Houston Astros fans feel the sting of the injury bug, but just how is playing less common names helping the team? Read on to find out.
For many Houston Astros fans, something feels bittersweet. Over the Houston Astros’ last 10 matchups, the ball club achieved an 8-2 record. The team’s most recent feather in their cap came by sweeping every scheduled contest of the shortened season against a talented Charlie Blackmon-led Colorado Rockies squad.
But underneath the feel-good success for Houston baseball fans lurks a painful reality: reigning AL Rookie of the Year, Yordan Álvarez, shall receive knee surgery and miss the remainder of the 2020 season.
Some Houston Astros fans have not yet processed this shock wave as the 2-0 Rockets are providing hope for another Houston championship run. But deep down, Houston Astros fans ponder: can the Astros really make a run without Álvarez’s bat or Osuna’s ninth-inning magic? And where would Justin Verlander’s health fit into a postseason picture? Well—I’m not worried about it.
As an adult amateur wood bat baseball player who exclusively plays outfield and studies major league outfielder’s skillsets like pieces on a chessboard, the Astros’ outfield situation to me could not be in better hands for the future. You might be thinking, wait a minute—what are you talking about?
Well, look at it this way. The front office and team medical staff identified the source of pain that Álvarez has experienced, and they took surgical action. Wouldn’t you rather take a chance for him to play at 100 percent hopefully by the beginning of 2021?
Besides, when Álvarez can play left field without pain, it allows another veteran to enter the designated hitter role and reap the benefits of playing a game with a lighter load. If Álvarez can play left field without pain, Michael Brantley and George Springer, who are both in their 30s, can more regularly take on the DH role, and put less frequent stress on their ligaments and tendons involved in throwing out base runners.
The Astros position players certainly are not impervious to injuries that often correlate with overuse. Most recently, Alex Bregman experienced right hamstring discomfort and was placed on the injured list.
Meanwhile, the situation with 2019 All-Star, Michael Brantley, who might leave the injured list as early as this weekend, has opened up new playing time possibilities for Myles Straw, Taylor Jones, and Kyle Tucker.
Sometimes Astros fans forget that those core players such as Springer, Bregman, Tucker, and even Carlos Correa, all wound up getting selected as the first-round draft picks by Houston. The Astros did not spend New York Yankees-payroll money to acquire such players. They came at the expense of Astros teams of old finishing seasons with less-than-stellar records.
And with former first-rounder Springer’s looming free agency, owner, Jim Crane, and general manager, James Click, essentially have two options.
First, they could pony up. If the Astros intend to retain every key contributor that has reached the All-Star game for Houston in the last two seasons that is left on the roster, they may have no choice but to bust out the checkbook.
A look forward to Houston’s 2021 outfield
However, no one yet knows what Crane would be willing to spend. If the Astros’ owner chooses an even more fiscally conservative approach than his predecessor, Drayton McClane, then the Astros might be forced to pay a few 2017 World Series champions, come 2021, but let others go. This leads to option two.
Simply put, no one really knows yet what kind of behind-the-scenes relationship Dusty Baker and James Click have, but it appears based on their savvy taxi squad transactions to replace players on the injured list, that they likely work very well together making tough on-field personnel decisions.
So, option two—if Crane draws a line in the sand concerning a certain threshold amount for 2021 team payroll, then the Astros need to showcase their less desired pieces to gain as much leverage as possible. Another way to think about this is, Hey other teams, you want Kyle Tucker under team control through 2025? Then be ready to make a sizable offer that ultimately will help Houston subsidize its ballooning 2021 payroll situation. The Astros face an off-season with Brantley, Reddick, and Springer all becoming unrestricted free agents.
Moreover, Jones getting major league playing time with his 6-foot-7 frame has to appear very enticing to other ball clubs looking for affordable first base options. Jones has exhibited in the minors a knack for extra-base hits and can play multiple outfield positions, but perhaps most notably, he has the potential to excel as a defensive first baseman.
Specifically, if infielders throw to first base, with Jones’ superior reach, their throws can be received further away from the bag because Jones’ legs and arms can really stretch for errant throws, leading to more defensive outs. Also—did you know that Jones pitched nearly 90 innings in college? Just imagine how another team might value that experience if it needs an emergency pitcher to come into a game for mop-up duty during a blowout.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Tucker is going back to Triple-A ever again unless it’s injury-rehabilitation related. I’ve seen just enough—and I mean just barely enough—to now know with certainty that he is at worst a fourth major league outfielder that belongs in the bigs. The slugging percentage is just too tempting to give up on. The question is—will he be starting for the Astros in 2021 or perhaps another team that may not be as close to winning a championship in their current state?
Similarly, Reddick has also proven he is still MLB-worthy with a .267 average through 24 games,
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but the 33-year-old outfielder seems to be the most likely candidate to play in a new city next season.
At present, it appears the Astros will do all that they can to go with Brantley, Springer, Tucker, Álvarez and Straw in the outfield for the long-term. Straw is special because of his first-rate speed, and his ability to execute stealing a critical base or tagging from third on a sacrifice fly better than almost anyone else in the majors.
So while this may seem uncomfortable—as change often does—it appears for the best. Film from playing time in major league games that matter in the regular-season always supersedes film from matchups in Spring Training.
And when guys like Tucker and Jones are making regular-season game contributions on film that other teams will value, the Astros are creating leverage for a push at resigning Springer and Brantley—a situation that an otherwise-healthy 2020 Astros’ outfield featuring Álvarez and Brantley could not afford to showcase as prominently.
Houston Astros fans, which players would you like to see in the Astros’ outfield in 2021? Please leave your comments below.