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World Series champion Astros’ offseason involves Baker contract, free agents

73-year-old Baker won his first title in his 25th season as a major league manager Saturday
Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros celebrate their 4-1 World Series win against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Houston Astros may have won their second World Series in six years and been a consistent presence in the playoffs, but there are a lot of questions the team will need to address in the offseason.

Manager Dusty Baker and general manager James Click aren’t yet under contract. Several top players are free agents. Despite all of this, oddsmakers still expect the Astros to be one of the favorites to win it all next season. FanDuel Sportsbook has the team with the second-best odds to win the 2023 World Series behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The 73-year-old Baker won his first title in his 25th season as a major league manager Saturday night when the Astros dispatched Philadelphia in six games. He’s not thinking of calling it quits, even if he is the oldest manager to ever win a title.

“I’ve always said if I win one, I want to win two,” he said.

When pressed about his contract status and the future, Baker interjected and said things weren’t uncertain on his end.

“I just want to live. Live and everything will be taken care of,” he told The Associated Press. “I ain’t worried about none of that. I’m just going to enjoy today and I’m sure it will be taken care of.”

Team owner Jim Crane said he’ll address what’s to come for Baker and Click next week.

Houston’s first title came in 2017, one that was tainted by a sign-stealing scandal that cost manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs, making way for Baker’s return to baseball. The baseball lifer was the strong leader the team needed to deal with the outside vitriol.

“I think that’s what drove this team,” he said. “That’s what motivated them. The boos and the jeers that we got all over the country, it bothered these guys, but it also motivated them at the same time. And it wasn’t an us against the world thing. It was more of a come together even closer type thing.

“And what happened before, it doesn’t ever pass over completely,” he said. “But we have turned the page and hopefully we’ll continue this run.”

Then there’s the issue of which players stick around. Ace Justin Verlander is expected to decline his $25 million player option for next season and become a free agent in the next few days.

Crane said he is hopeful the Astros can keep him after his remarkable comeback from Tommy John surgery this season. Verlander is expected to win his third Cy Young award after leading the majors with a career-low 1.75 ERA and topping the American League with 18 wins following an almost two-year layoff.

The 39-year-old didn’t address his future after Saturday’s win but did reflect on his path back to the game.

“If I could have a pen and paper and have written out exactly what I would have wished would happen through my rehab and my first season back from Tommy John, I don’t know if I would have changed a thing,” he said.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel, who has started for Houston since 2016, is a free agent. The 38-year-old had a down regular season after winning the AL batting title in 2021. He heated up in the postseason before a knee injury knocked him out for Game 6 of the World Series, and said Saturday that he’d like to return next season.

Left fielder Michael Brantley, who missed most of the season with a shoulder injury, is also a free agent, as well as utility player Aledmyz Díaz and catchers Christian Vázquez and Jason Castro.

On the pitching side, reliever Rafael Montero, a key member of an Astros bullpen that held opponents to an 0.83 ERA in the postseason, is a free agent.

While the Astros could face several changes this offseason, one position where they look to be set for years is at shortstop. Rookie Jeremy Peña followed up a solid regular season with a remarkable performance in the playoffs that earned him MVP of both the AL Championship Series and the World Series.

The 25-year-old hit .400 in the World Series to become the first rookie position player to win the series’ MVP award. He filled in seamlessly for two-time All-Star Carlos Correa, who signed with Minnesota last offseason.

“You have to make tough decisions in this job, and Jeremy’s making it look like it was an easy decision, and it wasn’t,” Click said. “Carlos is a great player, and he’s been a huge part of this franchise. But to do what Jeremy did, to step in and elevate his game in the playoffs, it just speaks to his hard work, his character and the talent that he has. There’s not that many special guys on the planet that can do what he just did.”

Peña is looking forward to building on what he did this season.

“This is what we expect in the organization,” he said. “We built a culture on winning, and every year we show up and try to win every single ball game. We just try to win.”

—Kristie Rieken, The Associated Press

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