Astros will zero in on upgrading bullpen

Not having many holes to fill, club could have a low-key Hot Stove season

November 9th, 2017

HOUSTON -- The Astros are still basking in the glow of winning their first World Series championship a week ago and will be for quite some time. But the parade is over, the talk-show circuit is winding down and free agency has already begun, which means it's time to look ahead to 2018.

The majority of the Astros' key contributors to this year's team are back next year, which should make for a pretty low-key offseason. As always, the Astros will be looking for ways to improve because they're not a team without some flaws.

Biggest needs

1. Bullpen: To get an idea of where the Astros stand with their bullpen, look at how they patched together innings in the playoffs. Manager A.J. Hinch, beginning with in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against Boston, used starting pitchers in high-leverage situations throughout October, including both Game 7 victories. threw four scoreless innings in relief in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, and Charlie Morton won Game 7 of the World Series with four innings in relief. Brad Peacock was also used as a bullpen weapon in the postseason. , who received a qualifying offer from the Cubs, is probably a long shot as the Astros look to upgrade. One thing is for sure -- they need an effective left-hander in the bullpen.

Possible free-agent fits: LHP Mike Minor, LHP , LHP Tony Watson.

2. Left field: The Astros have to decide whether to continue to use in left, along with or, say, , or try to bring somebody in via trade or free agency. Gonzalez started in left throughout the playoffs, but his strength is moving around the diamond and allowing (second base), (shortstop), Yuli Gurriel (first base) and (third base) to have occasional days off.

Possible free-agent fits:, , .

Gray areas

Catcher: and Evan Gattis are both under contract and likely to return, though the Astros might be willing to bring in a defensive-minded catcher and use Gattis more at designated hitter. is out of options, so he could be moving on. Might the Astros bring in another catcher to push for some playing time?

X-factor

Wait for a trade: If the Astros don't make a significant move this offseason, it wouldn't be a crime. They will have the deepest lineup in baseball, a strong starting rotation when healthy and enough arms in the bullpen to compete. That means the Astros could wait until next summer to make a move based on need as they did in the Aug. 31 trade for Verlander. If they feel they need another relief pitcher in July, they can get one.