that are potential replacements. Aledmys Diaz and Pedro Leon are the first two guys that come to mind. Diaz is a 31-year-old vet who's stepped up when he's called upon. He can slide over to third and allow Alex Bregman to play shortstop. Leon is the team's 23-year-old hot prospect who signed as an outfielder that the team has been trying to turn into a shortstop. If Correa were to leave, he could instantly plug the hole Carlos would leave behind. Either of those options lead to my next point of being okay with Correa leaving which is to...

...allocate that money elsewhere. Whether it's signing a replacement (at short or third), or boosting the pitching staff, I'll be fine as long as it's money well spent. Signing a shortstop or third baseman would determine where Bregman would be playing. If said player takes significantly less than Correa and fills 70-80% of his offensive shoes, it'll be worth it. Others will have to step it up. If they find a deal on a top of the rotation starting pitcher, that would be ideal as well. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this team has employed a six-man rotation, but doesn't have a true ace. Spending anywhere from $20-30 million a year on a top-notch pitcher to add to the staff would bolster this staff in more ways than one. It'll finally give them the ace they lack, plus it'll bump all the young talent (still under team control) down a peg creating depth and perhaps even creating bullpen depth.

The only way any of this works is if Correa isn't back. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's money comes off the books also. Freeing up that much payroll and not re-appropriating those resources to ensure this team stays in contention would be a first degree felony in sports court. I don't think Jim Crane wants that for this team. I for sure don't think James Click wants that as his legacy. Let's sit back and watch how the organization maneuvers this offseason and pray they get it right.

Editor's note: If you want to read the other side of the argument, check out Ken Hoffman's piece from Tuesday.

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