Falcon Points

With latest Rockets news, is Houston sports headed for the dark ages?

All good things come to an end. Composite image by Jack Brame.

By now, you have likely heard Russell Westbrook wants out with the Rockets. James Harden is not returning phone calls. Daryl Morey is gone and no one knows if his replacement can do the job. Mike D'Antoni is gone and no one knows if his replacement can do the job. The rest of the players are grumbling.

The Westbrook era is likely over, and maybe Harden goes next. For a city that has been buoyed by stars for the past several years, that era may be coming to a close as all three major franchises face big challenges in the coming years. (Sorry, Dynamo fans, you were already in the dark ages). A look at all three:

THE ROCKETS

The off-season has been one of turmoil. In a perfect world, the Rockets would hope a new coaching staff could make things work with the two stars. But if Westbrook wants out, it might be time for a total reset, and that would include moving Harden. It would be painful, because the Rockets are a playoff team with Harden. Without him? It could be a long reset. But it has to happen sometime, and maybe now is the time. Rockets fans have gotten spoiled, so a big step back might hurt the bottom line for a while, but you can't rule out the possibility. The turmoil might just be the beginning of a brutal stretch.

THE ASTROS

George Springer is the biggest loss of the off-season, and Justin Verlander won't pitch at all in 2021. They are down two outfielders, although it is possible they bring back Michael Brantley, which would leave only one spot to fill. Yordan Alvarez should return and provide some of Springer's production, so the offense should be OK. They got enough out of the pitching staff last season to be a playoff caliber team once again. The bullpen needs to be fixed, but that's not all that difficult.

But there are still real concerns. Jeff Luhnow built a roster that made it to the ALCS four straight times. We don't know if James Click can maintain that. And is Jim Crane backing off on spending? It would not be a shock considering the loss of revenue from the Rona. They should still be good in 2021, but beyond? Carlos Correa will be a free agent after next season. Verlander might never pitch again. Zack Greinke will be a free agent. The farm system is uncertain. The Astros could easily fall back to the pack at that point. Right now, they are still a safe bet to stay relevant. But for how long?

THE TEXANS

We all know what a mess Bill O'Brien left behind, and while a shrewd GM and a better coaching staff could get them competitive pretty quickly, does anyone believe that will be the case? A poor hire at GM, another unpopular coach...things could get ugly quickly. J.J. Watt, perhaps the most beloved Texan ever, will probably not be a part of it no matter what. Texans fans will have a hard time with that, but it's going to happen, and it should.

It might be difficult to swallow, but it's not inconceivable that when 2021 rolls around, some of Houston's biggest sports names - Watt, Harden, Westbrook, Springer - will be gone. And the bad thing is it could very well get worse from there.

Hopefully, the Rockets rebuild quickly. The Astros retool. The Texans get their hires right. If not? Things could get really bleak very fast.

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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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