RUN IT BACK

Free agents heavily in the mix for Astros post-José Abreu signing

Free agents heavily in the mix for Astros post-José Abreu signing
Don't be surprised if Yuli Gurriel returns to Houston. Composite image by Brandon Strange.
Truth, solutions and post-deadline drama ahead for Houston Astros

The Houston Astros made a big splash in free agency, landing former Chicago White Sox first baseman José Abreu to a three-year deal.

Abreu’s signing sent a clear signal to the rest of Major League Baseball, the Astros want to stay atop the American League and compete for more world championships. Houston owner Jim Crane didn’t mince his words in Tuesday’s introduction press conference, the Astros expect to get back to the World Series.

Abreu, who spent his first nine years with the White Sox, said he joined Houston because he wants to be a part of a family and have a chance to win a championship. The 2020 AL Most Valuable Player posted .304/.378/.446 with 15 home runs in 2022.

One of the key pillars to Houston’s family culture over the years has been first baseman Yuli Gurriel. While the signing of Abreu ends Gurriel’s tenure as the Astros’ first baseman, and likely his time in Houston altogether, Crane said the team will be in communication with him as the free agency period continues.

In a perfect world, the Astros should bring back Gurriel. Abreu said he has a lot of respect for him and acknowledged his role in creating the Astros’ culture that drew him to the team in the first place.

The reason to bring back Gurriel goes beyond him being a first baseman. That ship has sailed, but having a key figure in the clubhouse, and potentially using his bat in a designated hitter role, warrants keeping that door open. He also would add depth to the Astros.

While Gurriel’s injury in the World Series ultimately didn’t hurt Houston, it did leave the Astros with Trey Mancini taking over first base in Game Six. While Mancini rose to the occasion, it should not be something Houston banks on if it can avoid it.

Gurriel struggled throughout the 2022 regular season, posting .242/.288/.360, but he shined in the postseason, playing a big role in Houston’s World Series run. His numbers rose to .347/.360/.490 throughout the 2022 playoffs, one of the best postseason runs in his career.

Gurriel and pitcher Jusitn Verlander are still in the mix, Crane said on Tuesday. He also believes the Astros have room to improve, mainly at catcher and in the outfield. Houston can also never have enough pitching, Crane added. The Astros can never have too many bats either.

With Houston’s mindset at championship or bust, bringing back Gurriel as a DH option along with his role in the clubhouse makes sense for the Astros at the right price. If both sides can reach that mutual ground, which would also require Gurriel to accept a lesser role on top of the right deal, it is a no-brainer. How realistic that is, is a different story.

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Yordan Alvarez is hitting fifth for the American League. Composite Getty Image.

Baltimore's Corbin Burnes will start for the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game against Pittsburgh rookie Paul Skenes.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Burnes is 9-4 with a 2.93 ERA in his first season with the Orioles, who acquired him from Milwaukee just before spring training. The 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, Burnes is an All-Star for the fourth straight season. He will become the fifth Orioles pitcher to start an All-Star Game, the first since Steve Stone in 1980.

Skenes, who made his major league debut on May 11, is 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 89 and walking 13 in 66 1/3 innings. The 11 starts for the 21-year-old right-hander will be the fewest for an All-Star and he will become the fifth rookie starter after Dave Stenhouse (1962), Mark Fidrych (1976), Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Hideo Nomo (1995).

NL manager Torey Lovullo announced last week he was starting Skenes.

AL manager Bruce Bochy of World Series champion Texas said Monday he has Steven Kwan of Cleveland hitting leadoff and playing left field, followed by Baltimore shortstop Gunnar Henderson, New York Yankees right fielder Juan Soto and center fielder Aaron Judge, Houston designed hitter Yordan Alvarez, Guardians shortstop José Ramírez, Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien.

Ketel Marte bats first and plays second base for the NL, followed by Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, Philadelphia shortstop Trea Turner, Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper, Milwaukee catcher William Contreras, Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich, Phillies third baseman Alex Bohm, Dodgers center fielder Teoscar Hernández and San Diego left fielder Jurickson Profar.

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