Analyzing the 2021 Dynasty Offensive Landscape: The Houston Astros

March 2, 2021

Unfortunately, I wasn’t writing at this time last year; otherwise, I’d be shoehorning into every piece how much I despise the entire Houston Astros organization.

Maybe it was fortunate that I wasn’t, now you only have to read this paragraph; where I vent about the worst cheating scandal in 100 years and how the ruthless capitalistic properties that led to the scandal’s existence in the first place is everything that is wrong with sports and society in general.

Okay, new paragraph.

Let’s talk about the 2021 Houston Astros. The same Astros who will pick up right where they left off in 2020 when they came within a game of the World Series, despite losing Justin Verlander to a season-ending injury early in the season.

Wait, that’s recency bias: making me falsely remember the 2020 Astros as a top team that took the Tampa Bay Rays to Game 7 of the ALCS. Not the shortened season reality Houston Astros that finished under .500, barely sneaking their way into a bloated playoff.

This Astros team was just as close to the 2019 Houston Astros as they were to the 2007 Colorado Rockies; they might be on their way down and not on their way up. Funny how not knowing if a breaking pitch is coming hurts overall production. Damnit, I said one paragraph.

Catcher

Picture courtesy Toronto Star

Jason Castro, Martin Maldonado, Garret Stubbs, Colton Shaver, Lorenzo Quintana, Scott Manaea, C.J. Stubbs, Michael Papierski, Korey Lee, Nathan Perry.

While there are a lot of names here, many of them have Spring Training non-roster invitees, the position is settled, barring any injuries.

Castro will be the primary catcher playing against right-handed starters, with Maldonado as the reserve going against lefties and the late-inning defensive sub. Both are getting drafted outside the Top 40 catchers and I understand it. Both are 34 and historically poor offensive performers coming off less than stellar 2020s.

I could probably convince myself to take a swing at Maldonado a bit earlier in drafts, hoping a platoon split season will boost his overall output, but opting to invest elsewhere is prudent. None of the prospects in the system would have any wow factor, even if Korey Lee were a first-round pick. They all appear destined to be a bunch of JAGs when it comes to fantasy. This might be the overall outlook at catcher in all of baseball.

First Base

Yuli Gurriel, Aledmys Diaz, Abraham Toro, Taylor Jones, JJ Matijevic, Zach Biermann

Speaking of positions to avoid, it’s hard to figure out how a team could be so bad at first base.

Gurriel is 37-years-old and coming off a season where he barely cracked a .650 OPS (.658) and OPS+ of 75 (76). You can point to a small-sample size and have a reasonable enough case. But, I think 230 poor PAs from a 36-year-old would make me want to bring in some sort of competition.

Diaz is the guy that they want to play all over the diamond, but he might end up at first by default. I’m not touching Gurriel’s ADP of 30 and would rather try and strike gold with Diaz, Toro, Jones, or Matijevic. I’d also rather draft a 1B that is likely to play and doesn’t stink. All indications are that the Astros will give Gurriel a long leash hoping that he will find his former self. It’s not because they believe in him, but because they don’t have someone else to replace him.

Second Base

Jose Altuve, CJ Hinojosa, Alex De Goti, Luis Santana

Altuve is the man with the giant contract and declining bat. No one is going to take his ABs, but he’s someone whose 2020 line feels very real.

.219/.286/.344 in 219 PAs with five homers and an OPS+ of 71 at 2B gives some real cause for concern when it’s coming from a guy who won the MVP four years ago and has more than just whispers about being one of the leaders in getting unfair advantages during that time.

He’s going to play with $116M still left on the books over the next four years, but I have absolutely no idea why he’s coming off the boards as 2B7.

Taking Altuve over Cavan Biggio and Brandon Lowe seems so insane that it makes Altuve over Max Muncy, Lourdes Gurriel, and Jeff McNeil seem reasonable.

All of these are guys Altuve shouldn’t be getting drafted above. Don’t buy his name brand just because you recognize it. That investment could end in catastrophe, not just a less than optimal draft day return. Biggest fade on ADP I’ve seen so far. Do not buy. Sell. All the other scary words to get you to stay away.

Shortstop

Picture courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Alex Bregman, Robel Garcia

Bregman is another Astro who had a down year in 2020 but is getting drafted inside the Top 5 at his position.

There are far more reasons to be optimistic about Bregman than Altuve, including his age and the fact that his down year wasn’t awful. A line of .242/.350/.451 with eight homers and an OPS+ of 116 is still very solid, but 3B is a deep position.

Jose Ramirez, Manny Machado, Anthony Rendon, DJ LeMahieu, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are all guys I have clearly ahead of him.

The expected production drop to someone like Yoan Moncada, Biggio, Kris Bryant, or Alec Bohm at a much cheaper price point seems like a no-brainer. This isn’t a disaster if you invest, but it’s not a place I’m buying (which seems like a running theme with these Astros).

Shortstop

Carlos Correa, Jeremy Pena, Freudis Nova, Grae Kessinger, Shay Whitcomb, AJ Lee

Correa has fallen into that spot where he was given the future superstar narrative as a player hyped to be the second coming of A-Rod.

Instead, he’s just been a very good player. His 162-game averages for his career are .276/.353/.480 with 90 runs, 29 bombs, 106 RBIs, nine steals, and an OPS+ of 126. Those are excellent numbers from your shortstop, but not bonafide superstar numbers.

Correa had his worst season by OPS+ standards last year at 92, and like all his fellow Astros, he seemed to take a step back offensively, but he’s the only one whose price at the draft table seems to have actually adjusted. Correa is getting drafted as SS16, which might be a bit too low.

He’s the youngest of the infielders and has a similar track record, yet he sees his stock fall the most? I don’t want to say I’m buying an Astro, but I have to buy if he’s priced between Dansby Swanson and Marcus Semien.

Correa is a free agent next year and has equal odds to move on from Houston as he does to re-up, so long-term plays on top prospects Jeremy Pena and Freudis Nova are worthwhile. Should Correa go down with an injury, whoever gets the call should be someone to monitor, although neither appeared to be ready in 2020.

Picture courtesy of The Crawfish Boxes

Outfield

Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, Myles Straw, Chris McCormick, Steven Souza Jr., Jose Siri, Ronnie Dawson, Pedro Leon, Colin Barber, Zach Daniels, Bryan De La Cruz, Jake Meyes, Chandler Taylor, Marty Costes, Corey Julks, Ross Adolph, Jordan Brewer, Alex McKenna, Luis Guerrero, Matthew Barefoot, Ramiro Rodriguez, Zach Daniels, Justin Dirden

Yordan Alvarez had a truly insane 2019, which feels like it was decades ago. At 24 and the 16th OF off the board, he is an easy buy at this price. Kyle Tucker is the same, and his power was clearly on display in 2020. I agree that his draft table price of being the OF drafted right after Yordan is fair, although I don’t think it should be at OF No. 17. Both of these guys get clear spikes in value, but if you want to fade them because you hate the Astros, I will love you and root for your fantasy team.

Michael Brantley is back and he should hit around .300 with 40 or so doubles and 15 or so homers. That’s what he does, yet for some reason, he’s not getting drafted in the Top 50 OFs. Everyone in this outfield is a buy, even Myles Straw, the fourth one listed. Yordan is going to get the majority of his plate appearances at DH, and that leaves the third and fourth outfield spots to a battle between Straw, Steven Souza, Chris McCormick, Jose Siri, Ronnie Dawson, and a slew of other NRIs in camp. Straw and Souza are the favorites to lock down the third spot, and with both getting selected outside the top 100 OFs, this will be a position battle to watch as whoever wins the job could yield an extremely high profit. As the upside is worth the risk, I’d target both as late-round guys.

I still hate the Astros, but I’m willing to admit that this offense should be fine even if C and 1B are offensive black holes. The Astros will likely add a bat when they pull the plug on Gurriel, but there is a world where everything could fall apart, and that’s the world I want to live in. I’ll always be salty against this franchise, and that’s alright because I care about my sport. I don’t want to see the sport I value the most get treated like some corporation where the men in suits cheat to win. The sport is far better than that, and when you drag it through the mud, I will hate you for it. This is the last Astros hate paragraph in this article. Maybe.