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New Decade, Uncharted Territory for the Astros

The future appears both bright and murky for the Astros as we’re now officially in a new decade.

MLB: World Series-Washington Nationals at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In the last ten years, we’ve seen the Astros reach both their absolute pinnacle and fall to their lowest depths. For better or worse, there was no shortage of content generated by the organization since the start of this past decade.

2010 - A boring and dreary start to a new decade
2011 - The inevitable teardown commences
2012 - Losses galore
2013 - The butt slide and even more losses
2014 - A baby step forward
2015 - Unexpected run and a new postseason heartbreak
2016 - A mild disappointment and the Rangers-sized thorn in our side
2017 - Finally, the promise land!
2018 - Not winning it all sucks!
2019 - Marching to the trash can beat of heartbreak

From 2010-14, the franchise had a 308-502 win-loss record with three consecutive 106-plus loss seasons in the mix. The Astros were the butt of many jokes around the game as the front office led by Jeff Luhnow essentially burnt the club down to just the concrete foundation in notable fashion. The plan, though, would eventually pay off with the Astros posting a 481-329 record from 2015 to the end of the decade behind a very talented major league roster. In the last three seasons, Houston came away with a World Series title in 2017 in the wake of Hurricane Harvey along with franchise-best seasons in the win column during the subsequent two years. Luhnow’s on-the-field plan was a resounding success.

But life is never all about the positives, isn’t it? The Astros, in particular, didn’t come through the last ten years unscathed. After all, the rebuild itself was quite controversial. We’re all familiar with the laughably small player payroll in 2013. Oh, and don’t forget about the Comcast debacle. Then there were the acrimonious contract negotiations with former first overall pick Brady Aiken that didn’t paint the organization in a flattering light, although the end result (Alex Bregman) ultimately landed in the club’s favor. All of those events, by the way, took place by the 2015 draft.

In recent years, the controversies have only grown in magnitude and size. Trading for Roberto Osuna at the 2018 trade deadline, who was then serving a suspension under the MLB’s domestic violence policy, rightly remains a lightning rod for criticism. The entirety of the Brandon Taubman fiasco left a ominous cloud over the Astros on the eve of the 2019 World Series. And now we’re awaiting the findings of the MLB investigation into the allegations that the club stole opposing catcher signs electronically (a big no-no), while relaying to hitters through various methods, such as banging on a trash can.

Enter 2020 and we see the Astros enter unfamiliar territory. The possibility of severe sanctions may dictate how the next ten years unfold for the organization, but it goes even beyond that. Player payroll this year is expected to reach new heights as the club prepares to pay the luxury tax for the first time in their history. In fact, the front office is operating on the fringes of the market in hopes of not exceeding the $228 million additional surtax threshold. The Astros also lost co-ace Gerrit Cole in free agency to the deep pocketbook of the Yankees, who has jostled with the former for AL supremacy in two of the past three postseasons. The young, inexpensive core of the Astros from just three years ago no longer remains as such. Even the minor league farm system isn’t as potent as in past years due to various trades to acquire veteran talent.

That said, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the Astros quite yet (sanctions pending, though.) The roster in place ought to compete for a fourth consecutive AL West title; another AL pennant isn’t out of question. According to FanGraphs, the Astros currently lead the majors in projected WAR (54.7) for the 2020 season. Jose Altuve and Bregman, two of Houston’s vaunted core, are under club control for the foreseeable future. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are in place through the 2021 season. George Springer and Michael Brantley lead a quality outfield corp with former top prospect Kyle Tucker in the mix. Carlos Correa has shown flashes of an MVP, if his health allows it. The pitching staff’s depth is a bit lacking on paper, however, there is talent present to help the cause. In the short-term, the Astros are likely one of the five best teams in baseball.

For the rest of the decade, it all hinges on how the Astros restock the talent pipeline. The possibility of severe penalties is a definite threat to the club’s fortunes, however. Along with the upcoming free agency of multiple players during the next two winters, the Astros will be faced with daunting choices as the decade progresses.