Depth was one of the reasons why the Astros were the best MLB team in the 2022 season. They had several options to go in almost any scenario, and I’m talking about both pitching and hitting. However, that roster depth diminished notably when free agency opened its gates, leaving the Astros’ front office with lots of work to do before the 2023 season kicks off.
The Astros’ departures include Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, catchers Christian Vázquez and Jason Castro, left fielder Michael Brantley, first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini, utility man Aledmys Díaz, and lefty reliever Will Smith. In short, eight men with important, key roles on the championship team – maybe not that important with Castro or Smith but still.
The Astros won’t necessarily have to worry about replacing all of them. For example, they can go with just another catcher instead of three, also they still have a great bullpen without Smith. But there are other key spots where they’ll need to work on before it’s all said and done.
Let’s begin with the starting rotation. So far, the Astros have what looks like a complete staff with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis García, José Urquidy, and even #1 prospect Hunter Brown, who made a huge impression throwing 24 innings of two earned runs between the regular season and the playoffs.
However, even though the Astros still have enough names without Verlander, plenty of questions arise. Will McCullers Jr. manage to stay healthy this time? Are Urquidy and García ready to step up and spend the whole year in the rotation without burning out? Something that I find as a point of concern is the fact that career-highs in innings are really short for the entire staff, not counting Framber here.
Most regular-season innings by every Astros starter besides Valdez:
- Cristian Javier: 148.2 IP (2022)
- Lance McCullers Jr: 162.1 IP (2021)
- Luis García: 157.1 IP (2022)
- José Urquidy: 164.1 IP (2022)
- Hunter Brown: 126.1 IP (2022, MiLB & MLB)
And I get the point that the Astros still have a great bullpen staff and that could make up for the uncertainty with the starting rotation, but this could mean a bigger workload for their bullpen. In fact, García only completed at least seven innings in four of his 28 starts while Urquidy did so six times across 29 appearances. Besides that, you’re subtracting a Cy Young winner from the equation.
Then, there’s first base. Gurriel wasn’t what he was in 2021 from an offensive standpoint, but he provided great defense and still hit 40 doubles while putting the ball in play a lot. When manager Dusty Baker wanted to give him a day off, there was Mancini, though he didn’t have a remarkable stint with Houston.
So far, it’s either JJ Matijevic (.209/.254/.328 over 71 PAs in 2022) or David Hensley (.345/.441/.586 over 34 PAs in 2022), but I want to think the Astros will be going after an experienced first baseman – they have been pretty active regarding first-basemen rumors with Anthony Rizzo before he re-signed with the Yankees and Cuban countrymen Gurriel and José Abreu.
Among their other needs, the Astros need a backup catcher if they don’t like the idea of going with Korey Lee in that spot. Also, a utility guy would be welcome with arms wide open. It also seems mandatory to acquire an outfielder to fill Brantley’s void – though I like the possibility of re-signing Brantley.
Fortunately, the Astros are backed up by two positive points. First, they won’t have a critical, massive free-agent departure after the 2023 season –it’ll only be Héctor Neris (who has a club option), Martín Maldonado, Ryne Stanek and Phil Maton—, so they can spend in this offseason. Second, they have some flexibility and talented players to consider dealing for needed help.
Among expendable players, men like Urquidy, Phil Maton, and even prospect Pedro León should be interesting enough to bring value in return.
The Astros have already taken their first steps towards reassembling the team for 2023 – re-signing reliever Rafael Montero and non-tendering pitcher Josh James. But, still, you can expect them to have a busy winter. There’s lots of work to be done.