Here's why Houston Astros are facing critical roster crossroads

Here's why Houston Astros are facing critical roster crossroads
Will Yuli Gurriel return to the Astros? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Defacto Astros general manager Jeff Bagwell was asked point-blank at the team’s annual Fanfest at Minute Maid Park over the weekend:

Do the Astros intend to sign free agent first baseman Yuli Gurriel for another World Series run in 2023? And if the answer is yes … what’s the holdup?

Bagwell, typically a straight shooter, said, “There's nobody that loves Yuli more than us, myself, Jim (Crane), Dusty (Baker), everybody. It's just trying to find the right fit for the club. He's a huge part of our success here. We'll continue to monitor that situation."

Do the Astros really love Gurriel, or do they love him not?

If Bagwell was speaking truth, and everybody in Astros management is aboard the Gurriel love train, why isn’t Gurriel a done deal so fans can stop worrying?

What does that mean, the Astros are trying to find the “right fit for the club?” Seriously? Here’s where Gurriel fits in: first base, second base, third base, DH, and team leader.

More important than his contribution on the diamond, Gurriel is a symbol of Astros excellence, a key member of this close-knit family of players so beloved in Houston.

Yes, Gurriel is 38 years old and coming off a disastrous 2022 season in which he batted a woeful, power outage .242. It was a major dropoff from 2021, when Gurriel won the American League batting title with a .319 average.

Numbers don’t reflect Gurriel’s value to this team. He arrived in Houston from Cuba in 2016. One year later, he took over as the Astros everyday first baseman. The Astros won the World Series that year and began six seasons of unprecedented success never before witnessed in Houston – two World Series championships, four American League pennants, and five AL West titles. Gurriel was in the middle of every postseason run – driving in key runs and turning errant throws from Astros infielders into outs at first base.

Current MLB rosters allow for 26 players. The Astros can’t find a spot for arguably one of Houston’s favorite athletes of all time? With the best hair (no argument there).

Yes, the Astros have promising young players who need to see the field to develop. But the Astros lineup is loaded with veterans so it’s not like there’s much room for rookies, anyway. The Astros could keep Gurriel and trade a prospect for experienced help behind the plate.

Two years ago, I went to a sports collectors show in Houston. There were dozens of pro athletes, including several Astros, scribbling autographs. The longest line led to Yuli Gurriel.

Recent stories from the Hot Stove League have Gurriel headed to the Miami Marlins. He’s not ready to spend his baseball golden years in Florida. Before we allow a Houston treasure loose, c’mon Astros, prove that your professed love for Gurriel is real. Keep La Pina where he belongs.

Editor's note: The Marlins interest in Yuli Gurriel seems to have cooled off, per Jon Heyman. The Twins or Astros could have interest.

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How Astros retribution campaign hinges on solving outfield balancing act

While most of the Astros roster is returning for the 2024 season, there are still some areas of uncertainty for the club. Astros manager Joe Espada will have some tough decisions to make in his first season managing the team.

The Astros infield is set, so we know who will be playing on a nightly basis, assuming health. The outfield is where things get tricky. Espada told the Houston Chronicle last week that he hopes to play Alvarez more in left field this season, which would open up the DH spot for Chas McCormick and players he would like to rest while keeping their bat in the lineup (Yainer Diaz, Jose Altuve, etc).

Astros GM Dana Brown would like to see if Jake Meyers can hit well enough to play regularly in center field. This is a team that stresses defense, which Meyers provides. But if defense is the top priority, wouldn't that mean Chas McCormick should play left field with Yordan Alvarez hitting in the DH spot?

Certainly, there will be nights when that's the case. The reality of the situation is all these guys are going to play, but how much and where is yet to be seen.

Houston plays 20 games in 21 days to start the season, so it's not going to take long to see if Meyers is providing enough offense to play regularly. If we get into the month of May and Meyers is an offensive liability in the lineup, we won't be surprised if his playing time starts to decrease. But by how much?

Don't miss the video as we examine how Joe Espada will deploy his outfielders and get the most out of the DH this season!

Watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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