If I had to guess, there won't be any point during the 2020 MLB season where the Astros' sign stealing scandal goes away. It might be placed on the shelf for random periods of a day or two, but it will hang over this team, in some form, all season long. There's no doubt that, thus far, the topic has dominated spring training, so it's nice when we can send a subtle reminder to the rest of baseball that the Houston Astros are still very good at the game of baseball.
To that end, the MLB Network recently released their Top 100 players of the 2020 season, and it's a tremendous palate cleanser to get away, for a day or two at least, from garbage cans and buzzers. Here are the eight — yeah, baby, EIGHT! — players that the Astros placed on the list:
5. ALEX BREGMAN, 3B (2019 rank: 7)
13. JUSTIN VERLANDER, SP (2019 rank: 20)
17. JOSE ALTUVE, 2B (2019 rank: 6)
18. GEORGE SPRINGER, OF (2019 rank: 37)
43. CARLOS CORREA, SS (2019 rank: 31)
44. MICHAEL BRANTLEY, OF (2019 rank: 75)
65. YORDAN ALVAREZ, DH (2019 rank: NR)
66. ZACK GREINKE, SP (2019 rank: 71)
Ok, let's do four thoughts on this:
The Astros are still, quite possibly, the most talented team in baseball in 2020
Here is the breakdown, by team, in terms of number of players in the Top 100:
8: Houston, LA Dodgers, NY Yankees
5: Cleveland, Washington, Chicago White Sox
4: NY Mets, Atlanta, Oakland, Boston, Chicago Cubs, San Diego, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay
3: LA Angels, Milwaukee, Colorado, Philadelphia, Toronto
2: Arizona, St. Louis, Kansas City
1: Texas, Pittsburgh
0: Baltimore, Detroit, Seattle, Miami, San Francisco
So with each of the three teams having eight players on this list, it should come as no surprise that the top three teams on the odds board for the 2020 World Series are the Yankees (+350), the Dodgers (+400), and the Astros (+800), with a fairly steep drop off after that. The Braves, at +1400 to win the whole thing, are next. One thing worth noting, the Astros arrived at their eight players higher up the list than the other two teams with eight, with no other team having eight players among the top 66.
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This list is a reminder of the Astros' limited championship window
It's all fun and games in 2020, as the Astros have not only these eight elite players, but also first baseman Yuli Gurriel, former All Star pitcher Lance McCullers, and what has been, at times, an elite back end of the bullpen with Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. However, of the eight players to make this list, five of them have contracts or team control that expire after either 2020 (Springer, Brantley) or 2021 (Correa, Velrander, Greinke). The Astros are going to have some tough decisions to make, and quite honestly, it remains to be seen how the cheating scandal affects the decision making of these current players, as to if they want to remain Astros, long term. Springer, for one, met with the media this week and was barely lukewarm at even addressing the topic of his future. That makes me nervous.
Which Astros player would you move WAY up the list for 2020, if the baseball gods granted you that wish?
I think the Astros will be fine with any of their top four players on this list performing at the level of his ranking. In short, if Bregman, Velrander, Altuve, and Springer are among the 20 best in the game, then they will take that. Chances are, though, that they will need at least one of the other four players on the list to jettison into the top 20 during the season. Given the choice, the two that would make the sense to choose would be either Correa or Greinke. If Correa makes the leap back into the top 20 (where he was following the title season in 2017), then you're talking about four monster bats and four really good gloves among the top twenty players in the game. If Greinke made that leap, then you're talking about two hammers at the top of the rotation, a la 2018 and 2019 with Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
Which former Astros made the cut?
Speaking of Cole, the Astros had a few of their former faces show up on this list, and we start with Cole, who was named the seventh best overall player and the top pitcher in the game. It will be tough for him to replicate for the Yankees what he did as an Astro, if for no other reason than the fact that there is nowhere else to go but down. Last season, Cole was the most dominant Astro pitcher I've seen in my life from May 2019 on. Other former Astros on the list include J.D. Martinez (27th, still hard to believe he was released by the Astros in 2014), Charlie Morton (52nd, and I wonder if they'd like a do-over on the decision to keep him), and Josh Hader (74th, a trade the Astros would ABSOLUTELY do over, since it brought Mike "The Narc Rat" Fiers to the team).