Roster Revision

Jermaine Every: Astros tide is turning...for the better

The Astros have a great shot to win it again this year because of their roster management. mlb.com/Astros

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced that Justin Verlander, not Dallas Keuchel, will be the Opening Day starter. Keuchel had started the previous three Opening Days for the Astros, all three were wins. Keuchel debuted with the team in 2012 and has been around for the lowest lows and the highest high of winning the World Series last season. The fact that Hinch decided to go with Verlander instead of Keuchel is a sign of a turning tide for the Astros, and I don’t care about who’s feelings were hurt because of it.

Typically when a team wins a World Series, it’s done a couple of ways. One way is the New York Yankees model. This is when the team “buys” a trophy by spending obscene amounts of money on free agents to field the best team the owner’s checkbook will allow. Given the loose salary cap structure in MLB, teams can spend as much as they want with little to no penalty. Losing draft picks by signing high dollar free agents can decimate a team’s farm system, but who cares when you can write a check and replenish your talent?

The other way to build a winner is through homegrown talent. Drafting and developing your own talent, then bringing them up from the minors while they’re still young, cheap, and under team control is another method. The Kansas City Royals won in 2015 with this formula. Now that some of those guys are up for new deals, they aren’t able to resign them out of fear of a growing payroll the likes of which smaller market teams can’t handle.

The other method is a blend of the two previous methods mentioned. The Astros have effectively employed a combo of homegrown talent, and wise free agent buys in their recent success. Trading for Verlander and Gerrit Cole, signing Charlie Morton and Josh Reddick, as well as bringing up homegrown guys like Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer helped this team win a World Series last season.

General Manager Jeff Luhnow brings a whole new meaning to roster flexibility. He’s managed to make the right moves to build a contender, all the while ensuring that the team is set up to contend for a number of years to come. The Verlander and Cole deals didn’t empty the minor league system of top talent. The free agent signings haven’t taken away draft picks. The homegrown talent is coming up for new deals, but the years are staggered and the minor leagues are filled with replacements. Luhnow has maintained roster flexibility which has allowed the team to contend for years to come.

Perhaps this is the sign of a turning tide. Teams that “buy” a World Series end up further behind the curve because their stars age under fat contracts they can’t trade away. Other teams that build a contender from within usually can’t afford to keep them together and either trade away their stars or lose them without compensation. The Astros are in a unique position to keep the train rolling. The San Francisco Giants of the early 2010s were the last team to effectively employ this strategy when they won titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. They’ve since hit a rough patch, but no one can take away their three titles. The Yankees of the late 90s/early00s had a similar strategy until they turned to throwing money at their problems.

I truly hope this team can use good roster management to ride the wave of success for at least a few more years to come. This city got its first taste of a championship winner in over twenty years. After going through Harvey, it was a much-needed respite. I really don’t give a damn about how it’s done, who gets traded, who gets resigned, or who gets let go. Enjoying sustained success has a cost. I’d rather pay it than wallow in the purgatory of mediocrity.

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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