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Nightengale: With World Series Over, Jockeying for 2018 has Begun

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Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros gathered Thursday morning in the lobby of their downtown Los Angeles hotel, still weary and hung over, but still animatedly talking about the most magical moment of their baseball careers.

George Springer, MVP of the World Series, huddled with his his parents and fiancée, making plans for Friday’s World Series parade. Justin Verlander and his fiancée were slipping out the side door to the parking garage, telling his teammates he wishes he could join them, but he’s got a wedding to attend in Italy.

His own. He’s marrying model Kate Upton.

“Just don’t cry,” Astros reliever Luke Gregerson told him.

Four days after arriving in Los Angeles empty-handed, the Astros finally left at 3 ET in four tour busses bound for LAX airport, and a flight to Houston, taking along a nice little souvenir they picked up along the way.

A World Series trophy.

“Have you ever seen,’’ Springer said, “anything more beautiful’’?

The 2017 season will live forever in Astros history, but even before they had a chance to check out of their hotel Thursday morning, the baseball world subtly reminded them that this is a new season.

It’s the Hot Stove, where everyone has begun preparations to unseat the Astros in 2018, with 149 players filing for free agency, and the divisional rival Los Angeles Angels making sure All-Star outfielder Justin Upton wasn’t one of them, signing him to a five-year, $106 million contract.

“The bottom line is this is where Justin wanted to play,’’ agent Larry Reynold said, “and most important, this is a place he feels can win.’’

The Astros celebrate their 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. Photo: Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

There are 29 teams who now want to go where the Astros ventured, the latest team to extinguish a World Series drought, 56 years in the making. The Astros followed the Chicago Cubs, who ended their own 108-year curse last year, and the Kansas City Royals the year before, winning their first since 1985.

We still have the Cleveland Indians who haven’t won the World Series since 1948, and, of course, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals, San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays, who have never won.

If you listen to the Astros, after extending the Los Angeles Dodgers’ championship drought to 30 years, they plan to make this an annual affair.

“We’re built,’’ Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said, “to go to the playoffs multiple times.’’

Still, as the Cubs and Cleveland Indians showed this past season, much easier said, than done. The Dodgers have won five consecutive division titles, and only this year did they reach the World Series. The New York Yankees have two years left of this becoming the first decade they failed to reach the World Series in the last century.

It promises to be a fascinating winter, from finding a manager for the Yankees, a general manager for the Atlanta Braves, a home for Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, starting pitching for the Cubs, a closer for the St. Louis Cardinals, a home-run hitter for the San Francisco Giants, and patience for the Washington Nationals.

This still will be known as the calm before the storm, with next year’s free-agent class featuring Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, probably Clayton Kershaw and perhaps David Price, but this one cod still be a doozy.

Yu Darvish, crumbled by the enormous pressure in the World Series, joins former Cy Young winner Arrieta as the top starters on the free agent market, each who will command at least $125 million.

Wade Davis of the Cubs and Greg Holland of the Rockies highlight the closer’s market. Reliever Brandon Morrow of the Dodgers may be receive the most lucrative deal for a non-closer. And Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain of Kansas City, J.D. Martinez of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Jay Bruce of Cleveland headline the power-hitting market.

There will be plenty of trades, too, with general managers getting together at their annual meetings Nov. 13 in Orlando, and no team will be more popular than the Miami Marlins.

They could be the Chicago White Sox of a year ago, who dumped aces Chris Sale and Jose Quintana over the winter, and closer closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier in July.

You want an All-Star, Derek Jeter has got one for you, with virtually his entire team on the trade block, highlighted by outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and outfielder Marcell Ozuna.

It’s no secret that Jeter and owner Bruce Sherman want to strip payroll, cutting it down to about $90 million, and it starts with Stanton, who’s still owed $295 million.

Stanton, who led the major leagues with 59 homers and 132 RBI last season, wants no part of another rebuilding program in Miami, while also having the power to veto any deal. He’d love to sit and and talk one day to the Marlins’ front office, but continues to wait for that call.

Stanton would love to be wearing a Dodgers uniform, returning back home to Los Angeles. The trouble is the Dodgers aren’t interested in committing that kind of money.

The San Francisco Giants have expressed the most interest, and the Cardinals have called too, but Stanton has all the power.

If the Marlins want to trade him to a place that doesn’t interest him, he’s not going, leaving the Marlins scrambling and likely having to instead trade Ozuna or Yelich.

Let the off-season begin, with several Astros spending their first day as champions with Bloody Marys in the lobby, letting everyone else worry how they can catch them.

“We were the team that nobody wanted to come to,’’ Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel said. “The other teams always got all the big-name guys. We got no one. But we’re a big-name team now, too.

“We’ve got MVPs wanting to come here. We’ve got Cy Youngs wanting to come here. Everybody wants to come to Houston again.

“We’re on top of the world, and we plan to stay here for awhile.’’

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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