Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Phew! Presley Avoids Arbitration!

Alex Presley signs for a cool million.  Thank goodness he is locked up!!  Another vital cog in the Astros rebuild in Houston for another year!

Unnecessary snark aside - and only written to support the headline - this is quite an interesting development.  Lets start at the beginning, as I see it.

The Astros' 2015 roster has been taking shape for a few years now, and I am pretty sure most AC readers would be able to guess what most of it looks like next year.  That guy Altuve will get a look.  As will Springer and Singleton.  Chris Carter had a great half-season, and with the scarcity of RH power in the Majors at the moment, he can also expect to be staying.  The starting pitching is starting to sort itself out, with three slots pretty much decided for next season, barring injury.  And in the 'pen, Fields, Qualls and Sipp form the backbone, with a bunch of other live arms getting the chance to establish themselves.

I find the outfield situation most fascinating at the moment.  I count five outfielders for four or five slots, with a couple of potential guys knocking on the door.  Springer, barring ongoing quadriceps issues, has RF locked up.  Presley has just signed for a mil - perhaps that portends a trade, but it probably signals that he will be the fourth or fifth OF next year.  Fowler is an established major-league player, and as Batguy elegantly pointed out, he was pretty decent offensively for an AL CF last year.  Marisnick has nothing more to prove at AAA, and boasts better D - via both the eye and the stats - than Fowler.  Grossman has been given a bunch of chances, and has managed to tease with elite OBP for decent periods that sandwich suckitude during his short career.  The FO seems resistant to giving up on him.

L.J. Hoes and Domingo Santana round-out the 40-man outfielders - the former seems to be used as a contact-first platoon bat, and the latter seems to be the LF of the future, if he can get his strikeout percentage below 80%.  Joe Sclafani - who has been taking some OF reps in the AFL - and Preston Tucker are also outside candidates to bolt onto the 40-man, and onto the active roster either at the start of the season, or part way through 2015.

As opposed to the rotation (where there is clearly room for an upgrade) or the infield (which desperately needs an upgrade), there is a plethora of similar talents in the outfield.  All players there have their warts.  A couple are capable of carrying a team offensively.  The remainder need to have a go, so that Baseball can work out what the rest of their careers look like.  Springer, Presley, Marisnick and Grossman are all cheap.  Fowler projects to earn in the 10-million range in arbitration.  Much can happen during Spring Training to upset the proverbial applecart, including injuries.

Gosh, this conversation would be quite different with one Julio Daniel Martinez still on the roster.

I am fascinated with Fowler.  He is arguably the fourth best defensive CF on the roster.  The Astros traded for him last year, and he has proven he can hit away from Coors Field.  He has one year to go to free agency - which can be a bonus (qualifying offer) or loss (not going to be around for long), depending on your point of view.  But trading Fowler means losing valuable production in an outfield where perhaps only Springer is the only other good candidate for an above-average bat.  Fowler also isn't going to agree to a move away from CF anytime soon - that would cost him millions in free agency next year - so he is not going to suddenly agree to a move to LF to allow Marisnick to get the starts there.

Anyhow, what also makes the Presley signing interesting is that the Astros need to finalise the 40-man very shortly.  The deadline is midnight ET, Thursday night, for the 40-man to be set, otherwise they would risk losing unprotected eligible players in December's Rule V draft.

By my count, the 40-man stands at 38.  Continuing the maths, there are two players that are highly likely to be added to the 40-man: Vince Velasquez and Delino DeShields, who would take up the remaining two slots.  Harder decisions will need to be made with catcher Roberto Pena, short-statured and young utility-man and infielder Ronald Torreyes and flame balling starter Michael Feliz.  I would be a little surprised if two other eligible players - Danry Vasquez and Jandal Gustave - are added in the next 36-odd hours, especially at the expense of the five guys mentioned earlier in this paragraph.  That is all I can think of that is worth a mention - please comment below if I have missed anyone important.

Of course, even if an unprotected player does get selected from the Astros, there is probably a greater-than-even chance they get returned - usually prior to the end of Spring Training.  Roster spots are valuable, and aside from a couple of famous Rule V wins and losses, the Draft normally nets either useful pieces, like Marwin Gonzalez, or is a brief holiday for the player drafted before being returned to his original team.

If you want to add more than Valasquez and DeShields to the 40-man, then more spots would need to be created.  Looking a little shaky with regards to being put through waivers - and obviously currently on the 40-man - are Marc Krauss, Anthony Bass, Sam Deduno, Jake Buchanan and Hoes, I would think.  But that is pure speculation on my part, and I have been wrong before.

The wildcard in all of this 40-man spot creation is the catcher situation.  Russell Martin just signed with the Jays for a cool 5-and-82, leaving a number of wealthy teams waiting at the alter.  The Pirates, Cubs and Dodgers were all publicly linked to Martin, although none of those teams desperately need a catcher, with some probably-acceptable in-house options available.  A bunch of other teams not mentioned could certainly use a catcher upgrade.

The Astros have four catchers on the 40-man, and not enough playing time to distribute between them, so that could create another 40-man slot, potentially via a trade, or a DFA.  Obviously Castro and Conger aren't candidates for a DFA, but certainly are for a trade.

Lastly, with reference to the 40-man and Rule V draft, this year likely represents the first year in a while where the Astros will probably not be looking to draft Rule V players from other clubs.  Technically, they passed on the opportunity to draft last year as well, because they consummated the Bass trade with the Padres immediately after grabbing someone with the 1-1 pick.  But I would certainly be surprised if the Astros took anyone in the draft, and if they do, it will be a targeted player that they consider a direct upgrade over what they have available. Most likely a bullpen piece or infielder.

Going to be interesting.