HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane last week made it clear he plans for his club to remain in contention in the American League, saying the 2022 payroll will once again be among the highest in baseball. The Astros have been to three World Series in five years and could face an offseason of change with star shortstop Carlos Correa among their free agents.
The Astros will return a strong core in 2022, no matter who is playing shortstop, and should once again be a factor in the AL playoff race.
Here’s a look at key players on the 2021 roster and how they will factor into next year:
Martín Maldonado, catcher
Maldonado will presumably be the starter once again next year, though he had a poor season on offense. Still, his ability to handle the pitching staff, his leadership qualities and his arm -- he was a Gold Glove finalist -- provide immense value.
Jason Castro, catcher
Castro’s return to the Astros saw him take on a backup role to Maldonado in 2021, and both will be in the last years of their contracts in ‘22. Castro started only 37 games in the regular season but provided more offense than Maldonado.
Garrett Stubbs, catcher
Stubbs’ place in the Astros’ long-term future remains uncertain, especially with top catching prospect Korey Lee on the come. Stubbs can play other positions, so the Astros may choose to explore that versatility a bit more next year.
Yuli Gurriel, first baseman
Gurriel won the AL batting title, hitting .319, and took home his first Gold Glove at first base, which makes the $8 million contract option the Astros had on him for ’22 a real bargain. He’ll turn 38 years old in June, so how much does he have left in the tank?
Jose Altuve, second baseman
Altuve, who was named to his seventh All-Star team in ‘21, isn’t the pure hitter he was earlier in his career when he won three batting titles, but he added a power dimension this year with a career-high 31 homers. He’s 223 hits away from 2,000 and keeps chugging along in the second half of his career.
Carlos Correa, shortstop
A free agent, the Astros plan to make a run at re-signing Correa, which is probably a longshot. His departure would leave a huge hole to fill on the Astros infield -- he won the AL Gold Glove -- in the lineup and in terms of leadership.
Alex Bregman, third baseman
Bregman’s 2021 season was ravaged by injuries, including a left quad strain that cost him 59 games in the middle of the season. He returned in August and crushed the ball before suffering a right wrist injury that diminished his playoff performance and required surgery earlier this week.
Michael Brantley, left fielder
The 2022 season will likely be Brantley’s final one in Houston. He finished second in the AL in batting at .311 (behind Gurriel) and remains a terrific contact hitter, but he doesn’t hit for much power anymore (eight homers in 508 plate appearances).
Jake Meyers, center fielder
Meyers wasn’t very high on prospect lists a year ago but found his way to the Majors in 2021 after he crushed Triple-A pitching. He was in line to be the Astros' starting center fielder for '22 but had shoulder surgery earlier this week to repair a torn labrum. He will miss the start of the season.
Kyle Tucker, right fielder
Tucker has emerged as a force in the middle of the Astros’ lineup and had a career year offensively in ’21 with 30 homers and 92 RBIs while finishing as a Gold Glove finalist. He’ll be an anchor in Houston’s lineup for years to come.
Yordan Alvarez, designated hitter
After being limited to only two games last year because he had surgery on both knees in August, Alvarez led the team in homers (33) and RBIs (104) in ‘21 and proved to be a proficient left fielder, where he played quite a bit this year after being limited to DH duties to begin his career.
Aledmys Díaz, utility infielder
Díaz, who played all over the field in ’21, could wind up playing more shortstop next year if Correa departs and the Astros don’t fill that vacancy in free agency. His best role probably remains as a versatile utility player off the bench.
Taylor Jones, first baseman/outfielder
Jones hit well (15-for-45 with two homers) in the final two months of the regular season in limited playing time but didn’t get a spot on the playoff roster. He could push for a backup role in ’22, but he will be 28 in December and could benefit from a change of scenery.
Marwin Gonzalez, utility infielder
Gonzalez’s return to Houston late in the season was a feel-good story that included a grand slam Sept. 20 and a key two-run single in Game 5 of the World Series. But he was nowhere near the player who got MVP votes in 2017 and is once again a free agent.
Jose Siri, outfielder
Siri, 26, displayed some of his speed in the playoffs and has some raw power, but he probably comes to camp battling for a roster spot.
Chas McCormick, outfielder
McCormick split playing time with Meyers in center in the last two months of the season and then made most of the starts in the ALCS and World Series after Meyers injured his shoulder in the ALDS. Unless the Astros acquire another outfielder, Meyers' injury means McCormick is the likely Opening Day starter in center.
RHP Lance McCullers Jr., starting pitcher
McCullers, who finished second in the AL in ERA (3.16) and first in opponents’ batting average, will return as the staff ace in 2022. He suffered a strained forearm muscle in Game 4 of the ALDS, which put him out for the ALCS and World Series.
LHP Framber Valdez, starting pitcher
Valdez has emerged as a viable middle-of-the-rotation arm for the Astros. He threw 134 2/3 innings in ’21 after missing the first two months with a broken ring finger and will be looking to put together a healthy full season in ’22.
RHP José Urquidy, starting pitcher
Urquidy’s body of work early in his career has been solid, and he’s now pitched in two different World Series. He battled a pair of shoulder injuries in ’21 and will be in the middle of Houston’s rotation in ’22, looking to put it all together.
RHP Luis Garcia, starting pitcher
Garcia, a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year, threw a career-high 155 1/3 innings in ’21 and made five starts in the playoffs, including two in the World Series. He’ll be a key starter for the Astros next year.
RHP Zack Greinke, starting pitcher
Greinke is a free agent who appears to be close to the end of the line in his terrific career, so his time in Houston is likely over. He went on the IL twice in September and lost his spot in the Astros’ rotation in the playoffs.
RHP Jake Odorizzi, starting pitcher
Odorizzi’s first year with the Astros was about as disjointed as it could be, but he should be in the rotation in ‘22. He hurt his forearm early this year, expressed discontent with his usage later in the season and then pitched in only two postseason games.
RHP Cristian Javier, starting pitcher
Javier earned Rookie of the Year votes as a starter in 2020 and was put into a bullpen role in ’21 because the Astros had some unexpected starting pitching depth. He’ll probably return to the rotation next year.
RHP Ryan Pressly, closer
One of the best closers in baseball, Pressly didn’t put up gaudy save numbers because the Astros blew so many teams out. He will anchor the bullpen again in ‘22.
RHP Kendall Graveman, relief pitcher
Graveman, a free agent, was terrific for the Astros, especially in the playoffs, after coming over in a July trade from Seattle. If Houston can find a way to bring him back and pair him with Pressly, the back of the bullpen will be elite.
RHP Ryne Stanek, relief pitcher
Stanek was the Astros’ primary eighth-inning setup man before they acquired Graveman, pushing Stanek into a seventh-inning role. He’ll be one of manager Dusty Baker’s key relievers in ’22.
RHP Yimi García, relief pitcher
García, a free agent, didn’t pitch well in the regular season after coming over in a July trade with the Marlins. He gave up seven runs in two playoff outings but was scoreless in his other eight playoff outings.
RHP Phil Maton, relief pitcher
Another midseason trade acquisition, Maton posted a 4.73 ERA and 1.58 WHIP after coming over in a July trade with the Indians, but he was lights out in the playoffs (one earned run in 12 1/3 innings) and should play a key bullpen rule in ’22.
LHP Brooks Raley, relief pitcher
Raley, a free agent, may not return to the Astros. He recorded a 31.7 strikeout percentage and a 7.8 walk percentage, which was excellent, but he gave up six homers in 55 2/3 innings.
LHP Blake Taylor, relief pitcher
Taylor held lefties to a .123 batting average in the regular season and could be thrust into that role more going forward, especially if Raley departs. He had a 3.16 ERA in 51 games in the regular season.
RHP Pedro Báez relief pitcher
Báez, the Astros’ top free agent signing of last offseason in a two-year deal, was a bust in his first year. He battled COVID-19 and a shoulder injury that held him to two games in the regular season, but GM James Click said he’s in better shape and will be in the bullpen mix next year.
RHP Brandon Bielak, relief pitcher
The Astros would be best served by letting Bielak re-establish himself as a starter after he bounced between starter and reliever this year. He pitched well in the second half and could be a valuable depth rotation piece going forward.
RHP Bryan Abreu, relief pitcher
The hard-throwing Abreu was one of the favorites of pitching coach Brent Strom, who stepped down from the job after this year. Abreu is likely at the point where he needs to refine his control or perhaps move on to another club.
RHP Andre Scrubb, relief pitcher
Scrubb was among a handful of rookie pitchers who made their debut in 2020 without fans in the stands and performed well. He struggled mightily this year, while battling an injury, and is a bullpen depth piece at this point.