Sean Pendergast

Which Houston Astro Free Agents Are Returning in 2023?

Justin Verlander will command top dollar, so his time as an Astro may have run its course.
Justin Verlander will command top dollar, so his time as an Astro may have run its course. Photo by Jack Gorman
For a sport that has been slow to move in modernizing its game and presentation, there is one thing that's nice about Major League Baseball — the offseason comes QUICKLY. The confetti has been barely swept off Smith Street, and the Houston Astros need to get right back to work on defending their title in 2023.

It starts with deciding who will be calling the shots. Dusty Baker has confirmed that he will return in 2023, and now we await a decision on GM James Click. Owner Jim Crane reportedly wants Click back as well, and will offer him a deal to come back in 2023, but Click, possibly seeking a multi-year deal, has not agreed to anything yet.

It's Click's job that NEEDS to be determined soon, because there is shopping to be done, beginning with the Astros' own list of free agents. So let's dig in here, and determine the chances of the Astros retaining each of these pieces (pieces with WIDELY varying degrees of importance) of their second world title team (salaries listed are 2022 salaries):

This one is bigger than all the others on this list put together, given the magnitude of Verlander's 2022 performance, and the money likely involved, if he were to stay. Verlander came back from Tommy John surgery better than anyone could have imagined (1.75 ERA). However, some teams are going to come at him with multiyear deals for $40 million per year. The Astros won't pay that. There will need to be some middle ground met. VERLANDER CHANCES OF RETURN: 50 percent

YULI GURRIEL, 1B, $8 million
After a regular season where he had a wretched .647 OPS, this just one season after winning a BATTING TITLE, it looked like Gurriel's future was done in Houston. Then, the postseason comes along, and Gurriel was one of the Astros best players. I could see the Astros bringing him back now on a cheap one year deal. GURRIEL CHANCES OF RETURN: 40 percent

Brantley was solid enough in 2022, and then his shoulder gave out, and he missed the final two months of the postseason. Ironically, the postseason might be Brantley's best friend, as his absence was GLARING offensively, and his speech to the team after Game 3's loss was viewed as a legendary motivational moment. The mitigating factor is that I could see another team signing Brantley for his leadership.   BRANTLEY CHANCES OF RETURN: 40 percent

Maldonado is among the worst offensive players in the sport, but the Astros (and Baker, in particular) view his leadership and management of the pitching staff as an absolute necessity. He will likely be back on a similar deal to his 2022 deal (1 year, $5 million). MALDONADO CHANCES OF RETURN: 75 percent

RAFAEL MONTERO, RP, $2.725 million
Montero became one of Baker's favorites during 2022. In the postseason, you could almost bank on Baker bringing in Montero in the 8th inning with a lead. His 2.37 ERA in the regular season was stellar. Some team will overpay Montero and maybe see him as a closer. The Astros will let him walk, and find someone else to handle his role. MONTERO CHANCES OF RETURN: 10 percent

ALEDMYS DIAZ, UTIL, $4.45 million
Diaz had some moments in the regular season, and his utility player skillset is probably more of a regular season luxury than something you need in October (and November). Diaz was awful in the postseason. He will come back, if he works cheap. DIAZ CHANCES OF RETURN: 25 percent

TREY MANCINI, 1B, $10 million
Mancini was a trade deadline pickup, and he got off to a smoking hot start, homering in his first Astro at-bat! The postseason, unfortunately, may have sealed Mancini's fate in Houston. He had one hit throughout the entirety of the playoffs. His contract has a mutual option for $10 million in 2023. I'd guess the Astros say "We are opting for 'NO'." MANCINI CHANCES OF RETURN: 10 percent

Vazquez is about as solid a backup as you could find. However, my guess is that he sees himself as a starter, and he won't start here if Maldonado is back. VAZQUEZ CHANCES OF RETURN: 10 percent

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast