Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve touted the franchise's front office for the depth it built though its minor league system. File Photo by Johnny Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., March 23 (UPI) -- The Houston Astros admit a gap exists in their roster at spring training after shortstop Carlos Correa's departure, but players are confident the front office can field another strong team to avenge its World Series loss.
Correa, an off-season free agent, signed Tuesday with the Minnesota Twins. That ended his seven-year run with the Astros and shocked his longtime teammates.
"I remember, through the years, I lost some great teammates," Astros manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday at the team's spring training site in West Palm Beach, Fla. "Hank Aaron went to Milwaukee. Steve Garvey went to the Padres. It goes on and on.
"There is a gap. I'm gonna miss him big time. He's going to miss us. You have to turn the page, but the book never closes."
Correa's run with the Astros included three World Series appearances -- a 2017 title and runner-up finishes in 2019 and 2021.
Baker said he continues to "analyze the situation" as he plugs other players into the shortstop position to attempt to fill the hole left by Correa.
Slick-fielding top prospect Jeremy Pena is expected to see the majority of shortstop work. The Astros also will play Aledmys Diaz and Nico Goodrum.
Second baseman Jose Altuve, who was Correa's teammate since 2015, said the team's chemistry and front office decision makers will ensure the Astors remain an American League power.
The team also lost Carlos Beltran, Charlie Morton, Dallas Kuechel, Brian McCann, George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and other stars in recent years, yet remained a contender.
"We've been losing great players, like Carlos," Altuve said. "But we still have guys coming from the minor leagues that really want to play. [Outfielder] Kyle Tucker wasn't here two or three years ago and now one of the best on the team.
The Astros led MLB in batting average in two of the last three seasons. They led the league in fielding percentage in three of the last four seasons, including in 2021 and 2020.
"The good chemistry and relationship between everybody is what makes us so special," Altuve said. "The front office has done a good job. We have a good system in minor leagues of players that will come eventually and fill someone else's spot."
Astros outfielder Michael Brantley said the team's desire to avenge last year's title series loss to the Atlanta Braves also is a motivating factor this spring.
"You put in all that work and get so close," Brantley said. "It leaves a sour taste in your mouth and makes you work that much harder and get that much stronger."
Correa's departure might cast the largest shadow, but the return of ace pitcher Justin Verlander to the pitching staff should provide a boost to the team overall. Verlander, who missed the 2021 season due to injury, made his spring debut Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"These guys aren't rookies," Baker said. "I don't have to get on them working when they go to the playoffs every year, and go as far as they've been. It's an easier task for me as a manager because they know how hard it is to get there and stay there.
"Everybody wants to unseat whoever is on top."