Folks, I have had it. On 12/15, the Astros lost out on the clear path to improve at catcher. Will they still? Maybe. Without help at catcher I think the Astros are putting the season at risk. Here is why.
Warning this article is not for everyone. If you want to just lay back this off-season and bask in the glow of winning the World Series, stop reading now.
I know this article may be shocking to you. When the guy who was once dismissed on Twitter as being nothing but a homer is one of the few doing what would be done by many in the avid baseball cities, you should ask why. I am not the problem.
Either you pay the market price to fix your weaknesses or you lay back and bask in the glory of your past achievements, talk about the absurd prices others are paying, and ignore the fact that you have not done what is needed to repeat your championships. There is no running it back with the same guys. You either improve or fall back.
Saying the Astros won the World Series is a lazy response to holding the ownership accountable for NOT doing what THEY said they would do. The team has fired the two guys most responsible for building the team we have. GM Crane did NOT build this team. He just paid the checks.
On 11/11, we showed what the Astros needed most this offseason. At that point the Astros projected to have the fifth best WAR on 2023 but I had warnings.
Before breaking this down I want you to see the Astros are fifth in this list but look at the six teams below them. At least half of those are FAR less complete of a roster today than your Astros are. It is very likely without significant upgrades, that the Astros could easily be EIGHTH on this list.
Today, the Heatmap looks like this. and guess where the Astros projected WAR Stands TODAY? (Data from Fangraphs.com)
Yes, eighth and dropping as other teams still improve because they have more opportunities to improve,
The average team WAR is 40.5 which means the Astros are 7 wins above average or could project to 86-90 wins in 2023. At about this same point in the FA market last year the Astros were FOURTH on this list and were projecting to 89-93 wins. So you can say well they beat that and they will do it again or you can say being eighth and projecting to 88 wins is not enough. I am the latter on this scale and for someone that promised the team would be aggressive I would expect Jim Crane is not satisfied either.
Or is he?
I tried to show previously that the most efficient way to improve this team was at catcher. It is the position that they project the worst at in the heatmap. That is WHY there are so many catcher articles on this website. Don't improve at catcher and you are not very likely to REALLY improve this team.
On 12/3. when we explained what the priorities for the Winter Meetings were again pointing to these critical areas and we gave you this warning.
The Astros have about $30-35M below the CBT. Listen to me now. Hear me later.
No matter what they SAY, they do NOT want to sign multi-year deals that take over the CBT because they will remain over the CBT and pay 50% tax rate in 2025.
They will have to chose not to bring Altuve or Bregman back in 2025 or chose not to extend Tucker.
Others on Twitter and Facebook filled your social media with fake rumors about top OFs that would get $20M+ AAV eight year contracts. I have tried to keep this focused on what the team could and SHOULD do. As of 12/15/22, they haven't.
Jim Crane had a similar list to mine here when he called two areas "HOLES." His words not mine at the Abreu Press Conference.
I guess the good news is that the Astros STILL haven't spent any of the $30-35M.
Jim Crane sure sounded like an owner willing to spend when he told you this on 11/29. He DID NOT RULE out signing JV even.
I told you this was not true then.
On 11/18, I warned you about this here.
The Astros need to stay below the CBT so when they can't (or shouldn't) in 2025 they will not incur an unsustainable tax penalty. The Astros are doing that.
Instead of doing something short term to help this team. They have done NOTHING since signing Abreu,
In some ways it no longer matters what the Astros have to spend. Here is the list of this year's TOP 25 free agents (only the ones not shaded are still available) sorted by their projected WAR. I included only those that were in the NEEDED positions (No 2B, SS, 3B). These are the difference makers.
If the Astros can sign Eovaldi for only 2 years (I doubt it), maybe they should as the pitching above is barely top 10.
No one thinks Benintendi would take a two year deal.
OK, Larry I am depressed now. Why are you doing this?
I AM WARNING YOU.
If they don't trade to upgrade the Catcher or make a significant move in the for the high risk high reward options like Conforto or Brantley, your Astros will need a miracle to return to the World Series. If they don't do both or fix it at the trade deadline, they won't be favorites in the postseason.
Yes the offense will be better with Abreu.
The catching is STILL 29th in the MLB in WAR
The prospects at C and OF COULD be good. Emphasis on COULD,
The pitching will be worse without Verlander. Projected at 10th in the MLB.
The relief pitching will be worse when half of the relief pitchers are not having career years.
Miracles COULD be:
Diaz or Lee being stunningly good and seizing the primary catching role
Maldy finds the time machine Luhnow used to use (IYKYK) and plays like he did 3-6 years ago
The OF prospects just taking over in LF or CF and never looking back.
The SP and RP stun the world and statistical algorithms.
Hope in sports miracles IS NOT what Jim Crane said this offseason was about. Hope is all that teams that lose in the post season or don't make the post season have.
IF this franchise wanted to be honest with the fans and say.
"We have several holes and not enough payroll space to fill them all. We were ONLY willing to go over the CBT to keep JV for 2 years. We are doing the Abreu deal to give ourselves a chance. Otherwise, our plan is to take risks with our top prospects- Brown, Pena. Diaz, Hensley, Lee, Dirden, Leon, Matijevic, France, and others. We plan to sign a high risk/ high reward veteran OF. This may not lead to our typical ALCS path. If we follow this route we think it will lead to the best results in 2024-2028."
I could have gotten behind THAT message. I would have been EXPLAINING it. THAT appears to be exactly what they are REALLY doing. They are GAMBLING that some of the prospects will once again step in and Keep It. (Again IYKYK)
How many of the rookie and second year players will exceed expectations? For this team to get back to the ALCS it probably takes
Diaz or Lee taking over at catcher by the end of 2023 - 1
Brown, France, or another SP to perform like a #3 starter- 2
Pena to not falter significantly- no sophomore slump- 3
Hensley. Dirden, Leon, or Matijevic to be starter worthy in LF - 4
so McCormick or Meyers can play at least average CF- 5
A young RP to come from the minors that no one expects- 6
I don't think it is reasonable to assume all of those will happen. My off-season plans were expecting the items in blue to happen already. Adding three more risks feels more like what the other teams we have beaten do.
To close out what we are saying here let's ask ourselves this
So far have the #Astros gotten better or worse this off-season?
Added- Abreu at 1B
Lost- Verlander at SP
Vazquez at C
Mancini at 1B/ LF/ DH
Brantley at LF
Gurriel at 1B
Diaz at IF/ OF
Smith at RP
Castro at C
We explore this deeper today in Astros Better or Worse Position by Position. Go check that out for a more thorough position by position breakdown.
Either make a move Astros or admit you are gambling with the 2023 season to your fans.
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