Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What would it take to acquire Aroldis Chapman?

I'm not going to beat around the bush here - the Astros need a closer. You know it, I know it, and so do the Astros.

While the Astros made huge strides in 2015 with a bullpen that ranked near the top of the league in overall season performance, it was the September/October lull that ultimately killed their season far too early.

Luke Gregerson, bless him and his horseshoe, battled valiantly all season, compiling good all-around numbers (7-3, 3.10 ERA, 31 saves) and establishing career-lows in bad things like walks (10) and advanced figures like WHIP (0.95).

Underneath those sterling numbers, however, is a very hittable late-inning reliever that can't just get you out on stuff. That's the keystone to any successful reliever, long-term. When a batter takes you through a 3-2 count, fouling off pitch after pitch, making the at-bat seem more like a life experience, you need to be able to reach back and deliver filth you wouldn't feel comfortable letting your mom see in order to push things along.

The Astros bullpen, successful as it was over the long haul, did not have one "stuff" guy to their name. So yeah, while building a decent to great bullpen can be a fairly quick and inexpensive endeavor, that "stuff" guy is someone you should definitely consider splurging on.

While the July and August trade winds came up empty in that department, with fatal consequences, the Hot Stove season seems ripe with opportunity to make up for that mid-season faux pas.

Enter: Aroldis Chapman

The Reds are holding a fairly expensive yard sale this winter, and everything not nailed down by a no-trade clause MUST. GO.

Chapman is the crown jewel of the Cincinnati Outlet Mall and thus comes at a high price. Prior to acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres earlier this month, the Red Sox were engaged in Chapman talks.

The Reds were reportedly asking for more than what the Red Sox eventually gave up for Kimbrel in spite of the fact that Kimbrel is under contract for another five seasons while Chapman is a free agent after 2016. Industry insiders widely believe the Red Sox paid too much for Kimbrel.

So the price is high. For now.

Looking at the reported asking price, according to ESPN's Jayson Stark just eight days ago, the Reds want "young talent that is Major-League-ready in trades for either (Todd) Frazier or closer Aroldis Chapman."

Other reports have the Reds asking for 3-4 of those kinds of pieces.

There is no better match for a trade - on paper - than the Astros. But, of course, the real talking point is - what would the Astros be willing to give up for, conceivably, one season of Aroldis Chapman plus a possible compensation pick if/when Chapman bolts after 2016?

The Astros could satisfy a number of Cincy's requirements without tearing down the bulk of their industry-leading farm system. Let's toss a couple packages around to see how they feel.

Astros trade:
- 1B Jon Singleton
- 3B Matt Duffy
- 2B Tony Kemp
- RHP Chris Devenski

Reds trade:
- Aroldis Chapman

Interesting and familiar names here. Singleton would be a sad departure, at least for me, because hopes were so high back in 2012 when he was rising through the system as the organization's top prospect and projected replacement for Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman. Singleton's struggles at the big league level have been a disappointment, but it's still too early to condemn him to a life of Brett Wallace.

Signed to a then-controversial, team-friendly five-year deal worth $10 million in 2014, Singleton has slashed a .171/.290/.331 line with 14 homers and 50 RBI. His strikeout numbers are atrocious and his defense is... meh. It won't harm you, but it won't save anything extra either.

On the plus side, Singleton has yet to receive a full 162 games of big league at-bats and is going to be entering his age 24 season with plenty of upside, especially to teams who may believe the Astros have misused him.

Singleton started the season in Triple-A Fresno and lit the world on fire at one point in May, going full-on Barry Bonds on just about every pitch he saw. But once he received a call-up to Houston in June and began the back-and-forth between playing/not playing/back to Fresno/back to Houston, his season took a left turn to nowhere and that's pretty much where he ended up.

Still something there, but his value diminishes each year he falls out of favor in Houston.

Devenski is another interesting name in that he's fairly high regarded prospect in the Houston system, ranked number 18 overall by MLB.com, but was recently left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft that he's surely to be snatched up in.

After a wildly successful season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Devenski joined Triple-A Fresno in time for the postseason and pitched a beauty in the Triple-A National Championship Game, flirting with a perfect game through six innings, ultimately settling for a one-hit shutout in his first-ever game at the highest level of the minors.

As the Astros prepare for the Winter Meetings, losing another highly-regarded prospect for nothing in the Rule 5 would be painful to take. Of course, if the Astros trade him before the Winter Meetings, that would at least lessen the blow of losing him. It wouldn't be for nothing.

Kemp is a high-end prospect for the Astros who has risen quickly through the system despite his size (sound familiar?). He's completely blocked in Houston, so a trade makes complete sense. With the Reds looking to deal away long-time two-bagger Brandon Phillips, Kemp would be a key piece in replacing him.

Duffy, the 2015 PCL MVP, is yet another sleeper prospect who came out of seemingly nowhere to achieve "second-best Matt Duffy in baseball" status. His cup of coffee in Houston not withstanding, Duffy is 26 years old and is either going to make it or break it. He's too old to be a prospect, but he could be a serviceable piece for a bit while the Reds look into Todd Frazier deals and replacements for him.

Every one of these players is very close to or is Major League ready. While it isn't a package surrounding someone like Lance McCullers, like what the Yankees are rumored to want in exchange for Andrew Miller, it's a more than fair compensation package for a player in his final season.

Astros trade:
- 2B Tony Kemp
- RHP Chris Devenski
- 1B Jon Singleton
- RHP Michael Feliz
- RHP Akeem Bostick

Reds trade:
- LHP Aroldis Chapman
- RHP Nick Howard

Feliz and Bostick round out an impressive package that takes away two of Houston's three most major league-ready arms, as well as a highly projectable Bostick.

If any of these two deals, or close variations of them, occur, it should be considered a win for both sides. The Reds get a great jump start to their rebuilding by acquiring arms, projects and prospects, and the Astros get the flamethrower they so desperately need.

The Reds would like to wrap up the Chapman part of their off-season prior to the Winter Meetings, which start in just under two weeks.

Let's see what happens.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Updated 40-Man roster

So here's something we'll trot out every time it's necessary: the updated 40-Man roster.

Updated: November 20
*Added In Advance of Rule 5 Draft

Total: 40

Pitchers (14)

Kevin Chapman
Luis Cruz
Michael Feliz
Josh Fields
Mike F. Fiers
Luke Gregerson
Will Harris
Scott Kazmir
Dallas Keuchel
Lance McCullers
Collin McHugh
Pat Neshek
Brett Oberholtzer
Oliver Perez
Chad Qualls
Tony Sipp
Dan Straily
Joe Thatcher
Vince Velasquez
Asher Wojciechoswki
Joe Musgrove*
Jandel Gustave*
Juan Minaya*
David Paulino*

Catchers (3)

Jason Castro
Hank Conger
Max Stassi
Alfredo Gonzalez*

Infielders (9)

Jose Altuve
Chris Carter
Carlos Correa
Matt Duffy
Evan Gattis
Marwin Gonzalez
Jed Lowrie
Jon Singleton
Luis Valbuena
Jonathan Villar
Nolan Fontana*

Outfielders (6)

Carlos Gomez
Robbie Grossman
L.J. Hoes
Jake Marisnick
Colby Rasmus
George Springer
Preston Tucker
Andrew Aplin*

60-Day DL (2)

Sam Deduno
Scott Feldman
Brad Peacock

Friday Morning Hot Links

*Put in your time-off request now: the Astros and Yankees will play on ESPN at 12:05pm Central on Monday, April 4.

*Jeff Luhnow said that he talked to 12 teams yesterday.

*Dallas Keuchel finished 5th in the BBWAA AL MVP voting. Altuve finished 10th, while Correa got one 8th-place vote.

*Keuchel thanked Brent Strom and Craig Bjornson for refining his game.

*The Masked Marvel wrote up a sweeter farewell to Jonathan Villar than I did.

*The Astros learned a lesson with last year's Rule 5 draft - losing DeShields and Rollins - and are hoping to avoid a repeat. (As a reminder: here's What The Heck Bobby's 2015 Rule 5 primer).

*File this under Well Of Course, but the Astros have checked in on Phillies reliever Ken Giles. Giles came to Philly from Dallas in the Hole Camels trade. Basically, if the guy looks decent in the 6th-9th innings, the Astros will have checked in on him.

In between award ceremonies, the Astros get some work done

We interrupt the regularly scheduled Exit Music (For A Music) series to quickly acknowledge the flurry of transactions that occurred earlier today.  The Constable has beaten me to the punch, but I was wanting to write some thoughts about Jonathan Villar regardless, so I thought that I would plough on.  I didn't expect the ol' Constable to post anything today, because I thought he would still be dancing in joy about Jonathan Villar joining another organisation.  He has, after all, made his feelings about Villar known over the last few years, most recently dusting off the face-butt-plant image on June 8, right before Carlos Correa made his ML debut.

I feel differently about Villar to most people, however.  I always pulled for him to succeed, because I really enjoyed watching him play.  I was able to keep the memories of the freaky-good defensive plays that he made, and I managed to erase the memories of the muffed routine plays that he tended to blow.  He had periods at the plate when he looked like he was locked in, and in those periods, if you squinted, you could see 15 or 20 home-run power, an OBP of .330-.340, and 40-odd steals in a year.  All that from a young, controllable, switch-hitting shortstop who had some serious athletic potential in the field.

The miscues always seemed to come at the wrong time.  That awful play when he fell over Jose Reyes who was standing on second base - right before Correa's call up - was brutally unlucky, I thought.  Perhaps a superior defender would have found a way to make that play, but Villar muffed it, and the Astros lost the game a couple of pitches later.  But the good bits always seemed to be pretty good, too.  For a period of time in September, and when it seemed like the rest of the Astros offence was struggling, Villar had a hot run at the plate, managing a couple of big hits in key situations.  He contributed a solid .284/.339/.414 line in the Bigs in his 128 plate appearances this year, but his .381/.435/.619 line in 23 September and October plate appearances got me thinking that he might have a future with the Astros.  I get that he was trade bait, but I wondered whether the Astros might look to trade one of their other utility guys, and keep Villar for 2016.

Even the manner in which he was traded was a little disappointing.  I always thought that Villar would be winging his way to San Deigo, with perhaps Luis Valbuena and Mark Appel in exchange for Tyson Ross or something.  Or perhaps he would allow the Braves to trade Erik Aybar in a larger exchange for Freddie Freeman, again with a platoon of other minor leaguers.   I guess I expected more than a #26-rated Brewers prospect, a low velocity guy who "has fringe-average stuff" for example.  It's not that Cy Sneed is nothing (although he does sound like an olde-timey golfey-baseballing guy), but I personally valued Villar a little higher than the initially perceived return.

(As an aside, Cy Sneed has some serious major-league facial hair - the kind the Astros lost when they traded Daniel Mengden to the A's - and Sneed also had a serious breakout season across two A-ball levels in 2015.  So I absolutely accept that I am not in a position to judge the return, I just thought that if Villar was going to bring someone back, it would be more of a headlining trade that he would be involved in.)

And so there is the problem.  My perception of Jonathan Villar is distorted, as perceptions tend to be.  We are all human, after all, and we all have trouble putting biases to one side, and being objective.  To me, Villar also represented the Astros' rebuild - a toolsy player that could be given a chance to stake his ML claim - with a bit of underdog sprinkled in.  And I love me some underdog.

Anyhow, every fan has funny little biases and weird misperceptions that lead to player favouritism.  If you had a thing for Robbie Grossman, then this would have been an even worse day for you.  I kind of liked the idea of Luis Cruz as well, and I wondered whether he would be the lefty out of the 'pen next year.  Who wouldn't root for an undersized strikeout guy (although he wasn't much of a strikeout guy above AA) who didn't appear on many prospect lists??  But all three of these now ex-Stros have been removed from the 40-man, making way for the next group of prospects for us biased fans to salivate over, and form distorted biases and beliefs about.

Villar's departure may sting a little if he suddenly finds a way to minimise the silly mistakes, and consistently put together good at-bats.  Joining David Stearns and most of the rest of the Astros' boom-or-bust prospects in Milwaukee is probably not the worst career move, either.  But this has merely been a long-winded way of saying that I will miss him (or more accurately, his potential) even if most Astros fans don't.

Or as the Constable would say... good night, sweet prince.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Astros make moves, clear 40-Man space

So the Astros did a few things today. Let's see what Those Things are...

*Released Robbie Grossman. Grossman was acquired in the Wandy trade on July 24, 2012 with Grossman, Colton Cain and Rudy Owens coming over from Pittsburgh. Grossman, who rejected (or his agent rejected, or it fell apart, or whatever) a contract extension reportedly for 6yrs/$13.5m back in March 2014, never could put it together for the Astros. After a somewhat promising 2013 season in which he hit .268/.332/.770, Grossman got 422 plate appearances in 2014, hitting .233/.337/.333, with 105K:55BB. He got 54 plate appearances in 2015, hitting .143/.222/.245.

*Released Luis Cruz. Cruz, a 25-year old LHP, was the Astros' 9th Round pick in the 2008 draft. In eight minor-league seasons, Cruz had a 49-42 record with a 4.40 ERA/1.34 WHIP. He spent all of 2015 in Fresno, throwing 116IP, 119H/55ER, 93K:52BB.

*Traded Jonathan Villar to the Milwaukee Stearns for Cy Young Sneed. Ahhh, Jonathan Villar.  Acquired in the Philly/Roy Oswalt trade for Anthony Gose and J.A. Happ, Villar joined the team immediately, and...hit .243/.321/.319. Whatever, he was 22. He played in a career-high 87 games in 2014, getting 289 PAs and hitting .209/.267/.354. It was bad. Villar got pushed out after Carlos Correa was clearly The Truth, but he hit a respectable .284/.339/.414. It was surprising. So with no obvious place to play, the Astros moved him.

So who is this Cy Sneed? The 23-year old Sneed was the Brewers' 3rd Round pick in 2014 out of Dallas Baptist University. He's a big drink of water - 6'4" 185lbs - and had a pretty great 2015 season. In 139.1IP between the Midwest League and High-A, Sneed allowed 129H/40ER, with 122K:28BB. This is Good.

Basically, the Astros got a pitcher who performed very well in exchange for a player with no position and some bad memories, and cleared three spots off the 40-Man Roster (which now sits at 34) in advance of the Rule 5 draft and any potential 25-Man additions.

Further Cy Sneed reading:
Brew Crew Ball - June 2014

Thursday Morning Hot Links

*Dallas Keuchel became the first Astro to win the Cy Young award since Roger Clemens back in 2004 when he received 22 of 30 1st place votes - David Price received the other eight - from the BBWAA. Keuchel, Clemens, and Mike Scott are the only Astros pitchers to win the Cy Young.

*Clemens welcomed Keuchel to the Cy Young club

*Keuchel told his mother that he was going to win...a week before the season started.

*Collin McHugh received five votes and finished 8th.

*Here's a big something from Jeff Passan:
Three sources told Yahoo Sports that Freeman's name came up in conversations with the Houston Astros as part of a mega-trade that would've included more than five players. It went nowhere. 

...Man, it would be fun to know what those conversations were like.

*Holy crap, read about the Marlins clubhouse.

*With HOF voting time ongoing, we get to read extremely bad opinions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Exit Music (For A Music): Luke Gregerson

This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series, reviewing the major components of the 2015 season. Check out other Exit Music (For A Player) posts here

Acquired: Signed as a free agent, December 2014.

Age: 31. Gregerson will be 32 next May.

Contract Status: 2nd year of a 3yr/$17.5m deal, running through the 2017 season.


Drafted in the 28th Round of the 2006 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Gregerson has always been a reliever - every single one of his 664 professional appearances has come out of the bullpen. In 2008 he was at Double-A Springfield, throwing 75.1IP, 62H/28ER, 78K:26BB. Just before the 2009 season, Gregerson was sent to San Diego as the PTBNL in the deal that sent Mark Worrell to the Padres in exchange for Khalil Greene. He immediately joined the Major-League team, skipping Triple-A altogether.

In 2009, his Major League debut season, Gregerson struck out 93 batters in 75IP with a 2.50 FIP. In 2010 he struck out 89 batters in 78.1IP with a 2.86 FIP. Then something happened: in 2011, Gregerson's 3rd season, he only struck out 34 batters in 55.2IP, and his ERA and FIP flipped, but this season was an anomaly. His K/9 rate in 2009 was 11.2, in 2010 it was 10.2. In 2011 it was 5.5, the lowest K/9 rate of his career by 1.8 K/9.

His success carried on in 2012 and 2013, striking out 136 batters in a combined 138IP with a 2.54 ERA on a 3.04 FIP - mainly in a set-up role as he recorded a total of 16 saves in 363 appearances.

Gregerson was traded to the A's in December 2013 for Seth Smith, and he was excellent for the A's if a little bit lucky - recording a 2.12 ERA on a 3.24 FIP (.260 BABIP). And he was murder on lefties, allowing a .219/.258/.263 slash line in 122 PAs against lefty hitters.

What happened to make a reliever's K/9 rate drop by almost half? He induced more soft contact (26.9%) in 2011 than he did in 2010 (15.9%)


So the Astros announced the signings of Gregerson and Pat Neshek on the same day - December 10, 2014 - to bolster the back end of the Goatpen and it...worked out. Gregerson recorded 31 saves, struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings and posted a career high 5.9 K:BB ratio. I hesitate to say that it completely worked out because Neshek was...well, we'll get to him soon, and Gregerson was like going on a roller coaster where you realize that your seat belt is broken: it'll probably be okay, but those drops are scary, man.

Gregerson himself had a really strange year. He took a personal break for a "very private" family matter in May, and we still don't know what it was for (it's really not our business, anyway) and missed some time for the birth of a son, which is awesome.

Overall, Gregerson's stats look pretty great: 61IP, 48H/21ER, 59K:10BB, 0.95 WHIP. But there is some devil in the details. He gave up five home runs all season long - four of them in May. From August - end of the regular season, he allowed 16 hits with 14 of those only going for singles.

Gregerson really only threw his sinker, which generated a high number of grounders, and his slider, which generated a whole bunch of whiffs, in 2015. Overall Gregerson threw 56% sinkers and 42% sliders (he threw 14 changeups all year long). Whereas he threw mostly sinkers in the 1st half of the season (in July he threw 68% sinkers and 31% sliders), in September and October he flipped it, throwing 54% sliders and 45% sinkers. Gregerson was good when his slider was biting. Two months that they weren't biting were in May (.375 BAA/.813 SLG) and September (.417 BAA).

Gregerson only allowed runs in 12 of his appearances, and the Astros only lost 10 games in which he pitched. But of those 12 appearances in which he allowed runs, Gregerson gave up 2+ runs 10 times. Three of those games the Astros lost by one run. It's really easy to cherry pick those games as Missed Opportunities, but he threw scoreless outings in 15 of the Astros' one-run wins.

And let's be clear: while the bullpen was caving in down the stretch, Gregerson was the one true constant. From August 28 to September 23 (when we wrote a post about how the world was ending), here were the components of the bullpen:

Fields: 7IP, 13H/10ER, 9K:3BB, 12.86 ERA/2.29 WHIP, 1.002 OPS against
Harris: 10.2IP, 10H/5ER, 9K:4BB, 4.22 ERA/1.31 WHIP, .761 OPS against
Velasquez: 10IP, 10H/9ER, 10K:6BB, 8.10 ERA/1.60 WHIP, .927 OPS against
Qualls: 8IP, 11H/5ER, 8K:1BB, 5.62 ERA/1.50 WHIP, .853 OPS against
Neshek: 7IP, 13H/5ER, 4K:3BB, 6.43 ERA/2.29 WHIP, 1.128 OPS against

And then here's Luke Gregerson: 6.2IP, 3H/2ER, 7K:0BB, 2.70 ERA/0.45 WHIP, .384 OPS against.

The division lead was squandered because for three weeks the Astros just couldn't get to Gregerson. 

In the postseason, Gregerson was part of The Game Of Which We Shall Not Speak. In said GOWWSNS, Gregerson was brought in to try and finish out the 8th inning with the score tied 6-6 after Harris, Sipp, and Correa failed to end a Royals threat. Gregerson couldn't put away Drew Butera (!!!1) and walked him on ten pitches. This is the same Drew Butera who in 853 regular season plate appearances has a .507 OPS and a .241 OBP, walking just 47 times. This was when I threw my hat. 


Gregerson will be a major part of the team in 2016 because (a) he's under contract and (b) because of how well he pitched, but I fully expect him to return to the 8th inning once (if!?) the Astros acquire that hard-throwing reliever everyone keeps talking about. Gregerson's slider sits around 90mph, and he doesn't throw a traditional fastball. That may work in his favor, but it would be nice to have a guy in the 9th who makes hitters - instead of fans - crap their pants.

Franchise Marks:

*Gregerson's 5.9 K:BB ratio was 11th in baseball
*His 2.35 SIERA, 2.86 FIP, and 2.71 xFIP were all best on the team
*His 31 saves were the most on the Astros since Jose Valverde got 44 saves in 2008.

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*It's funny how I'm way more in favor of players winning awards in part because of excellence on a playoff team when it's my favorite team who made the playoffs. That said, Carlos Correa is totally deserving of winning the AL Rookie of the Year award over Francisco Lindor (who, it must be said, makes excellent chocolates).

Here's the voting breakdown:
Correa: 17 1st Place votes, 13 2nd Place votes (124 points)
Lindor: 13 1st Place votes, 14 2nd Place votes (109 points)

Correa said that the metal plate in his leg - from breaking his ankle last season at Lancaster - caused him pain over the course of the season. I don't know if that's something that will get better, because I'm soft and rarely put myself in a position to break a bone, but it's still notable.

If you told me before the season started this was going to happen, I would not believe you. I started the year in Double-A. A few years back, in 2012, they drafted me with the first pick overall, and everybody was saying I was not supposed to be the first pick and was not the best player, but the hard work came through and I've been working hard all these years to be able to get to this level and be able to accomplish some things.

*Correa joins future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell as the only Astros to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Bagwell's 1991 (156 games): .294/.387/.437, 26 doubles/15 home runs, 139 OPS+
Correa's 2015 (99 games):   .279/.345/.512, 22 doubles/22 home runs, 132 OPS+

*I'm always fascinated by how the voters vote based on geography, so...
*Jayson Stark noted that Correa is the 1st #1 overall pick in the American League to win the Rookie of the Year, while the NL has done it three times.

*Luhnow, on Correa (back in July):
It was so quick, the light bulb went off, realizing this kid was meant to be at the highest level. And if there's a higher level than this, he's probably meant to be there, because he rises to the occasion of the competition around him, and usually beyond it. It's really impressive. 

*Dallas Keuchel won the Warren Spahn Award as baseball's top lefty pitcher. Greg Spahn, Warren's son:
I am ecstatic that Dallas Keuchel, an Oklahoman, wins my father's award.

*Astros' Assistant hitting coach Alan Zinter is now the hitting coach for the Padres.

*The Rangers and Mariners made a trade yesterday, with Leonys Martin and former Astros great Anthony Bass headed to Seattle for fireballing reliever Tom Wilhelmsen joining the Rangers' bullpen.

*So you want Aroldis Chapman? Reds beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans - one of the best - said yesterday that it would take "Two Top 100 prospect guys, and another prospect" to get him.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Morning Hot Links

Just couldn't find it within myself to care about the Astros this weekend, what with everything in Paris, and all. But since I use baseball and the Astros as a defense mechanism for how terrible the world is, I figured it's time to get back on the horse.

*Evan Drellich: Tanking, and the risk of alienating your fan base

*Marc Topkin says the Astros were one of the teams pretty hard in on the Rays' Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee at the deadline

*Christina Kahrl has your Astros' off-season preview

*JJO: A Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year award sweep would put the cherry on top of 2015

*McTaggart makes the case for Carlos Correa

*Scroll down to read this Ken Rosenthal report that the Braves would be open to trading 1B Freddie Freeman, whose salary takes a jump soon. The Braves' GM says nah.