The calendar flipped over to a new decade yesterday. Across the big three professional teams in town, we closed out the 2010s in much better fashion than we started the decade. The Texans were 6-10 in 2010, and in 2019, they just polished off their fourth division crown in five years. The Rockets opened the decade with a 42-40 record and Luis Scola as their best player, and in 2019, they're a top five team with James Harden and Russell Westbrook balling every night. The Astros were on the beginning of a slide into three 100-loss seasons, and in 2019, they just closed out their third straight 100 WIN season.
Times are good, the question is "How good will times be in 2020?" Good question, and I got answers! So without further ado, here are eight Houston sports predictions for the upcoming calendar year. Here we go....
Deshaun Watson will become the highest paid player in the NFL.
As soon as the regular season ends, all of the players drafted in 2017 become eligible for long-term extensions, so it's going to come down to a staring contest between Watson and Patrick Mahomes to see who blinks first, and inks a new deal. My guess is that the Texans work out a new deal with Watson this summer; he briefly becomes the highest paid football player in the history of the game, and then Mahomes takes the title shortly thereafter. A couple add-on Texan contract predictions — Laremy Tunsil becomes the highest paid tackle in football (and then gets trumped by Ronnie Stanley), D.J. Reader gets hit with the franchise tag, and Carlos Hyde.....
The Texans will let Carlos Hyde go and draft a running back in the second round of the 2020 draft.
....walks in free agency. Look, the Texans are going to have to pay a BUNCH of guys over the next year or two. Watson and Tunsil will be the priciest, but Reader, Zach Cunningham, perhaps Bradley Roby, and (if he can ever stay healthy) Will Fuller are on the list. So running back will be a position where they deploy cheaper alternatives. They may look for another Hyde-type depressed asset, but I am going to go on the record that the Texans use their second round pick (they traded their first round pick for Tunsil) on one of the top four or five backs in the draft, like a J.K. Dobbins or a Chuba Hubbard.
Jonathan Joseph will retire and become the second player inducted into the Ring of Honor.
I truly think that Johnathan Joseph could play well enough to stay in the league until he's 40 years old. (As of today, he is 35.) The question is "How long does he want to play at a level where he is just a reserve level player?" Joseph has enough going for him to where the next chapter of his life can be very exciting, whether its in coaching, a front office job, or just relaxing and enjoying his family. I am going to predict this is Joseph's last season as a player, he takes some role with the Texans, and — here's the hottest part of this take — he becomes the second player (and third person, counting the late Bob McNair) to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor.
The Astros punishment will disappoint the rest of Major League Baseball.
This is a complete gut feel, but I think ultimately, the length of this investigation into the Astros' stealing signs in 2017 (and PERHAPS 2018 and 2019) is going to work in the team's favor. The longer it goes, the more the furor dies down for several pounds of flesh to be extracted from the Houston organization. Ultimately, I will guess that MLB doesn't find enough evidence (or perhaps ANY evidence) that there was wrongdoing in 2018 or 2019, and the team will get a big fine and a slap on the wrist for what they did in 2017. The easiest part of this prediction — fans and media OUTSIDE of Houston will not like the resolution. They will say it wasn't enough, whatever the punishment is.
George Springer signs a multiyear contract extension.
The Astros are certainly at a point, payroll-wise, where they can't just keep everybody. They will have to pick and choose who gets the big, long-term money moving forward. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are locked up for two more years. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are under contracts that take both well into the 2020's, and Carlos Correa is under team control through 2021. This leaves Springer, a free agent after 2020, as the key, core player with pending contractual to-do's. Here's guessing that locking up the 2017 World Series MVP, and heart and soul of the team, is not an item where budget constraints are factored in. Springer will sign a five-year, $110 million deal before the season starts, and the main faces for this greatest title window in team history remain together for the foreseeable future.
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Yordan Alvarez will hit 50 home runs.
Then once all of this group ages into their 30's, Alvarez will be there in his mid-20's to be the sport's face for murdering baseballs. He continues the reign of terror started in his rookie year last season into 2020 by hitting over 50 bombs. If that sounds like a reach, just know that, combined between minor league baseball and MLB last season, Alvarez hit exactly 50 home runs.
The Astros will win 100 games again.
There will be hand wringing over the loss of Cole, and his ungodly 2019 numbers (20-5, 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP). Those will not be replaced, the Astros will backslide. However, we are talking about backsliding off of a 107 win season in 2019. With Verlander and Greinke atop the rotation all season, the return of Lance McCullers, a bullpen with Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna at the back end, and the best hitting lineup in baseball, this will still be a 100-win team, if they get relative health all season long. My prediction — 101-61, for the year.
Mike D'Antoni's run as Rockets head coach will end.
I've been enjoying this Rockets team, even if they are the basketball version of the Texans — able to beat the top teams in the league regardless of venue, and able to endure mystifying losses to the league's dregs, even at home! Ultimately, I don't think they will get to the NBA Finals, and with D'Antoni working on the final year of his deal, that will be enough for both sides to move on, and have a mutual parting of the ways.