This is the final installment in this series, and it addresses the biggest question that will haunt the Mariners over their projected future: how good will the Astros be, and for how long? Barring any kind of wild divisional realignment—which maybe isn’t the most outlandish idea from ole Rob strikes-are-florps-now Manfred—the Astros will be the Mariners’ problem to contend with for the foreseeable future. If that statement bums you out to read, well, imagine how it felt to type. In fact, in order to get through this entire series on the Astros I’ve consumed many glasses of wine, only some of which have been ground to dust between my furious, grasping fingers.
- Current Fangraphs projected record: 101-61 (1st in the AL West, 1st in the AL, 1st in MLB, 1st in the solar system, 1st on a distant planet that’s never heard of baseball)
- Projected runs scored per game (RS/G): 5.33 (1st in MLB)
- Projected runs scored against per game (RA/G): 4.08 (1st in MLB)
- PECOTA projected record: 99-63 (1st in the AL West, 1st in the AL, 1st in MLB)
The Astros were the best team in baseball last year, despite a surging (then subsequently crashing) Dodgers team, and the World Series bore that out. Then, the Astros went out and beat the Dodgers in the off-season, too, bolstering their pitching with the acquisition of Gerrit Cole, while the Dodgers lost out on their bid for [REDACTED]. They’re a young, talent-loaded team that looks like they might be the new early-2010s San Francisco Giants, perpetual contenders and repeat winners of multiple Commissioner’s Trophies (now renamed Commissioner’s Victory Royale by Manfred, trying to catch some of that Fortnite fever).
How can the Astros blast into the stratosphere?
By doing exactly what they did last year, basically. The Astros are invincible enough that even injuries to their star shortstop don’t hurt them—hydra-like, they just slid Alex Bregman over because he’s a shortstop anyway. If they can shore up their one positional weakness, the lack of a true defensive catcher, by working out a trade with the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto, the Astros will deal a swift blow to the upstart Yankees and the World Series hats some fans are already measuring their heads for.
What could cause there to be a problem in Houston?
The Astros were able to absorb Correa’s injury because they had another, equally talented, player behind him in Alex Bregman. Marwin Gonzalez, who would start for several other teams, is always there, waiting to jump in. As deep as the Astros are in pitching, Brad Peacock might not be a starter for every other team. While the Astros could absorb one major hit to their starting rotation, since Collin McHugh is just kind of...there, getting paid over five million dollars to be a sixth starter, things thin out after that. Justin Verlander is no spring chicken, and Keuchel and McCullers have both struggled with health. The Astros may be deep, but the injury goddess is cruel and capricious.
What reinforcements are available on the farm?
The Astros still have top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley, although he is now suspended for fifty games, and other top prospect Kyle Tucker is also there, although if the Astros want to make another significant move, they will probably have to deal one of them. The Astros farm is very thin on pitching, something they attempted to address by drafting J.B. Bukauskus. There are pieces on the Astros farm, but it has been thinned out by promotions, and the counterpoint to their current dominance is a lot of later draft choices.
The Astros are paying Justin Verlander about thirty million dollars through 2019. They’re stuck with Josh Reddick at $13MM/year until 2020. Bregman, Correa, and McCullers are cheap and controllable forever, but everyone else will push the Astros to make decisions in the next two years. The window of contention may not be as long as Mariners fans dread it to be—no big deal for the Astros, who are enjoying their World Series title and young, exciting core.