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Manning the Middle: Hunter Atkins fields 3 SS options for Houston Astros

The Houston Astros have some big cleats to fill.

The team is at risk of losing Carlos Correa via free agency. The perennial All-Star capped off another MVP-caliber season in 2021. Since being called up in 2015, the shortstop has racked up numerous accolades, including a Gold Glove and Platinum Glove awards this past season. Because of his elite tools and age, most experts rank the 27-year-old as the consensus best free agent. No matter where he signs, Carlos Correa is expected to command a record-setting contract. And the two sides don’t appear close. Without Carlos Correa, veteran sports reporter Hunter Atkins sees a glaring hole in the middle of their lineup.

While many transactions are currently frozen due to the MLB lockout, the Houston Astros are undoubtedly taking this time to evaluate their options. With some marquee shortstops already signed and off the board, there will likely be a frenzy once free agency resumes.

In a perfect world, the Astros would re-sign Carlos Correa. But they must also prepare for the worst. Using this experience covering the local teams, Hunter Atkins predicts who the Astros might plug in the middle if Carlos Correa does decide to sign elsewhere.

The prospect

Is one of the organization’s top prospects ready for the show? The team was hoping to know this answer already. It wanted an extended look at Jeremy Pena last season, but a wrist injury limited him to only 30 games. Even though the verdict on his hitting was inconclusive, the pedigree and metrics suggest he could be another future All-Star waiting in the wings. In fact, he’s regarded as the best defensive player in the Astros system. Still, Hunter Atkins isn’t yet convinced. If the team wants to continue to contend, it’s unlikely they will pass the reigns over to an untested, 24-year-old rookie.

The journeyman

The team’s next shortstop could already be on their major league roster. Aledmys Diaz has been used primarily as a part-time player over the last three seasons, but he’s been an All-Star before. This wouldn’t be a flashy move, but it would bring some stability. Since the rest of the Astro’s infield remains intact, Hunter Atkins sees this as a way to maintain continuity moving forward.

The trophies

There are two big-ticket-free agents still on the market who have raked in their fair share of hardware too. Hunter Atkins expects the Astros to first inquire about Trevor Story. The two-time Silver Slugger Award winner enjoyed massive success in Colorado. From 2016 to 2020, Trevor Story even outperformed Carlos Correa, posting a better WAR and earning more All-Star appearances. However, his bat took a significant dip last season.

Andrelton Simmons is another option. He’s established himself as one of the game’s premier defensive shortstops. On his way to four Gold Glove Awards, he has consistently finished among the league’s best in defensive runs saved. However, as Hunter Atkins points out, there are some red flags. The 32-year-old may have his best seasons already behind him. Hunter Atkins sees Andrelton Simmons as a stopgap option only until one of its prospects is ready to make the leap.