The Houston Astros were a great baseball team in 2017. An obvious statement due to their World Series win, but as solid as the team was on their way to winning the title, their offense had some glaring holes throughout the postseason run.
Let’s start by praising the five players who carried Houston offensively, starting with American League MVP Jose Altuve. His .310 batting average, 1.021 OPS, 22H, 7HR, and 14 RBI all led the team. George Springer chipped in a .292 average, .997 OPS, 21H, 6HR, and 9 RBI. Yuli Gurriel, although overshadowed by his controversial racial gesture towards Yu Darvish, also contributed a .304 average, .864 OPS, 21H, 2HR, and 8RBI. Carlos Correa added 21H, 5HR and 14RBI. Alex Bregman hit 4HR and had 10RBI.
That was the good, now here’s the bad. After a strong regular season that saw him hit .314, right fielder Josh Reddick completely vanished in the postseason. He collected only 11 hits in 65 at bats for a weak .169 batting average, and only drove in 2 runs. Not to be outdone, fellow outfielder Marwin Gonzalez also only managed 11 hits in 61 at bats for an average of .180 after batting .303 in the regular season. He drove in 4 runs and hit 1 home run. The lack of production from these two regulars may have cost Houston the title had it not been for some clutch pitching and timely hitting from the rest of the squad.
Reddick and Gonzalez are 30 and 28 respectively, so both still have a lot of baseball let in them. Reddick is signed through 2020 on a 4-year/$52 million deal, an affordable price tag for the Astros. Gonzalez has one year left on the 2-year/$8.85 million contract he signed prior to 2017. Keeping these guys around makes sense for the Astros, but there are options out there should they try to make an upgrade.
J.D. Martinez is coming off of a career year. The 30 year old outfielder mashed 45 home runs, drove in 104 runs, owned a .303 batting average and a stellar 1.066 OPS in his time with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. Originally drafted by the Astros 611th overall in 2009, Martinez didn’t find his game over three years with Houston from 2011-2013. Since leaving Houston, he hasn’t hit fewer than 22 HR or batted below .282. Spotrac is projecting a market value around $25 million in average annual value for Martinez, who is the best outfielder on the market this year. It would be exciting to see Martinez fit into the meat of the Astros batting order to say the least.
Another outfield option is Jay Bruce, who is coming off of a solid year himself. After starting the year with the New York Mets, Bruce was dealt to the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline. He slugged 26 HR, drove in 101 runs, and owned a .254 batting average. With a projected market value of $14.8 million, Bruce is in line for a payday. He would be smart to wait for Martinez to sign first if he wants his stock to rise further.
Seeing the player comparison really shows how good of a year Martinez had. He had 123 fewer at bats than Bruce, yet he out performed him in each of the stats above except for hits.
Moving to the mound, where the Astros have a solid rotation going. Acquiring Justin Verlander at the deadline was huge, because they not only got him for their World Series run, but also for two more seasons through 2019. Dallas Keuchel is in his third year of arbitration eligibility, and after earning $9.15 million in 2017, it can be expected that his salary will remain around that value after an up and down year.After starting 9-0 Keuchel missed 6 weeks in June and July with a pinched nerve in his neck, but came back and went 5-5 down the stretch to finish 14-5 on the season. He had two great starts in the postseason, but struggled in his final three finishing with a 2-2 record overall. Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers, Brad Peacock, and Lance McCullers Jr. all started more than 20 games for the Astros, with Fiers leading in innings pitched and games started. His 8-10 record made him the only full time Astros starter with a losing record. Houston started 11 different pitchers over the course of the season, but are in great shape moving forward. Expect their rotation to look something along the lines of Verlander, Keuchel, Morton, Peacock, McCullers Jr. come Opening Day, but don’t be surprised if they try to add an arm like Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn if the price is right.
In the bullpen, which is where the Astros have the biggest need, a guy like Wade Davis would fit right in. Davis saved 32/33 games for the Chicago Cubs in 2017, the most of his career, and could form a great late inning combination with Ken Giles, Will Harris, and Chris Devenski. Houston does need to find a lefty or two better than Tony Sipp, who gave up identical batting averages to batters on either side of the plate. Bullpen arms seem to be at a surplus in recent years, especially guys who hit triple digits on the radar gun, but having a lefty specialist in the bullpen has never hurt anyone. Free agents in the bullpen include Luke Gregerson, Tyler Clippard, and Francisco Liriano. Liriano is the least likely to be offered a contract to remain with the Astros. Gregerson is coming off of his worst pro season, but may get an offer based on his track record with the team. Clippard didn’t have a great year, bouncing around from the New York Yankees to the Chicago White Sox before ending up in Houston where his 6.43 ERA over 16 games did little to impress.
It’s crazy that the Astros won 101 games and yet here I am saying they could be even better. Upgrading one of their corner outfielders and adding a backend bullpen arm could be the difference that gets them close to 110 wins in 2018 and a great chance at repeating as World Series Champions.