It's Almost 2017, So What Are the Astros Up To?

Are you ready for 2017? The year the Astros are supposed to win the World Series? Well, the Winter Meetings are done. Spring training is right around the corner, and the Astros have been making moves.

But since it's winter, and since the Astros didn't make the playoffs, most people have probably been paying more attention to the Texans' attempt to find a quarterback who could start for a Texas middle school football team. So here's a primer on what's happened with the Astros since the season ended.

Jason Castro? Gone. Colby Rasmus? Gone. Luis Valbuena? Gone. Doug Fister? Gone. Yoenis Cespedes? Not coming. Chris Sale? Nope. Edwin Encarnacion? Ha-ha, no. Evan Gattis? Still here.

The Astros finished in third place in the AL West last season with a disappointing 84-78 record. That was 11 games behind division winner Texas and two games behind second-place Seattle. The Astros were also stuck behind multiple teams when it came to getting that last wildcard spot. So jettisoning a few underperforming players was probably a good idea. But just getting rid of guys won't be enough.

So welcome backup outfielder Nori Aoki, a left-handed bat with little power who'll be 35 once the season starts. If he winds up starting many games for the Astros, it'll mean that Jake Marisnick's still having trouble hitting, or worse, it'll mean the Astros outfield has fallen prey once again to injuries.

The topic of the outfield and injuries brings up the name of Josh Reddick. Reddick is the Astros' biggest free agent pickup this offseason, formerly with the Red Sox, the Athletics and the Dodgers, signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the team. Reddick is a dynamic right fielder with a career .255/.316/.430 slash line with 93 homers, 363 runs and 346 RBI. His numbers have been hampered by his spending most of his career in Oakland, and by the simple fact he can't stay healthy — only twice in his career has he played more than 115 games in a season.

Joining Reddick, Aoki, Marisnick and George Springer in the outfield — at least part time — will be former Astro Carlos Beltran, who was signed to a one-year contract. Beltran, one of the greatest switch hitters of all time and a borderline Hall of Famer (2617 hits and 421 homers), will primarily serve as the designated hitter, perhaps bringing some stability and steady production to a position the Astros have struggled at filling since the team was moved to the American League.

The Astros have also, we hope, finally plugged the black hole that has been the catcher spot. Brian McCann, a six-time All Star and seven-time winner of the Silver Slugger award, joins the Astros from the New York Yankees. McCann might not fit in with the team's whole Club Astro thing and he did lose his job with the Yankees last season. But then again, he lost his job to Gary Sanchez who slugged 20 homers and got 42 RBI with a 1.032 ops in just 53 games while finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year. But no matter how he ended up in Houston, an aging McCann still has to count as a huge improvement over the Jason Castro/Evan Gattis combination that closed out last season.

But there's one major area the Astros really haven't improved, and that's the starting pitching. Dallas Keuchel is still recovering from the injury that knocked him out late last season. Lance McCullers is an ace in the making. He's also a threat to go on the disabled list after every pitch. Collin McHugh is serviceable. Enter into this mix Charlie Morton, the definition of a mediocre starter, who barely pitched last season because of injuries. His best season was 2015, when he was 9-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 23 games while surrendering more than a hit an inning. His career numbers aren't much better (46-71, 4.54 ERA over 161 starts. He's surrendered 950 hits and 450 earned runs in 893 innings). So as a reward, the Astros signed the free agent to a two-year $14 million contract.

Sure, the free agent pitching class wasn't really that great. But the Astros apparently considered the asking price for Chris Sale, one of the top pitchers in baseball, to be too high, and apparently aren't willing to go all in on the White Sox's Jose Quintana. Which means the Astros appear to be taking the approach of just winning it all by outscoring every team. That's the approach the Baltimore Orioles have seemingly taken over the past several seasons, and the lack of championships for the Orioles over that period shows just how well that approach has worked.

Now you can return to stressing out about whether Tom Savage is the answer to the never-ending Texans quarterback search.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal