Astros Offseason

Morton loss a sign of Astros' rigid team-building philosophy

Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow addresses a crowd. i.vimeocdn.com

Wednesday afternoon it was reported that pitcher Charlie Morton would not be returning to the Houston Astros next year, opting instead to sign a 2-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays worth roughly $30 million. Morton--most noted for securing the final out of the Astros 2017 World Series Championship--was a pivotal arm in the Astros' most recent 2018 campaign, ringing up over 200 strikeouts en route to a 15-3 record.

Morton's confirmed departure is yet another blow to what was viewed by many as one of the top three rosters in the MLB. Pitcher Dallas Keuchel, utility man Marwin Gonzales, catcher Brian McCann, and designated hitter Evan Gattis--all critical players in securing Houston's first ever World Series championship have all either signed or are expected to sign elsewhere over the winter. And while the Astros' front office has made a handful of shrewd moves to begin the off-season, they have not only let proven commodities walk away but have also seemingly shied away from many of the blockbuster moves most experts had pegged as "must happens."

Houston's two main threats for the past two seasons for American League supremacy, The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have had quite the opposite approach. New York acquired a stud of a pitcher and absolute thorn in Houston's side in James Paxton. Boston remained in-house, resigning 2018 playoff monster Nathan Eovaldi to a 4-year $68 million dollar contract. Two of the league's top three winningest teams from a season ago have all either reloaded, or upgraded. Why then, is the third remaining motionless? Astros fans have become increasingly anxious as a result, but in order to understand what's happening--and in so doing, what's going to happen, it's imperative to understand how the Astros got to where they are today.

The Astros became a powerhouse not by buying up every big name they heard on the free agent market, but by cultivating their talent within. Just about every name you associate with the Astros not named Justin Verlander is a home grown product that has never worn another major league ball cap other than the navy one with the H-star. As a result, the Astros boast one of the most potent offenses in the league with a core that is still primarily clocking into work on rookie contracts. It's that type of financial flexibility that allows acquisitions like a high dollar, season-altering Verlander trade to even be possible in the first place.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this Astros front office is very selective in free agents. They rarely offer deals beyond 3 years and tend to look for value deals like a Charlie Morton or an Evan Gattis. Most people think about the acquisitions of Verlander and pitcher Gerrit Cole as evidence that Houston will be a major player in free agency and that just isn't how they operate. Both of those players were obtained via trade. Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow has always approached free agency tentatively and outside of Carlos Beltran in 2017, he hasn't hit on very many of his signings. Last season the Astros signed relievers Hector Rondon and Joe Smith, and while Rondon had moments of production, neither were game changers by any means.

Simply put, don't expect Houston to throw $300 million at a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. What you can expect is that the Astros will stick to their script, typically despite the behest of their fanbase. It also means is that if something does happen, it will most likely happen in the form of a trade. And if recent history has taught us anything, it will happen much later--if not almost too late--than everyone expects. Cole wasn't acquired until mid January of last season and Verlander wasn't moved until the last second of the last hour of the 2017 trade window.

The bottom line is, there is a method to the madness. While it tugs at the heartstrings to see local heroes like Morton and Keuchel move on, the organization is correct to avoid overpaying for nostalgia. Rest assured the Astros are aware that this is their window to be a championship caliber team, and while it may not happen on anyone's preferred timeline, expect Houston to be players once again this winter to remain so.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans out-Patriot the Patriots

Texans take down the Pats. Photo by Getty Images.

Every dog has its day. A broken clock is right two times a day. All the clichés about it being better to be lucky than good can apply here with the Texans 27-20 win over the Patriots. In a matchup that broke a record for the oldest combined age for opposing head coaches, 141 years old, Romeo Crennel beat his former boss Bill Belichick. There were other narratives at work here, as well as a few things (good and awful) that the coaching staff did.

First thing I saw that I liked was the spread and no-huddle on offense. If you've been following this series of articles, you know I've been on this train quite a while now. This allows Deshaun Watson to find the matchup he likes, exposes the defense because they can't sub, takes advantage of Texans' speed at receiver, and creates a tempo most defenses can't keep up with. Not to mention the spread is the offense Watson operated in at Clemson. 28/37 for 344 yards and two touchdowns of production from Watson was enough for me to say they need to have this as their M.O. moving forward.

Tim Kelly called a great game. He used the short, quick pass game in lieu of the run game. This also helped since Laremy Tunsil was out and Roderick Johnson had to play at left tackle. This offensive line is not very good at run blocking. Hence, why Watson was again the team's leading rusher with only 36 yards. Almost all of those were on scrambles. By going spread and no-huddle, Watson can take advantage of man and zone coverages to extend plays or scramble because most teams won't spy him. Even when they do, he makes them look silly.

Not everything was on the up and up. The defense continued to look like booty juice. Cam Newton threw for 365 yards and Damiere FREAKIN Byrd torched them for 132 of those yards! When I heard the quote from Crennel that defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is getting the most out of his guys, I found it laughable. To double down on that, Weaver was quoted as saying, "This narrative that's being painted like my guys aren't disciplined and running around blocks, quite frankly and to put it bluntly, is bull---t!" Sorry guys, but you're both wrong. This defense can't fight its way out of a wet paper bag if you gave them knives. The worst part about it is that the offense's best chance at success sets the defense up for failure. Their hurry up scheme leaves little time for this porous defense to catch its wind. If they could get some turnovers or just off the damn field and get stops, it would help the offense.

With six games left, their three games outside the AFC South (Bengals, Lions, Bears) are all winnable. The two matchups against the Colts and the season finale against the Titans will prove to be their biggest tests. However, this is the same team that has four one possession losses. 3-7 could look a lot different if the offense stepped up against the Browns, or the defense made stops against the Steelers, Vikings, or Titans. Let's hope they can build off this win and salvage whatever they can of this season.

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