The Houston Astros are barely a week removed from losing in the World Series to the Washington Nationals, thwarting their attempt at winning a second championship in three tries. Now, the Astros are set to enter what could be a pivotal offseason. Gerrit Cole, among others, is hitting free agency, and the Astros could be forced to make some tough calls elsewhere on their roster.

What will the Astros roster look like when they try to chase down a third pennant in four tries? 

Here's an offseason primer on the Astros.

2020 Payroll Situation

The Astros' Opening Day payroll has sat around $160 million in each of the past two seasons. That's important to note, because Houston is currently projected to blow by that total entering the 2020 season. In fact, Houston has nearly that much in guaranteed salary -- and that doesn't include a whopping arbitration bill that could top $60 million:

To be fair, the Astros could shave a decent amount off their arbitration load by non-tendering Jake Marisnick, Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and Aledmys Diaz -- that would cut off $12.5 million. Still, the major earners there are George Springer ($21.4 million), Roberto Osuna ($10.2), and Carlos Correa ($7.4).

As for the guaranteed contract portion, the Astros will receive a $10 million payment from the Diamondbacks next July on Zack Greinke's contract, meaning they aren't footing the entirety of this bill alone. 

Still, this is a team whose owner has a stated preference to avoid the luxury tax, and has a number of holes they have to fill through free agency and trade. It's going to be an interesting winter, in other words.

Biggest Needs

The Astros need at least one new starter with Cole and Wade Miley heading for free agency -- and that's presuming they are comfortable with Lance McCullers Jr. and Jose Urquidy holding down rotation spots heading into the year. It probably wouldn't hurt to add two. 

Houston also needs a new starting catcher, since Robinson Chirinos is on the way out, and a slew of late-inning relievers -- Will Harris, Joe Smith, and Hector Rondon are all free agents, too.

That doesn't include any luxury additions -- a new utility infielder, a right-handed stick to pair with Yordan Alvarez or Michael Brantley, and so on.

Trade Chips

The Astros have a mixed bag of a farm system. There's certainly some talent there, and Forrest Whitley could still be the centerpiece of a big deal, depending on what teams think of him. But it's not loaded and Whitley's rough season could leave them without a legitimate stud type.

Between that and the Astros' payroll situation, their top bargaining chips might be big-league players -- like Springer and Correa. In theory, the Astros could use Kyle Tucker to replace Springer in the lineup, and/or could have Abraham Toro take over at third base with Alex Bregman sliding to shortstop.

Yes, it's hard to imagine the Astros without Springer and/or Correa, but it's an option that league sources expect Houston to entertain this winter.

Possible Targets

There's no telling who the Astros might target if they try trading Springer and/or Correa -- presumably they'd desire a number of controllable players, or at least a controllable mid-rotation starter or better. 

In free agency, the Astros figure to shop around for potential bargains. That could mean replacing Cole and Miley with folks like Kyle Gibson and Jhoulys Chacin; or Joe Smith and Will Harris with Jay Jackson and Drew Pomeranz; and so on.

Odds are, whomever the Astros target this winter will have less name value than the free agents they're attempting to replace.

The Astros are attempting to win a third pennant in four years. As such, they're going to do what they can to amass as many talented players as possible. That, at times, means making difficult decisions. Don't be surprised, then, if the Astros end up trading an important, but increasingly expensive piece of their core as part of a busy winter.