Connor: Guide to the Astros Winter

The 2018 Houston Astros were a success. While it still might be difficult to stomach the way it ended, they gave it every shot they could to make it back-to-back titles for the franchise. While they did not reach that goal, there are many things to build on as they head into the winter looking to bring the trophy back to Houston in 2019.

Let's take a look at players that might be on their radar to reach that goal in 2019.


Current Payroll for 2019: (Excluding Arbitration/Renewal Candidates) (Salaries via Baseball Reference)

1. SP- Justin Verlander (28 million, 8 million paid by Tigers)

2. OF- Josh Reddick (13 million)

3. OF- George Springer (12 million)

4. 1B- Yuli Gurriel (10.4 million)

5. 2B- Jose Altuve (9.5 million)

6. RP- Joe Smith (8 million)

7. RP- Hector Rondon (4.5 millon)

Total: 77.4 million (77.9 million with addition of 500k for Jon Singleton release)


Players Eligible for Arbitration: (Salary Projections via MLB Trade Rumors)

1. SP- Gerrit Cole (13.1 million)

2. RP- Roberto Osuna (5.4 million)

3. RP- Collin McHugh (5.4 million)

4. SS- Carlos Correa (5.1 million)

5. SP- Lance McCullers (4.6 million)

6. RP- Ryan Pressly (3.1 million)

7. RP- Brad Peacock (2.9 million)

8. OF- Jake Marisnick (2.4 million)

9. RP- Chris Devenski (1.4 million)

Total: 43.4 million

Potential Payroll Total After Arbitration: 121.3 million (Includes 500k for Singleton release)


Pre-Arbitration Players: (2019 MLB Minimum Set at 555k)

1. 3B- Alex Bregman (1M) (Paid 600k in 2018, 1M in 2019 just a prediction)

2. C- Max Stassi (555k)

3. RP- Jandel Gustave (555k)

4. OF- Derek Fisher (555k)

5. 3B- JD Davis (555k)

6. 1B/DH- Tyler White (555k)

7. OF- Tony Kemp (555k)

8. P- Francis Martes (555k)

9. 1B- AJ Reed (555k)

10. RP- Reymin Guduan (555k)

11. SP- Brady Rodgers (555k)

Total: 6.55 Million

Potential Payroll After Arbitration and Renewals: 127.85 million (Includes Singleton 500k)

NOTE: All players set at league minimum for 2019 in this projection besides Alex Bregman. I set his number at one million based on his 2018 season and the Astros bumping Correa up to one million for 2018 season despite being eligible for salary renewal like Bregman is for the 2019 season.

2nd NOTE: All players listed above had MLB service time before the 2018 season, so it does not include players that accumulated service time in 2018. Players that did accumulate service time in 2018 include: Kyle Tucker, Myles Straw, Framber Valdez, Cionel Perez, Josh James and Dean Deetz.


Players with Options on Contract for 2019:

1. C- Brian McCann (Team Option, 15 million)

2. RP- Will Harris (Team Option, 5.5 million)

Total: 20.5 million

Potential Payroll if Options Picked Up: 148.35 million 

NOTE: I do not believe that the Astros will pick up either players options for 2019 season. Harris the only candidate of the two players that has any chance of his option being picked up. I believe McCann would like to continue his career, the Astros could look at bringing him back at fair dollar for a backup role.


Astros Free Agents: (2018 Salary) (My Prediction of Contract Player gets in Free Agency)

1. SP- Dallas Keuchel (13.2 million) (4 years, 65 million)

2. SP- Charlie Morton (7 million) (1 year, 15 million)

3. DH- Evan Gattis (6.7 million (1 year, 3 million)

4. RP- Tony Sipp (6 million) (1 year, 2.5 million)

5. OF/IF- Marwin Gonzalez (5.12 million) (4 years, 60 million)

6. C- Martin Maldonado (3.9 million) (2 years, 15 million)


Notes on Contract Predictions:

1. SP- Dallas Keuchel

Had the qualifying offer extended to him this week, which has been set at 17.9 million dollars for 2019. The Astros could make an offer to keep Keuchel on a long term deal, but I would not expect them to extend any kind of offer that would be near the biggest offer other teams will make.

Prediction for 2019 Team: Los Angeles Angels

Why the Angels: They always have money to spend and it would be surprising if they don't make at least one significant addition this offseason. Adding Keuchel gives them a pitcher that knows the division and has pitched like an ace for a contender in the past.

Other Potential Landing Spots: Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies


2. SP- Charlie Morton

The Astros have a tough decision to make on whether or not to extend the qualifying offer to Charlie and the rumors are that they are leaning towards not doing that. The real question is, will Charlie even pitch again in 2019? He's been very open about his thoughts on retirement after a very successful two year run in Houston.

Prediction for 2019 Team: Houston Astros

Why the Astros: I believe that if he decides to continue his career, he will do whatever he can to be back in Houston if the sides could find common ground on a deal. If he were to sign a multi-year deal, I would not expect it to be for more than two years. I would not be mad if the news came out tomorrow that the Astros and Morton agreed to a 2 year deal for something in the neighborhood of 30 million dollars in total value. 

Other Potential Landing Spots: Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees


3. DH- Evan Gattis

Gattis can hit the ball a mile and when he gets hot, he can get insanely hot. He has many things going against him as he enters the free agent market. Finding home runs on the free agent market is fairly easy. He lacks a defensive position and no team is going to be willing to use him as a catcher on a consistent basis. On top of all of that, he has never been a high on base percentage guy. I would not be surprised if he has to sit around and wait until spring training starts to find a job as a platoon type of DH for a non-contending American League team.

Prediction for 2019 Team: Detroit Tigers

Why the Tigers: A team that has no thought of contention with space available to use him regularly as their Designated Hitter. Any team looking to sign him in all likelihood is doing it to try and catch lightning in a bottle and move before the trade deadline.

Other Potential Landing Spots: Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals


4. RP- Tony Sipp

Sipp took advantage of his limited role in 2018 and set himself up to have some teams interested in his services for the 2019 season. You have to think that his role wherever he's playing 2019 will remain about the same.

Prediction for 2019 Team: Milwaukee Brewers

Why the Brewers: I have no real explanation. I just picked a team that will look to add as many arms as possible. I expect Sipp's market to be a slow paced one, but I do think he lands a guaranteed big league spot. It would not completely shock me if he ends up back in Houston if other lefty free agent relievers do not land in Houston.

Other Potential Landing Spots: Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies


5. OF/IF- Marwin Gonzalez 

While his start to the season was very slow, Marwin rebounded nicely in the second half and added big clutch hits in the postseason. One of the games most versatile players, Gonzalez will no shortage of suitors. I think the Astros need to bite the bullet and overpay here if that is what it takes. He provides insurance at so many positions. The one thing that you have to be worried about of course is that he is now a client of Scott Boras. Reports have said that the Astros are not expected to extend the qualifying offer to Marwin, something I believed they would do.

Prediction for 2019 Team: Houston Astros

Why the Astros: I believe, at the end of the day, the Astros need him more than anyone and they do what they have to do to keep him in an Astros jersey. The question is, will it take a bigger average annual value or maybe a longer deal than others might offer. I would be shocked if he is not making at least 12 million dollars a year with his new deal, wherever he might get it. 

Other Potential Landing Spots: Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies


6. C- Martin Maldonado

Despite a tough ALCS behind the plate, Maldonado should have no issue finding work quickly once free agency opens. He might not hit all that much, but his work with a pitching staff and ability to crush any teams running game makes him one of the best catchers available on the market.

Prediction for 2019 Team: Houston Astros

Why the Astros: I believe that the Astros love how he worked with the staff and how great his defense was overall after they traded for him in July. They value defense and have been one of the two or three best defensive teams in the game during the AJ Hinch era. 

Other Potential Landing Spots: Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A's, Milwaukee Brewers


Potential Free Agent Targets for the Astros: (2018 Team)

The Astros have money to spend and could have multiple spots to fill. Here are some guys that I think we will hear the Astros connected to in free agency.


Catchers:

1. Wilson Ramos (Tampa Bay Rays/Philadelphia Phillies)

The Astros were linked to him as a team interested in trading for him before the deadline in 2018 and you should expect to hear them linked to him again this offseason. More offense than defense, one of the better bats at the catching spot available this winter.

2. C- Jonathan Lucroy (Oakland A's)

Another name the Astros have been linked to in the past, Lucroy is a reliable veteran backstop that is respected across the league for his ability behind the plate. Not the hitter he once was, you would hope he can find some of his past magic with the bat in his hand. He will have plenty of suitors, and you have to believe the Athletics will make every attempt to bring him back for the 2019 season.


Infielders:

1. 2B- Jed Lowrie (Oakland A's)

We know the Astros love for him over the years. His versatility to play all over the infield makes him one of the more intriguing position players available this winter. Despite being 35 years old, his market should be fairly rich. If the Astros are not able to bring back Marwin Gonzalez, their desire to bring him back to Houston again could ramp up.

2. 2B- Brian Dozier (Minnesota Twins/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Not the conventional type of target for the Astros but might make more sense after you sit back and think about him for a second. 2018 was a down year for Dozier following the two best seasons of his career that saw him mash 42 homers in 2016 and 34 in 2017 while posting an OPS of .886 and .856 in those two seasons. Splitting time with the Twins and Dodgers, Dozier hit just .227 as a Twin and .182 as a Dodger. He might be in line for a one year deal to regain some of his previous value on the market, which could bring the Astros into play for his services. A dead pull hitter that would love the Crawford Boxes, if the Astros lose Marwin Gonzalez, he could be used as a guy that bounces between 2nd and 3rd while providing another option at the DH spot for AJ Hinch. While he's never played third base in his big league career, he has spent time at each infield position except for first during his professional career.


3. 3B/DH Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays/Cleveland Indians)

Donaldson was set to hit the free agent market this offseason as one of the more coveted players available. Injuries in 2018 put an end to a huge deal for him as he was limited to just 52 games between the Blue Jays and the Indians who acquired him before the waiver deadline in August. The Astros were rumored as a team that had been in contact with the Jays before the Indians landed him, and with no locked in DH for the Astros at the moment, Donaldson makes a lot of sense. While he will want to play the field as much as possible to prove that he can still get through a whole season without injury issues, the DH spot is where he should see the majority of his time in 2019 if he lands with an American League team. 


Outfielders:

The Astros do not have a glaring need to go out and grab a bat in the outfield. Of course, if Marwin Gonzalez does not return, that need will clearly change. The Astros want Kyle Tucker to win the job in left in Spring Training, but you have to make plans if the scenario comes about that he needs more time in the minors again to start the 2019 season. Tony Kemp will continue to see plenty of playing time out there which he earned in 2018, but the Astros, as we know, are a team that loves to play the matchup game and get guys off their feet as often as they can. While I have players in mind that could be on their radar, I think the odds of any of these player landing in Houston are slim.

1. LF- Michael Brantley (Cleveland Indians)

He will play the 2019 season at the age of 32 and has a fairly extensive injury history that will worry some. What you do like is that he put together a strong 2019 that saw him play in 143 games, slashing .303/.364/.468 with a .832 OPS. Fits the mold of the Astros, low strikeouts and a contact first guy. Limited to just left at this point of his career, a superb option as a platoon DH to face right handed pitchers. His market will likely be very big and the cost to sign him will likely be to rich for the Astros taste.


2. RF/LF- Andrew McCutchen (San Francisco Giants/New York Yankees)

The 2013 NL MVP might not be the same threat he once was early in his career at the plate, he should have no issue with finding a nice landing spot this offseason. Defensive metrics have not liked him for some time now and his days of playing any center field are behind him. Despite hitting .255 last season between the Giants and the Yankees, he still has the great ability to just get on base, doing so at a .368 clip in 2018. Would provide a solid option for AJ Hinch to platoon in left with Tony Kemp, as well as a DH option against left handed pitchers. 


3. RF- Nick Markakis (Atlanta Braves)

One of the games most durable players since his debut in 2006, the now 34 year old Markakis was an All-Star for the first time in his career in 2018, playing a huge role in the Braves earlier than expected leap into contender status. Limited to the corner outfield spots, he would be somewhat of an odd fit for the Astros, like Michael Brantley would, given that they already have two left handed hitting outfielders in Josh Reddick and Tony Kemp. Despite that, another player that fits that mold of what the Astros like, with less power than you might prefer out of a corner outfielder. 


Designated Hitters: 

1. Nelson Cruz (Seattle Mariners)

While it is hard to imagine the Astros going with a primary DH given that they have liked to use that spot so often as a way to get guys some rest, the thought of Nelson Cruz in the middle of the order at Minute Maid park makes a lot of us drool. Way up there in age now at 38, Cruz has not let that define his ability to just hit dingers and drive in runs. He has hit no less than 37 homer runs a season since 2013 when he was a member of the Texas Rangers. Sign me up for a one or two year deal for one of the games most consistent power threats on a yearly basis. 

2. Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers)

If he decides he wants to continue his career and give himself one more shot at a ring and reaching the 500 home run mark, Houston makes some sense here. He does not need to play much third if any at all. His body has failed him too often the last couple of years to hold up in a primary role at third base. Despite the injury issues that have continued to pop up, he's still been a very consistent producer at the plate over the last few seasons. While I think the scenario of him landing in Houston is unlikely, I would not balk at the Astros taking a chance on the future hall of famer, much like they did back in 2017 when they brought back Carlos Beltran.


Starting Pitchers:

The Astros could find themselves looking for two new arms to add to the rotation and possibly a third if Lance McCullers requires some kind of surgery that could affect his availability to start the 2019 season. Josh James and Framber Valdez both made starts in 2018 and showed enough to earn a shot at winning a rotation spot in the spring. Top prospect Forrest Whitley's 2018 season being so limited due to the suspension and injuries probably pushes back his arrival time in Houston to a later date in 2019. Another name to keep an eye on is the 2017 first round pick, J.B. Bukauskas. His 2018 did not go as planned after getting into a car accident this past spring, limiting him to just 14 starts across five Astros minor league affiliates. Late in the year, when finally back at full strength, Bukauskas flashed, showing why he was the 15th overall selection in the 2017 draft. Like Whitley, it is hard to believe he would get a shot in the rotation out of Spring Training, it should come as no surprise if he makes starts for the Astros in 2019.

Now to some of the pitchers available this winter that could be on the Astros radar. 


1. LHP- J.A. Happ (Toronto Blue Jays/New York Yankees)

Hard to believe the former Astro has become the pitcher he now is, making his first All-Star team in 2018 at the age of 35. A solid three, four or five on a contender, Happ posted a career high 193 strikeouts in 2018 in his 177 innings of work. If the Astros feel that they have to have a lefty in their rotation, Happ should be on the radar. He probably finds himself third in the pecking order among available left handed starters this winter behind Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, but he will have no lack of suitors to choose from. If the Yankees do not land Corbin, which is expected at this point, the Yankees will likely push hard to bring him back to the Bronx in 2019.

2. RHP- Lance Lynn (Minnesota Twins/New York Yankees)

Lynn, like so many others last winter, had to sit and wait a good while before landing a one year deal for 12 million dollars with the Twins. Another guy that will be looking to reset his value in the free agent market, it is hard to see him landing more than a one year deal with anyone and at a much lower number than he received from the Twins this past year. His connections with Luhnow in St. Louis makes him a name to keep an eye on. 

3. RHP- Nathan Eovaldi (Tampa Bay Rays/Boston Red Sox)

Did you know that he is a native of Alvin, Texas? Did you? Yes, I know you do. Eovaldi returned from Tommy John Surgery this past year and has done nothing but boost his stock for this winter with what he did in the regular season and now the postseason where he has been the Red Sox best pitcher. Boston will likely push hard to keep him, but the hard throwing right handed pitcher has to be on the minds of the team he just helped eliminate in the ALCS.


Relievers: 

1. LHP- Andrew Miller (Cleveland Indians)

The Astros tried to sign him after the 2014 season and reports said they made a better overall off than the four year, 36 million dollar deal he signed with the Yankees. 2018 was not Miller's best season in the big leagues with multiple stints on the disabled list and a lack of command each time he returned from those stints.

2. LHP- Justin Wilson (Chicago Cubs)

Solid reliable lefty specialist who can be used against right handed hitters as well. Not a big name that would get too many people excited, but has a solid track record and a better lefty option than Tony Sipp has been out of the Astros pen. 

3. LHP- Jake Diekman (Texas Rangers/Arizona Diamondbacks)

Put together a solid first half of the season with the Rangers before being shipped off to Arizona at the deadline. His results overall as a D-Back were not so great. An intriguing lefty option with a weird delivery and some gas on his heater, but not a guy you would think is the top option for teams looking for a lefty out of their pen.


The Trade Market:

The Astros have hit the trade market in a significant way the last two winters and still have plenty of ammunition in the farm system to be players once again in that market this winter. Last year it was the big deal to land Gerrit Cole. This year I would put my money on them targeting a bat if they decide to pull the trigger on a trade once again. Now, to some names to watch.

1. 1B- Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona Diamondbacks)

With one year left on his contract at a very reasonable 14.5 million dollars, the Diamondbacks are going to listen hard on offers for one of the games best overall players. All of the big boys will be in the mix to land him and you can expect to hear the Yankees name mentioned a lot. He is this generations Jeff Bagwell and what a fit he would be on this Astros team. He does everything well, meaning it is going to be very expensive to land him. Landing the Woodlands native would be the ultimate drop the mic move this winter if Jeff Luhnow can pull it off. 

2. C- J.T. Realmuto (Miami Marlins)

He wanted out ahead of the 2018 season and that has not changed. His agent has recently predicted that he will not be a Marlin in 2019. Solid behind the plate, his bat is the biggest draw for any team looking to trade for him. With multiple years of control left and coming off of his best season in the bigs, it will be very pricey to land him. The Astros have been linked to him for some time now, but it would surprise me if the untouchables in the farm system suddenly become available to land Realmuto this winter.

3. 1B/DH Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox)

The Astros tried to sign him when he came to the states from Cuba, making one of the larger offers he received before signing with the White Sox. Now 31, the two time American League All-Star is coming off his worst season in the majors, hitting .265 with 22 home runs and 78 runs batted, in his 128 games in 2018. Despite the down year, if the White Sox make him available, there will be no shortage of teams looking to land him. Being limited to just a first base/designated hitter role makes him a little less desirable knowing how much the Astros value defensive versatility. The open spot for an everyday DH probably outweighs any of those concerns. 


Conclusion:

It will likely be a very busy winter for Jeff Luhnow and the Astros and I do not expect him to not make at least one significant addition for the 2019 season. But as we know, no move will be made without an eye on future deals that need to be done with core players. With that in mind I do think that puts the Astros very much in play for a significant addition on a one year basis to give them their best shot to do bring the trophy back to Houston in 2019. Now let's just sit back and enjoy the hot stove season. 

Sean Salisbury

Sean Salisbury

Sean Salisbury is a longtime sportscaster who has covered the Houston market for many years talking Texans, Astros, Rockets & much more. He has worked as an TV analyst for ESPN shows like NFL Live & SportsCenter, and served as both an NFL & CFL... Read more

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