Drama alert: all the intriguing backstories, stakes entering Astros-Twins matchup

The Astros head to Minnesota to play the Twins this Tuesday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

With the Astros opening a series at Minnesota Tuesday the biggest subplot is obvious. Carlos Correa (hopefully) plays against the Astros for the first time. Correa took a pitch off the middle finger of his throwing hand last Thursday. The fear was a fractured finger but it turned out to be just a bruise. Correa sat out the Twins’ three games over the weekend. That along with their off day Monday may have Correa ready to go. You know he’s had this series highlighted on the calendar, though it presumably won’t pack the emotional wallop of his return to Minute Maid Park when the Twins visit in August.

During the handwringing and whining over the Astros’ failure to re-sign free agent Correa, there was plenty of nonsense out there. Anyone can disagree with the decision, but Jim Crane’s fiscal discipline was smart before Correa signed with Minnesota, and certainly looks good so far with rookie Jeremy Pena (it’s still early!) outperforming Correa and doing so at a shade under 1/50th the price. As Correa rakes in 35.1 million dollars in 2022, Pena makes the upgraded Major League minimum salary of 700-thousand. The Astros’ best offer to Correa of five years 160 million dollars was never insulting. That’s 32 mil per season. Correa only topped that by taking the shorter term Twins’ offer after Correa and agent Scott Boras’ misread the market. Before the lockout the Tigers offered 10 years 275 mil, simple math says that was well below the Astros’ per annum offer.

Anyone can get a finger or hand messed up when struck by a pitch, Jeff Bagwell suffered a broken hand three consecutive seasons. But the truth is that for all the indelible memories Correa carved into Astros’ lore, he was neither consistently healthy over his time here nor consistently great. In 2017 Correa looked like a blossomed superstar on an early Hall of Fame track. He may have battled Jose Altuve for American League Most Valuable Player honors, but missed six weeks after tearing a thumb ligament. When he went down, Correa’s OPS was higher than what Altuve finished with in winning MVP. Correa of course returned to help the Astros win the World Series, and looked like a 23-year-old franchise player. Alas, in 2018 he was mediocre and missed a chunk of the season with a back problem. In 2019 he was very good when healthy but missed half the season injured. Remember the rib-fracturing massage? And while excellent in 2019 over the 75 games he played, Correa was not as good as 2017 Correa much less what Altuve was in 2016 and 2017, or what Alex Bregman was in 2018 and 2019. In the shortened 2020 season Correa was mediocre, before having a well-timed outstanding 2021. The belief of many that Crane and the Astros should have been willing to go 10 years 300 mil was crazy. That the Rangers signed Corey Seager to a ridiculous 10 year 325 million deal did not mean the Astros should have buckled. Who’s a bigger fool: someone who spends like a drunken sailor, or someone who follows suit of that drunken sailor?

If their avalanche of injuries is a season long problem for the White Sox, the Twins could win the otherwise soft American League Central. A Correa and the Twins vs. the Astros in a playoff matchup would be something. The Twins have amazingly lost their last 18 postseason games, the longest postseason losing streak in North American sports history.

The Astros and Twins enter this series at Target Field with identical 18-11 records. The Astros roll north off running the table on their seven game homestand. Since they were 6-8 the Astros have gone 12-3. Since a stumbling start of 4-8, the Twins have gone 14-3. Pitching has been the strength of both clubs. That’s reflected in the series opening pitching matchup. Justin Verlander throws for the Stros, he’s been terrific over five starts in his return from Tommy John surgery to the tune of a 1.93 earned run average. Twins’ rookie Joe Ryan has been even better through his five starts with a 1.63 ERA.

A note from the author

It’s not quite an elephant in the room, but one paragraph on why you are reading me on SportsMap Houston but not hearing me on ESPN Houston 97.5 FM. Essentially, an outside consultant was given license to make some changes. Replacing me was one of his changes. I wasn’t pleased with how it went down, but life happens. Fortunately, having had some success long enough to not have to do anything I don’t want to do, I am happy to restart this SportsMap Houston column to share some sports thoughts (primarily Astros these next few months). Thanks for clicking/reading.

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It's Draft SZN! Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

On Thursday June 22, the NBA will hold their annual draft. With the Rockets owning the number four overall pick, you'd think things would be looking up for them. However, in a draft where the top three players are all expected to be immediate impact guys, the drop begins where the Rockets are selecting. Armed with some young talent, cap space, and a new head coach, the Rockets are looked at as a team on the rise. But what will help contribute to that rise?

When you have assets, you have options. There are three main options I see here for the Rockets with number four: keep the pick and select the guy you think will work best moving forward; trade up to select the guy they feel they missed out on that isn't a punk Frenchie who dislikes Houston; or trade the pick for an established star. The other option is trading the pick for a good player and a future pick/s. Let's take a look at the options:

Option 1: Keeping the pick means you're drafting the leftovers. Those leftovers start with Amen Thompson. He's the guy I believe can come in and help sooner rather than later. At 6'7 and 215 pounds, he has an NBA body. His skill set can come in handy because he's played point guard. This team could use a true point guard, but Thompson isn't exactly a traditional point. He has the size of a wing player, which allows him to see over the top of the defense. His outside shooting is abysmal and needs a vast improvement. To me, adjusting to life as a pro without his twin brother Ausar, another good draft prospect himself, will be difficult. Overall, I believe he's the guy to take at four if they decide to stay.

Option 2: Trading up to get Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller may prove to be difficult. Both teams picking ahead of the Rockets have their point guards. Charlotte wants to find Lamelo Ball a running mate and have their eyes rumored to be set on Miller. Portland is trying their best to keep Dame Lillard happy. The Rockets would be best served to trade with either team willing to move down for whatever they offer, provided it's worthwhile. Portland was just in the playoffs the last few years and aren't as far out as some would think. They're the ones I'd eye to trade with. Speaking of Portland and Dame…

Option 3: The Rockets need a point guard and Dame may be looking to get out. Help them start their rebuild and bring Dame to Houston. Or, how about the Jaylen Brown rumors? Fred VanVleet has a player option for next season, then becomes an unrestricted free agent. There are a few options of finding veteran help around the league, especially at the point. Problem is, are any of these team willing to take the Rockets' offers? It'd start with number four, and include other assets as well. This option makes sense if the organization believes the roster, with whatever vet addition they make via trade, is playoff ready.

Option 4: The last option I thought about is to trade the pick for a first rounder in next year's draft and a decent player. I see this as a last resort of sorts. But only if they do not feel comfortable with whatever player they may take. That, and if they want to save cap space for next free agency period. Not having a first rounder next year isn't as bad as one might think. The team will need to make the necessary moves this offseason to ensure that won't be an issue next draft. FOMO is real, especially when a team is rebuilding and can't use one of the best/cheapest forms of acquiring top talent.

I talked with my good friend “TC.” The guy loves basketball and even hips me to a bunch of stuff. He wants them to move up in the draft for Scoot or Miller. While he is a James Harden fan, he doesn't necessarily want him back. He wouldn't mind it, but it's not his first option. I've spoken with a lot of native Houstonians about this. They all want a winner sooner than later, but have different philosophies on how to get there. Personally, I say options two and three are my faves. Trade the pick for help, rookie or vet, and go from there. I guess we'll have to wait three more weeks before we find out. Or will we…

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