added 10/21/2016 by Greg Thurston
The Astros have come a long way since Jeff Luhnow took over as General Manager in December of 2011. The laughing stock of the league in the early part of the decade, Luhnow's aggressive rebuild brought the franchise from the depths of despair to within six outs of advancing to the A.L.C.S in only four years.
But a disappointing finish to the 2016 season has some wondering if perhaps the architect of the Astros current roster could be sitting on the hot-seat. Luhnow has acknowledged, in hindsight, that standing pat at the trade deadline was a costly mistake. The G.M. is likely to take a more aggressive approach this offseason and a fan-base that hungers for a championship will be closely monitoring his every move.
Luhnow's first order of business will be to determine which, if any, of the four impending Free Agents (Jason Castro, Doug Fister, Colby Rasmus, and Luis Valbuena) he wants to keep. MLB clubs have until five days after the end of the World Series to make a 1-year qualifying offer of $17.2 million to players set to become eligible for Free Agency. Simply put, all four of these players are extremely unlikely to be offered that kind of money.
The Astros will most likely retain Evan Gattis to do the bulk of the catching at $5.2 million for the season. Adding another backstop will be a priority and attempting to bring back Castro on a three or four year deal at around $10 million per season is one possible solution.
Fister and Rasmus were key contributors in the early part of 2016, but both were terrible down the stretch. Say goodbye to Mr. Fister and Colby Jack.
Valbuena was outstanding in July before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury, but his overall track record is not that of a $17 million player. Alex Bregman is the third-baseman of the future... and the future is now.
Reliever Pat Neshek can be brought back for $6.5 million for the 2017 season but I'm inclined to think the club will exercise a $500,000 buyout and let the right-hander seek work elsewhere. Although, Neshek has been a steady performer throughout his 10-year big league career and it wouldn't be a big surprise if the Astros decide to keep him. Other players who could be on the non-tender bubble, meaning the Astros may decline to offer them contracts, include pitchers Kevin Chapman and Brad Peacock.
In addition to the catching position, Luhnow will be looking to add one or two starting pitchers, at least one outfielder, and a left-handed reliever. The black hole at first-base is also an issue and could be addressed either internally or externally. This winter's free agent market is considered to be below average, but Luhnow has hinted that he thinks there are players available that could help the Astros.
Jeremy Hellickson , Rich Hill, and Ivan Nova, top the list of free agent hurlers. The Phillies have plenty of money to spend and may extend the qualifying offer to Hellickson. Hill and Nova were both traded during the season and are not eligible for the qualifying offer. Jhoulys Chacin is another pitcher that fits into that category. One under-the-radar pitcher to keep an eye on is Henderson Alvarez. The 26-year old was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2014 but has battled shoulder problems over the last two seasons. Alvarez could be a low risk, high reward type of acquisition.
Outfielders Jay Bruce, Josh Reddick, and Michael Saunders all swing the bat from the left side. Reddick has been trending downward for the last couple of years and will definitely be available. Saunders is coming off his best season to date and could get a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays. Bruce might be the best hitter of the trio but has nowhere near the defensive skills offered by Reddick and Saunders. The Mets also have the option of bringing Bruce back at a salary of $13 million for the 2017 season.
The left-handed relief market might be a little thin. Aroldis Chapman towers head-and-shoulders above the crowd but will come with a lofty price tag. Dumping a truckload of money into a reliever seems unlikely, so a trade could be the solution to what has become a glaring weakness for the team.
Luhnow has done a great job getting the Astros into a position to succeed. Taking it to the next level could require trading away some valuable players in order to fill the holes. A lot will be riding on the decisions he makes this offseason. Stay tuned to Astros Daily for our opinion-packed updates as things develop.