Astros Offseason

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

Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow addresses a crowd.

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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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans remain winless as the team comes up short against the Bears in Chicago. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Davis Mills made two costly mistakes with interceptions. The first one took points off the board and the second allowed the Bears to kick a game-winning field goal. These were the first two of the season and they highlight the need for near perfection from the offense.

2. Davis Mills claimed he made the correct read on the second interception. He said the tip is the reason the Bears intercepted it. I disagree. It looks like Roquan Smith read it like a book and might have been there anyway.

3. The other interception from Davis Mills wasn’t a good read either. Mills made a quick decision and rifled the ball to Brandin Cooks but the defensive back basically had his whole body between Cooks and the ball. The Bears made a nice play to come down with the deflection.

4. Davis Mills is not to be trusted in moments where most quarterbacks can move the football. The Texans failed to get into field goal range at the end of both halves. Mills has consistently failed in those spots this season.

5. There were some curious calls from Pep Hamilton. The Texans don’t have much talent, but Hamilton has had some unique moments. There was a screen to Pharaoh Brown on third and long. The team called a screen on third and one. There was a telegraph on third and short in the red zone.

6. Why can’t this team get the wideouts more heavily involved? Rex Burkhead shouldn’t be getting the second greatest number of targets. Brandin Cooks shouldn’t leave a game where he has less than 10 targets. It would be worth scheming the ball to Cooks a few more times than he is currently getting the ball.

7. Kamu Grugier-Hill is not playing well right now. The veteran just bounced right off a Bears running back at one point. He is also a liability in coverage. Christian Harris is hopefully back after next week but it would be worth seeing if Garrett Wallow has anything more to his game than the veteran.

8. The rushing defense was assaulted again. This time by running wideouts and a backup running back. Lovie Smith needs to look at playing time and the depth chart to see if something can get corrected here. This can’t keep happening earlier and earlier in games each week.

9. Jerry Hughes has been one of the best players on this team through three games. The veteran has been consistent and flashed more than a few times. A nice addition by the team this offseason.

10. Jalen Pitre is so damn good. He’s already one of the best players on this team. He had two interceptions today to go along with a sack. He wasn’t fooled on play action and nailed Justin Fields for the sack. When it felt like the Bears were getting whatever they wanted, Pitre darted in for a tackle in the backfield. He’s been awesome.

11. There must be some evaluation from the Texans. The team might need to ask if everything they’ve put together at this point is the right direction. There is a sound argument the team should be 3-0. Instead, the team is winless, and closing in on hopelessness


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