The Houston Astros had quite a tumultuous 2020. Not only did punishments come down for their sign-stealing scandal, which resulted in general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch getting axed, but the on-field ride was also a roller coaster. They never really got things going on a consistent basis in the 60-game regular season, but snuck into the postseason thanks to the 16-team format. Then they went 5-1 en route to making the ALCS, where they found themselves down three games to none against the Rays. Then they battled back to become the second team ever to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in the MLB playoffs, only to fall in Game 7 on Saturday night.
Now heading to the offseason, the Astros have lots of question marks. Of note in looking toward 2021:
- George Springer could be gone, as he hits free agency this offseason.
- Same for Michael Brantley.
- On a lesser scale, Josh Reddick and Brad Peacock are also free agents.
- Justin Verlander is likely out for the season as he'll be recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- Zack Greinke will be 37 years old.
So how do things stand with the state of the roster?
Some of the nucleus remains. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are locked up long term. Carlos Correa has one year left until he hits free agency. Yuli Gurriel is around for at least two more years, but he's heading toward his age-37 season. Yordan Alvarez should return healthy and Kyle Tucker can continue to grow. Martin Maldonado and Aledmys Diaz will be back as well.
It's the fine beginning to a contender, but replacing the offense Springer and Brantley provide is a tall order just from what is on the roster. The good news is there is so much salary coming off the books that the Astros could probably have enough financial flexibility to retain at least one of them. Then again, things get murky when we consider ...
At his age -- and there have been some bad signs down the stretch -- we can't trust Greinke to be a frontline starter moving forward. There were certainly good signs from the likes of Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier this season while Lance McCullers is a fine mid-rotation option. Perhaps Jose Urquidy can stay healthy and throw well and there's always hope a prospect (Forrest Whitley?) makes an impact.
It's just that this group is totally loaded with question marks before we even get to the bullpen, where returns from Chris Devenski and Roberto Osuna will help. Overall, the bullpen was unreliable in 2020, so just adding those two doesn't mean they are in great shape in relief.
Again we're left wondering: How much financial flexibility will the front office be given by ownership after a season in which Minute Maid Park sold zero tickets?
We can't be sure with any team, because we've never been in this situation before. Free agency could be a bloodbath with players not getting anything close to what they are worth. If there's a team like the Astros willing to be one of the few big spenders, they could benefit on the field.
If not, there are a lot of areas that need to be shored up from outside the organization. They need to add at least one big bat, maybe two, while getting at least one -- maybe two or even three -- reliable rotation arms and the bullpen could use some help as well.
If free agency alone won't cut, perhaps Correa (one year left before free agency) is made available via trade, but then again that's also subtracting even more from the nucleus. Would they trade Correa for some pitching help while bringing back Springer? Does that make them better? Could they instead just hold out hope everything they have on the pitching side is enough and stand pat while bringing back Springer on a big free agent deal and hoping the return of Alvarez blunts the loss of Brantley?
There are several very tough questions here.
The entire offseason is going to be fascinating in Major League Baseball. Given the state of the franchise, the recent history of on-field success and the scandal the players couldn't shake, put this team on the short list of the most intriguing to watch.