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The Houston Astros lost the 2021 World Series on Tuesday night, falling to the Atlanta Braves in six games. The Astros will still walk away from this season having completed the impressive feat of making five consecutive trips to at least the American League Championship Series, including three that culminated in a pennant.

The Astros' chances of making it six and four are to be determined at a later date. For now, the Astros are entering what appears to be a pivotal offseason -- one that is certain to shape Houston's direction for the 2022 season and beyond.

Allow us to explain by hitting on four big questions facing the Astros.

1. Who's the manager?

When the Astros installed Dusty Baker after firing AJ Hinch for his role in the sign-stealing scandal, it was reasonable to expect it would be a short-term arrangement. 

After all, Baker was already in his 70s. Houston, for its part, needed someone who could calm the clubhouse and chill the anti-Astros fervor boiling across the league, in opposing dugouts and bleachers. Baker, whose favorability rating within the game is as high as it can get, did just that -- and, in the process, he became the first manager to ever lead five different franchises to the postseason. 

Now, the Astros have to evaluate whether or not they feel Baker remains the right person for the job. The answer should be yes based on all the available evidence, and it seems like owner Jim Crane agrees. Baker is reportedly expected to return to the club on a new one- or two-year deal.

In theory, that should be easy enough to hammer out. Baker has been burned by apparent layups before, however, including a somewhat similar situation with the Washington Nationals that led to his dismissal despite winning nearly 60 percent of his regular season games. For now, though, Baker would seem more likely than not to return.

2. What of Correa?

Baker's return certainly seems more realistic than that of shortstop Carlos Correa

Correa is slated to hit the open market this winter as the top available free agent, where he's expected to draw interest from all the usual large-market clubs, including the New York Yankees. The Astros theoretically have an exclusive negotiating window within which they can work out a new deal, but the odds of that appear slim.

It wasn't long ago that Correa told the media the Astros never came close to matching his ask, offering instead a contract that topped out at $125 million. Correa has since authored an MVP-level season, suggesting his price has only increased since.

The Astros have shown an appetite for allowing stars to walk through free agency. Two winters ago, it was Gerrit Cole; last offseason, it was George Springer. This year? The headliner is likely to be Correa -- but it may not be just Correa.

3. What happens with the rotation?

In addition to Correa, the Astros could lose a pair of veteran starters to the open market, in Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. (Greinke, at least, also appears to be weighing retirement.) The Astros, then, will likely have to address their rotation. 

Of course, the Astros may view it differently if they feel optimistic about Lance McCullers Jr.'s health. Should they deem McCullers good to go, the Astros might reason that a starting five of him, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy, and Jake Odorizzi is good enough to get by. That would seem like a mistake, however, given the fleeting nature of pitcher health and how little they seemed to trust Odorizzi.

Houston does have internal options it could fall back on, including Brandon Bielak, Tyler Ivey, and Hunter Brown (to make no mention of former top prospect Forrest Whitley). On paper, though, it seems logical to expect they'll add externally.

4. Can Bregman get sorted out?

It wasn't long ago that Alex Bregman was one of the best players in the majors. Since the sign-stealing scandal, however, he's been reduced to something less than. 

Whereas Bregman had hit .286/.384/.527 (144 OPS+) in four seasons prior to the investigation, he's since batted just .261/.353/.431 (114 OPS+). Perhaps the nature of that split is just a coincidence -- and to be fair, he remains a useful enough player thanks to his defense at the hot corner -- but the cause is almost irrelevant. What matters to the Astros is that they have to get him back on course if they want to remain an AL powerhouse -- especially if Correa is permitted to walk.

Bregman, by the way, openly discussed some swing changes he made ahead of Game 6 with Sports Illustrated, noting that his top hand has felt "weak," possibly because of a wrist injury he suffered late in the season.

The Astros have no choice but to hope that an offseason of rest and tinkering will return Bregman to his old glory.