The end of the year is upon us, which means Spring Training is getting close. The Astros have already made a couple of significant moves, adding relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon with two-year deals, but there are a lot of interesting names still on the market.While part of me
The end of the year is upon us, which means Spring Training is getting close. The Astros have already made a couple of significant moves, adding relievers Joe Smith and Hector Rondon with two-year deals, but there are a lot of interesting names still on the market.
While part of me believes the Astros' biggest moves this offseason are behind them, I wouldn't be surprised if they strike for another starting pitcher or a bat to throw into the left-field competition. Even if they do nothing between now and mid-February, they're poised to make a serious run at a World Series repeat.
So let's open the Inbox and see what's on your mind as the year comes to a close:
:: Submit a question to the Astros Inbox ::
What do you think the plan is for left field? Are Jay Bruce or Carlos Gonzalez real options for the Astros? I would think they would go with a platoon of guys like last year. Do the young guys -- such as Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker -- get a crack at it? If Tucker lights it up in Spring Training, would they put him on the roster?
-- Drew R., Richmond, Texas
I wouldn't rule out Houston adding a bat to the left-field mix, but I get the sense if it's going to spend any more money, it's going to be on pitching. Currently, left field will be a mix of Marwin Gonzalez, Fisher, Tony Kemp and even Colin Moran, who will try his hand in the outfield in the spring. Gonzalez will see time in left field, but the Astros would rather be able to move him around to other positions in the infield and outfield instead of having him pigeon-holed in left.
As for Tucker, he won't make the club out of spring. A solid season, though, should make him a favorite to start in 2019.
What are the chances we see both [Forrest] Whitley and Tucker in the bigs next season?
-- Joe B., Houston
I'd put it at less than 50 percent for each. Whitley is going to begin the season in the Double-A Corpus Christi rotation, and I certainly expect him to be in Triple-A Fresno by midseason if he performs to his capability. General manager Jeff Luhnow has said Whitley could be on the big league roster next year, but he'll have to really turn heads in the same fashion Lance McCullers did in 2015, when he was called up without throwing at Triple-A.
Tucker has played in only 72 games above Class A Advanced, so another full season in the Minor Leagues is probably warranted. While it wouldn't surprise me if either makes a big league appearance in September, I certainly expect both to be huge contributors in 2019.
Where do you see [Dallas] Keuchel in 2019? He has one year remaining before free agency, but what are the chances of the Astros signing him to a bigger/longer contract?
-- Wes G., Spring, Texas
Houston will try to lock him up, but I think Keuchel will test free agency after next season. He turns 30 on New Year's Day, so that would likely be his only chance at a huge contract on the open market. Also, he recently hired Scott Boras as his agent. That wasn't an accident. Boras likes his clients to test free agency. If the Astros are going to lock him up, they'll have their work cut out for them. Enjoy the beard for at least one more year.
What are the plans for catchers for 2018? Will [Max] Stassi be the backup for [Brian] McCann?
-- Cyndi S., Cypress, Texas
Next season will be a big one for Stassi, who's out of options. He will have to make the team in the spring or risk being lost to another organization. Luhnow said at the Winter Meetings that Stassi had made some adjustments at the plate and that the team was eager to see him in 2018.
The Astros are considering carrying three catchers next year, which would allow Evan Gattis to DH more and Stassi to bring some defensive depth to the position. It will depend on how Houston wants to configure that final position-player spot on the roster. The Astros also signed Tim Federowicz, who will be in the role Juan Centeno held last season.
I know the Astros have expressed interest in trading for Chris Archer. What are the chances of the Astros pursuing a trade for both Archer and Christian Yelich?
-- Dustin S., Katy, Texas
Either one would be a nice fit for the Astros. It's no secret manager A.J. Hinch has an affinity for Archer, but trading for either guy will come down to what prospects Houston would be willing to give up. Considering the contracts of Archer and Yelich are so reasonable, the trade market for either player will be hot, which will drive up the price. I'm guessing if the Astros can make deal that doesn't involve Tucker or Whitley, they'd listen.
Time to predict American League West winner and record: Astros, 111-51.
-- Michael S., Nacogdoches, Texas
I love your enthusiasm, but I'll take the under. Yes, the Astros will have a full year of Justin Verlander as well as a maturing young core, but 111 wins would be remarkable. And while Houston dominated within in the AL West last season -- and won the division by 21 games because of that -- the rest of the division has gotten better. The Angels have added Ian Kinsler, Zack Cozart and Shohei Ohtani, and the Mariners have added Dee Gordon and Ryon Healy to what was already a deep lineup.
The Astros are still at the top of the division and should win the AL West, but 111 wins would be stunning.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.