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The Astros 12 Risks At Christmas

I missed the title on this post. It just came to me, and I apologize for letting you down. The title of this article is CLEARLY - The Astros 12 Risks At Christmas. Title changed.


There is one site that still has the Astros as the favorites to win the World Series. That is EXCELLENT news, but also requires that we remember what drives betting odds. Line makers are trying to set the line where they think they will have the best financial return.


Let me give you an example. Who do you think CASUAL fans think is the favorite to win the World Series? Without a doubt, casual fans are going to believe and bet on the Astros to win the World Series. Why? For ALL of the reasons you all have loudly and repeatedly told me they will- in a word- experience. The Astros have been to four World Series in six years. So yes, to a casual fan the Astros are the fan favorite and the team making all of the news - the Mets- is the second favorite.


As you know my numbers paint a different picture. Who is right or who is wrong IS NOT the focus here. Let's first answer a question I have gotten many times recently.


HOW CAN THE ASTROS IMPROVE THE LIKELIHOOD THAT THE ASTROS CAN WIN IT ALL? WHAT MOVES CAN THEY MAKE NOW?


I am starting from the team as it exists today. We are not revisiting the moves that have been made.


I have written and re-written this article four times. Each time before I could publish, one of the recommendations has been signed or traded for by another team.

- The Blue Jays traded catcher Moreno so the likelihood of them trading another one (Jansen) is very low.

- Daulton Varsho was traded to Toronto in that deal closing the opportunity to upgrade CF and possible backup C with him

- The key LHRP (Rogers) that could have been signed and projected to make a difference signed with the Giants

- The Giants also signed Conforto who might have been a High Risk/ High Reward option to upgrade CF


Even backup deals like these happened before I could fully vet them in my process

- The Cubs signed the last possible platoon split catcher Barnhart

- The Mets signed the last potential starting catcher Narvarez

- The Cubs signed Drew Smyly who I was considering as a LHP potential swing SP/RP option

These never appeared in any articles because these options disappeared before I was done thinking about them.


Currently I project the Astros to be at ~@$212M AAV Payroll which means they have ~$21M to spend while staying below the CBT. How they use that money the rest of this season may truly tell the story of 2023. Yes, the Astros COULD go over the CBT but that could lead to some negative payroll consequences including excessive tax penalties in 2024 and beyond. We have covered this several times.


If the Astros are serious about a significant impact from Free Agents. Of the 278 Free Agents in the Fangraphs.com Free Agent Tracker only 51 have projected WARs greater than or equal to 1.3. Of those 50 players only EIGHT remain unsigned. I am not sure ANY of the eight are a fit. Most of you are probably thinking it doesn't matter, the Astros are going to win anyway.


I guess Nathan Eovaldi (Projected WAR 2.4) is still a possibility, but I am not sure I would recommend that, but it would likely address one of the risks I discuss below. Eovaldi is the ONLY FA remaining that I think would have a material impact on the Astros 162 regular win season total.


I guess the team could sign Andrew Chafin (Projected WAR 0.4) to help the bullpen, but as I have stated previously, Chafin is not a fan of the Astros analytical approach to pitching. He may not be a great fit.


Let me address in summary some moves you may be interested in the Astros making.

- No, signing Yuli Gurriel will not materially impact positively; and if the projections can be believed, it would actually have a NEGATIVE impact on team performance. I have covered this in detail and people hate when I share that perspective.

- No, I do not believe the Astros have nor should they invest the trade capital to get Bryan Reynolds, Cedric Mullins, Dylan Carlson, or probably any CF you might suggest. If the OF you want is good enough to actually help this team in 2022, then the Astros likely don't have the trade capital they would want to invest in getting him.

- No, I would not sign Jurickson Profar as a utility player. Profar is a below average OF and a terrible IF at this point in his career. He had a career year at age 29 in 2022. I would rather just run with the low-cost guys on the Astros bench than invest a third to half of the remaining payroll space to Profar.


So here is where I am at after seeing every move I would have made no longer be an option. The Astros believe THIS team as it exists can put them in a position to win the World Series. I don't agree, but as many of you have felt the need to tell me, no one cares what I think.


So maybe the bigger question is


WHAT RISKS ARE THE ASTROS TAKING AND COUNTING ON WORKING OUT FAVORABLY IN 2023?


The reality is this team is taking multiple risks. I am going to list the biggest ones in my opinion with my rating how critical it is and how likely I think it is to work out.


I was asked to define the scale so I would say it is something like this


Importance- probability it has a material impact on the roster and/or season outcome, on an objective scale impacts a number of wins

10- it's probably 5+ wins

7- it's probably 3-5 wins

4- it's probably 1-3 wins

2- it's probably 1 win

0- it's zero


Likelihood- How likely is this risk of occurring. Since all are stated with the positive outcome, this is the likelihood for the positive outcome to occur.

10- It's a given

5- 50/50

0- not going to happen


- Hunter Brown will be able to pitch like AT LEAST a number three starter- Importance 8, Likelihood 8

- Pena will not have a sophomore slump- Importance 7, Likelihood 6

- McCormick will continue to develop and take hold of the starting CF job- Importance 7, Likelihood 6

- The starting pitching staff will be healthy and/or have the depth from players like Bielak, Dubin, and France to step in and contribute to at least an average MLB starter- Importance 7, Likelihood 5

- The bullpen can repeat their EXCELLENT performance of 2022- Importance 7, Likelihood 4

- Maldonado will perform better or at least as good as he did in 2022- Importance 6, Likelihood 4

- Yainer Diaz or Korey Lee will prove to be a good backstop to the extent no other backup to Maldonado will be needed- Importance 6, Likelihood 5

- Someone- Hensley/ Dubon/ Machado/ Bannon- will serve as a critical and productive utility IF- Importance 5, Likelihood 6

- Michael Brantley will play in enough games to settle any OF concerns for the 1H of 2023- Importance 5, Likelihood 5

- Someone- Meyers/ Dubon early or Leon/ Dirden/ Julks/ Matijevic later- will serve as a critical and productive 4th OF and possibly step up to play more in the 2H- Importance 5, Likelihood 5?- This is probably the HARDEST one to rate.


These last two risks are probably the ones the team is really counting on the most.

- No more than two or three of these risks will turn out negatively- Importance 9, Likelihood 5- I truly think this is 50/50

- The team will be able to (have the trade capital to) address whatever weaknesses or risks above that do not turn out positively at the trade deadline- Importance 9, Likelihood 6?- If it is two things that need to be addressed, it's probably 8. If it is three weaknesses, it's probably 5. If it is more than three weaknesses, it's probably 2.


So, will the after Christmas weeks bring some unexpected gift to the Astros? Can the team pull off a move that would significantly improve their odds in the postseason.? Do they even need that move?


Let's see what happens in the New Year. At this point, I am not expecting ANY big moves by the Astros until the trade deadline. Let me be clear about something else before people drag me for being negative. I care about this team and am just as big as a fan as you are. Just because I think the Astros have too many risks and that they are gambling with the 2023 season does NOT mean I don't think they CAN win another World Series. These things are not black or white, but at this point in the off-season it is about putting the team in the best position to meet the goals. I hope it works as much as you do.

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