Here's what to expect from the Astros in 2020

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The Astros failed to fulfill their ultimate objective. They didn't choke. They lost. They were beaten. Sports happens. Again and again. In this instance most of the Major League Baseball world is happy about it. After the Astros organization's disgraceful performance through the Brandon Taubman situation, schadenfreude is one apt word for how many around baseball feel about the Astros coming up one win short of winning a second World Series in three years.

107 wins and an American League Pennant don't get flushed down the toilet because the Astros lost the World Series to one of the greatest in-season turnaround stories ever in sports. The Washington Nationals opened the season 19-31. From that point forward their record was better than the Astros. There was nothing flukey about the Nats taking it away when the Astros were so close to living up to their Take It Back slogan (though the road team winning all seven games was unprecedentedly nuts). The Nats trailed by two runs in the eighth inning of their Wild Card game vs. Milwaukee. They trailed by two runs in the eighth inning of the decisive fifth game of their Division Series at the Dodgers. Finally, they trailed by two runs in the seventh inning of World Series game seven at Minute Maid Park. The more deserving team won the World Series.

Gerrit Cole is highly likely a goner. The Astros presently project as a luxury team without Cole. Adding another 35+ mil per season to keep him seems a pipe dream. Cole may also simply prefer to go home to California. The pitching-desperate Angels are a logical direction with their stadium not even five miles from where Cole went to high school. However, the Angels can't offer perennial contention. The Dodgers can.

Cole's exit leaves the Astros 2020 projected starting rotation as 37 year old Justin Verlander, 36 year old Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers off of Tommy John surgery, Jose Urquidy off mixed results and one wonderful five inning World Series start, and who knows as number five. They figure to shop the bargain bin as with Wade Miley last offseason. The best free agent starting pitcher out there after Cole is freshly minted World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg if he opts out of the remaining four years and 100 million dollars on his Nats' deal. Zero chance the Astros would be on him. Zack Wheeler of the Mets might be next best, while nowhere close to Cole/Strasburg money the Astros would have to stretch the budget on a multiyear offer.

The bullpen faces turnover too. Will Harris gave it up in games six and seven, tainting an otherwise spectacular season. He hits free agency at 35 years old seeking a multiyear contract. The Astros owe Ryan Pressly 17 million over the next two seasons, average closer Roberto Osuna probably jumps to nine mil+ via salary arbitration or settlement beforehand, Brad Peacock roughly half that. Cheap guys like Josh James and Bryan Abreu factor in, and probably Joe Biagini. Hector Rondon and Joe Smith come off the books. Smith at a reduced salary would be worth bringing back. Chris Devenski's 2.625 million dollar option could be passed on.

The top seven batters in the Astros lineup collectively had a disappointing postseason, the offense petering out with puny two run outputs in the final two games of the season. Still, no team in MLB has a better one through seven. All will be back in 2020. That leaves Josh Reddick and catcher. Reddick is a gamer, but his level of play fell off dramatically the last two seasons and his postseason resume is lousy. The Astros would give away Reddick if they could but good luck finding a taker for the 13 million dollars on the final season of his contract. If the Astros eat half that money maybe they can move Reddick. Obviously Kyle Tucker gets a shot as the primary right fielder in 2020.

Texans, college football, and Rockets

J.J. Watt's season being done is sad, and ominous for the Texans. Their porous secondary is even more compromised with the diminished pass rush. A win over the Jaguars in London Sunday gives the Texans some margin for error at 6-3. A loss, and they're in trouble with the next three games against the Ravens, Colts, and Patriots.

Tom Herman claiming last week's UT loss to a middling TCU team is not a setback for the Longhorn program is laughable. The Horns could win out for 9-3. They're as likely to finish 7-5. That would be a weak third season of the Herman Era. LSU is pretty pleased these days that Herman used Baton Rouge as a stalking horse ahead of leaving U-of-H for Austin.

Unless you're really into the Rockets and/or love the NBA, it's tough to get into basketball with baseball just ending and football in full stride. If you missed it Wednesday with your attention rightfully focused on Astros-Nationals game seven, the Rockets scored 159 at Washington. In regulation! And won by one point!

Buzzer Beaters: 

1. The Astros open as the favorites to win the 2020 World Series. Though they probably won't. 2. Clocks back an hour tomorrow night. Put me down for Team Year Round Daylight Saving Time. 3. With "cold" weather here, best soups: Bronze-New England clam chowder Silver-Split pea Gold-Lobster bisque.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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