The Astros are on the cusp of facing the Nationals in Friday’s third game of the World Series. Even though Houston hosted the first two contests, neither went its way. The Astros dropped a nail-biter Tuesday before the Nats slaughtered them Wednesday. It remains to be seen whether the Astros will mount a spirited comeback, but regardless, their season has a maximum of five games left. After that, they could see some important contributors walk via free agency We’ve already previewed the Nationals’ upcoming list of unsigned players. Now, let’s see which players the Astros might see depart on the open market…
Gerrit Cole, RHP:
- Fittingly, Cole rivals a National – third baseman Anthony Rendon – as arguably the best pending free agent set to reach the market. Cole’s coming off a 326-strikeout, potential AL Cy Young-winning season at the age of 29 – not to mention a mostly legendary fall – so no one should be surprised if he surpasses or even crushes David Price (seven years, $217MM) for the richest contract a pitcher has ever received. The type of money Cole looks likely to command could end up being too much for Houston, meaning the organization should savor every remaining pitch the superstar throws in its uniform.
- While Cole’s likely on his way out of Houston, it wouldn’t be remotely shocking to see the team retain Chirinos. Signed to a $5.75MM guarantee last winter after the in-state rival Rangers cut him loose, the 35-year-old Chirinos has turned in yet another respectable campaign at the plate. Although Chirinos’ reputation as a defender isn’t great, he has at least one key advocate in Astros co-ace Justin Verlander. Chirinos is Verlander’s personal catcher, and manager A.J. Hinch told Dan Shulman of ESPN last week that the two have an incredibly strong bond. Regardless of whether Chirinos sticks with Verlander and the Astros, he should do better on his next contract, perhaps having performed well enough to earn a deal in the two-year, $10MM to $12MM vicinity.
Wade Miley, LHP:
- Like Chirinos, Miley’s another bargain offseason pickup who has panned out for the Astros. True, Miley didn’t crack their ALCS or World Series rosters. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with the regular-season value he gave the team after signing for $4.5MM over the winter. Miley, 32, logged a 3.98 ERA/4.51 FIP with 7.53 K/9, 3.28 BB/9 and a 49.7 percent groundball rate over 167 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, his expected weighted on-base average against (.301) checked in below the real wOBA hitters posted off him (.314). Exciting? Not really. Good enough for another guaranteed deal (maybe even a multiyear pact)? Sure.
Will Harris, RP:
- There don’t seem to be too many relievers who are more underrated than Harris, a 35-year-old coming off yet another regular season of strong production. Harris amassed 60 innings of 1.50 ERA ball (with a lesser but still-impressive 3.15 FIP), recorded 9.3 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9, and put up a terrific 54.6 percent grounder rate. Harris is now quietly one of the top soon-to-be free-agent relievers out there, so despite his age, he’s another candidate for a two-year accord.
Joe Smith, RP:
- Smith, 35, joins Harris as a veteran reliever whose quality career has flown somewhat under the radar. He sat out until mid-July this year after suffering a ruptured left Achilles last winter, but the soft-tossing Smith returned to post a Harris-esque 1.80 ERA/3.09 FIP, 7.92 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 49.3 percent grounder rate across 25 regular-season frames. Smith has been similarly tough in the postseason, having piled up 6 1/3 frames of one-run ball. While he probably doesn’t have Harris’ earning upside, Smith should at least be able to land a decent-paying one-year contract.
Hector Rondon, RP:
- Hey, here’s another proven reliever whom the Astros are at risk of losing. Rondon, however, wasn’t nearly as difficult on opposing hitters as Harris and Smith were during the regular season, nor has the team leaned on him in the playoffs. The 31-year-old’s regular campaign consisted of 60 2/3 frames of 3.71 ERA/4.96 FIP ball with 7.12 K/9, 2.97 BB/9 and a 50 percent grounder rate. Compared to 2018, Rondon’s strikeout rate fell nearly 4 percent and his HR-to-fly ball percentage more than doubled, though he still pumped heat upward of 96 mph. He looks to be a decent bet for a relatively inexpensive one-year deal once the offseason arrives.
Martin Maldonado, C:
- Let’s move back behind the plate to discuss Maldonado, whom the Astros have acquired via trade in back-to-back summers. They reportedly tried to keep the then-free agent with a two-year, $12MM offer last offseason, but he declined and ended up settling for a $2.5MM guarantee with the Royals. Financially, it didn’t work out, and after another year in which Maldonado combined below-average offense with plus defense, it’s easy to imagine him winding up with a second straight payday in the $2.5MM range.
Collin McHugh, RHP:
- McHugh entered 2019 with several years’ experience as a sturdy starter and one season (’18) of excellence as a reliever under his belt, but things went haywire. The 32-year-old faltered in his return to a starting role early in the season. Between that and the elbow issues he dealt with, the Astros moved McHugh back to their bullpen. He was much more effective in that position, though McHugh’s season came to a premature end in September because of more elbow troubles. Needless to say, the long-solid McHugh’s about to hit free agency at the wrong time.