4th and a mile with Paul Muth

The Houston sports misery index: Here's who has it the worst

Being 1-5 with the Packers coming to town is pretty miserable. Composite photo by Jack Brame

Let's be honest. Houston sports embodied 2020 about as comprehensively as possible. At the moment, the longest tenured coach or GM for a major Houston sports franchise is Dusty Baker. He clocks in at about eight months, three weeks, and two days. Suffice it to say, there's been some turnover.

The bad news is that the prospects of Houston's big three teams don't look particularly rosy moving forward. The Texans are bad, the Rockets are rudderless, and the Astros are still universally reviled outside of Houston.

The good news is that they each vary in their level of despair. As such, here's how each team ranks in potential turnaround time:

#3: The Houston Texans

The Problem: The team is 1-5. Their defense is terrible. They have no first or second round draft picks this season. They have no full time head coach or gm. Jack Easterby still works there.

In a rare move, Texans owner Cal McNair showed that he might actually interested in owning a team that wins football games by firing Bill O'Brien earlier this month. Even if they hire universally prized Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, their offensive line in addition to their defense is still atrocious. There are holes all over the roster that need to be plugged and with no first or second round draft picks, finding a quality general manager may prove difficult.

The Upside: Deshaun Watson. That should be enough to keep a smile on Texans fans' faces. They're going to keep losing, but at least it will be fun and flashy. Watson also could serve as just enough of a lure to bring in a coach like Bieniemy. There are also contracts that could and should be moved by the trade deadline to amass as much draft capital as possible, as pointed out previously

#2: The Houston Rockets

The Problem: The Rockets are a top-heavy team with little depth and no center. They recently lost one of the best general mangers in the modern era of basketball and their head coach quit. They're up against the salary cap with few tradeable assets and no draft picks of note.

For the past 13 years, the Rockets have always had a shot simply because general manager Daryl Morey was in the building. That's no longer the case after Morey stepped down last week. He leaves behind a team with no head coach, and a roster configured for a small-ball experiment that imploded in the playoffs. With an owner that has been singing from the mountaintops about how much money he's lost during the pandemic, one has to wonder how much money he's willing to spend on a new coach. The Russell Westbrook/James Harden experiment ended with mixed results, but with all of their draft picks spoken for and a lack of attractive contracts, it looks like they'll be forced to try it again for at least another year.

The Upside: The Rockets decided to promote executive vice president Rafael Stone to GM. Stone served as Morey's main assistant in recent years, so hopefully their philosophy in the front office remains consistent. There's also been interest shown around the league in Westbrook. If he can be offloaded at all, that would be a step in the right direction.

#1 The Houston Astros

The Problem: In a cash strapped offseason, the Astros stand to lose outfielders George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick. Pitcher Justin Verlander and closer Roberto Osuna will be largely unavailable next season due to Tommy John surgeries. Their first and second round draft picks in the 2021 have been stripped by MLB as part of their punishment in the sign-stealing scandal. Pretty much everyone outside of Houston hates them.

You can pretty much say goodbye to the Astros entire starting outfield. George Springer has been criminally underpaid his entire career, Brantley proved his worth, and Reddick did the opposite. Verlander curiously announced Tommy John surgery at the end of the season, and there's no telling when Osuna will be back. It's hardly likely that the Astros will be spenders in general manager James Click's first full offseason at the helm based off of previous comments made to the media. Oh, and next year there will probably actually be boos coming from the stands.

The Upside: The Astros had no choice this season but to throw out a ton of young, unproven arms and it paid off surprisingly well. Framber Valdez has gone from rotation guy to potential day one starter in my opinion, and guys like Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes have steadied a bullpen that looked like it would be one of the team's biggest positional liabilities. Even if they don't keep all of them, they at least have some interesting trade chips now that have a decent resume to go off of. The outfield will be completely new, but it will be anchored by Kyle Tucker, who used 2020 as an impressive coming out party. And don't forget about Yordan Alvarez.

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Life after Correa may not be the worst thing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Carlos Correa is having a damn good year. The Astros shortstop is hitting .285 with 24 homers, 87 RBI, 72 walks, .862 OPS, a 7.2 WAR, and a .981 fielding percentage. In any other year, those would be numbers worthy of being in the mix for AL MVP (if it weren't for that dastardly Shohei Otani). Correa is also in a contract year. He and the Astros were far enough apart that the season started and he's held true to not wanting to negotiate midseason.

The offers of six years for $120 million and five years for $125 million were both rejected by he and his camp. They're seeking something much longer and for more money on the annual average. With the team unwilling to meet those demands, it seems as if the team and the player are headed for a split.

Lots of Astros fans are not happy with the prospect of Correa leaving via free agency. Some think the team isn't doing enough and should pony up to bring him back. Some feel Correa should take what they're offering because it's a fair deal that'll allow the team to sign other players. Then, there's that small band of us that are totally okay with him leaving.

One of the main reasons I'm okay with him leaving is the players the team still has under control that are potential replacements. Aledmys Diaz and Pedro Leon are the first two guys that come to mind. Diaz is a 31-year-old vet who's stepped up when he's called upon. He can slide over to third and allow Alex Bregman to play shortstop. Leon is the team's 23-year-old hot prospect who signed as an outfielder that the team has been trying to turn into a shortstop. If Correa were to leave, he could instantly plug the hole Carlos would leave behind. Either of those options lead to my next point of being okay with Correa leaving which is to...

...allocate that money elsewhere. Whether it's signing a replacement (at short or third), or boosting the pitching staff, I'll be fine as long as it's money well spent. Signing a shortstop or third baseman would determine where Bregman would be playing. If said player takes significantly less than Correa and fills 70-80% of his offensive shoes, it'll be worth it. Others will have to step it up. If they find a deal on a top of the rotation starting pitcher, that would be ideal as well. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this team has employed a six-man rotation, but doesn't have a true ace. Spending anywhere from $20-30 million a year on a top-notch pitcher to add to the staff would bolster this staff in more ways than one. It'll finally give them the ace they lack, plus it'll bump all the young talent (still under team control) down a peg creating depth and perhaps even creating bullpen depth.

The only way any of this works is if Correa isn't back. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's money comes off the books also. Freeing up that much payroll and not re-appropriating those resources to ensure this team stays in contention would be a first degree felony in sports court. I don't think Jim Crane wants that for this team. I for sure don't think James Click wants that as his legacy. Let's sit back and watch how the organization maneuvers this offseason and pray they get it right.


Editor's note: If you want to read the other side of the argument, check out Ken Hoffman's piece from Tuesday.

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