added 09/06/2016 by Bob Hulsey
With the AL West race all but decided and the wild card chances iffy at best, I think Jeff Luhnow has decided to give Astro fans a preview of what the 2017 Astros may look like, you know – the ones Sports Illustrated touted as World Champions a few years back.
So let's look and see how close to a pennant winner they are.
They have five practically certain pieces in the everyday lineup. Jose Altuve could hit at 80% of what he's done this year and that is still outstanding, particularly at the salary he is getting paid. George Springer has finally shown what he can do over a full season. Carlos Correa has suffered a bit of a sophomore slump but I expect him to be dynamic again in 2017. Alex Bregman is here to stay. He had a rough start but has hit very well during the past few weeks. Yulieski Gurriel will have a spot somewhere in the lineup after he was lured from Cuba to help spark the offense.
Frankly, I hate seeing Springer bat in the leadoff spot. He ought to be the best RBI man on the club and hit lower with more men on base. I'd try to find a lefthanded or switch-hitting leadoff man for center field then follow that with Bregman, Altuve, Correa and Springer in that order. They're all righty hitters so it may make sense to squeeze lefty-hitting A.J. Reed into the fifth spot as the first baseman just to break up the pattern.
Catcher is a huge question mark with Jason Castro and Evan Gattis both being partial fits. Castro may opt to leave in free agency while Gattis has a team option to stay next year. I really like having supersub Marwin Gonzalez around but he will eventually get too costly to keep without a defined role.
Besides catcher and first base, the two outfield spots next to Springer are still question marks and places Luhnow may fill by going outside the organization.
I suspect Doug Fister will get and decline a qualifying offer, leaving the Astros with Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers as likely starting rotation candidates. Toss in Mike Fiers, Joe Musgrove, Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz, Brady Rodgers and a free agent or two and that's whom will vie for the other two spots. We know Devenski and Feliz can fit into the bullpen but I think both still have starting potential. McCullers may be another bullpen candidate since he shows trouble staying healthy as a starter.
Ken Giles, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson and Tony Sipp will be part of the bullpen picture. Another lefthander would be welcome, particularly with Sipp coming off a disappointing season.
What you have is a relatively low-cost and talented team but are they really good enough to defeat the Rangers and win a pennant? At present, no. I don't see them competing with people like Jonathan Lucroy, Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre and the like. Even as they've sunk money into Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish and other lost salaries, the Rangers are willing to spend to win a title. The Astros, so far, haven't shown a willingness to go all-in, remaining cautious with their checkbooks.
Who knows what moves in trades and free agency need to be made but they honestly need to have another front-line hitter in the lineup and one or more studs in the rotation to be able to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the best in the American League next year, something they clearly haven't done this year.
However, don't expect to see Fister, Colby Rasmus, Pat Neshek or Luis Valbuena back next year except on low-ball contracts. This leaves roster spots for Luhnow to either add free agents or call-up players from the minors to fill the void. How he does it may be vital, not just to the credibility of Sports Illustrated, but also for Luhnow and his Great Rebuilding Plan.
Imagine if that SI cover had been about the Cubs?