Any reasonable baseball fan would know that the World Series concluded in spectacular fashion last night, on a popup with the tying run standing 90 feet away. The Giants again do what the Giants do - play solid baseball as a team, minimise the effect of their roster weaknesses, and get some otherworldly performances from individuals. Obviously, series-MVP Madison Bumgarner was spectacular, but ex-Stro Hunter Pence and future-Stro (ha!) Pablo Sandoval consistently came up big on the offensive side of the ball. So, congratulations San Francisco, and for the fans of all other 29 teams, it is time to start thinking about the post-season.
For the Astros, this represents their most interesting offseason in recent times. After scaling the dizzy heights of 70 wins in 2014, and having some kind of core in place, the Astros now need to take the next step toward contention by cutting inadequate talent, and promoting or acquiring impact players to fill the voids.
What will make this interesting is the juggling of the roster. In the early phases of the Luhnow rebuild, the Astros clearly cashed in their pieces for flawed prospects with an area of strength from other systems. Matt Dominguez - considered a glove-first third baseman - and Robbie Grossman - an OBP LF with limited speed but solid defensive value - were the most obvious acquisitions that fill that description. The Astros didn't manage to acquire any Addison Russell's, but they also didn't have any Hunter Pence-sized pieces to let go. It will be interesting, in the inevitable, upcoming cull, whether the Astros make any J.D. Martinez-sized misjudgments.
Brian McTaggert has published a relatively generic primer on MLB.com, which contains all the standard quotes - yes, we are adding payroll; yes, we are going to look at the free agent market; yes, we are interested in trades; and yes, we want to add talent in the bullpen/starting rotation/everyday position player/on the bench areas.
But with a 40-man crunch happening, I can't see many upper tier free agents being pursued. If there are trades, I am thinking they will be of the 1-for-2-at-the-40-man-level variety (ála Dexter Fowler last year), or the trading away of an extra piece for a lottery ticket. I can see them looking for reasonably priced upgrades at 1B, 3B and LF, but these are also positions where prospects are likely to be opening the season at the MLB level, in AAA or in AA. The starting rotation was an area of relative strength last year, and there aren't many gaps available at the moment given that Scott Feldman is signed for 2 more years, and Keuchel and McHugh are going to be given the opportunity to further establish themselves.
And as for the 'pen, a quick reminder that (i) the two top free-agent acquisitions from last year pitched a total of 10 innings and (ii) the two team leaders in FIP either started the year with the team, or joined the team early on. Free agent acquisitions for the 'pen are a risky proposition, and at the moment, there is simply no need to take those kinds of risks with the Astros.
Most likely, the guys that are here will get the chance to make it happen in the first two months of 2015. But who knows.
My conclusion: I have no idea what the FO is thinking. However, I will be watching the offseason with interest. If I were forced, however, to make a call, I would be surprised whether arguably the 4-best fielding CF on the 40-man starts the year with the club. Dexter Fowler - in a weak free agent CF year - to a team that needs a CF, which at this stage (in the AL) seems to be the Blue Jays (who aren't trading at the moment) and the Tigers (who don't have the type of prospects that the Astros will want back).
So I am stumped. But very, very interested.