Congrats, Astros

added 09/22/2017 by Bob Hulsey

Expectations create peculiar ideas. If we rewind back to March, the Astros were a team with a lot of hopes coming off a disappointing season. The team's rallying cry was "Earn it" which was the challenge to turn talent into results. Preseason projections were for a the team to win in the mid-to-high 80s and compete with the Rangers and Angels in the AL West and a spot in the playoffs.

In the end, it was "no contest".

To wrap the division up without much drama, I can say "Mission Accomplished!" Yet, by winning so regularly and effortlessly the first half of the season, the expectation monster was raised to the level where most around Houston are expecting an LCS appearance at a minimum and a World Series appearance as a likelihood.

I think it helps that the Cleveland Indians went on a 22-game winning streak. The "must win" pressure for the post-season has probably hopped over to the defending AL champions where it belongs.

The Astros received unexpected production from Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick and Brad Peacock among others. Joe Musgrove, Derek Fisher and Francis Martes represented the biggest moves from the minors to the majors.

The trade for Justin Verlander breathed new life into a squad that sputtered for the better part of the second half. Injuries to Carlos Correa, George Springer and the catching tandem of Evan Gattis and Brian McCann, kept the offense stuck in neutral while the spotty starting pitcher fought injuries of their own and the bullpen, which was a key to their first-half success, fell on hard times due to overwork.

Houston exceeded 90 wins for just the seventh time in the franchise's 55 years in operation. They would need to finish 9-1 to match the best record in club history. In the end, this may not be the long-awaited World Championship season the early months promised.

But we now know that Jim Crane was a man of his word when he said he'd spend the money when the time came to make a playoff push. He has no reason to hold back in 2018. Let's look at their payroll commitments:

Verlander $20 million (Detroit is paying an additional $8 million)
Josh Reddick $13 million
Yuli Gurriel $12 million
McCann $11.5 million (Yankees are paying an additional $5.5 million)
Charlie Morton $7 million
Tony Sipp $6 million
Will Harris $2.8 million
Jon Singleton $2 million
Total: $74.3 million

Unrestricted free agents:

Francisco Liriano, Cameron Maybin, Luke Gregerson, Carlos Beltran, Tyler Clippard.

Contract options (team options):

Jose Altuve, Marwin Gonzalez

Arbitration:

Dallas Keuchel, Evan Gattis, George Springer, Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers, Jake Marisnick, Jumbo Diaz, Ken Giles, Brad Peacock

Pre-Arbitration:

Chris Devenski, Lance McCullers, Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jandel Gustave, David Paulino, James Hoyt, Max Stassi, Tony Kemp, Tyler White, J.D. Davis, Preston Tucker, Francis Martes, A.J. Reed, Colin Moran, Brady Rodgers.

There's a good chance all the free agents will be gone. Their salaries will be needed to sign Springer, Keuchel, Giles, Peacock and probably an extension for Altuve.

While you're enjoying the playoffs and rooting for the Astros, Keep in mind that the groundwork has been laid for a playoff run of several years. This is just the first leg.