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A Pox on the Astros: This Too Shall Pass

One of my favorite stories is of the ruler who asked his advisor for a magic ring that would make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy. The advisor later gave him a ring with the simple inscription, “This too shall pass.” The point is that nothing is permanent. Right now, I am remembering this sage advice in the aftermath of a second Yankee defeat at the hands of the Astros.

As I have previously written, the Astros are a brilliantly constructed juggernaut. But they are a fragile juggernaut that will start to weaken after this season.

Position Players:

The Astros core is set for a while.

Jose Altuve (29, signed through 2024)

Alex Bregman (25, signed through 2024)

Carlos Correa (24, team control through 2021)

Jordan Alvarez (22 under team control for another 6 years).

Those four players will make the Astros at least competitive. Beyond that, there are some cracks.

Their two catchers (Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado) are 35 and 32 and are both free agents.

Yuli Gurriel is 35.

The outfield is up in the air. Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are both 32 and free agents after 2020. George Springer is 29 and a free agent after this season.

Pitchers:

The biggest hole here is “all-world” Gerrit Cole who will be a free agent after this season. Justin Verlander is 36 and signed for another two years as is Zach Grinke who is 35. Both have been spectacular, but eventually father time gets us all. Additionally, Wade Miley is 32 and a free agent after this season.

Roberto Osuna is set for another two years and is only 24. And Ryan Pressly is 30 and signed for another 3 years. My guess is that the Astros will find a way to be at least okay in the bullpen.

Outlook:

The Astros are already committed for $148.9 million in payroll for 2020. That’s only $20 million less than their 2019 payroll. That doesn’t include:

A big raise for Carlos Correa from his $5 million in 2019

A raise for George Springer from his $12 million in 2019.

A raise for Roberto Osuna from his $6.5 million in 2019.

Possibly a new catcher (or some money for one of the old ones).

A new starter to replace Gerrit Cole

Some new relievers or arbitration for Joe Smith (35, $8 million 2019 salary), Collin McHugh (32, $5.8 million 2019 salary), and Will Harris (23, $4.2 million 2019 salary).

All of the above adds up to at least $50 million unless the Astros trade off some expensive (and productive) veterans. This will put their payroll in the $200 million range without Gerrit Cole and George Springer. I don’t know if their ownership can stomach that.

Conclusion:

Off the bat, the Astros are almost certainly losing Gerrit Cole (7.4 WAR) and George Springer (6.5 WAR). That’s 14 wins off of their 2019 total of 107. They will pick up another couple of wins from having Alvarez for a full season, but that will cancel out losing Gurruiel (3.2 WAR).

There is actually more downside than upside with this roster at this point as Verlander and Greinke continue to age.

The bottom line is that the 2019 Yankees lost to “Peak Astros.” The Astros will continue to be very good because they have a great core and brilliant management. But, unless they can pull a good number of rabbits out of the hat in 2020, and beyond, they will no longer be the juggernaut of 2017-2019. Their days of being the best look to be just about almost over.

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