The Houston Astros are the 2017 World Series champions. So what about 2018?
To most fans, it is too early to think about next season. Especially now after the Astros have just won the team’s first ever title. But repeating is something that no MLB team has been able to do since the New York Yankees pulled it off in 1998, 1999, and 2000. So as MLB trading season gets underway and as free agency prepares to heat up, make no mistake, the Astros are working on repeating as champs.
The good news is that the core of the Astros is young and under contract for several more years. AL MVP Jose Altuve is still under an option for two more years. George Springer is under contract for several more years. Carlos Correa is not eligible for arbitration until 2022 and Alex Bregman is also several seasons away from hitting arbitration. Justin Verlander is under contract for two more years. Dallas Keuchel is under contract until 2019.
But champions or not, the Astros are not a perfect team. As such, the core can be further supplemented by complementary players. Particularly if those complementary players are added to the bullpen. The Astros attempted to trade for Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton at the trade deadline, but the Orioles pulled the plug on the trade at the last minute.
Richard Justice at MLB.com speculates that Britton could once again be on the trade market, and that the prime team for Britton would be the Astros. In his seven year career, Britton has been a full-time closer for five seasons, amassing 135 saves. He has a career WAR of 11.3 and a 1.00 WHIP since the start of the 2014 season. He’s been about as automatic a closer as there can be the past several years.
He’s only under contract for one more season, so the thinking is that the Orioles are open to trading him rather than losing him to free agency after next season. Justice lists in his story the trade options for the Astros, and is of the opinion that the team would not have to part with any of its key core players, and since no key players are traded away, then perhaps the Astros might still be open to deal even with the risk of Britton facing free agency.
There are a couple of other closers/former closers on the free agent market that the Astros could consider if unable to get Britton. Wade Davis, who closed for the Cubs this past season, is likely the biggest name the Astros would consider. He had 32 saves for Chicago last season, and he has 79 career saves with the Royals and Cubs.
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The Astros could pass on all of them, though. There have been discussions over the past several seasons of moving Lance McCullers, Jr. from the starting rotation and making him the closer — he has closer stuff, and maybe having to pitch fewer innings a season would help to cut back on the injury issues he has had during his career. Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock, key members of last season’s rotation, also played key roles out of the bullpen during the playoffs and World Series, so maybe the Astros would consider having them take over the closer role. Or maybe Chris Devenski, an All Star who seemed to wear down at the end of the year due to heavy use, or Joe Musgrove, assumes the position.
The Astros are likely ignore the free agent and trade market when it comes to the rotation. The team is set with Keuchel and Verlander as the top two starters. If McCullers is healthy and doesn’t move to the bullpen to close, then he is clearly the No. 3 starter. Collin McHugh should be healthy and will likely battle with Morton and Peacock for a rotation spot.
The Astros are pretty much set in the infield and the outfield. Jake Marisnick will return from injuries which should allow Marwin Gonzalez to move back to the super utility position. The team could potentially pursue a veteran bat to take the place of the retired Carlos Beltran, and the Astros could pursue another catcher to share the load with Brian McCann, but otherwise, the team appears to be set at every spot.
So how do the Astros repeat? Do there have to be massive upgrades? Do there have to be big trades? No, none of that is needed. The Astros are young, talented, and primed to make multiple more playoff runs behind Altuve and Springer and Correa and Bregman. If the Astros can bring in Britton or some other closer option, then the Astros are better prepared than any team this century to repeat as World Series champs.