Did the Houston Astros break baseball? Their "tank and build it from scratch" approach worked as perfectly as it ever could've. Not only did the 'Stros win a championship, but they are now set up to compete for years to come. It shouldn't surprise anyone if this group wins another title before it's all said and done. Or maybe multiple titles...
How did they do it? George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman were all top draft picks who came through on their promise. Then Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel both overcame obstacles to become MVP and Cy Young award winners. AND Houston still had assets to go get Justin Verlander at the end of August. 18 wild post-season games later the Astros had their championship.
Unfortunately (?) for baseball the plan worked so well other teams are trying to copy the blueprint, and it's led to an era of "super teams". Right now I can count 11 teams (Rays, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Athletics, Phillies, Marlins, Braves, Pirates, Reds, Padres) who would be better off losing games in 2018 than winning. "Tanking" is becoming a problem.
As someone who is constantly thinking to himself "what would I do in this situation if I were a GM?" I see the logic in rebuilding the way Houston did. I would do it myself. But as a fan? As a fan it kinda stinks. 11 teams is too many to be competing for the #1 pick next year. The Astros just made it look too damn easy. I'm not yet sold they become a dynasty, (baseball hasn't had a repeat champ since 2000 and just last year we thought the Cubs were destined to repeat) but right now I would probably rather be Houston than any other franchise out there. That is saying a lot, and it's why so many franchises are trying to do what they did.
What happened last year?
The Astros won the World Series! It was a wild ride. Houston played 18 of a possible 19 playoff games, beating the Red Sox in 4, the Yankees in 7, and finally the Dodgers in 7. It was intense. There were a lot of home runs hit. There were a lot of close games. Altuve won the American League MVP award. Verlander cemented his status as a HOFer. Correa was on track for a monster season before injuring his hand. Springer hit a bunch of leadoff homers. Chris Devenski was a major story back in April.
Has anything changed?
The rich get richer. Not only are the Astros going to be getting a full season out of Verlander, but they trade for Gerrit Cole this winter loooool. When Houston made the deal back in January I congratulated them on winning the 2018 World Series. Part of this was because of how little the team had to give up to get someone with as much upside as Cole has.
In exchange for the 27-year-old former number one pick (who finished 4th in the 2015 NL Cy Young voting) the Pittsburgh Pirates received Joe Musgrove, Houston's #9 prospect, and their #19 prospect. That's gross. The reason to be optimistic of a Cole breakout/bounce back is that as a franchise Houston threw the second lowest percentage of fastballs in 2017. This is crucial for Cole, who needs to learn to pitch more off his breaking ball. And even if it doesn't work out, the Astros barely gave up anything to get him.
Why should fans be excited?
Keuchel is a free agent after 2018, which is likely part of the reason the Astros made the Cole trade. Not only did they get a good player, but he would basically "replace" Keuchel should he leave in free agency next winter.
The good news, however, is Houston's core is in place for the next two years (at least). Verlander is a free agent after 2019. So is Altuve. Springer's deal is up after 2020. Correa and Bregman will each be around for a while longer. So this window isn't closing anytime soon. Plus you have to figure the Astros re-sign some of these guys.
If that wasn't enough the defending champs somehow still have MORE premium talent coming up through the farm. Pitcher Forrest Whitley was recently ranked as the 9th best prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. Outfielder Kyle Tucker was ranked 16th. It's an embarrassment of riches, and it'll keep 'Stros fans excited for a long time. As my good friend Noob Noob would say...
Backyard Baseball 2018 representative:
I want to make sure people realize how good Altuve is. We all know Mike Trout is the best player alive right now, but RIGHT NOW Altuve is number two. At least he was last year. Actually, if you go by bWAR (8.3) then Altuve was the best player in baseball last year (granted Trout missed 1/3 of the season with a thumb injury, but still).
Altuve's MVP winning 2017 wasn't just a fluke either. In the four year stretch from 2014-17 Altuve has won three batting titles, led the league in hits four times (200+ in each season), won two stolen bases titles, and made four All-Star teams. During this span Altuve has hit an insane .334. Along with Trout and Bryce Harper he would be one of the best players in Backyard Baseball 2018.
Jose Altuve BB18 stats: