Extending Jose Altuve is a top priority. Composite Getty Images.
With the signing of Josh Hader, the Astros have strengthened their bullpen. The bullpen was seen as a weakness. If you could get the starter out after five, maybe six innings and be within striking distance, you could beat the Astros. The starters were all injured or at least missed some time last season. If they were healthy, they had control issues. Now, the starters are almost all healthy (get well soon LMJ, Luis Garcia) and the bullpen has gone from weakness to maybe the best group on the team.
So…now what? What's the next move to help this team keep its championship window open? I addressed some of this last week before the Hader signing. Looking back on that, let's look forward and create a course of action for the Astros to remain in title contention for years to come:
Re-sign Jose Altuve: This is the first order of business. He's going to be 34 on May 6 and in the last year of his extension. Has his play dropped off some? Yes, but his level of play was so high, the drop-off in production is still respectable. He's the guy you think of when you think of Houston Astros baseball. You can Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio me all you want. Neither of them managed to bring a ring to this city. Bagwell won an MVP, but that's about it. Altuve is the heart and soul of this team and should retire here as long as he's somewhat productive, which he's remained.
Re-sign Kyle Tucker: While Yordan Alvarez may be the best hitter on this team now, Tucker may be the best overall player. He's got all five tools and hits lefty. Tucker will turn 28 in July and has one more year of arbitration left after this year. Then he'll hit free agency if he's not re-signed. A 29-year-old lefty with all five tools in the open market? Yeah, that deal will START somewhere in the $25-30 million per year range! GM Dana Brown is known for re-signing young talent to extensions. If he gets this one done, he'll help nail down his legacy in Houston, barely two years into the gig.
Give Cody Bellinger a Brinks truck: “Jermaine, you do realize you want them to re-sign Tucker, though?” RIGHT?!? Thank you, Captain Obvious! This team needs another bat in the outfield, like we all need to bathe and put on deodorant before we leave the house. Unfortunately like some of you, this team also tends to ignore the obvious. Having two good outfielders who can hit and are on the right side of 30 on long term deals sets you up for future success. So what if they're waiting on prospects to get to the show. How does that help the 2024 version of this team win? Do you wait until 2025? 2026? By then, most of your older core will be too old and not as good or productive. Added bonus of this move- if Tucker doesn't re-sign, you have his replacement in-house.
Alex Bregman can stay…for the right price: I love Bregman. From his brash attitude, to his style of play, even his media interactions. He's the consummate teammate. The guy learned to speak Spanish to better communicate with them, for God's sake. However, his production has had a noticeable drop. If he wants to return, he has to do so knowing he's not going to get paid what he thinks he may deserve. Let him hit the open market and find his value. If it matches the budget, fine. If not, we wish you the best in your future endeavors. He's a part of this team's lore forever, but business decisions need to be made. (This was hard for me to type!)
Make Yordan a 1st baseman: Yordan will be here for the foreseeable future. He's one of the most lovable guys on the team, and happens to be the best hitter. While I may on the wrong side of 40, so are Yordan's knees. In order to preserve him, and his knees, he needs to play 1st base. Jose Abreu and his inflated contract can have several seats. Jim Crane will have to eat this one and literally pay for not having a real GM at the time of that signing. Yordan can DH when he's playing the outfield, but if they make some of those moves listed above, he won't have to.
This team has numerous interesting prospects in the pipeline. Jacob Melton (OF) is one of them. Spencer Arrighetti (RHP) is another. Hunter Brown is already up on the big league team and made waves last season. I want to see more of these guys getting a shot while they're still young. See what they can/can't do at the big league level early on. If nothing else, it tells us what they need to work on before being called up. Or, it could help you move on from a vet. Either way, I'm digging the infusion of youth and look forward to more.
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.