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Inbox: Houston's 2021 outfield outlook

@brianmctaggart
October 22, 2020

HOUSTON -- The Astros’ season is over and all that’s on the mind of Houston fans -- judging by the questions you have -- is whether George Springer will be re-signed (not sure) and when No. 1 prospect Forrest Whitley will make his debut (don’t know). There is plenty of

HOUSTON -- The Astros’ season is over and all that’s on the mind of Houston fans -- judging by the questions you have -- is whether George Springer will be re-signed (not sure) and when No. 1 prospect Forrest Whitley will make his debut (don’t know). There is plenty of other stuff on your mind, though, so let’s try and answer as many questions as we can in this week’s Inbox:

What is the Astros' plan if they don't re-sign Springer or Michael Brantley?
-- @ManofTx

Clearly, the outfield situation is job No. 1 this offseason. You’ll have Kyle Tucker in one spot and two open spots if Springer and Brantley don’t re-sign, as you state. If that happens, the Astros will have to look to fill those spots through free agency and/or trade, though the outfield free-agent market isn’t deep (especially if you remove Springer and Brantley).

The two big names are Marcell Ozuna and Jackie Bradley Jr. Ozuna had a huge year for the Braves, but he is a defensive liability. And it’s not like the Astros could use him at designated hitter, either, with Yordan Alvarez back next year. Bradley had a solid year on offense (.814 OPS) and brings a Gold Glove Award in center field. He’s not Springer, but his left-handed bat would be a nice fit.

I see the Astros signing either Brantley or Springer, but not both. And of those, Brantley could be signed for less money and a shorter term, and you’d feel good about his production not dropping off in his mid-30s. An outfield of Brantley, Bradley and Tucker would be a good one.

Jake Marisnick, Joc Pederson and Robbie Grossman are also free agents.

Carlos Correa really became the leader of this team in October. What are the chances of an extension for him?
-- @Ashitaka1110

The emergence of Correa as a team leader in 2020 was something to see. It began in the spring when the shortstop defended Jose Altuve from accusations made by other players questioning his accomplishments in '17, and it shone in the playoffs when he took over mound visits and became the heartbeat of the club. And it also didn’t hurt he had another huge October.

With Correa facing free agency after the 2021 season, the Astros should make re-signing him a priority. He will be a free agent at 27 years old, and plays a premium defensive position at a high level. He had a poor season at the plate in the regular season, but he stayed healthy and was clutch in the playoffs. You still feel like his offensive game can rise to another level. Correa’s best years are ahead of him and the Astros should want them to happen with Houston.

How is Justin Verlander progressing? Didn't hear anything about him during the playoff run.
-- @elcougar09

Verlander had Tommy John surgery on Sept. 30 and will miss the entire 2021 season. The Astros' ace wasn’t around the club in the playoffs while he was recovering, which is why you didn’t hear much from him. Verlander faces a long road ahead, but he has said he wants to play again in '22, when he will be a free agent. It's possible Verlander has thrown his final pitch in a Houston uniform.

Do you have any updates on the Cuban phenom outfielder, Pedro Leon? Did he sign with the Astros? If so, do you know how he’s progressing?
-- @lwasamime

Leon is still considered one of the top international prospects in the game and ranks No. 6 on MLB.com’s list of the Top 30 International Prospects. That hasn’t changed. What’s different is he likely won’t sign until the 2020-21 international period begins in a few months. In June, MLB pushed back the '20-21 international signing period that was scheduled to begin from July 2, 2020, to Jan. 15, 2021. That period will now run through Dec. 15, 2021. The start and end dates for the '21-22 international signing period are also scheduled to move to Jan. 15, 2022, and Dec. 15, 2022, respectively.

Which pitcher will the Astros look to sign this offseason for bullpen help?
-- @DoubleClutch95

I expect the Astros to try to add at least one veteran relief pitcher this winter. They’ll have veterans Ryan Pressly and Joe Smith back in 2021, with some of the young arms who blossomed this year -- Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley (he’s 32 years old, but was officially a rookie) -- providing quality depth. They’ll also have Josh James, Cy Sneed and Bryan Abreu (remember him?) back, as well.

Still, losing Roberto Osuna for the 2021 season as expected leaves a void. The Astros are likely to non-tender Osuna if he is indeed going to miss the entire ’21 season. Among the bigger names on the free-agent market are A’s closer Liam Hendriks, White Sox closer Alex Colomé and Blake Treinen, the Dodgers reliever and '18 All-Star with Oakland. Adding one of them would really solidify the bullpen.

If Osuna isn't back for next year (looks like that's the case) do you see Pressly or maybe Paredes moving into the closer role?
-- @OscarGzz2062

I don’t see any reason why Pressly wouldn’t be the closer again like he was for most of the 2020 season. He grew into the role pretty well and struck out nearly a third of the batters he faced last season. As for Paredes, he certainly proved to be a live arm who could get high-leverage outs, but he’s a starter by trade. The Astros may want to return him to that role before moving him to the bullpen permanently, but I suspect he’ll be in the bullpen mix next year.

Do you see Lance McCullers Jr. in the Astros' future? He's still young, and despite rehab, he looked pretty promising as a starter.
-- @argenis_richaud

McCullers is under contract for 2021, but the amount will be decided through the arbitration process. He’s a huge part of their future and will be looking to put a full season under his belt next year -- his final year before free agency. After missing all of the ’19 season following Tommy John surgery, McCullers went 3-3 with a 3.93 ERA in 11 starts, including a 2.18 ERA in his final eight starts. That included 17 2/3 innings to end the season without allowing an earned run, and he punched out 11 Rays in seven innings in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. I’d love to see what McCullers can do making 33 starts in ’21.

Name the 2021 starting rotation.
-- @fakedoubleday

Barring injuries, it’s Zack Greinke, McCullers, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.