For the second time in franchise history, the Astros enter an offseason as the champions of Major League Baseball. It is an enviable position as the cold doldrums of winter slowly approach. At least for Houston fans, the illuminating glow from this hunk of metal keeps us feeling warm for the foreseeable future. Not a bad way to end a long — and rather stressful — 2022 campaign.
But winning another title doesn't stop the baseball world from turning, with this offseason seemingly destined to include more upheaval within the organization in the near future. Arguably the most prominent non-player personnel storyline lies with whether field manager Dusty Baker and general manager James Click sign new contracts to remain with the Astros for the immediate future. Following Jim Crane's rather non-committal stance late in the season, it was interesting to see two highly respected front office executives — Pete Putila and Oz Ocampo — depart for promotions elsewhere. While those two instances by themselves do not indicate large-scale change is certainly forthcoming — those were notable promotions with the Giants and Marlins, respectively — it does invite speculation that something could change within the front office's baseball operations.
However, with various reports emerging in recent weeks about those dynamics between Crane, Click, and Baker, it is fair to wonder if the rumors, accurate or not, circulated about former Astro execs in David Stearns and Sig Mejdal do hold some weight. While it isn't necessarily odd to see a general manager leave nearly three years following their hire date, it is bizarre to see a change of this magnitude from a perennial contender and now defending champion. Regardless, Crane's decision about the front office's direction will have long-term ramifications. Baker's status, however, appears in better standing, and I'd assume the job is his as long as he wants it.
There are also some intriguing player developments to monitor, specifically Justin Verlander's contract status and how the club plans to address its offense at certain positions. With their abundance of pitching depth, it is feasible for the Astros to let Verlander sign elsewhere and not miss much in immediate production. Of course, we all know about Crane's fondness for the presumed 2022 AL Cy Young winner, and it is certainly within the realm of possibility that he remains an Astro. The same general thought applies to Rafael Montero, who revived his career with a terrific 2022 season (2.37 ERA/2.64 FIP in 68 1⁄3 innings). But with quality bullpen depth, the front office may dedicate additional resources to other positions if Montero receives a lucrative offer elsewhere.
In terms of offense, Houston could use another bat or two to help lengthen the lineup. While Yuli Gurriel rebounded a bit in the postseason, the roster could use some extra power at first base along with the designated hitter. In the second half and subsequent postseason, it was also apparent that the Astros missed Michael Brantley's presence in the lineup, as his plate discipline fits exceptionally well with what the organization preaches to its hitters. Gurriel and Brantley are free agents, but I wouldn't be shocked if they were both retained. If so, I'd expect Brantley to play most days, while Gurriel may be better off serving more in a part-time role. Then there is also a question about what to do with Aledmys Díaz and his utility role as the 32-year-old is also a free agent.
Based on Cot's Baseball Contracts, Houston has roughly $72 million under the $232 million initial threshold for 2023 to spend if they so desire without penalty. There is room within the budget to adequately address any positional needs, including first base, outfield, and possibly backup catcher. It is worth noting that the Astros have some internal candidates to address those needs, specifically with Korey Lee complementing Martín Maldonado at catcher. David Hensley and J.J. Matijevic also had their positive moments in 2022. Plus, with this enviable depth within their 40-man pitching staff, I wouldn't discount the possibility of trading away a pitcher or two to shore up the lineup.
This offseason promises to be an interesting one for the Astros, and there will be a lot to analyze in the coming weeks ahead. That said, with a World Series victory occurring not even 48 hours ago, those concerns can remain on the back burner for a bit longer. Enjoy this fleeting moment as long as possible because it doesn't come often.