Currently third place (17-17) in the AL West, I think it is fair to say that the Astros have underachieved in their first 34 games. This isn’t is a particularly unfair statement based on what we’ve watched thus far. Injuries have obviously played a role in those struggles as no team is simply going to replace Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley without some kind of drop off offensively. Already down Lance McCullers Jr., the recent injuries to José Urquidy and Luis Garcia has drained even more starting pitcher depth than originally anticipated.
Ineffectiveness has also exacerbated the issues plaguing the club. After all, their prized free agent signing José Abreu has looked like a shell of his past self, hitting .224/.273/.261 with only five extra-base hits. Of all qualified first baseman, Abreu ranks last in fWAR (-0.8). Alex Bregman started his season in a slump, broke out of it for a little while, and he is now right back in another. Rafael Montero’s contract is a hot topic as relief performance is considered volatile on a year-by-year basis, and his results do indicate some regression is taking place. That said, he doesn’t deserve all of the blame for Bregman and Jeremy Peña having a rough inning defensively in Seattle this past Saturday. Sometimes baseball happens.
I’ve noticed the discourse online about the Astros in recent days has centered around a couple of common points. One point is that the organization should’ve taken proactive measures to add at least one, or perhaps two, starting pitchers to absorb some innings if injuries were to occur. The idea made sense, even when considering the depth chart. Ironically, Jake Odorizzi would’ve come in handy for this situation...oh, wait, he’s also out for the year. But the sentiment remains the same. I found myself firmly in this camp. Heck, Dusty Baker was, too. Not adding another starter will likely go down as the biggest detriment of not having an actual general manager and Jim Crane exerting more influence in front office decisions along with Jeff Bagwell for the majority of the offseason.
Another part of the discourse centers around the contracts that the Astros gave out in the offseason to Abreu and Montero. At a combined $93 million over three seasons, it was sizeable commitment to an aging yet still productive first baseman and a reliever with an inconsistent track record. You could make the case at the time that the third year for both players was an overpay, and I believe that was a fair argument. Abreu’s power numbers, after all, were trending downwards following his 2020 campaign and Montero’s track record, or lack thereof, speaks for itself. While I wasn’t necessarily fond of Bagwell being increasingly involved with front office decisions last winter, the initial idea of pursuing Abreu and re-signing Montero at their eventual salaries weren’t inherently outrageous. Even Ben Clemens of FanGraphs thought Abreu was a good fit based on his history. I bring that up to point how one of the best site’s for baseball analysis didn’t necessarily think Abreu was going to implode in his first year, much less his first month in Houston. The idea was that you’d hopefully pay for two quality of years and deal with the fallout in the third year, if there is any. The current results represents a near, if not already, worst case scenario that frankly no one probably saw coming in Year 1.
Ultimately, I didn’t like the processes that took place throughout the offseason, namely not exploring the starting pitcher market. That decision by itself could lead to more headaches for the Astros in the coming weeks and months, not Abreu or Montero. While Crane eventually decided on Dana Brown as his general manager, who I think is a terrific hire, the process was to get to that point felt too long. I also felt they could’ve had Montero for a two-year contract for the same annual value ($11.5 million), and the third year was a questionable decision, albeit not a budget-decimating one. For Abreu’s contract, I do wonder if he would’ve been open to a two-year deal for a chance to win, even if the AAV had to increase a bit. In any case, I don’t feel like the offseason was an overwhelming success. However, I also believe it is entirely too early to write this season off, especially as Altuve, Brantley, and McCullers near a potential return in the coming weeks. But if this current continues through early to mid June, then it is time for a different conversation about expectations for the rest of the season.