The Astros have been a juggernaut dating back to 2017, evidenced by their three 100-win efforts, two American League pennants and World Series title. However, thanks to the sign-stealing scandal from their championship-winning campaign, the Astros’ recent excellence has been sullied in the minds of many observers. Although the club’s the reigning AL champion, it’s now going into 2020 with plenty to prove on the field. It also has a new GM and manager, having parted with the eminently successful Jeff Luhnow-A.J. Hinch duo after MLB issued each of them one-year suspensions for their roles in Houston’s misdeeds.
With spring training closing in, the Astros moved quickly to replace Luhnow and Hinch after firing them in mid-January. They tabbed former Rays vice president of baseball operations James Click on Monday to take over for Luhnow in the wake of selecting veteran Dusty Baker as their new manager last week. Click’s coming over from an organization known for doing a lot with a little, but despite the chaos that has enveloped the Astros, he’s not walking into a franchise low on talent. The 70-year-old Baker, meanwhile, is a calming influence and a longtime winner whom the Astros hope will help them sail through stormy waters.
Of course, one of the knocks on Baker is that he has never helped guide a team to a title in his 22 seasons as a manager. Could that change in 2020? Perhaps, though he’s inheriting a roster that has taken some hits this offseason. There’s no more ace Gerrit Cole, who left for the hated Yankees for a record contract after two straight sterling seasons in Houston. There’s also no more standout reliever Will Harris, who became a National in free agency, or offensive-minded catcher Robinson Chirinos (now a member of the division-rival Rangers). And the Astros haven’t done anything remotely splashy via the trade or free-agent markets (the latter of which is all but devoid of impact players now) to cover for their key departures or strengthen other aspects of their roster.
While this has not been a banner winter for the Astros, they do still look to be contenders on paper. Last year’s all-world offense – one fronted by Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Michael Brantley, among others – remains intact. Better still, the Astros could get full seasons from Alvarez (the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year whom they didn’t promote until almost halfway through June) and the Altuve-Springer-Carlos Correa trio after those stars were limited by injuries in the most recent campaign. And while Cole and now-Red Wade Miley are gone from their rotation, the Astros still boast an elite top two with reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. They’ll also get Lance McCullers Jr. back from Tommy John surgery, though it’s up in the air how the rest of Houston’s starting staff will look once Opening Day arrives.
As nightmarish as this winter has been for the Astros, there’s no denying there’s plenty of talent still on hand. However, another 107-win season may be too much to ask – especially with their division having gotten stronger in recent months. The Athletics, a 97-win club twice in a row, look capable of challenging for the crown. Meantime, the Angels and Rangers appear to have made significant improvements after the pair stumbled to sub-.500 records a year ago. All that said, how do you expect the scandal-ridden Astros to fare this season?
(Poll link for app users)