It takes an unbelievable amount of confidence to be any sort of baseball player, let alone the player of the next two decades. But for those of us on the sideline, this comment might seem a bit of a stretch. How much of a stretch? Well, I broke it down by comparing players on each team to see how much. I didn’t do position by position, as that’s been done and I’m not sure it always gives a great scope of the magnitude of the differences. Instead, I break it down by players in a similar space narratively. It starts by comparing some of the top players on each team, but that only works for about three players down each roster. After that there is some other thing to line up, whether that is impending free agency, underperformance, what role a league average player fills on each team, or some other arbitrary metric. The difference measures are also somewhat arbitrary, but hopefully fun. I didn’t do pitchers, but someone else feel free to add that if you like.
TLDR: they have a lot of work to do in the next few months.
The rising generational talent (Julio and Yordan)
It’s easy to imagine based on his skill set, meteoric rise, vast intelligence, and exponentially growing improvement throughout the course of his rookie year that Julio could put up Mike Trout numbers for the next decade or more. Meanwhile Yordan is limited by only (only?) being able to hit like Barry Bonds, with limitations on defense and base running. It’s hard to imagine he can get any better than he was this year, while Julio could speculatively be twice as valuable as early as next year. Even if he doesn’t reach that goal, the Marines best player still has to get better to even be as good as the Astros DH.
Edge: Mariners by a hope and a prayer.
The aging infield star (Eugenio and Altuve)
The other best player on each team were somewhat similar, if you can ever say a future HOF candidate is similar to a player who was below replacement level as recently as last year. LL was awash with Schaudenfreude after Altuve’s decline in 2020, but he’s been raking ever since and will almost certainly be worth his contract when it is up in 2 years. Meanwhile, we are kind of hoping Eugenio will be worth his contract (also up in 2 years) and it is a much smaller contract. Either one of them could theoretically fall off the cliff before that happens, but Eugenio doesn’t have to fall as far before it becomes a problem.
Edge: Astros by approximately 5’6"
The over performing plus D rookie(ish) (Cal and Peña)
Though Cal is technically not a rookie, they are on the same service time clock at this point, which is what matters going forward. Both players did better than expected this year based on most projections. Even though Cal was a little bit better than Peña, it’s hard to know if this can be expected going forward. Cal could have the sort of Zunino boom or bust career that dooms a lineup trying to depend on him, while Pena could settle into a slightly above league average role player on a team filled with stars and it would be just fine. Plus who knows what playing through a broken thumb for a month sets you up for the following year.
Edge: toss up
The peak years professional hitting infielder (France and Bregman)
Although France has looked phenomenal over stretches of his career, there are also those stretches where he played through injury after getting hit. And though he theoretically could play a more challenging position than 1st, the reality is that he hasn’t done well when given a chance and probably would not be as good as Bregman if he did. As much as we have hoped for him to put up Edgar numbers, the reality is that at the end of each year his WAR look like Bregman’s down years. Bregman could continue to be this good for the next two years, or he could be more like Ty France.
Edge: Astros by a Hector Neris pitch to the wrist.
The slow developing top prospect (Kelenic and Tucker)
Tucker was never rated as high as Kelenic, yet we all gloated when he struggled to put it together for a few years. At this point I think we would all be ecstatic if Kelenic put up a 5 WAR year before hitting free agency. Most of us would settle for 5 WAR total by then. Tucker has just put up back to back 5 WAR years, and they haven’t really even needed him to based on everyone else in the lineup.
Edge: Astros by clenching a week ahead of schedule in September.
The obping up the middle defender (Crawford and McCormick)
Technically, McCormick hasn’t played CF as much as the other OF positions, but he could probably play there full time and it would be fine. Technically, Shortstop is still the more challenging position, but Crawford was not as great there this year as he had been in the past. They are exactly the same age, but Crawford has a bigger contract while McCormick is pre-arbitration. They were both exactly league average last year, owing largely to on base skills.
Edge: James Robert Crane by $10 million per year.
The injury plagued free agent outfielder (Haniger and Brantley)
Maybe not fair to call Brantley injury plagued, but from here on out that is probably the case. He is 4 years older and tens of millions of dollars richer than Haniger, but their health and income prospects from here out are probably fairly similar. It doesn’t seem necessary to compare their futures too much. For all we know Haniger could be playing for the Astros next year. (Or Brantley for the Mariners for that matter.)
Edge: Mariners by a marginal QO.
The surprising black hole (Winker and Guriel)
The surprise might be that they both sucked or that they both got 500+ PAs even though they sucked. They were both 3ish WAR players last year, so it is understandable that they were given a bit of time to figure things out again. Winker is the superior player, even if limited defensively and to a platoon player. However, Guriel probably isn’t coming back at 39 and the Astros can probably pick up a relatively cheap player to play first and it won’t hurt their chances too much.
Edge: Mariners by a free pizza or so.
The not as surprising black hole (Toro and Jake Myers)
They came up together in the Astros system. The difference is that the Astros didn’t expect either of them to be more than role players, while the Mariners wanted Toro to be a regular on a playoff caliber team. It’s possible either of them could be asked to play that role again next year with free agency affecting their position.
The rental (Santana and Mancini)
If the Ms resign Santana, there will be a meLLtdown. If the Astros resign Mancini, he can slide into the spot vacated by Guriel, and they are still favored to win the division.
Edge: technically even
The full time below league average player (Frazier and Maldonado)
Maldonado is ancient by Catcher standards, and was never a good hitter in his prime. Yet the Astros seem mostly fine with having him be the black hole in their lineup based on his defense, or something. He appears to have a vesting option which will kick in, so will be back for them next season in some capacity. Frazier, on the other hand, is a free agent, and probably should not be a regular on a playoff caliber team. Some want him back in a utility role, but the Ms already have a few players doing great in that capacity.
Edge: Astros by the 9 hole.
The utility cogs (Moore and Santana vs Hensley and Dubon)
Diaz is a free agent, so these look to be the play anywhere players the Astros have in place for next year. Moore and Haggerty were outstanding this year, and should definitely be expected to be better than the Astros subs next year. But here’s the thing: if your infield starters are putting up 15 WAR, who cares about the subs.
Edge: Mariners by a platoon advantage.