Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (12538050i) Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, left, smiles as he talks with general manager James Click, right, during baseball practice in Houston, . The Astros host the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday ALCS Red Sox Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 14 Oct 2021
Whether or not you considered them one before the 2022 World Series, the Astros winning it, their second over six years and with four appearances in the Fall Classic during that same timeframe, should have won you over: it’s a dynasty. They’ll face the same challenge as the other 29 teams in the MLB between now and Spring Training, which is to improve your team from the previous season. In the case of the Astros, it’s improving on a championship-caliber club.
Same captains at the helm
On Monday, Astros owner Jim Crane spoke with Dusty Baker and James Click, reportedly offering the manager and GM extensions for the 2023 seasons hoping to become one of the few teams in MLB history to repeat as champions. Baker has since confirmed that he will return for another season, with Click likely to do the same in the coming days.
No matter your view on some of his decisions inside specific games along the way, there is no denying Baker’s success nor the admiration he receives from his players. Similarly, Click, though you may think he has yet to make moves as significant or groundbreaking as you might want, he certainly had his fingerprint on this 2022 team, especially with a bullpen that dominated throughout the postseason. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, so bringing these two back after winning the World Series should be considered a win for Houston.
Avoid getting burned by the Hot Stove
The Astros have already seen several players enter free agency with their contracts expiring after the 2022 season: Michael Brantley, Jason Castro, Aledmys Diaz, Yuli Gurriel, Rafael Montero, and Christian Vazquez. Another notable name is sure to join that list: Justin Verlander. Verlander and the Astros have a mutual option for 2023 for $25M, a number that Verlander will almost assuredly turn down to test the free agent market and parlay his presumptive Cy Young season into a more lucrative deal.
On top of Click deciding which of these players to provide compelling offers to stay in Houston, he will also have to find out how much wiggle room he has from owner Jim Crane regarding funding.
“We’ve got a young team, so the window’s going to be open”Alex Bregman prior to the World Series parade in Houston on 11/7/2022
Houston will have several young players hitting arbitration and garnering substantial pay increases for 2023. Most notably, Framber Valdez should go from his $3M in 2022 to something significantly higher after his incredible year, which saw him set a single-season record for quality starts.
Kyle Tucker will also be heading to the pay window for the first time, going from his $764,200 earnings this past season to something more in line with a Gold Glove winner. Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier are in the same situation, hitting the 2023 books for much more than they did in 2022.
It shapes up to be an intriguing winter for Houston’s front office. Can the Astros be back in the World Series mix by letting some of these expensive players walk and bringing back someone cheaper in their place? It worked with Jeremy Peña this year, so it’s possible. Would it increase their chances, and the comfort level of the fans, if they could bring back some of these names or land some big names in free agency or via the trade route to address some of the weak spots on the roster? Absolutely.
By no means will the Astros be leading the way in the sweepstakes for some of this year’s most prominent names like Jacob deGrom or Aaron Judge to replace the likes of Verlander and Brantley. But if they can’t bring back guys like that, you can expect they will at least have a plan to maintain success, whether grabbing some of the cheaper options in free agency or finding a way from within at the minor-league level to fill some of the gaps that may be left, especially in the outfield.
Regardless of the avenue chosen by Crane, Click, and Baker, the Astros should be the favorites to win the AL West yet again. With the right moves and deals this offseason, they may even be the favorites to win back-to-back championships.