Ringolsby: The Astros' Future Is Now
With the clock ticking on the July 31 trade deadline—a deadline this year that was the final word on deals a team can make—the Astros made it clear that it’s not the American League West they are focused on winning.
It is the World Series.
The Astros made it clear they know that their window is closing.
Houston packaged three of its top 10 prospects—righthanders Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas, both near big league ready, though Martin is recovering from Tommy John surgery; and sweet-swinging first baseman Seth Beer, who hits for both average and power—and sent them to the Diamondbacks for the impactful right arm of Zack Greinke.
Statement made: the Astros’ future is now.
But that’s 35-year-old Zack Greinke.
The D-backs were excited to add four prospects from Houston—they also acquired 25-year-old utility man Josh Rojas—but, as with all trades today, money played a significant role. The D-backs agreed to kick in roughly $24 million of the $77 million owed Greinke through 2021.
But the Greinke trade isn’t about what might happen down the road. This was a deal designed for immediacy. This was a deal made by an Astros team that knows that in order to make an October statement, the time is now, with a possibility for 2020, too.
But beyond that . . . time will tell.
Whatever happens in 2022 and beyond will happen with a vastly different roster alignment, which is why the Astros were willing to take a bold step in July.
Their roster is about to undergo a major makeover, starting with the anticipated loss of free agent righthander Gerrit Cole. He is one of eight Astros with the option of free agency in October.
The club’s battery alignment is going to have to be recharged.
In addition to Cole, fellow starter Wade Miley is a potential free agent, along with relievers Joe Smith, Collin McHugh, Hector Rondon and Will Harris and catchers Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado.
Then following the 2020 season, the possibility of free agency will be there for reliever Brad Peacock, starter Aaron Sanchez, a trade deadline pickup from the Blue Jays; outfielders George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Jake Marisnick plus first baseman Yuli Gurriel.
That’s 15 members of what was the Astros’ mid-August roster that could depart during the next two offseasons.
That’s three veteran starting pitchers (Cole, Miley and Sanchez), five relievers (Smith, McHugh, Rondon, Harris and Peacock), two catchers (Chirinos and Maldonado), four outfielders (Springer, Brantley, Reddick and Marisnick) and one first baseman (Gurriel) that the Astros either will have to re-sign or go out looking for replacements.
Even with all the analytical data the Astros have at their disposal, they must face the reality of an aging roster—and that changes are going to be necessary.
The Astros have worked in impact position players Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yordan Alvarez in recent seasons, but beyond that trio, the club’s core is aging. Aces Justin Verlander and Greinke are in their mid-30s. Second baseman Jose Altuve and outfielder George Springer will be 30 in 2020.
As John Conlee would put it, they are “on the back side of 30, the short side of time.”
And the Astros know it. They also know how fleeting success can be.
They can look at history. Teams get old and fade quickly.
The Astros? They have the oldest lineup in the AL this season and the third-oldest pitching staff. As good as a player may seem in his early 30s, his future is all downhill.
Houston also know that its window for success can close quickly.
The Jeff Bagwell- and Craig Biggio-led Astros advanced to the postseason six times in nine years between 1997 and 2005. Then came a nine-year drought that included three consecutive 100-loss seasons from 2011 to 2013. Now the Astros are headed to the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
During that stretch, the Astros claimed the first World Series trophy in franchise history. In 2017 they knocked off the large-market trinity of the Red Sox in the Division Series, the Yankees in the Championship Series and the Dodgers in World Series.
It’s not over yet, and the Astros took a step toward enhancing the chances of another World Series title when they added Greinke.
Greinke didn’t come cheap.
But, then, World Series championships are not a dime a dozen.