Welcome to 2016, the year the Astros were supposed to finally maybe sorta compete again. Instead, they have a Wild Card win under their belts already, while Carlos Correa nabbed the Rookie of the Year and Dallas Keuchel the Cy Young award. Keuchel picked up a second Gold Glove, along with Jose Altuve receiving his first. Altuve also got his second-straight Silver Slugger award after his second-straight 200 hit season, the first time any Astro has done so. If they just matched what they did in 2015, they would exceed what everyone back in 2014 thought they would do in 2016. You following me, camera guy?
Having so gloriously exceeded expectations, and with so much young, high-level talent throughout the organization, there's a feeling that the sky seems to be the limit for this club. Here are five bold(?) predictions for the new year.
The Astros will make another splash before Spring Training
There's still some off-season to go, and Houston has been tied to several name players in recent rumors. It's hard to say who it will be, but you can bet the team isn't finished constructing it's initial roster just yet. It could be Scott Kazmir or Yovani Gallardo, as speculated, to further strengthen an already-solid rotation, or maybe they see the Yankees' getting Chapman and decide to add one more arm themselves, perhaps a hard-thrower like Al Albuquerque. Or maybe they just go full-awesome and convince Justin Upton that Houston is the place to be.
Carlos Correa will win the AL MVP
This train can't be stopped. There are some strong incumbents, but I don't think there's anyone out there who has a difficult time imagining a scenario where Captain Correa has a better year than Mike Trout and nabs the coveted award. And that's pretty amazing. Correa would have hit 36 home runs while stealing 23 bases last year if he had been up on day one and hit homers during the full season like he did in 99 games in 2015.
Trout might end up posting a higher WAR thanks to the defensive metrics loving him, but you know what? When did the voters start listening to that? The Angels may very well miss the playoffs again, while Correa could be leading the Astros on a deep run. Speaking of all that talk...
The Astros will win baseball's most competitive division
A look across the AL West can only lead to the conclusion that the competition will be fierce this season. The Mariners have made multiple moves this off-season, Oakland figures to be better just due to regression (not to mention that they basically rebuilt their entire bullpen), and the Rangers are clear competitors, who could only get better if Yu Darvish can stay healthy. The Angels, despite their payroll, might end up being the worst team in the division, but no one can look at their roster and expect them to just stink.
Despite that, I submit that the Astros have the best group on paper heading into 2016. The reigning Cy Young winner heads a rotation with no notable weak link, and both Double-A and Triple-A have numerous backup options with real ML talent and upside. Depending on the year Carlos Gomez has, hitting machine Altuve may only be the fourth-best player on the club, and who knows if Jon Singleton might finally break out, or if Evan Gattis can rebound at the plate. But if he doesn't, there are a myriad of interesting options behind him.
That's the separator; depth. You might be able to argue that other teams can match the initial roster construction on paper, but who will have a list like Francis Martes, Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz, Dan Straily, and Aaron West waiting in the minors if something goes wrong in the rotation? There are those who might argue that Singleton, who not long ago was considered the best first baseman in the minors, is the least-exciting of the Singleton - A.J. Reed - Tyler White trifecta of promising first base prospects.
Expounding on Carlos Gomez...
It's a contract year for the boisterous outfielder. The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Gomez is spending the bulk of the off-season working on conditioning in the Dominican Republic. Translation; he's working specifically on ways to strengthen his body to stay healthy, because when healthy, he's excellent. Steamer projections have him pegged for a 3.6 WAR campaign with only a modest offensive rebound; if he gets back to his 2013-2014 form, he could end up as one of four (or more) All-Stars in our lineup. And then we'll get a draft pick for him at the end of it all once he turns down our qualifying offer to him next off-season.
But for bold? I'll say his conditioning makes a difference, and he has his career season. How about a 135 wRC+ and crazy-good defense? 8.0 WAR, how's that for bold? Who needs Mike Trout?
The rotation will be dynamite
Not that the offense wasn't or won't be good; hey, Houston was second in homers and sixth in runs in all of baseball in 2015. But the starting pitching was perhaps the most consistent part of the team, and it appears to have been built that way on purpose. We know who Keuchel is, and even if Collin McHugh isn't as dominant as he looked in his breakout 2014 season, we know he's rock solid. You can argue that Lance McCullers jr. could see regression, but I don't think so. I think what he did was very real, and with the Astros coaching, I think he may only get better.
And then you have a guy like Fiers, who may look even better after having a full off-season and Spring Training to really implement Brent Strom's system and ideas. Throw in the talented depth prospects and maybe another off-season acquisition, and the Astros might have a #3 starter for the fifth spot in the rotation. Bold prediction: I'm gonna say they have three guys who get Cy Young votes at the end of next season.