While I do not feel the 2016 Houston Astros have too many similarities to the before mentioned teams, I feel that they have gotten a little bit too much hype this off season. Were they very active? Yes. Did they bring in some very good veteran players who will influence the clubhouse in a positive way? Yes. The trade for catcher Brian McCann and the signing of free agents Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran, and Norichika Aoki make the Astros a stronger and deeper offensive team.
If I was told the Houston Astros would be lead this season by the 2015 version of Cy Young Keuchel, I would be a lot more confident in this team. Dallas had a rough season in 2016, winning 9 games, losing 14, and finishing with an earned run average of more than two runs higher than a season ago. Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers are kind of the same pitcher- dependable, durable right handers that should give the team 30 starts and 180 plus innings. Both show signs of dominance- Fiers has thrown a no hitter and McHugh has won 19 games in a season. But where they both sit ERA wise and WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) wise may very well be where they should be expected to be year in and year out. Not an insult, but there is a huge difference between a (or two) quality number three or four starter(s) and an ace. The Astros are missing a legitimate number one to their rotation. Of course, if Keuchel is back, then the focus should be on getting a legit number two, or a one-A.
A major wild card this season could be Lance McCullers, Jr. Limited to 14 starts last year, he lead the starting staff with 11.7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched (106 Ks in 81 IP). Other considerations are right handed pitchers Joe Musgrove and Chris Devenski, with Musgrove probably having a better shot of making the rotation. Right hander Charlie Morton comes in to be this version's Doug FIster (12-13, 4.64, 32 starts, just over 180 IP), which puts him in the fifth starter spot in the rotation. A opening day version of Keuchel- McCullers- McHugh- Fiers- Morton would be greatly improved with an addition of a pitcher like the Chicago White Sox' Jose Quintana.
Devenski has closer's stuff and the combination of him and Ken Giles will make it tough for opposing hitters to keep up in the later innings. Will Harris is coming off of his first All Star selection and Luke Gregerson always seems to be at his best when he is pitching the eighth inning. Tony Sipp is the situational LOOGY (left handed one out guy) with James Hoyt and Brady Rodgers possibilities to land a spot in the front of the pen.
Adding the 2016 numbers of Beltran (.295, 29, 73), Reddick (.281 in 115 games with 20-30 home run power), and McCann (nine straight 20 home run seasons) to the lineup that already exists makes the Astros one of the best offensive teams in all of baseball. Adding in Evan Gattis (32 home runs last season) and Aoki (a consistent .286 career hitter) makes it fun to imagine what the best Houston lineup can look like. MVP candidate Jose Altuve has become one of the best hitters in the game and George Springer hit 29 home runs and scored 116 runs last year. Altuve's 42 doubles and 24 home runs make him a scary player, not just a high average, speedster who scores a lot of runs.
The Astros corner infield features Alex Bregman at third base. Bregman should eventually see an increase in power and has potential similar to that of starting shortstop Carlos Correa (.274, 20, 96). Yulieski Gurriel will be playing first base, another player that the Astros expect to be a power threat. The question is what lineup is best for the Astros to put out there and which players should sit. Of course, manager AJ Hinch has a deep bench and because of this, he can move players in and out and take advantage of the players with the most versatility and platoon splits. Marvin Gonzalez and Jake Marisnick will also be coming off of the bench with whoever else is not in the starting lineup on a given day. Beltran could play the outfield while Gattis serves as the DH, with Aoki coming off the bench. Gurriel can play third base, freeing up Gattis or McCann for first base. Bregman is a natural shortstop and Springer, who will be the starting center fielder, can use some time in either right or left, freeing up time for Marisnick to play center. Gonzalez hit 13 home runs last season, playing more games at first than any other Astros player.
Perhaps a major reason chose not to make a significant upgrade to their starting rotation could be right hander Francis Martes, who struck out 131 batters in just over 125 innings last season. Martes, Devenski, and Musgrove could form a pretty solid trio if they can all succeed in the major leagues at the same time. David Paulino is another solid arm, who I think would be better as a short reliever. Outfielder Kyle Tucker is another season or two away, but I would expect him to become one of the best position player prospects in the entire game before he makes his debut. Derek FIsher is an outfielder closer to being MLB ready, but comes with a ton of strikeouts. A young player to watch that could be on the rise is left handed pitcher Framber Valdez, a 23-year old Domincan born who signed with the Astros at age 21.
Sky is the limit for the Astros, who can very well ride their off season to their first division title since they won the National League Central in 2001. The Astros have one of the strongest, deepest offensive teams in the entire sport. If Keuchel performs to his 2015 levels, look out! I respect the Astros approach in developing their younger starting pitchers. They are very fortunate to have so many young, solid arms on the way. I think the Astros will compete all season, but they are stuck in a division which I rate as the best in baseball. Four teams will finish the 2017 season with winning records, according to www.johnpielli.com. I take the under with the Astros though, as their Las Vegas number was 87.5. The Astros will finish this season with a 85-77 record, third place in the American League West division.