Friday, October 11, 2013

Spending Crane's Money

With the news this week that the Astros could be increasing payroll to $50-60m, it would seem that the Astros would be spending around $40m to reach the upper levels of that number. So, because nobody asked me yet, here's how I would spend $60m in 2014 constructing a 25-Man Roster... (on free agents - we're not going through the pointless exercise of trying to figure out trade scenarios)

We're doing this keeping in mind what Crane said about Luhnow's process:
We’re not going to make a move unless it fits into the plan, and we’re not going to rush the plan. [Luhnow] a very systematic formula and we do have some good players coming up. You add three or four key positions and bring in a couple of guys that are ready, this team is pretty competitive pretty quickly with the starting pitching we’ve got. We’re deep in pitching.


Jason Castro: $2.2m
Max Stassi: $500,000

Castro is eligible for arbitration for the first time this season and, after a breakout year in 2013, is poised for a pretty significant increase over his 2013 salary of $496,600. MLB Trade Rumors suggests a $2.2m arbitration figure for Castro, but the Astros could sign him to a longer-term deal in the three-year/$8-9m range. Given Castro's late-season knee/cyst issue, I could see the Astros waiting another year to sign him to that type of deal.

It looks as though the Astros are ready to get Stassi more playing time, or at least they were before Tanner Scheppers couldn't figure out how to not hit him in the face with the ball. Stassi will be making around league-minimum.


Jose Altuve: $1.25m
Chris Carter: $500,000
Matt Dominguez: $500,000
Jonathan Villar: $500,000
Brett Wallace : $500,000

The infield seems pretty much set. In a perfect world, Chris Carter will cut his strikeouts by, say 30-40% and Brett Wallace will finally figure it out. But I just don't know. If the Astros are looking to free agency for a first baseman, here's your list of available free agents:

Jose Dariel Abreu, Jeff Baker, Corey Hart, Mike Napoli, Paul Konerko, Casey Kotchman, Adam Lind, James Loney, Casey McGehee, Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Mike Morse, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis.

Abreu is a 26-year old Cuban player who was recently declared a free agent by MLB. The Giants and Red Sox have shown a lot of interest in Abreu, and word is that his deal could eclipse Yasiel Puig's 7yr/$42m deal. If the Astros splurge like that on Abreu, they'd be effectively conceding that Jon Singleton isn't - and won't ever be - ready for the Majors. Are you comfortable betting that Singleton is the guy who had a .687 OPS in 73 games at OKC in 2013 - a level at which he had not yet experienced - and not the guy with an .893 OPS for Corpus in 2012? I don't see Abreu happening.

Aside from Jose Abreu, do any of those guys blow your skirt up? Missouri City native and Elkins graduate James Loney turned in a .778 OPS for the Rays on a sweetheart $2m deal with Tampa Bay. He was hitting .331/.392/.531 heading into June, and hit .283/.328/.382 from June 1 through the end of the regular season. You can bet he'll want a raise and a longer-term deal, and the Rays are interested in re-signing him, anyway. 

Unless Singleton hits .800 in Spring Training, I think the Astros will let him spend some more time at Oklahoma City, even if 2013 was lost thanks to that 50-game suspension. So the Astros could be looking for a guy who is on the rebound from a lost 2013 and would sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value. Is that Casey Kotchman? He missed almost all of 2013 to injury, and while he posted a .229/.280/.333 line in 142 games for the Indians in 2012, he also did it with an abnormally low .233 BABIP (his career BABIP is .271). The Astros could bet on that regressing back to a more normal number, but would that provide much more value over Carter or Wallace? Because I don't see Carter playing in the outfield much in 2014. 

Given that the Astros are bringing in a new coach with infield experience to help out Altuve and Villar, they're staying. Dominguez showed enough pop and defense to stay at Third for 2014.


Brandon Barnes: $500,000
Robbie Grossman: $500,000
L.J. Hoes: $500,000
George Springer: $500,000

The Astros do need another outfielder, and this is where it gets interesting. Provided George Springer opens 2014 in the outfield at Minute Maid, this, combined with a free agent signing, could push Barnes and/or Grossman to a 4th-outfielder role. Keep in mind Domingo Santana is 20 years old and just put up 25 homers and an .842 OPS at Corpus in 2013. Springer looks like he's going to be The Man for the next 100 years, so he's locked in. Santana may be ready in 2015, and would just be in his Age 22 season.

But that doesn't help the Astros now, does it? Might the Astros look at Shin-Soo Choo, the 31-year old outfielder represented by Scott Boras...who thinks $100m is "low" for Choo. Boras also had to settle on 4yrs/$48m for Michael Bourn, so Boras is likely doing what Boras does. But, given what you know about the organization and the front office so far, would you expect them to throw $50m at a 31-year old free agent outfielder? And we need to consider what the Astros are right now: a franchise that has been the worst team in baseball for the last three seasons. Will a player sign with Houston if he has a comparable offer somewhere else? If a player has a $10m offer from, say, the Giants, would the Astros have to throw $15m at him to get him to sign in Houston?

What the Astros need is a player who can hit right-handed pitching. The Astros, as a team, hit .235/.295/.374 against RHPs. That's...basically a better-hitting, less-patient Carlos Pena. As Trostel pointed out to me this morning, Robbie Grossman hit - and this is a small sample size alert - .322/.351/.466 in 157 second-half plate appearances, albeit with a .413 BABIP. In the first half, he hit .198/.310/.243 with a .275 BABIP. So he's likely somewhere in the middle of those two halves, but does have some patience and has a decent glove.

Grady Sizemore? Reclamation-project type, but hasn't played a game since 2011. Carlos Beltran? He'll be 37 next season and would likely want a shot at a ring, not to play for a team whose fanbase would go streaking down Crawford if the Astros won 80 games in 2014. Ken Rosenthal said yesterday that the Mariners were getting ready to give Ellsbury 6yrs/$126m. Not Jeff Francoeur. Anybody but Jeff Francoeur. So let's look at some actual possibilities...

Curtis Granderson
Granderson will be 33 on Opening Day 2014, and is coming off a 6yr/$43.25m contract. He only played in 61 games due to getting hit by pitches early in the season. Problem is, the White Sox - who are also looking for offensive help - are expected to try to lure the Chicago native back home. Yankees blog It's About The Money (linked in the previous sentence) said that $15m/year is a reasonable estimate for Granderson's next deal, with the length of the contract in question. But he's hitting .274/.357/.519 in his career against RHP. The question is whether the Astros would give him 3yrs/$54m, and if he'd take it. No, and no. Probably. Who really knows?

Chris Young
Likely more in the Astros' price range, and he's a Bellaire guy, so there's a connection to Houston, if that ever actually means anything. Young just turned 30 and is coming off a 5yr/$28m deal. But he was pretty awful in 107 games with Oakland this season - .200/.280/.379. That's J.D. Martinez with a lower batting average. He can't hit righties, either - his RHP splits were almost 100 points lower (.614 OPS) than his LHP splits (.712 OPS). BUT (and I know we're dealing with sample size) he hit .333/.412/.733 at Minute Maid Park. Three of his 12 homers came at Minute Maid, and while the A's probably aren't interested in bringing him back, he just might fit what the Astros are looking for. Add to that his .237 BABIP in 2013 was almost 40 points lower than his career average. Young has a .725 OPS from 2011-13. Would a 1yr/$5m deal get it done (given that he was worth $2.3m in 2013)? Or would the Astros go crazy and offer 3yrs/$12m and hope that he reverts back to his 2010 form?

Coco Crisp
Crisp will be in his Age 34 season in 2014, and he's not technically a free agent yet - the A's have a team option on 2014 where they can either pay him $7.5m or buy him out for $1m. He killed the Astros this season and doesn't strike out much - 65 times in 584 plate appearances. That's, like, a month's worth of strikeouts for Chris Carter. He provides a lefty option, and hit righties to the tune of .290/.362/.505. Away from Whatever Oakland Calls Their Stadium, he hit .288/.353/.488. And in 15 games against Houston, he hit .339/.471/.768 - though that may say more about Houston's pitching than it does Coco Crisp. In nine games at Minute Maid, he hit .395/.511/.868. Here's where it gets tricky: Crisp's value (as assigned by FanGraphs) over the past two years averaged about $15m. Now, given that his 2014 contract would call for $7.5m, the Astros may have to offer 3yrs/$24-27m. Of course, it doesn't matter if the A's don't buy him out.

Corey Hart
Another injury reclamation project. Hart, who will be 32 on Opening Day 2014, missed all of 2013 due to multiple knee surgeries. Hart made $10m to not play in 2013, and has said that he wants to stay in Milwaukee and would be willing to provide a discount to make that happen. As of September 19, there had not been any discussions about a new deal with Milwaukee, so there's the possibility they'll move on from Hart. From 2010-12, Hart hit .279/.343/.514, and has a career line vs righties of .267/.320/.478 (with an .896 OPS against LHP). In 2012, Hart hit .265/.326/.499 against RHP, and had an OPS of  .827, .814, and .825 from 2010-2012 against righties. Given his desire to stay in Milwaukee, it's the Brewers' play to move on from Hart. If the Astros can swoop in and get Hart at 3yrs/$25m - a pay cut from his 2013 salary, but not a significant one - would you make that commitment to Hart's knee surgeries?

Nelson Cruz
Oooh this would probably piss off some Rangers fans, which is worth at least $1m. Cruz, who will be 34 in July 2014, of course missed 50 games in the middle of the season thanks to his Biogenesis suspension. He was hitting .269/.330/.511 before the suspension hit and made $10.5m in 2013. He hit RHP to the tune of .262/.316/.521, striking out 89 times in 339 PAs. Now he's a free agent, and the Biogenesis suspension will play a factor in his next contract. It's hard to say how much, but you can bet he's not going to get an annual average value over $10m...for now. He brought $7.5m in value to the Rangers, would 3yrs/$25m get the job done if the Rangers don't pull the trigger on Cruz?

David DeJesus
DeJesus is another on this list who has a team option for 2014, so the Rays can either exercise his option for $6.5m or buy him out for $1.5m, and would be one of a signing that would by default require him to sit against LHP. He's a lefty, which would be nice for the lineup, and hit well in the lead-off spot (which would allow Porter to bat Altuve 2nd). Against RHP, he hit .266/.345/.427 in 379 PAs with 65K:37BB. Trying to hit lefties would be a mistake, since he was 9x56, with a .161/.217/.250 line. DeJesus hasn't posted an OPS over .800 since 2010, in his final year with the Royals, and so I doubt the Rays pull the trigger on that 2014 option. He'll be in his Age 34 season, so maybe 2yr/$8m would get it done?

Starting Pitching

Jarred Cosart ($500,000)
Brett Oberholtzer ($500,000)
Brad Peacock ($500,000)
Jordan Lyles ($500,000)

The Astros desperately need another starting pitcher...for now. Yes, there is a lot of pitching coming up through the system: notably Asher Wojciechowski and Mike Foltynewicz, but the Astros do seem to want a veteran presence on the staff and I doubt that Jordan Lyles fits the mold, even if he is the longest-tenured starting pitcher on the team. This is where they need to commit some dollars. There are A LOT of free agent pitchers (check the entire list) on the market, but some names immediately stand out as possibilities for players looking to rebuild some value, or that might be interested in a short-term deal...

Masahiro Tanaka
No, the Astros have not yet been linked to the 24-year old Japanese pitcher expected to get posted to join Major League Baseball this winter. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Diamondbacks have, though. As have the Dodgers and Angels. In seven seasons in the JPPL, Tanaka is 95-35 (24-0 this season) with a 2.32 ERA.  The LA Times suggested that $25m would win a bid for Tanaka, but then a team would have to sign him to a contract. Think Yu Darvish's 6yr/$56m deal. Is that pricy? Yep. But if the Astros want to spend a lot of money, make a splash, and land the guy MLBTR calls the Top Free Agent pitcher in baseball, Tanaka would do it. In conclusion: Please please please pretty please sign Masahiro Tanaka.

Scott Kazmir
Cy-Falls grad Scott Kazmir will be 30 in January and enjoyed a career resurgence in 2013. Having only thrown 151.2IP since 2010 and missing all of 2012, Kazmir went 10-9 for the Indians with a 4.04 ERA/1.32 WHIP, and all of his peripheral numbers were better than hit career average. Even better, Kazmir's FIP was 3.51 and his xFIP was 3.36, all with a .324 BABIP. Kazmit hadn't averaged over 92mph on his fastball since 2007, watching his velocity fall to 91.7 in 2008, then 91.1, 90.5, and 86.5 in 2011 with the Angels. In 2013, his fastball averaged 92.5mph. The Pitch Values on that fastball aren't as kind, though PITCHf/x says his two-seamer was well above average, as was his changeup. Given his left-handed nature (of which I approve), he would be a marked upgrade from Erik Bedard in the rotation. FanGraphs notched his value at $12.7m in 2013, but given the injury history, would you give Kazmir 3yrs/$25m?

Phil Hughes
Ahh, Phil Hughes whom I routinely mistook for Phil Humber (before this year, anyway). Despite the fact that it seems like he's been pitching, and getting hammered by Yankees fans, since 1974, Hughes will be entering his Age 28 season. He's coming off a 1yr deal with New York in which he made $7.15m. This would be one of those possible 1yr deals that could really pay off for both sides. Why? He's a fairly consistent pitcher. In 2012 (when he went 16-13 for the Yankees), his FIP/xFIP was 4.56/4.35, respectively. In 2013, when he was 4-14? 4.50/4.39. He's not going to walk many batters - his career average is 7.4%, and it would be interesting to play out how potential home run rates would be affected by the Crawford Boxes, but he would at least not get rattled by Yankee Stadium's short porch. Seventeen of the 24 homers he allowed in 2013 came at Yankee Stadium, where he allowed a .909 OPS compared to a .735 OPS on the road with a 3.88 ERA. 1yr/$7m? Or would the Astros need to go to 2yrs/$15m?

Ricky Nolasco
Nolasco will be 31 in December and is coming off a 3yr/$26.5m deal that he signed with the Marlins before SHOCK AND SURPRISE they traded him. He's an innings-eater, throwing at least 190IP in each of the last three seasons, and with FIPs under 4.00. His career BB/9 is 2.10, and he hasn't average more than 1HR per 9inn since 2010. Nolasco has a good two-seam fastball to go with a pretty great slider and a middling cutter. Thing is, he may be wanting a longer commitment than the Astros are willing to give out given their depth, however prospective, at starting pitching.

Gavin Floyd
Floyd, who will be 31 this winter, is coming off a 5yr/$25m contract in 2013. He missed almost all of 2013 after having surgery to repair his elbow flexor and UCL. There's the very real possibility he won't even pitch in 2014, which means he's probably off the Astros' radar. But he's a pitcher whose peripheral numbers are slightly better than his ERA indicate.


This is where the Astros need to just back up an armored car to a player's house and say, "Have at it." Chapman, Zeid, and Lo were the only three relievers to have a positive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. FanGraphs wasn't that kind, saying that only Josh Zeid had a 0.0 WAR. This is where it gets tricky and the fanbase comes into question. Do you spend money on a bullpen with the idea that at least your fans aren't going to want to drink bleach in the latter-third of games? I hope so. After all, it's not my money and, after the last three seasons, winning 70 games would send me on an October-long bender. We had debates on whether or not the Astros' 2013 Goatpen was the worst relief corps in the history of baseball. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. Point is, we spent a lot of time thinking about the possibility, which means changes have to be made here.

Kevin Chapman: $500,000
Jorge De Leon: $500,000
Josh Fields: $500,000
Chia-Jen Lo: $500,000
Josh Zeid: $500,000

Jesse Crain
UH grad Jesse Crain will be 33 next season, and is coming off a 3yr/$13m contract with the White Sox. After throwing 60+ IP in five seasons between 2005-2011, Crain threw 48IP in 2012 and 36.2IP in 2013. He has a career 3.05 ERA/1.23 WHIP and from 2010-13 has posted a 2.39 ERA/1.17 WHIP with a 2.6 K:BB ratio. Walks are an issue, but he tends not to give up too many hits. From 2011-13 he has stranded 85.7%, 84.8% and 86.1% of baserunners. His fastball sat in the mid-90s in 2013, with a 72mph curve to go along with it. His fastball and slider are above-average, as is his changeup. That said, he has been dealing with a strained shoulder and pitched his last game of the 2013 season on June 29. Could he be had for 2yrs/$10m? 3yrs/$12m?

Ryan Madson
Madson would fall under the Reclamation Project category, seeing as how he last pitched in the 2011 season. He made $6m to not pitch for the Reds in 2012, needing Tommy John surgery. And he got $3.25m to not pitch for the Angels in 2013, beyond a single rehab appearance from that Tommy John elbow before getting shut down again, and released in August. From 2008-11 Madson threw in 109 games (273.2IP) with a 2.86 ERA/1.18 WHIP and a 3.66 K:BB ratio. If he looks like he's healthy, I wonder if the Astros might offer him a 1yr/$2m deal to pitch in Houston.

Mike Gonzalez
Pasadena native Mike Gonzalez is a free agent this season after having signed a 1yr/$2.25m deal with the Brewers for 2013. He wasn't terribly effective, with the 4.04 BB/9 and all, but he did strike out 9.47 batters/9. He also suffered from a .348 BABIP (career BABIP: .292), though his BABIP has risen in every season since 2007. His 4.68 ERA isn't going to ring anybody's bell, but his xFIP was 3.88 (even if his 4.87 FIP isn't impressive, either). If the Astros are looking for a veteran presence in the bullpen, they may be able to get Gonzalez - a lefty - to face LHBs. Righties posted a .929 OPS against Gonzalez, but he was much more successful against fellow lefties (.780 OPS - .352 BABIP). It'll either work out great, or it won't, for not much money either way.

Boone Logan 
Logan made $3.15m in 2013, his final year of arbitration, and will be a free agent for the first time in his career. He'll be in his Age 29 season in 2014, and over four seasons with the Yankees posted a 3.38 ERA/1.32 WHIP with 202K in 176IP. He's a lefty who held lefties to a .650 OPS in 2013 (and righties to a .780 OPS). Logan also had surgery this week to remove a bone spur in his left elbow and will resume throwing in December. This website puts his possible contract in line with Sean Burnett, who got 2yrs/$8m from the Angels last season. Given how solid Logan has been for the Yankees over the last four seasons, and with the retirement of Mariano Rivera, they may push hard to re-sign him. But maybe 3yrs/$15m (and honestly, wouldn't you rather Logan get that contract than Brandon Lyon?) gets the job done.

Joba Chamberlain
Ahh, Yankee reliever talk. Over the last three seasons, Chamberlain has thrown just a shade over 90IP in transitioning to the bullpen, and has seen his ERA+ drop from 154 in 2011 to 98 to 83 in 2013 (while his xFIP rose from 3.02 to 3.55 to 4.60). He gave up eight homers in 42IP (18.2% FB/HR rate) and walked 26 batters in 42IP. So the Astros would really be taking a flyer on Chamberlain benefiting from a change of scenery. He made $1.875m in 2013, so the price wouldn't be terribly expensive...if you even want him in the first place.

Eric O'Flaherty
How about taking a flyer on a player who was injured in 2013? The Braves' Eric O'Flaherty will be 29 in February and in his time with the Braves (2009-13), posted a 1.99 ERA/1.16 WHIP (200 ERA+). But he went down in May with a torn UCL and had Tommy John surgery that month. The Astros may be able to come in with an incentive-laden deal, but it all depends on that elbow.

Joel Hanrahan
Hanrahan's 2013 season was ugly. After getting traded to the Red Sox following the 2012 season, he got just over $7m in his 3rd year of arbitration...and only threw in nine games for the Red Sox before tearing the flexor tendon in his pitching arm and needing Tommy John surgery. Seeing as how he had TJ surgery in May, it's unlikely he'd be ready for Opening Day, if in 2014 at all...just like O'Flaherty. 

Drew Storen
Storen is the lone player on this long list who would have to be acquired via trade, since he's in his 2nd year (of four years, he is a Super-Two). After squabbling with the Nationals and getting sent down, he dominated upon his return. The problem is that he'll be expensive, since he's still under team control (though at a growing salary in arbitration) until 2017 and the Nationals have their own bullpen issues.