Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Somethings a-happenin' in Astroville

Probably a little late with this post, but I can't help pointing out a couple of interesting developments lately.

The Astros already added some guys...
We already posted something that discusses the additions of Josh Reddick and Brian McCann.  My take, briefly, is that both were left-handed hitters with a higher likelihood of solid 2-4 WAR seasons than the Astros that they replaced - Colby Rasmus and Jason Castro, respectively.  However, with increasing age comes risk - both of the decline-in-performance type, and in the sudden-catastrophic-injury type.  But the Astros managed to add two lefty veterans without losing any draft picks and top-10 prospects, so that is definitely something.

Plus Nori Aoki.  He was claimed off waivers from Seattle.  I seem predestined to leave him out of discussions about the Astros' offseason.  I pretty much forgot about him when writing the above-linked article, and nearly managed to forget about him for this one too.

We haven't managed to get much up on Charlie Morton.  He seems like an interesting cat, and deserves a post of his own over the next couple of weeks.  I promise to get on to it shortly!

The Astros subtracted some guys...
I am not sure what most readers' definition of "major" is.... as in "major free agent".  But Jason Castro was the first of the "major free-agents" to sign this offseason.  Now, either routine grounders to the right side are the new market inefficiency, or Jason had some very real value.  FanGraphs thinks it was the latter - that Castro was underrated, and the Twins pounced in a competitive market to snare his services.  Most Astros fans may respectfully disagree.

There are some other fairly significant departures.  Pat Neshek is a Phillie, in exchange for the dreaded "PTBNL or cash".  Colby Rasmus was probably gone before the Astros boarded their flight for Anaheim to finish the season.  Luis Valbuena is a free agent.  And so is Doug Fister.  That all adds to five departures of players that occupied important spots on the 25-man roster this season.  Three of them were left-handed hitters.

Sneakily, the Astros also subtracted a couple of players from their 40-man roster as well.  Nolan Fontana is now an Angel.  Fontana's stock had dropped, and the Astros have a bit of a middle-infield log-jam, so this was expected.  But the timing was curious - Fontana was DFA'd around the time that teams were DFA-ing roster flotsam to clear spaces to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft.  The time stamp on the above article is from the claim, which occurred a few days after the DFA.  The Astros had open spaces on the 40-man, so perhaps there was no need to cut Fontana at that point.  They could have been trying to sneak him through waivers, hoping that he got through cleanly due to all the activity around the other teams needing to purge their rosters.

As an aside, the Astros also added LHP / Reliever Reymin Guduan and his career 7.16 BB/9 to the 40-man at the Rule 5 deadline.  He could get a serious look at Spring Training, as the Astros always looked a couple of left-handers short in the 'pen in 2016 (thanks, mostly to Tony Sipp's poor season).  He brings triple-digit gas, so there is that.

And, of course, well after the 40-man roster-purges, the Astros pulled the trigger on the highest profile DFA of their offseason - that of Jon Singleton.  Singleton was never a risk of getting claimed, thanks to his famous contract which he signed shortly before receiving the call up that would result in his major-league debut.  Singleton is owned $2MM for each of the next two years, so expect him to be manning first at Fresno in 2017 then Round Rock in 2018, unless he turns things around in a hurry.

So as things currently are...
... the Astros' 40-man roster stands at 38.  For those who struggle with math, that looks to me like two vacant slots are hanging around.  Let's speculate as to how they may be filled...

The Astros have been very active on free agency, being in on all major free agents except Jose Bautista.  According to MLBTR, and only over the last three weeks, they have been linked to Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Beltr├ín (lots of times), Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli, and Rich Hill.  They were runner-up in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes, reportedly with some kind of "strong offer" for the left fielder.

Now there may be some inaccuracies within these rumours, but where there is smoke, there is usually fire.  It seems that the Astros are not content to stand pat by adding McCann and Reddick, and get full seasons out of Yuli Gurriel and Alex Bregman.  They are clearly committed to adding another bat in free agency, it seems.  The market may move a bit faster now that Cespedes is off the board, so this may be settled quite quickly, one would think.

Trades are also possible, but if the Astros were to trade (for example) for Chris Sale, then one would imagine that it would involve at least one player currently on their 40-man going the other way.  So significant trades will require the Astros to give something significant up, so I doubt that they are leaving a spot vacant on the 40-man so they can run the medicals on a trade.  A lesser trade - say for perhaps Jay Bruce - may not come at a significant prospect cost, so perhaps the 40-man roster may be needed for something like that.

The next logical place to look other candidates to fill one of the two 40-man roster spots is in the Rule 5 Draft.  Historically, this has been a good place to pick up relievers or back-end starters, and hide them in the bullpen for a year.  This is something that rebuilding teams look to do, and the Astros clearly plan to compete in 2017, so it may not fit their 2017 modus operandi.  Baseball America has a Rule 5 draft primer here, and it seems that the most interesting candidate is utility infielder, Phillip Evans.  MLB.com has and article listing 10 Rule 5 names to watch for, and five of them are left-handed pitchers that may look ok in a few bullpens around baseball.

Finally, as always, the Astros will probably be watching the waiver-wire closely.  Will Harris and Collin McHugh are both waiver-wire pickups, so they may be waiting for someone on their internal list of players to be DFA'd.  Like, perhaps, Chris Carter!  For your Chris Carter virtual brochure, just click here...

Something is a-brewin'.  The Front Office seems to be working hard.  The next week or two could prove to be very interesting.  Or, alternatively, nothing will happen until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed.  Thanks for reading.

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