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Media insider provides critical context to latest Astros, Alex Bregman report

Astros Alex Bregman
It certainly looks like this will be Bregman's last year with the Astros. Composite image by Jack Brame.
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today, “the Nation’s Newspaper” mind you, dropped this nugget earlier this week:

“The Houston Astros have no interest in trading third baseman Alex Bregman, but have privately resigned to losing him in free agency in a year, realizing it may take $300 million to keep him.”

In addition to the $300 mil, it may take an eight or nine-year contract, both numbers that Astros owner Jim Crane doesn’t go near.

According to Nightengale, the Astros feel they can compete for a pennant in 2024 and they need Bregman to accomplish that. They’re willing to endure the long goodbye and lose Bregman after next season. If that’s how it plays out, the Astros will be left with nothing but a draft choice in return.

Are you buying Nightengale scenario for the Astros?

Here’s the thing about Nightengale. I once worked with him in Phoenix. Nightengale had a reputation for being an accurate, relentless digger. Today he has sources within the Astros – the very top of the organizational chart. You can’t get higher up than his whisperers. If he says the Astros have given up on negotiating a contract extension with Bregman, you pretty much can take it to the bank, where you may run into Bregman depositing large canvas sacks with dollar signs on them.

That’s about Bregman’s future prospectus, what does it mean for the 2024 season, which looks like it’ll be his last in an Astros uniform?

Bregman has been an Astros fans’ favorite the past eight years, his entire career in the majors. Will Astros fans, knowing Bregman is a short-timer in 2024, treat him differently? Sure, Bregman will tell the media that he’s fully committed to the Astros and he loves Houston and the fans. But it will be like your steady girlfriend saying, “Maybe it’s time we started seeing other people.” He may even pull the old, “It’s not you, it’s me.” (Invented by George Costanza, circa 1993.)

No one questions that Bregman is a baseball rat, it’s his obsession, his devotion. But he will spend 2024 under a microscope. What happens if he’s chasing a foul pop and pulls up before taking a header in a dugout? Will fans look suspiciously at him? Will they think to themselves, the old Alex Bregman would have done a Triple Lindy into the dugout? Is he avoiding injury on his agent’s orders so not to risk his big payday come free agency?

Will fans be less forgiving of a batting slump? Will his teammates look at him differently, like he’s not 100 percent in the foxhole with them? Will he choose to sit out games when nagging injuries happen – when he normally would play through them?

Last season, the Angels held onto Shohei Ohtani rather than trade him mid-season for a haul of useful talent. Many questioned that strategy, especially with crosstown rival Dodgers (among others) breaking their piggybank to land the MVP this offseason.

It’s understandable that the Astros are all in on 2024, with their World Series window possibly showing cracks. They’re apparently willing to bite the bullet and keep a lame duck Bregman.

But if Nightengale is right, and Bregman is headed out the door, wouldn’t the Astros be smarter to say goodbye now, with his trade value still high, and hope the return investment pays off? With baseball’s winter meetings in full swing, is it the right time for Astros general manager Dana Brown to approach other teams … “hey, you got a second to talk?”

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How significant Astros spring training revelation highlights even more reasons for optimism

The Houston Astros had a very successful season in 2023 which led them back to the ALCS for the seventh-straight season, but despite another deep playoff run, their pitching did regress from the prior year.

While many would point to their historic bullpen in 2022 and say they had nowhere to go but down, that doesn't paint the full picture. It was the starting rotation that really fell off in 2023. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urquidy all saw a spike in their ERAs from the previous season.

According to a recent report from The Athletic's Chandler Rome, we might have an explanation for Jose Urquidy's down year.

The Astros and Urquidy believe he was tipping his pitches. Which would explain why the slugging percentage against his fastball jumped from .482 in 2022 to .632 in 2023.

When hitters know a pitcher is tipping, they often start hunting fastballs. Also, his strikeout percentage went down last year and his walks went way up. He had 2 more walks per nine innings in 2023 than he had in 2021.

Part of that could be him aiming for corners and refusing to give in to hitters because his fastball wasn't performing up to expectations.

His WHIP in 2023 really jumped off the page as well. He finished with a WHIP over 1.4. While his career WHIP is 1.143. That's a huge difference.

Back to the big picture

Until last season, Urquidy never finished with an ERA over 3.95. He recorded a 5.29 ERA last year. So when we factor in his shoulder injury that cost him three months of the season, and the fact he was tipping pitches, we believe he's in store for a bounce-back season.

And the Astros are going to need him, especially with Justin Verlander and JP France possibly not being available for the start of the season.

What will the rotation look like early on?

The Astros haven't ruled Verlander out yet, so he could be ready to go. But if not, and we base this off what we saw last season. The rotation will likely include Valdez, Javier, Brown, Urquidy, Ronel Blanco, and Brandon Bielak.

Don't miss the video above for the full discussion!

Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) with Charlie Pallilo, Brandon Strange, and Josh Jordan every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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