It has been chilly winter for the Houston Astros, what with this cheating scandal bearing down and the franchise cooling it during the winter meetings.
The team saw ace free agent Gerrit Cole escape to New York in a record deal with the Yankees, and Wade Miley decided to use his free agency to sign with the Cincinnati Reds.
And even if the Astros didn’t need a third-baseman, they will get to see Anthony Rendon plenty next season. As the other big deal of the winter, Rendon heads for the LA Angels, an AL West rival that now has a big notch in their offense.
But the Astros have been quietly keeping house. They made sure that Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander and Alex Bregman got their contract extensions. And the team has reportedly resigned reliever Joe Smith to a two-year deal worth $8 million.
The ‘Stros have also been doing some under-the-radar deals, such as like trading outfielder Jake Marisnick for a couple of Mets prospects.
And they are dealing with a catching situation that presents the possibility of losing Robinson Chirinos or Martin Maldonado, or both, to free agency. Houston picked up Dustin Garneau, who put in 35 games for the Angels and Oakland A’s last year, and they also have eyes on the Dodgers’ Austin Barnes.
At the other end of the battery, the Astros will be looking for an extra pitcher, with Cole and Miley gone and other pitchers kind of up in the air.
They’ve reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with Lance McCullers, who missed last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. So far, that makes him the No. 3 man behind Verlander and Zack Greinke.
Then there are young pitchers, such as Jose Urquidy and Bryan Abreu, to consider. Plus minor leaguer Forrest Whitley, a 2016 first-round draft pick, might also be moved up.
If the Astros choose to trade for a pitcher, then the dominoes fall toward giving up someone like Carlos Correa, an unsigned arbitration-eligible player who hasn’t played a full season since 2016.
For instance, we’ve heard talk of putting up Correa and outfielder Josh Reddick in a deal with the Reds to get right hander Luis Castillo.
Castillo had 15 wins last year and a 3.40 ERA with 226 strikeouts and 79 walks. More than that, he had 32 starts, the heaviest load in his three years in the majors.
Watching the Budget
All of this dealing will have to be done under a cloud of pocketbook issues the Astros have to keep in mind.
First, there is a luxury tax threshold of $208 million that management acknowledges they will exceed when all is said and done. They have to pay an extra 20 percent tax on the amount they exceed that $208 million figure, and it gets higher at $20 million over.
Then there is the cheating investigation. Major League Baseball is looking into this extensively, so there will almost certainly be fines of some sort, in addition to suspensions and draft pick penalties.
How severe those punishments will be is hard to say. But it could change the face of the franchise for years to come.
But for now, the Astros have a solid core of a team that will still be worth watching when this long, cold winter turns into spring.