It’s safe to call this Houston Astros season a disappointment. After a 8-1 loss to the Angels yesterday, the team finished with an 84-78 record, missing out on the playoffs that many felt the Astros were destined for after the team's strong finish last year.
The team never quite jelled this season. There was the 7-16 record for April. Then there was winning only four of 19 games against the Texas Rangers. Dallas Keuchel never lived up to last season’s Cy Young campaign and missed most of the last two months with an injury. Fellow hoped-for rotation mainstay Lance McCullers spent most of the season on the disabled list, and Collin McHugh, Doug Fister, Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman (until he was demoted to the bullpen, then traded) were all inconsistent.
The less said about the seasons of Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez the better, and their lack of offensive production was really felt on a team that was nightly hoping that someone would step up and help out Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer. Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel showed some promise at the end of the season, but the Astros were often caught lacking a solid, dependable bat in the second half of the lineup.
There’ll be many words written about the Astros this offseason and about the moves the club needs to make. The answer is simple, kind of. The Astros need an ace pitcher, an outfield bat and a designated hitter. But the team has to start spending money on big-name free agents and not guys who can be got on the cheap, like Rasmus and Fister. And the team is going to have to start using that deep farm system (as well as guys on the Major League roster) to make moves that will further improve the ball club.
For instance, one of the most popular names in baseball at the past trade deadline was Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale. Sale is 27 years old, with a career record of 74-50. His fastball can hit the high 90s, he stays healthy, he throws more than 200 innings a year and he averages more than 10 strikeouts a game. Of more importance is this: He’s under contract for 2017 with a team option for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The White Sox didn’t trade Sale at the deadline, despite the best efforts of teams like the Dodgers and the Red Sox. But the White Sox farm system isn’t the best, and the team probably won’t be competing for the playoffs anytime soon. And though he says he wants to stay in Chicago, Sale has feuded with management this season, whether over being scratched from a start after slicing up the team’s uniforms because he hates throwback uniforms, or in whining about the team's cutting back on the time that Adam LaRoche’s kid could spend in the clubhouse.
The Astros should do everything possible to make Sale the ace of the Astros rotation. The White Sox are a mediocre team with a so-so farm system, so the Astros should just open up the farm and tell the White Sox that they’re welcome to whomever they want. And though fans might not want to hear this, Astros management should also be thinking that no player on the Major League roster is untouchable. Not when it comes to delivering one of the best pitchers in baseball to the Astros.
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There will also be lots of fans clamoring for the Astros to add a big bat to help out the offense. The name that most will mention is Edwin Encarnacion. The 33-year-old Blue Jay plays first base, third base and DH, has 310 career homers and will be a free agent this offseason. But if the Astros are really serious, management will take a dump truck full of cash, drive it to Citi Field and unload the dough on top of one of the fancy cars owned by Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes is 30 years old, can play all of the outfield spots and has a monster bat, having hit 137 homers with 453 RBI and a .273/.326/.495 slash line in five Major League seasons. Cespedes is technically under contract to the Mets for two more seasons after this one, but he can exercise an option after this season is over and become a free agent. An outfield featuring Cespedes and George Springer with a guy like Jake Marisnick would be the best in baseball, and Cespedes would provide another dependable bat for the Astros.
Finally, if Carlos Beltran is open to another season of baseball, then the Astros should try to find a way to sign him. He’s no longer an everyday outfielder, but he’s still a dependable bat who provides average and power.
Of course, it’s not my money, and I’m not the general manager of the Astros. But these additions would immensely improve the rotation and provide some additional and much-needed bats to go with the core three of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer.