Don't look now, but spring training is only about six weeks away. It feels like the season just ended, and considering the Astros played on the very last possible day of the year in game seven of the World Series, it kinda did.
Now, as we race towards opening day, there are questions the Astros must answer, some of which could alter the franchise on and off the field.
When with the MLB hand down its findings and punishment from the Astros sign stealing investigation?
The short answer is sometime between now and the start of spring training. Major League Baseball isn't going to let it drag into the spring, thankfully, but there still is no real indication of when things will get wrapped up. Still, now that the holidays are over, expect the pace to quicken on that front.
Will Jeff Luhnow and/or A.J. Hinch be suspended?
The longer this has gone on, the less likely a Hinch suspension feels. But considering the sign stealing and the Brandon Taubman situation before that, it would be surprising if Luhnow doesn't face serious league punishment. No doubt there are those in baseball who want MLB to throw the book at the Astros and Luhnow in particular. It wouldn't shock us if he had to sit a year, but it also wouldn't be all that surprising if he got a big fine and a serious reprimand, particularly if the league finds the Astros weren't alone. At this point, it's all speculation.
Is Yordan Alvarez going to get more time in the field?
Reports from the offseason are that the rookie of the year has been working to increase his agility so he can spend more time in the outfield. We still wonder how long it will be until he gets a shot at first base, something he seems tailored for given his size. But any expansion of his skills means the Astros can go back to using the DH spot as a way to give position players a day off from fielding, so we'll take it.
Who will get extended and who will go to arbitration?
George Springer is likely to get a contract extension. He, along with Jose Altuve, is the heart and soul of the organization and has only one year left on his contract. Others eligible include Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, Aledmys Diaz, Roberto Osuna and Carlos Correa. Of that group, Osuna seems the most likely to be extended. Correa is going to have to prove he can be healthy before the Astros are going to spend big money on him, especially given how tighter their existing salary structure is under the luxury tax.
How will they deal with their pitching rotation and bullpen?
After Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, the assumption is Lance McCullers, Jr. will resume his role as a starter. He has been throwing for a couple months now and seems primed to get back. After McCullers, there are a whole lot of question marks, most of which include young players like Josh James, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy and their number one prospect Forrest Whitley. Given Urquidy's performance in the playoffs, he might get the first look, but there is no question both in the rotation and in the bullpen, the Astros are going to rely more heavily on young arms to fill out roster spots in 2020.
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