How the Astros can save us from Houston sports woes

Enter the 2021 Houston Astros to save the day. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Some senses are easily triggered. Sound and smell can cause us to do and feel some strange things. I often wonder what sounds and/or smells trigger different types of emotions in people. The sense of touch also plays a part in this. When you hear a particular sound, smell a certain smell, you often feel something as well. When those sounds and smells join together in harmony with that sense of touch, it can be exhilarating!

I've often read and heard about the sights and sounds of Spring Training. The smell of freshly cut grass. The sound of the first crack of the bat or ball hitting a mitt. The sight of the sun peeking in over the fences and kissing the field at dawn as the sprinkler systems have just finished watering the fields in Florida and Arizona. Ahhhh...bliss!

I was driving around at work and heard that the Astros had their first Spring Training game the other day. It caught me off guard because I wasn't ready. I was so used to hearing about all the drama with Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Then the Rockets got in on the party with all of their shenanigans. As much of a gut punch as this city has taken (sports and otherwise), it sure could use an escape. Enter the 2021 Houston Astros to save the day.

While this team may not be considered as strong a contender as they were in the past few years, they still have a shot at contending. The AL West is not a murder's row division, so it can be had. The Angels are still throwing money at their problems hoping it works. The Rangers are terrible and shouldn't be feared at all. The Mariners don't present a challenge either. The A's may be able to push the 'Stros, but aren't as talented and should be put down.

Pitching will be a bit of an issue, so will a few spots in the lineup, but this team still has enough talent to get the job done. Will they have to change their style up a bit? Yes. Will things look different without George Springer at leadoff and Justin Verlander as the ace? Of course. But there are some young pitchers and position players who'll have to step up. There's also the fact that Jose Altuve will bounce-back from a bad season because he's in a better place now. Carlos Correa stepped up as a leader last season and expressed his will to be an Astro long-term. Yordan Alvarez is back and apparently healthy. Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Jose Urquidy could take a step forward. Lance McCullers Jr. is another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Zack Greinke is a veteran who knows how to pitch. And what if Forrest Whitley can actually contribute something meaningful?

I know there's a lot of maybes and what ifs involved, but there are enough constants on this roster to make up for the lack of sure things. If those constants hit their averages or above, and the maybe/what ifs fill some of their potential, I can see another ALCS appearance and maybe more. When I look at the rest of the American League, the only team that I think will be a force for sure is the Yankees. Any other team doesn't scare me as much if at all. The National League has a few teams that present more of a challenge. All that being said, I'm so glad the Astros are here to save us from the foolishness the Rockets and Texans are putting out there.

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Willson Contreras could give the Astros some extra pop in the lineup. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

“The Hot Stove League” is the nickname given to Major League Baseball's offseason. In particular, the free agent signing period in late November/early December. Trades are also made during this period. Now that Astros' owner Jim Crane has ousted all opposition to his idea of how things should be run, he's free to do things the way he sees fit.

He opened it by not hiring a general manager to replace James Click. Instead, he opted for a committee of assistant GMs. Those guys are assisted by some special advisors, like former Astros great Jeff Bagwell. Crane likes and wants to take a big swing at things. He'd probably hit about .250 with 30-plus home runs every season. Can't leave out his guaranteed 80-100 strikeouts. Typical power hitter. It's all or nothing, except Crane has been making great contact and knocking some things out of the park.

Signing Jose Abreu was an example. Yuli Gurriel looked as if he was losing the battle with “Father Time” during the regular season. This was an insurance policy at first, and designated hitter. Another prime example is their reported interest in C/DH/LF Willson Contreras. His bat would be a major upgrade over past Astro catchers. Although Martin Maldonado may not be going anywhere, having a quality bat to relieve him is key. Add the fact that he plays some outfield, and he's almost a “two birds with one stone” type of signing.

Abreu may be 35 years old, but he's coming off a year hitting .304 with 15 home runs. Contreras may be the younger of the two at 30, but his .243 average hurts the fact that he hit 22 home runs. Both sport an OPS above .800 for their careers. Bagwell said he wants Yordan Alvarez to play left field 45% of the time. The other 55% can be Contreras, Chas McCormick (assuming Jake Meyers is still in the mix for center field), and whoever else they sign or bring up from Sugar Land. When Contreras isn't in left, he needs to be behind the plate or hitting DH. I'd really love the idea of him sitting under Maldonado's learning tree for a year and taking over catcher long-term. Not many can be the catcher "Machete" is, but hitting 50 points better than him has its advantages.

Then there's the reported interest other teams have in Justin Verlander. Supposedly, the Mets have met with him via Zoom. The Dodgers are interested and are seemingly the leaders in the clubhouse to sign him. However, I wouldn't count Crane and crew out. He may come to JV last minute and offer him something comparable in order to keep him around. He strikes me as the type of guy who'll keep his plays close to the vest, then make a Godfather type of offer. He negotiated Verlander's last deal with the team himself. Coming off a World Series win, Cy Young win, and opting out of said deal, Verlander is most likely looking to get one final payday that'll also land him on a contender.

Having a winner is one thing. Having a winner committed to winning long-term is another. Crane wants to strike while the iron is hot. Sure, he wants his franchise to be sustainable. But he also wants to keep the World Series window open as long as possible. Kyle Tucker's next deal will be one to watch. Having an embarrassment of riches on the pitching staff means you have trade bait. Keep an eye on old Jimmy Crane. I think he might be the best thing to hit Houston sports in quite some time.

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