Baseball

The Houston Astros Will be Back in 2022

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In 2021, the Houston Astros made their 5th ALCS appearance in a row, and 3rd World Series appearance in five years. Although they’ve only won it all once in this span, their run of dominance since 2015 is one of the best stretches in MLB history.

They lost the World Series again, this time in six games to the Atlanta Braves, but the Astros will be back in 2022. They may look a little different with the poster child for their villainous reputation, Carlos Correa, entering free agency, but they have the resources to improve anyway.

Free Agency

Houston’s biggest free agents this offseason are Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke, and Justin Verlander, who all made big money in 2021. The two 38-year-old starting pitchers didn’t have the same impact that they did in 2019, as Verlander missed the whole year and Greinke showed signs of regression. In the World Series, Greinke threw four shutout innings and collected two hits at the plate, his last hurrah as a member of the Houston Astros.

Reports are that Houston will offer Justin Verlander the qualifying offer, which is set at $18.4M for 2022. He’ll be 39, but he was still a top-3 pitcher in baseball when he was last healthy, winning the Cy Young Award in the American League in 2019. He should be ready-to-go by the beginning of Spring Training, and the only question is whether the future Hall of Famer takes the offer to stay in Houston or not.

With Carlos Correa entering free agency, the Astros will need to sign a shortstop over the offseason. They have plenty of money to spend, and there are a plethora of options including Correa himself, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story. Semien seems to make the most sense, especially given how well Minute Maid Park plays to his strengths. He’ll also receive the shortest contract, and Houston has shown a tendency to prefer short-term deals.

Returning Stars

Almost all their offensive firepower will be returning in 2022, with the exception of Carlos Correa. They still have six great bats at the top of their order with Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Yuli Gurriel. Although Gurriel and Brantley are aging, they’re still two of the most productive hitters in baseball. This season, Gurriel won the batting title with a .319 average, and had a 134 wRC+. Brantley re-signed with Houston last offseason and had a .362 OBP and 123 wRC+ out of the 2-hole in the lineup.

Kyle Tucker almost entirely replaced the production of George Springer, who left for Toronto in free agency. The 24-year-old had a 147 wRC+, .395 xwOBA, 2.4 BsR, with 6 OAA in RF. He got off to a slow start, but had a 174 wRC+ after May 9th, the best mark in baseball over that span. Jose Altuve returned to the leadoff spot after Springer left, and had a bounce-back season, putting up his highest fWAR since his 2017 MVP season. Altuve had 5 OAA this season after struggling defensively in 2020, and had a 2.5 BsR after struggling on the basepaths in 2019. At 32, Altuve is still one of the top 2nd basemen in baseball, and put together a great season in all facets in 2021.

The Astros’ two best hitters coming into the season had completely different seasons in 2021. For Yordan Alvarez, it was more of the same, as he had a 138 wRC+, .384 xwOBA, and .531 SLG. He didn’t have quite the same production as his rookie year, when he had a 176 wRC+, but he was still one of the best designated hitters in baseball. Alex Bregman, on the other hand, had a good season at the plate but not up to expectations. Bregman may have been a dead ball casualty but his injuries could also be holding him back. Steamer still projects Bregman as a 139 wRC+ for 2022, which will be a huge year in determining Bregman’s future.

Starting Pitching

Lance McCullers Jr. missed the last two rounds of the playoffs due to an injury, but he’ll be back with Houston for 2022 after signing an extension last offseason. He had the best season of his career in 2021, establishing himself as the ace of the staff with Justin Verlander out due to injury. This year, McCullers Jr. had a 3.16 ERA, 3.52 FIP, and 4.01 SIERA in a career-high 162.1 innings. His breaking balls returned to form after his Tommy John surgery, as he had a combined -27 RV from his curveball and slider.

Luis Garcia also had a great season and is a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year. Though Garcia struggled in the postseason, he had a 3.30 ERA, 3.63 FIP, and 3.91 SIERA in the regular season. He’ll be back for years to come for Houston, as he was just a rookie in 2021. Also returning will be Jose Urquidy, who made 20 starts for Houston in 2021, putting up a 3.62 ERA and 4.27 SIERA. Jake Odorizzi and Cristian Javier will also both be back and are options for the back-end of the rotation.

The Astros will probably sign a starter in free agency, especially if Justin Verlander declines his qualifying offer. If he accepts, they’ll enter 2022 with a formidable rotation of McCullers Jr., Verlander, Garcia, Urquidy, and Odorizzi, while they’ll probably add more depth. With questions regarding the health of Verlander and Odorizzi, adding some cheap, buy-low starting pitching will benefit the Astros in 2022, but they have a rotation ready to compete for another World Series.

2022 Astros Outlook

Houston may not employ the same record-setting offenses of the past five years but they’ll still be one of the best in baseball, even with the presumable departure of Carlos Correa. The rest of the AL West is also seeing major changes, as the Oakland Athletics look to be blowing it up, while the Seattle Mariners are working towards their first playoff appearance in over 20 years. At least for 2022, it still seems like it’s Houston’s division to lose.

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