Tuesday, October 11, 2016

2017 Payroll Outlook

So here we are - in the weird part of a blog's offseason in which nothing is really happening with the team, but we don't want to just not post anything until the playoffs are over. One of the easiest blog posts to go is to look at payroll. So below is the breakdown by types of contract.
Under Contract for 2017, non-Arbitration/non-Free Agent division

There are five players who are under contract for next year in free agent deals. The Astros get one more year out of the team-friendliest contract ever signed, and then Altuve starts costing some money. There are two team options in 2018 and 2019, but I have some thoughts about that for another post.
Yulieski Gurriel: $10m-ish*

2016 WAR: 0.1 fWAR

Spotrac says Gurriel will make $14m but I don't think that's right. Gurriel signed a 5yr/$47.5m back in July. If you throw $10m/year for four and then, say, $7.5m, then there's your 5yrs/$47.5m. I don't know, though. Gurriel is good and I like Gurriel and I like his brother Lourdes too.

Luke Gregerson: $6.25m
2016 WAR: 1.2 fWAR
Breakdown: Gregerson will be in the final year of a three-year/$18.75m deal he signed prior to the 2015 season. I'll take Gregerson on the 2017 Astros with no question.
Tony Sipp: $6m
2016 WAR: -0.7 fWAR
Breakdown: Sipp has been one of the least valuable relievers on the team this season, likely only kept on the team due to how much money he has made. We’ll get into Sipp’s disastrously unreliable 2016 another time, but the $12m owed him over the next two seasons doesn’t look good.
Jose Altuve: $4.5m
2016 WAR: 6.7 fWAR.
Breakdown: There is a payday coming as Altuve’s deal runs out after the 2017 season (there are team options for 2018 and 2019). The pricetag is only going up. If I'm Scott Boras (and let's be clear: I am not Scott Boras) I start at 8yrs/$200m. We'll have more on potential extensions for Altuve in the near future.
Jon Singleton: $2m
2016 WAR: --
Breakdown: It’s the gift that keeps on giving (to Jon Singleton). I don’t know if he’s out of chances, but it’s surprising – at least on the surface – that, given the Astros’ struggles at 1B, Singleton wouldn’t even get a call-up. He's due $4m for the next two seasons before team options come into play, so he'll be some kind of option until 2019.
Team Options:
Pat Neshek: $6.5m team option or $500,000 buyout
2016 WAR: 0.5 fWAR
Breakdown: This is a tricky one because Neshek has bounced back from a terrible 2nd half of the 2015 season to be a productive force out of the bullpen.
Evan Gattis: $5.2m team option or $100,000 buyout
2016 WAR: 2.5 fWAR
Breakdown: Picking up Gattis’ option seems as though it’s a no-brainer given the power stroke that Gattis seems to have found in 2016 combined with the moderate plate discipline. Also his sudden status as a Possibly Viable Catcher (PVC) makes this a logical team option pickup.
There are eight arbitration-eligible players on the 2016 Astros who made a combined $11,351,000 in 2016. According to MLBTR's projections, these eight players will make $30.3m in 2017 - an increase of almost $19m.
These eight players combined for 14.6 fWAR in 2016, or $1.28m per 1.0 fWAR. If they put up the same numbers they did in 2016, it would be $2.08m per 1.0 fWAR.
Dallas Keuchel – 2nd year of Arbitration
2016 WAR: 2.7 fWAR
2016 Salary: $7.25m
MLBTR projection: $9.5m
Keuchel's struggles are well-documented. He was alright, then he was bad, then he started to put it together, then he got hurt. Another post coming down the pike is where Keuchel's 2016 season ranks in MLB history as a Cy Young follow-up season. It's not pretty, but whatever. Luhnow has already indicated that they're looking for a Corey Kluber-like rebound for Keuchel in 2017, and there's no way he gets non-tendered. What does that mean? In 2014 Kluber won the Cy Young award, going 18-9. In 2015 he lost an AL-leading 16 games (albeit with a 3.49 ERA/1.05 WHIP and finished 9th in the Cy Young voting). This year, however, Kluber went 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and a 149 ERA+, which led the league. By bringing up Kluber, Luhnow is essentially telling Keuchel he needs to match, or even improve on, his 2015 Cy Young season.
And given that he won the Cy Young while making $524,500, you can justify the salary to see which is the real Dallas Keuchel. There's no reason not to do that.
Marwin Gonzalez2nd Year of Arbitration
2016 WAR: 0.4 fWAR
2016 Salary: $2m
MLBTR Projection: $3.6m
Marwin is one of those “versatility” guys whose value doesn’t necessarily show up in things like WAR. I hate myself for even typing that sentence, but I firmly hold it to be true. He can play anywhere and not be an embarrassment.
Collin McHugh – 1st Year of Arbitration
2016 WAR: 3.0 fWAR
2016 Salary: $529,000
MLBTR Projection: $4.6m
McHugh has turned into a solid SP3 option: some nights he pitches like an ace, some nights he pitches like he should maybe give long relief a shot. Not to cherry-pick a stat (which is code for "watch me cherry-pick this stat), but McHugh ranked 10th in baseball in ERA in September. It was a strong finish. He needs to put together a better start to go with it. He's a lock for the 2017 rotation.
Will Harris – 1st Year of Arbitration
2016 WAR: 1.8 fWAR
2016 Salary: $525,500
MLBTR Projection: $2.5m
Harris may not be the closer we all wanted him to be in 2016, and he's got a fairly troubling history of being incredible early in the season and then sort of falling apart late, but he's a solid 7th/8th inning guy under team control for three more seasons. Keeper.
Mike Fiers – 1st Year of Arbitration
2016 WAR: 1.8 fWAR
2016 Salary: $524,100
MLBTR Projection: $4.3m
It wouldn't break my heart if the Astros were able to upgrade the rotation enough to make Fiers expendable, but we won't know that until after he's tendered a contract for 2017. Ideally, for me, Fiers is a Feldman-type player for the Astros: long relief and can make a spot start, if needed. He was decent down the stretch. His 17 Wild Pitches led the American League, and more than doubled his WP total from 2015. Thing is, you probably could have seen it coming. He had a 3.32 ERA for Houston last season with a 4.39 FIP, so he outperformed it, and it caught up to him this season. His 4.48 ERA was almost perfectly in line with his 4.43 FIP. Fourteen of his 31 starts what is defined as Quality.
George Springer – 1st Year of Arbitration
2016 WAR: 4.9 fWAR
2016 Salary: $522,400
MLBTR Projection: $4.7m
I dubbed Springer the “slowest fast guy in baseball” earlier this season. It looks as though he got called up before the cutoff for a Super Two player, so this will be the 1st of four spins through the Wheel of Arbitration. It'll be interesting, in light of that, to see if the Astros try to buy out some of those years, betting on a significant jump in production. From June 5 to September 17 - a span of 91 games (420 PAs) Springer hit .223/.343/.404. He started well enough, and finished strong enough to post his 3rd straight .800+ OPS season, but for over half the season Springer had a rough go of it. There's no chance the Astros don't offer him a contract, and given that the outfield is unsettled as it is, I doubt they include Springer in a package for, say, a front-line starter. But I'd think about it.
Impending Free Agents
Impending free agents made $33.92m in 2016 and combined for 5.5 fWAR ($6.17m/1.0 fWAR). The four impending free agents include Doug Fister - who went full Kazmir in September; Colby Rasmus - who missed a significant chunk of the season for a variety of reasons; Luis Valbuena - who missed the last two months of the season with an apparently-remarkable hamstring issue; and Jason Castro, whom nobody knows with what to do.
Doug Fister
2016 WAR: 1.1 fWAR
2016 Salary: $7m
Bro. Fister looked like a really good bargain from May 1 - July 20 (15 starts) when he threw 95.2IP, 82H/31ER, a 2.92 ERA/1.16 WHIP. But then Fister got 16 outs in one of his final nine starts of the season. From August 17 to the end of the season he was 1-8 with an 8.45 ERA/1.93 WHIP, striking out 23 batters in 38.1IP. See ya, chief.
Colby Rasmus
2016 WAR: 1.3 fWAR
2016 Salary: $15.8m
You might be surprised to see Rasmus on the plus side of FanGraphs’ version of WAR, but it’s all made up with his defense and almost perfectly average baserunning skills. Still, that offense. He had a tough year from being basically the only guy who could hit in April to never really being able to hit the ball again after dealing with the inner-ear cyst and then taking himself out of the lineup in September. Batting average has its limitations, but Rasmus’ .206 average ended the year ranked 198th out of 201 MLB players with at least 400 Plate Appearances. See ya, Colbs. It was fun. Especially last October.
Luis Valbuena
2016 WAR: 2.0 fWAR
2016 Salary: $6.12m
On the surface there are too many options at 3B as it is. Between Bregman and Gurriel, somebody has to play 3B, right? But maybe Valbuena doesn't have to play 3B. Maybe he can rotate between 3B, DH, and get some time at 1B. But that would indicate that the Astros are willing to admit that A.J. Reed isn't going to be ready for prime time in 2017.
Let's also consider that from May 6 until his hamstring injury Valbuena hit .287/.376/.529 with a homer every 17.4 ABs. You'd want to bring that back, right? Well [30 For 30 Voice] what if I told you that from his Major-League debut until May 5, 2016 (2309 At-Bats) he hit .227/.312/.382, with a homer every 33 ABs. Now which version of Luis Valbuena, who will be in his Age 32 season, do you think you get in 2017 and beyond?
Jason Castro
2016 WAR: 1.1 fWAR
2016 Salary: $5m
Ah Jason Castro. No one knows what to do about Jason Castro. He'll simplify his swing for a month or so and hit like a productive major-leaguer. Then, apparently, he'll complicate it right back up like a high school girl and hit like Adam Everett. But there's the issue of his familiarity with the organization, with the pitching staff. Granted, it's our fervent prayer that he won't be catching the same pitchers in 2017.
It's worth mentioning that Jason Castro had the highest K-rate (32.7%) among all MLB catchers with at least 350 plate appearances in 2016. His 88 wRC+ ranked 14th out of 20 catchers with 350+ PAs. He's okay. He's not great, really at any aspect of the game (standard caveat that saying Jason Castro is not great at baseball means he's 100x better than any of us would be, and that's on the low end.) His offense is suspect, his defensive value is arguable, and his baserunning is what you would expect from a catcher with a history of a knee injury. He'll be 30 next year.
That said, who do you replace him with? I'm going to speculate that a long-term deal with Castro would be somewhere in the 3-4 year range at $10m-ish a year. I see you rolling your eyes. Stop it. This is baseball economics, and a passable major-league starter will command that, especially with what is available on the free agent market. Because you're not going to want to trade a whole lot for a 30-year old catcher with a dodgy knee. Here are your free agent catcher options younger than Jason Castro: Wilson Ramos. That's it. And Wilson Ramos would have been my go-to free agent signing behind the plate until he tore his ACL in the last week of the regular season. If the Astros offer Castro 3yrs/$30m do you take it? Does he?