The Houston Astros have already struck out for the upcoming season. Like every other MLB team, they barely even got the bat off their shoulder.
On Wednesday, December 1, the league’s collective bargaining agreement expired. By Thursday morning at 12:01 AM, the MLB had locked out all players and personnel. This action has essentially frozen the “Hot Stove.” Yet, this hasn’t prevented Hunter Atkins of Houston and others from looking ahead to 2022.
After all, the Astros have enjoyed success over the last several seasons. In addition to their World Series championship in 2017, the team won the American League pennant in 2019 and 2021. Last year, the team fell to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series, finishing as runners-up yet again.
The Astros hope to hoist another trophy soon. But, to do so, the team must first address a few lingering concerns heading into 2022. When the lockout does eventually end, Hunter Atkins Houston shares three key off-season storylines that will define the team’s upcoming campaign.
Manning the middle
Who will be the Astros’ shortstop on Opening Day? This is perhaps the biggest question surrounding the organization. In a perfect world, the team would re-sign Carlos Correa. However, the All-Star is ranked by many as the best available free agent and the two sides are reportedly not close on a new deal. They could pass the reigns to one of its heralded prospects, but this is unlikely since the Astros wish to contend for another crown. If unable to bring back Correa, Hunter Atkins of Houston expects the team to pursue Trevor Story, Andrelton Simmons, or another stopgap option who can contribute immediately.
Adding another ace
The Astros didn’t waste any time retaining Justin Verlander, bringing him back on a one-year deal. But this isn’t likely enough. The former Cy Young winner missed all of last season due to injury. And the Astros were exposed after their ace, Lance McCullers Jr., strained his forearm during the playoffs. While most of the World Series rotation is returning, the Astros still need one more top-tier starter. Whether via trade or free agency, Hunter Atkins Houston thinks the Astros must continue to stockpile arms.
Continuity in center
The Astros must also slam shut the revolving door at center field. When the team let George Springer walk a season ago, this instantly became a glaring need. The hope was to fill the void internally. Since the team has cycled through prospects and rookies to mixed results. Although these additions were stellar defensively, they provided little at the plate. Pedro Leon is an interesting name to watch this winter. Signed out of Cuba, the organization’s No. 2 prospect flashed early before missing two months late in the year. Hunter Atkins of Houston anticipates Leon will be a mid-season callup to help down the stretch.