Inbox: Springer, Chirinos, Verlander, Dusty

November 24th, 2020

HOUSTON -- We’re about a month into the offseason and it’s been relatively quiet for the Astros as far as player transactions. The club has made a few housekeeping moves, but it has yet to sign any free agents or make any trades that would have a big impact on the 2021 season. But they’re not alone.

As the baseball offseason chugs along, teams are licking their financial wounds from the shortened 60-game season that was without fans and the revenue they bring. And with 2021 looming, many teams are going to take their time before spending big money until they get a better idea what the landscape of the season will look like.

So, let’s open the Inbox and take a look at what’s on your mind:

Do you think the Astros go after any bigger names to replace a departing Springer? Thinking along the lines of Jackie Bradley Jr.
-- Chris, @parslefish

Well, if they lose center fielder George Springer in free agency -- and there’s been no movement yet on the Springer front -- they’ll have to find a replacement. Bradley, who’s a free agent, would be the most logical, considering he plays center field and would fit nicely into the lineup. But Bradley would be a step down from Springer, who overcame a slow start to have another big year in 2020.

Whomever they replace Springer with next season or beyond will be a step down. Springer is one of the best offensive center fielders in the game and a strong defender, too, and short of signing him to return, there’s going to be a dropoff in production. He’s the biggest position-player name on the market. If you’re the Astros, you try to fill that void as best as you can and bolster the pitching staff and try to make another run with a solid core returning.

Is it possible we see a reunion with Robinson Chirinos?
-- Kristin, @chocoemo

Identifying the backup to veteran Martín Maldonado in 2021 will be one of the top items for Astros general manager James Click. Maldonado did a great job last season, starting 46 of 60 regular-season games while handling a pitching that staff that had 15 rookies, including 10 that made their MLB debuts. Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. even made a case for Maldonado as the team’s MVP in '20.

That said, they said goodbye to backup Dustin Garneau and now have only two catchers on the 40-man roster: Maldonado and Garrett Stubbs. Even if the Astros feel comfortable with Stubbs as the backup, they will probably want to bring in another veteran, which could mean a reunion with Chirinos -- or, say, Jason Castro. There’s no way Maldonado will handle the same percentage of workload over 162 games in 2021 as he did for 60 games in '20. They’ll need some depth and may prefer experience, too.

Any news/update/thoughts on Alvarez injury and possibly him starting the season on time?
-- @loehr_sr

Right now, there’s no reason to believe designated hitter Yordan Alvarez won’t be ready for the start of the 2021 season. The '19 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in August after playing in only two games. He had a slight tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee, which was repaired, and a routine cleanup was performed on his left knee. At the time, the team said he was expected to make a complete recovery and should be ready to play prior to the start of '21 Spring Training.

Do you believe that Verlander will ever pitch again after his TJ surgery?
-- DoubleDee, @dcon2003

Absolutely. If you know anything about Justin Verlander, you know he has a work ethic that’s about the best in the game, and he’s said that he wants to pitch until he’s 45 years old. But he does have his work cut out for him after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Sept. 30. The recovery time is 12 to 14 months, meaning Verlander won’t pitch again until the 2022 season.

Verlander will attempt to become the 10th known pitcher to come back from Tommy John after undergoing the procedure at 37 years of age or older. His Hall of Fame résumé is strong, but Verlander is still chasing some goals. He’s talked about wanting to reach 300 wins, which seems far-fetched now after making just one start in 2020 and what will likely be zero in '21. He will be 39 years old the next time he pitches and will need 74 wins to reach 300. I wouldn’t count him out.

What is the possibility for Dusty to manage in Houston past this season?
-- @AstrosManor

Astros manager Dusty Baker is entering the final year of his contract in 2021 after the club picked up his option early in the ‘20 season. Baker has been a lame-duck manager before and, in fact, he joked earlier this year, “I was one of the lamest ducks there is walking around." Baker’s club overcame a ton of injuries and got the Astros to within a game of the World Series, but it's still hard to envision him managing in Houston beyond next season.

In the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that cost A.J. Hinch his job in January, Baker was the right hire for a team in turmoil. He’s as well-respected as there is in the game and said all the right things. That being said, the club going forward may want to turn to a fresher voice as its pivots and tries to stay in contention after 2022, when many believe Houston’s window of contention will be closing fast.

While the rotation is a strength, should we expect James Click to pursue another starter for depth?
-- @astrofizzik

The Astros won’t have Verlander, but the emergence of several young arms in 2020 -- Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy -- has them feeling pretty good about their rotation going forward. Plus, veterans Zack Greinke and McCullers will be back next season in what could be the final season for each in Houston.

However, as we saw last season, you can’t have enough pitching. Five starters are great, but you’ll probably need at least 10 to get through the regular season, so depth is key. Don't be surprised if Click brings in another veteran arm to serve as insurance for injuries or underperformance, both of which are likely to happen. A possible reunion with Charlie Morton got shot down Tuesday when he signed a one-year deal with Atlanta.

What are odds the Astros sign Brantley? It’s assumed the odds on signing Springer are slim to none.
-- Randy V., @RandySVoges

It’s impossible to assign odds to these things without bring privy to what players or teams are thinking in the offseason. So far, neither the Astros nor Springer or Michael Brantley have said anything about their futures. I’ve said all along I thought it was extremely unlikely they’ll sign both because of the finances. Springer will be looking for a huge deal for extended years, but Brantley could be had on a shorter deal for less money. That makes him more likely to sign, but it’s hard to know what either is thinking at this point. Whatever happens, I don’t think it will be any time soon.

Do the Astros' Triple-A players now just play in Sugar Land? Do all of the current Skeeters just get cut?
-- Ethan M., @RunEMC56

With the Astros moving their Triple-A team to the Houston suburb of Sugar Land -- home of the former independent team, the Skeeters -- the Astros will assign their Triple-A players to Sugar Land at the start of the season. The players who were on Sugar Land’s roster last year aren’t the property of the Astros and will be forced to find work elsewhere. The Astros are taking over majority ownership of the Skeeters and will control the front office, coaching staff, roster and stadium, and they are not inheriting Sugar Land’s players.