HOUSTON -- Let's get right to it and open the final Inbox of the year and find out what's on your mind regarding the Astros:
With Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton gone and Lance McCullers out for the year, what is the starting rotation on Opening Day going to look like? -- Justin G., Pearland, Texas
Any time you can start with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole -- both of whom finished in the Top 5 in the American League Cy Young Award race in 2018 -- that's a plus for the Astros. Collin McHugh is moving back into the rotation following a strong season out of the bullpen. There's still a great chance the Astros will add another veteran starting pitcher, which would leave one slot in the rotation. The candidates? Josh James, Framber Valdez and perhaps Cionel Perez. Top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley will come later in 2019.
• Watch Whitley throw 110 mph
Are the Astros satisfied with the catchers that they have going into next season?
-- Marty M., El Paso, Texas
Adding Robinson Chirinos two weeks ago to join Max Stassi certainly stabilized the catching situation, but there's room for improvement. That might be hard, though. The team, so far, doesn't appear to have momentum for a trade to acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. As far as free agents go, Wilson Ramos is off the market and Yasmani Grandal is attached to a Draft pick. Unless you're enamored with Jonathan Lucroy, the free-agent market drops off significantly after that, meaning it makes sense just to stick to Chirinos and Stassi to open the season.
I know the Astros don't like spending a lot of money, but do you think it's possible for them to sign Nelson Cruz and Michael Brantley? -- Ronald L., Houston
Who says the Astros don't like spending money? Their payroll was the fifth highest in the Majors entering 2018 and could push towards $200 million for '19, based on what owner Jim Crane told MLB.com last week. So yes, I think it's possible they could sign both Cruz and Brantley, but they'll have to find deals that make sense for them financially. Both would be great fits, in my opinion. Cruz could come to Houston on a one-year deal to try to win that elusive World Series ring (visions of his missed catch in Game 6 of the 2011 Fall Classic with the Rangers are now dancing through my head) and fill the need at designated hitter, and Brantley would fill the hole in the outfield and give the Astros a much-needed left-handed bat.
I'm sure you're getting a lot of these, but it seems like Morton wanted to return, and to lose him to a team that never spends money like Tampa Bay (I think this is the first time it has ever spent $15 million on a player) is disappointing, especially after starting pitching is obviously a hole. My question is: What ultimately prevented him from re-signing? And are we really going to go with Josh James and Framber as our 4/5? -- Kevin T., Baton Rouge, La.
What prevented him from signing was probably money. The Rays likely offered more than anyone else, though it's fair to point out Morton has a house in the area. Sure, the Astros wanted him back, but at what price? He was running on fumes towards the end of last season and had a balky shoulder. As a pitcher with a long injury history, that was a huge risk factor. There was a belief by some in the organization that the Astros had squeezed all they could out of Morton for two years. If he was going to come back, it certainly wasn't going to be for $30 million over two years. That's a deal the Astros don't need to make.
If the Astros open 2019 with Verlander, Cole, McHugh, a yet-to-be-acquired starter and James/Valdez, that's a very solid rotation.
How can the Astros not trade for Realmuto even if it means overpaying in the long run? This is about winning while the window is open. -- Mike H., Houston
I don't disagree. I think Realmuto would be a perfect fit in Houston, and 2019 could be the Astros' biggest chance to win another championship considering Verlander, Cole and McHugh are all free agents after next season. The asking price for Realmuto is very high, and so far the Astros have been unwilling to move top prospects Whitley and Kyle Tucker. Can they make a deal without at least one of those two guys? Perhaps. Astros president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow has pulled a few rabbits out of his hat before, so I wouldn't rule the Astros out just yet.
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The Astros have been searching for power from the 1B/DH position for a while. AJ Reed has consistently put up power numbers at Triple-A. Will he get a legitimate chance to play with the Astros? Is there a reason he hasn't received a real opportunity? Thank you.
-- Gerry G., Hopatcong, N.J.
Reed has been given a few chances, but his great numbers at Triple-A haven't translated to the big leagues. He wouldn't be the first player to tear up Triple-A pitching and not hit big league pitching (Jon Singleton, anybody?), and Reed hasn't always been in the best shape. He's no longer a top prospect, and his stock has slipped as other prospects have come up, so I wouldn't expect him to make an impact in Houston any time soon.
Why would the Astros try and trade Josh Reddick? I feel he has more value than on paper, and they can benefit from having Brantley and Reddick together. -- Kenneth N., Dickinson, Texas
Reddick is making $13 million each of the next two years and is coming off a subpar season (.718 OPS in 2018), which could be enough motivation for the Astros to move him, especially if they want to bring in another left-handed-hitting outfielder like Brantley. They can certainly keep him, but having another team take him and his money (or some of it) could provide some payroll flexibility.