HOUSTON -- At some point this offseason, Astros general manager James Click will make a significant move that will impact the 2021 roster. He pretty much has to, considering two of his key starting outfielders from last year’s club -- George Springer and Michael Brantley -- are free agents.
The Astros have other needs, too, such as starting and relief pitching depth and at backup catcher, but filling two open starting spots in the outfield is paramount. With the virtual Winter Meetings over, Click said there’s been some movement in the free-agent market in the past few days and addressed that and other topics on Thursday:
Topic: Payroll for 2021
The skinny: The Astros had one of the largest payrolls in baseball in 2020 and will continue to spend at that level next year in their quest to advance to a third World Series since '17. But with Springer and Brantley on the market and shortstop Carlos Correa and pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. hitting free agency after next season, keeping the entire nucleus of a team that has made four consecutive American League Championship Series appearances isn’t feasible.
Click: “Well, Springer and Brantley and all the free agents that we lost were a huge part of this team and part of this franchise. We are engaged on a number of fronts, those guys included. And so, we will continue to put our best foot forward there and see if we can keep the team together. But at the same time, we need to read and react to the market and those guys have earned the right to go out there and see what the market holds for them. And if ultimately it doesn't line up back here in Houston like we hope it does, we'll be ready to bring in some players that can help us out.”
Topic: Starting rotation
The skinny: The emergence of young starters Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier, the return of McCullers from Tommy John surgery, the growth of Jose Urquidy and Zack Greinke entering the final year of his contract give the Astros some rotation depth they wouldn’t have imagined a year ago. They lost Justin Verlander for all of 2021, and Click hinted that some additional rotation depth is needed.
Click: “While we do have quite a few guys that we feel good about -- and we certainly have some guys we've added to the roster recently I think can also step in should we need them -- the prudent course of action is to make sure that's an area of depth, because the last thing you want to do is wake up in a day or two and have a couple guys hit some bumps in the road and then have to put some guys in the rotation before they're ready.”
The skinny: Like the starting rotation, the bullpen was bolstered in 2020 by a number of young arms who were forced into action because of injuries, led by Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor. Lefty Brooks Raley wound up being a sound addition, and veterans Ryan Pressly and Joe Smith will be back next year, too. Still, should the Astros be in the market for a true closer, such as Liam Hendriks?
Click: “That gets into some much bigger questions about bullpen construction and bullpen usage. I think that we have a very talented bullpen right now. I think that we have a lot of guys who can get outs in big situations. That said, there is a real value and a real comfort to having that guy that you can count on in those really tight, really high-leverage situations, and I think Pressly has all the tools to do that. Beyond that, I think there are some guys in our bullpen that could grow into that role, but at the same time, there are some very talented relievers that were available in free agency, and whether we stamp them as ‘closer’ or not, we're going to do everything we can to shore up our options in those late-inning, high-leverage situations.”
Topic: Correa trade rumors
The skinny: Correa has been mentioned in trade rumors the past two offseasons. The shortstop is entering his final season of team control in 2021 and coming off a terrific performance in the postseason, though he was subpar in the regular season. Still, trading Correa could bring a nice haul for a club that has some infield depth in the Minor Leagues to fill a spot at shortstop or third base (if Alex Bregman moves to shortstop).
Click: “We're going to be open to any and all avenues to try to put this organization and this franchise in the best position possible to compete for as long as we possibly can. And that means entertaining things that maybe people don't understand why we would entertain them. That said, we're trying to win. We're trying to win in 2021. We're trying to win in '22 and '23 and beyond. And having a guy like Carlos Correa at shortstop makes it a lot easier to win.”
Topic: Yordan Alvarez playing in the outfield
The skinny: Knee problems have plagued the young slugger since he broke into the big leagues in 2019 and earned the AL Rookie of the Year Award that season. He was limited to only two games in ’20 and wound up having surgery on both knees. Alvarez is only 23 years old and could give the Astros more roster flexibility if he could play more outfield if his knees are sound.
Click: “It'll be a conversation that we'll have with him. We certainly don't want to anticipate how he's going to feel once he gets through his rehab. The good thing right now is that he's going after his rehab and really getting after it, and the videos that I've seen and the reports from the coordinators and the trainers have been extremely positive. And hopefully, if he continues to get after it with the same energy that he has so far, that'll unlock some of those possibilities going forward. But that will be a conversation with him in Spring Training once we get a feel for him and how he feels, how his knees feel, how his legs feel and, you know, we don't want to take away from his bat certainly.”