The Definitive Guide to Houston

Offseason Notes: Keuchel, Bullpen, Ohtani, Stanton, Fiers

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While most of Houston is still reveling in the Astros’ thrilling World Series victory, the major league front office is hard at work looking for ways to improve an already-dominant roster. Expect a flurry of activity next week, as baseball’s annual Winter Meetings kick off in Lake Buena Vista, Florida—it’s traditionally one of the busiest weeks of the offseason, and the Astros  have a few things on their holiday shopping list.

Here’s an overview of the offseason so far, along with our assessment of Houston’s needs.

Shohei Ohtani, a 23-year-old Japanese phenom who is regarded as both a possible ace pitcher and impact hitter, has signed with the division-rival Los Angeles Angels.

Though the Angels finished a distant 21 games behind the Astros last season, they have a talented core. Expect Ohtani to add some pop as a DH to a strong lineup that already features perennial MVP-candidate Mike Trout, Justin Upton, and defensive wunderkind Andrelton Simmons. The coveted young righty will also anchor a pitching staff that still has room for improvement. But the message is clear: The Angels intend to compete in 2018, and a surprise run at the division isn’t out of the question.

Meanwhile, Ohtani’s decision could accelerate the fall of the offseason’s other big domino— reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is coming off a monster season that saw him clobber 59 home runs (in a spacious home park, no less) and drive in 132. And yet, the Miami Marlins seem intent on trading their young superstar to trim payroll. Thus far, the San Francisco Giants have advanced the furthest in trade discussions. But Stanton has full no-trade protection and the Giants aren’t on his preferred list of destinations. Intriguingly, that list does include the Astros, as well as the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Yankees—all teams that made the postseason in 2017. It’s unlikely, but GM Jeff Luhnow could be motivated to enter trade discussions with Miami now that Ohtani has landed with the Angels—and the Astros do have some wiggle-room in the outfield.

Adding Stanton would be tremendous. But the biggest offseason priority for the ‘Stros by far is the bullpen. The 2017 relief corps was shaky at times, and it’s no secret that Houston could use a reliable lefty option going forward. Most of the best free agents are right-handed (Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Addison Reed, and Brandon Morrow, to name a few), but expect the Astros to at least kick the tires on southpaws Jake McGee and Tony Watson.

Meanwhile, the 2018 Opening Day starting rotation may already be set—Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh, and Brad Peacock are all set to return next season. Keuchel was recently spotted wearing a protective boot on his left foot. Even though the injury isn’t expected to hold the ace back in 2018, it calls to mind an old saying in baseball: You can’t have too much pitching.

Indeed, injuries ravaged the ‘Stros starting five for much of 2017, and Houston could be tempted to bring another arm into the stable—especially now that Mike Fiers has signed with the Detroit Tigers. The ‘Stros may be unwilling to go after any of the top-tier starters, though someone like Yu Darvish would look awfully nice in navy and orange. Failing a big splash, the Houston is almost guaranteed to bring in an intriguing depth piece like Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Pineda, or Jhoulys Chacin.

Noah is a Houston-based writer and photographer. You can find him exploring Houston's restaurant and museum scenes with his wife or catching a game at Minute Maid Park. He and his wife serve local businesses through their digital content company, Two Cats Communications.

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