Amazing what can happen in a single season, right? Plenty of Astros fans were riding high on another World Series title one year ago. While James Click’s abrupt departure from the organization wasn’t a preferred development, it can damper the post-championship high only by so much. But the true letdown wouldn’t occur until the calendar flipped to 2023 when the Astros limped their way to a 90-win season and an unspectacular conclusion in the ALCS. That high from 2022 is now long gone, replaced with a growing sense of change on the horizon for the organization.
But notable change likely won’t occur until the conclusion of the 2024 season, whether it occurs in September, October, or early November. As currently constructed, Houston is a likely contender in the AL, only trailing the Dodgers and Braves in projected fWAR for 2024. According to FanGraphs’ Depth Chart projections, the Astros have four position players forecasted to accumulate at least 3.5 wins next season.
To no one’s surprise, the quartet of Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve are projected to lead the way for the position players. Jeremy Peña and Yainer Díaz are also forecasted to contribute at least 2.5 wins, with Chas McCormick not terribly far behind. I do find it curious how these projections aren’t sold on McCormick’s power improvement from last season, with figures more closely mirroring his 2022 numbers. Díaz’s power also experiences a tumble as well, although Jeremy Peña’s power bounces back to roughly the level of his rookie season. Of course, Altuve’s projections have consistently undersold his power throughout the years, so take those figures with a grain of salt.
With Martín Maldonado out and Victor Caratini in, the Astros are expected to have an above-average pair of catchers for the first time in a while. Paired with Díaz, Caratini provides some solid depth with a positive reputation with pitchers, as evidenced during his time with the Brewers. This development is vital for the lineup as Dana Brown appears content with giving Jake Meyers one more chance in center field, with McCormick sliding over into left field when Alvarez is the DH. We all witnessed how much of a liability the lineup became with multiple holes down the order, especially when Peña’s power inexplicably evaporated from early July through the postseason. Meyers’ inclusion in the lineup is more defensible when not having to also account for Maldonado and a non-powered Peña. If Peña’s power also returns, then the bottom half of the lineup looks less like an issue than it did in 2023.
On the pitching side of the equation, the Astros are a bit less intimidating, especially if age continues to wear down Justin Verlander even further.
Trailing only the Twins in the AL, Houston is currently tied with the Blue Jays and Mariners with a projected 16.3 wins from its pitching staff. Verlander’s decline is expected to continue, albeit he remains a serviceable starter if he can contribute around 178 innings as the Depth Chart projections currently reflect. I’d venture to speculate that the right-hander’s final numbers more closely resemble his ZiPS 2024 projections, though, in both results and the number of innings pitched (148). Framber Valdez leads the way, with Hunter Brown forecasted to take a step forward in his career. There is a fairly large difference between Depth Chart projections and ZiPS about how well Cristian Javier will pitch. It is interesting to note how Depth Charts doesn’t include Luis Garcia, but Lance McCullers Jr. Until McCullers Jr. and Garcia can return, we’re likely to see a combination of J.P. France, José Urquidy, and Ronel Blanco assume some starting responsibilities to round out the rotation behind Valdez, Verlander, Javier, and Brown.
For the bullpen, you know what you’re getting with Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu. On a quick side note, I am curious to see if the Astros try to extend Abreu soon, especially since Pressly is scheduled to enter free agency following 2024 if his mutual option is declined. In any case, those two are a formidable duo in high-leverage situations. Kendall Graveman will likely slide into the Héctor Neris or Phil Maton role, depending on how the remainder of the offseason unfolds. Bennett Sousa is a name to watch along with Blanco later in the season once either McCullers Jr. or Garcia returns. Just watch Rafael Montero be a productive reliever this season, because of relief volatility. Brown has also cast a wide net in terms of acquiring some promising relief arms already on the fringes of major league rosters. It is possible to see a recent acquisition like Dylan Coleman, Oliver Ortega, or someone else stick around in a middle relief role. For a club with a solid reputation in pitcher development, the goal ought to be finding their next reliever, not spending considerable dollars on Neris (sorry!) or Jordan Hicks.
Ultimately, there is a lot to like about the Astros for 2024. This roster could reasonably obtain at least 92 wins, possibly more. The pitching staff might need a boost by the trade deadline, depending on a variety of factors. As long as the lineup doesn’t miss Altuve or Alvarez for months at a time, as was the case in 2023, I am fairly confident about the lineup’s potential. With Joe Espada now in charge as the manager, I also feel better about the roster being better optimized than it was under Dusty Baker. While the pitching staff will have to familiarize themselves with Díaz and Caratini, any advantage to gain on the field was the right decision in regards to moving on from Maldonado. While there are notable questions about how this club will look in 2025 and beyond, the 2024 roster looks prime to compete one more time.