Four questions facing Astros after Houston captures second World Series title in franchise history

The Houston Astros won the 2022 World Series on Saturday night, downing the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. The Astros’ victory secured their second championship in the past six years, a stretch that has included four American League pennants and six consecutive trips to the League Championship Series. 

While the Astros organization can (and should) take a few days off to celebrate and plot out a parade route, the reality of professional sports is that the clock is always ticking. Soon enough, the Astros will be back on their grind, figuring out how to improve their roster in time for the start of another regular season. 

With that in mind, we here at CBS Sports wanted to highlight four key questions that will be facing the Astros this offseason, beginning with the fates of their braintrust and ace Justin Verlander, and extending to their chances of winning another ring.

Let’s get to it.

1. Will the brain trust return?

Owner Jim Crane hired general manager James Click and manager Dusty Baker in early 2020 after firing their predecessors, Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, for their involvement in the team’s sign-stealing scandal. Both Click and Baker’s contracts are now set to expire. 

It would seem to be a fait accompli that they would each receive lucrative extensions — the Astros just won the World Series, after all, plus their second consecutive pennant — but the rumor mill has featured no shortage of recent speculation that Click could be ousted over philosophical differences with a more-involved Crane. Comparatively, Baker’s return seems more certain, presuming he wants to carry on. No one could blame Baker if he retired after deciding his legacy was complete.

Even if Click does come back, the Astros front office will look different heading forward. Houston has lost a pair of well-regarded assistant general managers already this winter to other teams: Pete Putila left to become the San Francisco Giants general manager, while Oz Ocampo joined the Miami Marlins as an assistant general manager.

2. What about Verlander?

Last offseason, the Astros signed Justin Verlander to a one-year deal with a conditional player option for the 2023 season. He met the terms of that option when he cleared the 130-inning mark, meaning that he can either return for $25 million or he can opt out and seek a more lucrative deal on the open market.

Our guess is that Verlander will indeed opt out. When he put pen to paper last winter, he was doing so from a position of relative weakness. He’d pitched in just one game since the end of the 2019 postseason after undergoing Tommy John surgery late in 2020. After essentially two lost seasons, it was unclear if and how he would return.

Now, Verlander has answered those questions in stunning fashion, posting a 1.75 ERA in 28 starts en route to what might be his third career AL Cy Young Award victory. It’s not a stretch to think he could pursue a contract similar in rate, if not term to the two-year deal Max Scherzer inked last offseason worth nearly $87 million. 

Of course, Verlander wanting to secure a bigger bag does not inherently mean he’ll leave the Astros. It just means that they’ll have to pony up to keep their ace in town.

3. Is it time for more extensions?

Beyond Verlander, the Astros don’t have many notable free agents to worry about. Deadline acquisitions Trey Mancini and Christian Vázquez will both hit the open market, and they may be joined by starting catcher Martín Maldonado and relievers Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek, and Phil Maton. The Astros will, presumably, decline their club option on Will Smith, and perhaps Hector Neris, too, prompting them to assemble most of a new bullpen on the fly this offseason.

Otherwise? Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and Lance McCullers Jr. are locked in through at least the 2024 season, making this winter an optimal time for the front office to examine the cost to extend some of their other, younger talents.

Lefty Framber Valdez, outfielder Kyle Tucker, and righty Cristian Javier each have more than three years of big-league service time. In layman’s terms, they’re all expected to be eligible for free agency at the conclusion of the 2025 campaign. Might the Astros attempt to sign one of the three to a contract that buys out a few additional seasons, as well as some cost certainty for the duration of their arbitration eligibility? 

Elsewhere, the Astros could take a swing at a long-term deal for World Series MVP Jeremy Peña, who amassed nearly five Wins Above Replacement in his rookie season. Peña did celebrate his 25th birthday in September, and he won’t even be arbitration-eligible until after the 2024 season, at which point he’ll be 27. It’s possible the Astros are content going year-by-year with him for the time being.

4. Can they repeat?

Major League Baseball hasn’t had a repeat World Series champion in more than two decades, or since the New York Yankees won three consecutive titles from 1998-2000. Constant playoff expansion and the unpredictability of postseason baseball means that odds are against the Astros hoisting the trophy again next fall. Still, it stands to reason that some team at some point will win back-to-back titles. 

The Astros, for their part, do seem well-positioned to again triumph in the American League West, depending on what the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers do this winter. After that, who can say what might happen? The entire offseason waits between now and the start of another spring. For now, though, it seems fair to expect the Astros to be among the favorites to win the World Series at the onset of 2023.

Astros World Series gear now available

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