The Houston Astros are gearing up for another season of MLB baseball. This time, it’s as the defending World Series Champions. Whether or not you believe their first championship was tainted, they proved the haters wrong in winning another one five years later. Even since then, they’ve been a powerhouse in the American League, making it six straight American League Championship Series with four World Series appearances since their 2017 season. In 2023, it should be no different, as they are poised to remain as the best team in the American League.
Nearly a week after winning the chip owner Jim Crane fired Astros general manager James Click. Even though Houston won the World Series, owner Jim Crane didn’t have a friendly relationship with Click throughout the season. Since the sign stealing scandal, Crane made it an effort to become more involved in the front office. This didn’t sit well with Click, as both of them had different ways of assembling the team.
During the trade deadline, Click was zeroing in on a trade that involved acquiring Chicago Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras in exchange for pitcher Jose Urquidy. Crane never approved this trade, therefore it fell through. At the time, this frustrated Click because he thought that giving up Urquidy for a quality catcher would improve the teams chances of making a World Series run. This very likely was one of the reasons why Click got the boot.
Even manager Dusty Baker didn’t want to give up Urquidy, as he has been on of the more reliable pitchers in the league. The Astros definitely needed another catcher to platoon with Martin Maldonado, but Contreras likely wanted to be their everyday catcher.
Nonetheless, Houston moved forward and made moves without a general manager. The first order of business was to retain their key bullpen guys. Re-signing relief pitcher Rafael Montero to a three-year, $34.5 million extension was an absolute no brainer, as Montero had a solid season and was clutch in the playoffs. He is without a doubt an integral part of their historic bullpen going forward.
On the position players standpoint, Houston wanted to solidify the catcher, first base and outfield positions. These likely additions such as Wilson Contreras, Andrew Benintendi, and Josh Bell ended up signing to other teams. After a few offerings, the search of quality outfielders and catchers was deemed unsuccessful. On the hole at first base, the Astros signed 2020 MVP Jose Abreu to a three-year, $58.5 million deal.
In the past seven seasons, longtime favorite Yuli Gurriel assumed the role of first base and played well, earning a gold glove and a batting title during his tenure with the ‘Stros. But after 2022, it became unclear if he will re-sign with the team. It’s safe to say the possibility of Gurriel rejoining the roster is an afterthought.
While it’s a shame for fans of La Piña, Gurriel is going to be 39 years old in June this year and already showed signs of slowing down last season. In 2022, Gurriel batted .242 with an on base percentage of .288, and .360 slugging in 146 games. Topped with a low 84 OPS+, it’s clear that Jose Abreu is a better replacement in order for Houston to maintain it’s reign in the American League.
Since their outfield still needed a boost, Houston went back to the drawing board and resigned Michael Brantley to a one-year deal. Although Brantley is a solid bat, he is coming off a season-ending shoulder surgery and will be 36 years old in May. Consider placing him in the DH role so Yordan Alvarez can take up most games in left field.
In the catcher position, it’ll be another year for veteran Martin Maldonado. Houston looks to call up minor league catchers in Yainer Diaz and Korey Lee as backup since Christian Vazquez signed with the Minnesota Twins.
After a few months of making moves without a general manager, the Houston Astros acquired Dana Brown. This is a great move, as Brown previously worked as the Vice President of Scouting for the Atlanta Braves over the last four seasons. This includes their Championship run in 2021, as well as scouting future ace Spencer Strider and rising star Michael Harris.
Brown is certainly a new stage in Houston’s dominant era of baseball. Many Astros fans around the league are thrilled of this signing. In his first move, he signed Cristian Javier to a five-year, $64 million extension following his dominant regular season and postseason. Brown looks to invest more money into retaining more cornerstone players such as Kyle Tucker, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman.
Besides losing position players Trey Mancini, Christian Vazquez, and Yuli Gurriel, Houston regrouped and looks more formidable than ever. Here is their potential 2023 lineup:
2B Jose Altuve
DH Michael Brantley
LF Yordan Alvarez
3B Alex Bregman
1B Jose Abreu
RF Kyle Tucker
SS Jeremy Peña
C Martin Maldonado
CF Chas McCormick
Slots 1-7 are going to be extremely tough to beat. Altuve is the heart and soul of the team, and is entering his 13th straight season with Houston. One thing to mention; Peña took the two spot when Brantley was out and performed extremely well, so it’ll be interesting to see if Brantley can retain that spot going forward. Since McCormick is in the nine hole, he will provide some speed and peskiness as the lineup flips over. The addition of Abreu provides more of a power threat in the 4-6 slots. Expect the offense to be better than last season. With the departure of Yuli Gurriel, players such as David Hensley and Mauricio Dubon will receive more at-bats as utility players.
Houston hopes new GM Dana Brown is able to retain fan favorite Kyle Tucker on a long term deal and not receive similar treatment such as George Springer. Tucker is expected to be an unrestricted free agent in 2025. The better he performs, the harder it will be to extend him on a reasonable deal.
OF Jake Meyers is attempting to make another comeback to the MLB. He struggled at the plate in 2022 after coming back from a long term injury back in 2021. If he returns to the Jake Meyers in 2021, expect him to make another crack at competing with Chas McCormick at CF.
Other players on the bench are newcomers Joe Perez, Rylan Bannon, and Bligh Madris.
Houston’s pitching is going to be interesting this season. The loss of Justin Verlander is a huge blow to their ace spot, but Framber Valdez looks to replace him. The 29 year old had a breakout 2022 season, going 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a 3.06 FIP. Valdez also led the league in innings pitched with 201.1 and earned his first All-Star selection.
The rest of the rotation will be Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy. Cristian Javier is their X-Factor. He is expected to improve on already a fantastic 2022 season as their number two option. McCullers hopes to stay healthy throughout the season, as he has had multiple years of injuries, including Tommy John surgery.
Recently, McCullers reaggravated a forearm injury and is expected to be out until late April. Fans and media analysts hope this isn’t a series issue that keeps him off the mound. When on the mound, his knuckle curveball is lethal and catches hitters off balance.
Luis Garcia hopes to improve in his third year with the team. Due to the new MLB pitching rules going into effect, Garcia will need to change his pitching stance. This could impact his effectiveness on the mound.
Jose Urquidy will round out the rotation. As reliable as any pitcher in the league, he will continue his solid work on the mound in addition to be available for long relief.
Manager Dusty Baker has tinkered with a six-man rotation in the past. If he continues with it this season, expect Hunter Brown to receive some starting spots, especially with McCullers out. Brown is referred to as Justin Verlander lite. Not only is he a huge fan since Verlander’s time in Detroit, but his pitching stance and fastball are nearly identical. Top that off with a biting slider in the low 90s, Brown has impeccable talent. Hopefully he works on his control more this season, because he has future ace potential.
Even though the bullpen remains fairly the same, expect them to continue their dominance following their historic 2022 season. Rounding out the relief pitchers, Phil Maton, Hector Neris, Brandon Bielak, and Ryne Stanek are the 6-7th inning guys, with Rafael Montero and Bryan Abreu as the setup man. This rounds out Ryan Pressly as the closer.
Let’s talk about Bryan Abreu. He stepped up in the biggest moments throughout the regular and even the postseason. Known for his control issues and being an oversight in the bullpen, Abreu appeared in a career-high 55 games, producing an impressive 1.94 ERA. Additionally, he maintained a 2.12 FIP and led the Astros with 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings, racking up a total of 88 strikeouts.
Abreu’s contribution to the postseason was significant, as he pitched 11.1 shutout innings in ten of the Astros’ 13 contests, striking out 19 batters. The Astros ultimately defeated the Phillies in six games, securing Abreu his first career World Series title.
Abreu’s remarkable performance throughout the season and the playoffs has made him a valuable asset to the Astros. The talented pitcher is only 25 years old. Expect him to continue improving and make a name for himself in 2023. Consider slotting him in the closer role if Pressly struggles.
One of Houston’s minor leaguers eager for a spot on the show is the well anticipated prospect Forrest Whitley. Whitley was drafted as the 17th overall pick way back in 2016 and has spent six years in the minor leagues. Initially, he should already be in the MLB. After many setbacks on his performance and Tommy John surgery, it’s very likely this season he makes his long awaited debut. If Whitley makes a good impression during Spring Training, expect him to make the 25 man roster sometime this season.
Other pitchers who’ve bounced in the majors and minors is Seth Martinez and Parker Muchinski. Martinez spent ample time in the majors last season and is capable of being on an MLB roster. His stuff is solid, and was one of the best relievers last year in the middle of the season. Unfortunately there aren’t enough slots on the Astros 25-man roster. Houston might trade Martinez or put him in and replace one of their relief pitchers who are currently struggling.
Muchinski’s had little to no experience in the majors. Expect him to compete for a spot on the roster bullpen this spring training.
The Houston Astros are poised to make another deep playoff run. While it wasn’t the offseason that they had intended, they do what they’ve been known to do. Regroup and replace. Justin Verlander gone? No matter. The bullpen is already stacked along with a solid rotation that has a stronger longevity for years to come.
Given the new MLB rules with a newly integrated pitch clock and eliminating the shift, it’s unlikely the pitching will be as dominant in the previous year. However, with a lineup as lethal as 2019, expect opponent pitchers to be extremely careful when facing this team. It’s going to be another solid season for the Astros golden era. My season record prediction for Houston is 98-64.
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