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Rating the Roster Teardown Possibilities For Each Houston Team

Jim Crane has some big decisions to make on the direction of his baseball team this offseason.
Jim Crane has some big decisions to make on the direction of his baseball team this offseason.
Photo by Jack Gorman

It wasn't all that long ago that we were touting a "golden age" of Houston sports. In early 2018, the Astros were beginning defense of the franchise's only World Series title, the Rockets were on their way to a 65-17 regular season and a deep playoff run, and the excitement of having Deshaun Watson as the Texans' franchise QB was at a fever pitch. Those were good times!

They didn't last.

Now, the Astros, ravaged by injuries and the aftermath of a sign stealing scandal, are watching the title window slam shut on their fingers. The Rockets moved on from Chris Paul and moved into the high rent district of Russell Westbrook's contract for his twilight years, and have a second round playoff exit to show for it. Finally, the Texans are 0-3 for the second time in three years, and Bill O'Brien is running the franchise into the ground.

It would seem that there is a chance each of these three teams could decide to rebuild in their current offseason (or upcoming offseason, in the case of the Astros and, eventually, Texans). All three teams still have star power. each has at least one player who has the talent to be in the MVP conversation in his respective sport. Alex Bregman, James Harden, Deshaun Watson.

However, each team is on a downward trajectory right now, and each team is saddled with bloated salary ledger issues that make retooling awfully difficult without taking three steps back before taking a few steps forward. What are the chances we see a rebuild with any or all of these three teams? Let's take a look...

HOUSTON ROCKETS

CURRENT STATUS
Coming off a 4th place finish in the West, with two aging All-Stars both making north of $40 million per year, and a third cap-clogging contract starting this season with Eric Gordon's extension kicking in. Searching for a new head coach after four largely successful seasons with Mike D'Antoni.

THE CASE FOR A TEARDOWN
We are nearly a decade into the James Harden Era, and it feels like the Rockets have gone as far as they can with Harden as their core piece. If you shop him and Russell Westbrook around now, you probably won't get fair value for 2021, but you'll get some pieces that can begin a roster rebuild.

"HOLY $#%^" REBUILD MOVE WOULD BE....
Trading James Harden, and there's not a close second.
Harden has been one of the most collaborative stars in the league when it comes to involvement in personnel decisions with his team's upper management. It's truly been HIS team since he arrived. Trading him while still in his prime is highly unlikely, which is what would make it so earth shattering.

MITIGATING FACTOR
Moving Harden almost assuredly turns this team into an also-ran, which would make for some likely apathy among Houston sports fans. Tilman Fertitta does NOT like apathy. Also, those Harden and Westbrook contracts are tough ones to move without taking some bad salaries back in return.

OFFSEASON REBUILD ODDS: 5 to 10 percent, tops. They will sell a new head coach on making a few tweaks to this group, and trying to make a run at a title again over the next two seasons. Daryl Morey is still the GM, and he always has a move or two up his sleeve.

HOUSTON ASTROS

CURRENT STATUS
Right now, they are in the midst of a playoff berth that only exists because the coronavirus forced an expanded MLB postseason. Their payroll has been among the highest in the league the last two seasons, their entire outfield is about to hit free agency, and they're paying Justin Verlander $33 million next season to rehab an elbow that will be utilized to pitch for some other team in 2022, in all likelihood. Oh, did I mention Jose Altuve is making $29 million per year till 2024, and he hit .219 this year? Life comes at you pretty fast.... but hey, it's onto the ALDS!

THE CASE FOR A TEARDOWN
Barring new GM James Click pulling a trade or free agency rabbit out of his hat, and/or keeping George Springer, this team appears to be settling back in to a more souped up version of the post-World Series Astros teams of the previous decade, from like 2006 through 2009. Good enough players to go win 85 games or so. Unless they choose to do a complete teardown, it will never be 2013 again (thank God), but the days of swagger and dominance are over. It was fun while it lasted.

"HOLY $#%^" REBUILD MOVE WOULD BE....
Trading Carlos Correa before next season.
Look, trading Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman would be the REAL "HOLY S#%^" moves, but I don't think Jim Crane is going to green light a Bregman deal, and they'd get nowhere near value for Altuve, considering the abysmal season he is coming off of. Correa will be a free agent after the 2021 season, and while I think his career so far has not lived up to expectations, he is an elite defensive player that tantalizes enough with his bat for a team with the resources — both financial (to pay him on an extension) and minor league assets — to give up some prospects.

MITIGATING FACTOR
There are enough pieces on this team to still feel like they're a bat and an arm from rekindling the old magic one more time in 2021. No MLB team was hit harder with injuries in this COVID-shortened season than the Astros.

OFFSEASON REBUILD ODDS: 10 to 15 percent. It think betting on a teardown is betting on the underdog, but I think some sort of modified rebuild is absolutely in play. It may come from teams calling Click, rather than his actively seeking to do so. Maybe a team who is an arm away makes a godfather offer for Greinke. The tell will be what happens with Springer. If he re-signs here, then they're keeping the title window open. If he leaves, then everything is in play. The contract extension for Yuli Gurriel handed out on Tuesday is a good sign that they're keeping the title pursuit window open for now.

HOUSTON TEXANS

CURRENT STATUS
Horrible, since you ask. They're 0-3, and none of the moves Bill O'Brien made as general manager are working. He is that owner in your fantasy league that everyone laughs at on draft night because he drafted someone who retired or died two years ago. They have no first or second round pick in the 2021 draft either. Good times, good times.

THE CASE FOR A TEARDOWN
Well, O'Brien, through gutting his future draft and overpaying for every free agent contract or contract extension on the roster, has painted this roster into a corner. This is who they will be for the foreseeable future. If they want change, they can't really make any big moves, OTHER than to tear it down, gut out a boatload of dead salary cap money, take it on the chin for two or three years, and waste the prime years of Deshaun Watson's career. O'Brien has committed malpractice to the nth degree on this franchise. Someone is going to have a hell of a roster cleanup on their hands when they take over for him.

"HOLY $#%^" REBUILD MOVE WOULD BE....
Well, firing O'Brien is sort of a given, because a rebuild won't happen with him as GM/coach (I think), so the one roster move that would rattle the fan base would be trading J.J. Watt for draft picks. At age 31, I have no idea what he would be worth. Maybe a contender sees him as a final piece, and is willing to overpay. This is depressing.

MITIGATING FACTOR
You have Deshaun Watson, a franchise quarterback, in his prime. Can you really undergo a rebuild while you're burning daylight on his career? Of course, they may not have a choice, if they have no draft picks and run out of cap space. The Texans are like the materialistic over-spender who knows Chapter 13 is coming, but continues to whistle past the debt graveyard.

OFFSEASON REBUILD ODDS: 30 to 35 percent. It basically comes down to the answer "What are the chances O'Brien is fired?" If he is fired, then there will be cleanup done, probably one very painful year of shedding big salaries and enduring the 2021 draft (with no first or second round pick). At that point, after that, you pray Deshaun Watson is healthy, and you try to make his late 20's magical.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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