Nothing much has been happening with the Astros since the end of the Winter Meetings. There seems to have been greater-than-normal activity on the waiver wire, with multiple teams designating and claiming various pieces on the waiver wire. The Astros, for their part, picked up Danny Reynolds which will be the subject of a post for another time. But that does not change the impression that I gained over the last fortnight or so - that there has not been a whole heap of Astros-centric activity to report.
Aroldis Chapman has been the subject of Astros-related rumours for the last year or so. Well, today, Chapman was officially removed from any Astros wish-lists, because he was traded to the Yankees in exchange for four minor-leaguers. None of the minor-leaguers were particularly good - for the Astros, this might have been the equivalent of trading J.D. Davis and Akeem Bostick (as the better two of the prospects) with perhaps James Hoyt as one of the worse two prospects. Some Astros fans may disagree - I doubt that Davis, Bostick and Hoyt would have been traded for the Yankees' end of the Chapman trade (Eric Jagelio, Rookie Davis, Tony Renda and Caleb Cothem) straight up - but this looks like about the level of prospects that are being exchanged.
For the Yankees, this has to be considered an excellent get. Chapman is under control for another year - two if he is suspended by the Office of the Commissioner for more than 45 days - at whatever the arbitration process will pay him. The suspension is no small matter - as most people know, Chapman was involved in a domestic violence 'incident' in which his partner was apparently choked, and eight shots were fired from a pistol. This, combined with his previous history of odd and potentially criminal behaviour toward women, would have given most major-league organisations cause to stop and think about the off-field implications of acquiring him.
But, goodness, what a bullpen. The Yankees already had a strong bullpen with Dellin Betances (1.50 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 14.04 K/9, 4.29 BB/9) setting up for Andrew Miller (1.90 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 14.59 K/9, 2.42 BB/9). Now they add Aroldis Chapman, whose dashboard stats described another ridiculously dominant 2015 season (1.63 ERA, 1.94 FIP, 15.74 K/9, 4.48 BB/9). That gives the Yankees three of the top 10 qualifying relievers in ERA (numbers 2, 4 and 10), three of the top 6 in reliever WAR, and the top three relievers in the major-leagues in strikeout rate. Yikes.
For the Reds, this is the second trade in a short time that they have taken an absolute bath on. They traded Todd Frazier five months too late, and it seems like Aroldis Chapman's story is a similar one. That the Reds would trade a player of Chapman's calibre to the Yankees, and emerge with none of the Yankees' consensus top 4 prospects is unfathomable - or was a month ago. There is some risk for the Yankees here, but it seems highly unlikely that they will lose Chapman for an undetermined period of time, but if they do, they just get another year of control.
And, as the kicker, they will undoubtedly offer Chapman a qualifying offer on his way out the door at the end of 2016, and that will recoup them a draft pick in the supplementary round. Or they just extend him for some Yankee-sized contract.
But this is an Astros blog, and all I have done is opined that the Yankees got a whole lot better in their relief corps, and the Reds took another hosing in trading one of their impact pieces. How does this affect the Astros?? Aside from having to squash the Yankees in the first six innings of any given game, the answer is that it probably does not affect the Astros at all. There were rumours linking the Astros and the Yankees to an Andrew Miller trade before the Astros acquired Ken Giles, so perhaps that is something if Miller is made available, but I doubt it.
What is more intriguing - at least for me - is that the Astros and the Reds match up in one potential trade pretty well. Joey Votto plays at a position of a recent offensive black hole-ery for the Astros. Plus, he is left handed, has a career OBP of .423 and hits intermittently for power (career .530) which fits nicely with the Astros from the perspective of lineup balance.
Where Votto doesn't fit with the Astros is in the dollars owed to him, and the length of time that dollars are owed to him. He just played out the first year of a 10 (ten!) year extension that pays him through until 2023. And just in case you may want to keep him around as a 40-year old, he has a 2024 team option tacked on the end of it (with a $7MM buyout). The 2016 season will cost a team a cool 20-million. The 2017 season will cost 22-million, and the remaining seven seasons of the extension will be at a bargain price of 25-million per annum after that. Sheesh.
So Votto-to-the-Astros likely isn't happening. But the Reds have signalled that they are hitting the start button on a serious rebuild by selling low on two of their more valued assets, so perhaps Votto will also be made available. My - and many fans' - preferred route for the Astros is to let the kids play first base in 2016 - Jon Singleton will likely open the season, then some combination of Luis Valbuena, Tyler White and Matt Duffy will get a look until the super-two deadline if Singleton does not hold the position. Then A.J. Reed will assume the duties from mid-June onward, or so I would have thought.
This is consistent with the Front Office's modus operandi: build from within, trade spare parts for elite pieces, and generally stay away from long, free agent contracts (including the mistakes of other organisations). I say "generally", because the Astros were reportedly in on David Robertson and Andrew Miller last year, and have apparently been in on a number of second-tier, free-agent innings-eaters this offseason. But, as MLBTR reports, this offseason the free-agent market has been slow to develop, and the possibility of some crazy stuff going down later in the offseason is high. So who knows. If I were the Astros, it would be hard for me not to pick up the phone and make polite enquiries about Joey Votto.
Anyhow, the point of all of this is that the Yankees 'pen just got better, the Reds just got worse, and if the Reds want to sell Joey Votto at a discount, the Astros could do a whole lot worse. Unlikely to happen, but nice to think about. And thanks to the slow nature of the free-agent marketplace, thinking is all the Astros fans are getting to do at the moment.
Seasons Greetings, everyone.