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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Walter will host The Night of Champions. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images.

In 2014, Austin Walter rushed for 2,704 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Crosby High School. Despite falling short of a state title, Walter was named District 19-4A MVP and finished his prep career with a little over 6,000 rushing yards on 613 carries (6,062 yds). Seven years later, Walter will be returning to his high school alma mater to give back to the community that laid the foundation for an NFL career as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's a blessing to be able to come from a small town and be one of the guys who made it out," Walter said. "Not a lot of people made it to the NFL or the NBA from Crosby High School. To be one of the first, it's an amazing feeling. It's a blessing and an honor."

On Thursday, April 15, Walter will host The Night of Champions to benefit the Crosby High School Booster Club from 6-9 p.m. The event will be a weight lifting competition at Crosby High School for student-athletes around the area to showcase their talents and abilities.

In addition to hosting a weight lifting showcase, Walter will also share his life teachings with student-athletes in attendance. Perseverance and not taking no for an answer will be one of the most vital messages the Crosby native will share with aspiring pro-athletes. It's the two virtues Walter has leaned on from little league football to the NFL. And as an undrafted prospect in 2019, it was that same morale that helped him outshine six other running backs during the 49ers rookie training camp that same year.

"Before I started playing football in high school, a lot of people thought I was too small," Walter said. "They thought because we played little league and not in middle school we would not make it in high school. My twin brother [Ashton Walter] and I did not listen to that. We just kept pushing forward."

"When I left Rice, people thought I was going to play in the Canadian league or AFF, and I did not take no for an answer. I believed in myself. And I believed in God. And if I can make it out of a small town like Crosby, anybody can make it...It's the mentality I've had my entire life of not quitting. I feel like that is what got me to the point I am at right now."

Whether their life goal is to play in the NFL or not, Walter's primary objective for The Night of Champions is to be an inspiration and show kids they can find success despite their environment. It is one of the things the former XFL running back (Dallas Renegades) wished he would have seen growing up in Crosby.

After graduating from Crosby High School, Walter went on to have a record-breaking collegiate career at Rice University. He became one of two players in school history to rush for over 1,500 yards (1,744 yds.) and 1,000 kick return yards (1,548 yds.) in four seasons with the Owls. In February, Walter signed a one-year contract extension to re-join the 49ers ahead of the 2021 NFL season.

Click here to learn more about The Night of Champions at Crosby High School or support Walter and the Crosby High School Booster Club.

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