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  • Houston Astros 2017 season

    Houston should be class of American League West this season

    MLB.com
    The Astros this week announced their team slogan for 2017: Earn it.

    However, Hinch had another one: "Bring it."

    Astros' Spring Training information

    Translation: It's OK to embrace expectations. Baseball Prospectus pegs the Astros at 92 victories, most in the American League and seven more than any other AL West club. The last time Houston won that many games was 2004, when it went 92-70 and won a postseason series for the first time in franchise history.

    Fangraphs is also bullish: a 90-72 projection, which is six games better than the next-best AL West team (Angels).

    Remember these are projections, not predictions. Too much can happen between now and October. And that's especially true for the Astros.

    "We're healthy," Luhnow said, "but we know there's a long way to go."

    "Knock on wood when you say that," Hinch added.

    The Astros enter Spring Training cautiously optimistic that two of their top three starters -- Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers -- are healthy. Both finished last season on the disabled list with shoulder and arm issues. Had they been healthy, Houston probably would have gone to the playoffs.

    That's probably also true of 2017, even though the remainder of the roster has been significantly reshaped. That's why Luhnow has attempted to add another veteran starting pitcher, with White Sox lefty Jose Quintana and Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi high on his list.

    To get one of those guys would mean giving up one or both of the Astros' top two prospects -- right-hander Francis Martes and outfielder Kyle Tucker -- and Luhnow has been unwilling to do that.

    Regardless, no general manager had a better offseason than Luhnow, who added catcher Brian McCann, starting pitcher Charlie Morton and outfielders Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Norichika Aoki in a flurry of moves.

    Combine those with the additions of third baseman Alex Bregman and first baseman Yulieski Gurriel last year after the All-Star break, and Houston barely resemble the 2016 team that started 7-17 and needed 73 games to get above .500 for good.

    MLB.com columnist Mike Petriello's recent analysis concluded the Astros have the deepest lineup in the Majors, which is a far cry from last season, when there were stretches in which they got offense from just three spots: second base (Jose Altuve), right field (George Springer) and shortstop (Carlos Correa).

    "If we can avoid getting off to a bad start like we did last year, I think chances are good that we're going to be seeing baseball in October here," Luhnow said.

    He offered a hat tip of Astros owner Jim Crane, who has approved the highest payroll in team history -- around $120 million.

    "I gotta give our ownership group a round of applause for allowing us the resources to go after that many players," Luhnow said. "We feel like this sets us up very well for the next four to five years. Not only that, we maintain the medium- and long-term health of this organization."

    When Crane hired Luhnow in December 2011, the owner promised to give his GM the resources and freedom to do a dramatic teardown and rebuild. Houston averaged 103 losses in the three seasons before a surprise playoff appearance -- the franchise's first in a decade -- in '15.

    "If we think about it as an organization, how fortunate are we to have three years in a row [with] rookies coming up like George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman," Luhnow said. "Those are three elite-level players that are going to be here for awhile."

    Looking back on it, the Astros surprised even themselves by making the playoffs in 2015. Despite everything, they were in contention until the final week last season. One problem: Houston was 4-15 against the Texas Rangers, 37-20 against the rest of the AL West.

    "We understand that the AL West goes through the Rangers," Luhnow said. "We haven't been good enough against them."

    All of which seems to set the stage for 2017.


    Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com.

  • #2
    Jake Kaplan @jakemkaplan
    Baseball America had Reed as No. 11 a year ago. Quite a fall.

    Astros in @BaseballAmerica's Top 100 prospects Francis Martes (15th) Kyle Tucker (19) David Paulino (51) Franklin Perez (54) AJ Reed (72)

    Comment


    • #3
      Few position battles remain for Astros entering Spring Training

      There should be few roster battles heading into camp, which is a nice problem for manager A.J. Hinch to have. The acquisition of catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran and Norichika Aoki and starting pitcher Charlie Morton give Hinch veterans to fill in around a talented young core.

      Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear




      "I understand our roster looks set, but things can happen," Hinch said. "Guys can earn at-bats, they can earn opportunities. We can change the structure of our roster if need be. This is what a team that's going into the season profiled to be good, that has a lot of depth, is supposed to feel like. It should be hard to crack our team. The message to the younger guys is play as well as you can and make us make a tough decision."

      If things fall as expected and the Astros carry 12 pitchers to start the season, there would be one open spot for a handful of position players that includes A.J. Reed, Tony Kemp, Tyler White, Preston Tucker, Teoscar Hernandez and Colin Moran.

      "We sort of have a good idea this year, more than ever before, of who's going to be on the 25-man roster," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "There's a few spots up for grabs, so it's really about how the whole group comes together."

      Here's a prediction of what the 25-man roster will look like on Opening Day:

      Catcher (2): McCann and Evan Gattis. Barring an injury, the Astros will have a catching duo that combined to hit 52 homers last year, giving them power from both sides of the plate.

      First base (2): Yulieski Gurriel and White. First base has been a revolving door for the Astros, but Gurriel should provide stability. White can play first and third, and he's shown some impressive flashes with his bat.

      Second base (1): Jose Altuve. One of the game's best hitters, Altuve, a two-time American League batting champion, remains entrenched at second at Minute Maid Park.

      Third base (1): Alex Bregman. The Astros expect big things from Bregman in his first full season in the Majors.

      Shortstop (1): Carlos Correa. He'll play most of his season at 22 years old and could be on the cusp of becoming one of the game's great players.

      Utility (1): Marwin Gonzalez. The versatile switch-hitter started at first base (74 games), third base (16), left field (14) second base (eight) and shortstop (six) last season.

      Designated hitter (1): Beltran. The 19-year veteran returns to Houston on a one-year deal and should get most of the at-bats at DH while chasing his first ring. Gattis will get at-bats at DH, too.

      Outfield (4): George Springer, Reddick, Aoki and Jake Marisnick. Beltran will see time in left field, but Springer, Reddick and Marisnick are Gold Glove-caliber defenders, with Springer moving to center to make room for Reddick in right.

      Starting rotation (5): Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers and Morton. The health of Keuchel and McCullers and will be the key, but McHugh, Fiers and Morton provided experienced depth. Don't count out Joe Musgrove.

      Bullpen (7): Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Tony Sipp, James Hoyt, Chris Devenski and Michael Feliz. This is an experienced group that returns intact from last year. If they get a consistent Giles and a bounce-back year from Sipp, look out.

      Comment


      • #4
        Astros' payroll is on its way up

        Pickups push salaries to club record topping $120 million

        WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - After a busy offseason, the Astros' franchise record-setting 2017 opening-day payroll projects to exceed $120 million, according to the Chronicle's data analysis.

        The Astros owe roughly $118 million to their 18 players on multimillion-dollar contracts, the exact sum of which depends on the outcome of starting pitcher Collin McHugh's pending salary arbitration case. This subtotal includes the $2 million owed this year to first baseman Jon Singleton, the former top prospect who was removed from the 40-man roster in November and is expected to spend the season in Class AAA.

        The other 23 players on the Astros' 40-man roster are not eligible for salary arbitration, so they will make at or slightly better than the $535,000 league minimum. The expected eight pre-arbitration eligible players to make the 25-man roster would account for about $4.3 million in payroll.

        The Astros opened last season with a $95.1 million payroll (eighth lowest in the majors), according to the Associated Press. They haven't surpassed $100 million since 2009, when Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were on their payroll.

        "We're probably going to have roughly a league-average payroll this year for the first time in a while, and I think that's going to continue to increase," general manager Jeff Luhnow said last week at a media gathering at Minute Maid Park. "And that helps. You need fuel to fuel the fire, and we've got plenty of resources right now."
        MORE INFORMATION

        Salaries on Astros' 2017 payroll

        OF Carlos Beltran $16 million
        IF Yulieski Gurriel $14.4 million
        OF Josh Reddick $13 million
        C Brian McCann $11.5 million
        LHP Dallas Keuchel $9.15 million
        RHP Charlie Morton $7 million
        RHP Luke Gregerson $6.25 million
        LHP Tony Sipp $6 million
        OF Nori Aoki $5.5 million
        C Evan Gattis $5.2 million
        2B Jose Altuve $4.5 million
        OF George Springer $3.9 million
        RHP Collin McHugh $3.85 million*or $3.35 million
        IF Marwin Gonzalez $3.725 million
        RHP Mike Fiers $3.45 million
        RHP Will Harris $2.2 million
        1B Jon Singleton $2 million (Removed from 40-man roster in November)
        OF Jake Marisnick $1.1 million

        Subtotal $118.725 million* or $118.225 million (*-if McHugh wins his arbitration case (second figure applies if he loses).)



        Remainder of 40-man roster

        RHP - Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz, Ken Giles, Jandel Gustave, James Hoyt, Lance McCullers, Joe Musgrove, David Paulino, Brad Peacock, Brady Rodgers
        LHP - Kevin Chapman, Reymin Guduan, Ashur Tolliver
        C - Max Stassi
        IF - Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Colin Moran, A.J. Reed, Tyler White
        OF - Andrew Aplin, Teoscar Hernandez, Tony Kemp, Preston Tucker

        Estimated subtotal for the eight players needed to fill out 25-man roster: $4.28 million
        Estimated payroll for opening day roster: $123 million* or $122.5 million


        Eight-figure earners

        Four Astros will make more than $10 million this season, combining for $54.9 million of the projected $123 million payroll:

        Carlos Beltran OF/DH
        Yulieski Gurriel IF
        Josh Reddick OF
        Brian McCann C
        Each of the four highest-paid players on the Astros' 2017 roster was acquired by the team in the last seven months.

        Outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran ($16 million), infielder Yuli Gurriel ($14.4 million), outfielder Josh Reddick ($13 million), and catcher Brian McCann ($11.5 million) account for just less than $55 million on the Astros' payroll. McCann will make $17 million, but the New York Yankees are on the hook for $5.5 million of his 2017 salary, per the teams' agreement when consummating the November trade.

        Lefthander and former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel ($9.15 million) is the Astros' highest-paid pitcher. Charlie Morton has the next-highest salary at $7 million, with the potential to make up to $2.5 million in incentives this season depending on the number of starts.

        The Astros' next highest-paid starters are righthander Collin McHugh (he will make $3.85 million if he wins in arbitration, $3.35 million if the Astros win) and righthander Mike Fiers ($3.45 million). Righthanders Lance McCullers and Joe Musgrove are not arbitration eligible.

        Second baseman Jose Altuve, playing on probably the most team-friendly contract in baseball, will make $4.5 million in salary this year, the third-to-last year of the extension he signed in 2013.

        Outfielder George Springer will make $3.9 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player. The Astros' other two core players, shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman, are pre-arbitration eligible.

        Beltran, who signed a one-year deal in December, and reliever Luke Gregerson ($6.25 million) are the only Astros entering contract years. Keuchel, Morton, outfielder Nori Aoki ($5.5 million), catcher/DH Evan Gattis ($5.2 million) and infielder Marwin Gonzalez ($3.725) are under team control through the 2018 season. McCann has an attainable $15 million vesting option for 2019.

        The Astros have gradually increased their payroll since bottoming out with their hapless 111-loss campaign in 2013, when, according to the AP's figures, they had a major league-low $24 million opening-day payroll in the second season of Jim Crane's ownership. They ranked last or second-to-last in payroll the subsequent two seasons before graduating from the bottom five last year.

        A $120 million payroll would have ranked 16th in MLB last year. The AP typically publishes its analysis of every team's payroll just before opening day.

        McHugh and the Astros should get clarity this week regarding the pitcher's 2017 salary. The parties stated their cases to a three-person panel Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., but a decision won't be rendered until all of the hearings for first-time arbitration-eligible starting pitchers have been held. Tampa Bay's Jake Odorizzi and St. Louis' Michael Wacha have hearings scheduled this week.

        The Astros previously settled with their seven other arbitration-eligible players, a group that will account for about $29 million on the 2017 payroll.

        Comment


        • #5
          All eyes on Astros' rotation as spring training looms

          A healthy Keuchel and McCullers would be big boost to rotation after injuries cut 2016 short for both




          As the Astros begin to descend on West Palm Beach, Fla., they do so with the best roster of Jeff Luhnow's tenure. The sixth-year general manager used the offseason to upgrade offensively at catcher (Brian McCann), designated hitter (Carlos Beltran) and two outfield positions (Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki), on paper transforming a top-heavy lineup into arguably the deepest in baseball.

          Yet the unit with the most uncertainty surrounding it at last season's end remains relatively unchanged. These Astros will advance only as far as their pitching allows, and after a winter in which Luhnow balked at the steep price in trade for a front-line starter, the spotlight shifts back to the arms who will dictate the team's level of success this year.

          All eyes will be on Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers when the Astros hold their first official workout for pitchers and catchers Wednesday morning. The team's best two starters are coming off seasons that ended prematurely because of injuries. They also are perhaps the two players the Astros are relying on most in 2017.

          Keuchel and McCullers will headline a rotation whose performance will determine whether Luhnow was right to wait out the trade market for starting pitching or erred in not paying the premium necessary to maximize the potential of this year's team. The Astros are depending on their staff to get them to the July 31 trade deadline at the very least.
          .
          Astros' projected starting rotation

          Here are the favorites to land four of the starting spots plus their 2016 statistics. Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers battle for the fifth spot.

          Dallas Keuchel
          W-L: 9-12
          ERA: 4.55

          Lance McCullers
          W-L: 6-5
          ERA: 3.22

          Charlie Morton
          W-L: 1-1
          ERA: 4.15

          Collin McHugh
          W-L: 13-10
          ERA: 4.34
          Fister out, Morton in

          More production from the top two is the clearest avenue for the Astros' rotation to improve on last year's mediocre 4.37 ERA. The staff essentially mirrors that of 2016, save for swapping one tall righthanded sinkerballer in the 6-8 Doug Fister for another in the 6-5 (and harder throwing) Charlie Morton.

          Although his upside is higher than Fister's, Morton also comes with health questions. A torn hamstring, the most recent in a series of injuries he has incurred throughout his career, limited him to four starts last year with Philadelphia.

          A full season of Joe Musgrove should signify a slight upgrade, though the Astros will make the second-year righthander earn his rotation spot in a spring training competition with Mike Fiers. Collin McHugh is entrenched in the middle to back end of the rotation despite a regression last year from his 19-win campaign of 2015.

          Keuchel, the 29-year-old lefthander who took the American League by storm in 2015, and McCullers, the 23-year-old righthander with the electric power curveball, enter the spring with question marks attached.

          For McCullers, those questions are solely health-based. Last season, shoulder soreness delayed the start of his season until mid-May, and an elbow sprain made it so he didn't start again after Aug. 2. In between, he posted a 3.22 ERA in 14 starts, including a 2.08 ERA in six July outings.

          But for Keuchel, there is also some uncertainty regarding how he will perform. Before he was shut down for the final five weeks last season with what the team described as inflammation in his pitching shoulder, the former AL Cy Young Award winner had a 4.55 ERA in 168 innings.

          The pinpoint command Keuchel exhibited in his breakout 2014 (2.93 ERA in 200 innings) and superb 2015 (2.48 ERA in 232 innings) eluded him in 2016. His velocity also dropped off, a shortcoming exacerbated when he missed his spots. The Astros won 12 of the 26 games he started.

          Keuchel's career-high workload in 2015 clearly affected him in 2016, and on multiple occasions since season's end, he has said health was an issue for him all of last season. After resting his arm for a few months, he resumed throwing shortly after Christmas and has been pitching off a mound since last week.

          Taking baby steps

          McCullers also has progressed to pitching off a mound. The next step for both starters will be facing live hitters and then pitching in Grapefruit League games. Early returns on Keuchel and McCullers have been "very positive," according to Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

          "Both of them look the part and have expressed to me that they feel as good as they would expect at this time of year," Hinch said. "It's still really early. They haven't done a ton to draw any sort of conclusion. But from the step-by-step-by-step process, having a game plan as to when we're going to increase that intensity and get off the mound (to) maybe face a hitter, I'm glad that we're nearing that."

          Keuchel and McCullers probably will be among the last Astros starters to debut in spring training games.

          "The (World Baseball Classic) throws a little bit of a wrench in this in that we have a little extra time," Hinch said. "There are more workouts, there's a few more games, we're there a little bit earlier.

          "On paper, it's going to look like they're probably starting a little bit later than others, but they would still be scheduled out to have a normal spring provided they answer the tests along the way."

          Considering the stakes, their progress will be scrutinized much more than in a usual spring.

          Comment


          • #6
            Brian McTaggart @brianmctaggart
            Astros single-game tickets go on sale Friday at 9 a.m.

            http://houston.astros.mlb.com/ticket...e.jsp?c_id=hou

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