The Winter Meetings are over, and the Astros have yet to address their major needs. Let’s take a look at the key items on the Christmas shopping list for Jeff Luhnow. For each position of need we will show the best options for Free Agents and Trades.
In each category this analysis will focus on value. What can the Astros expect in value (overly simplistically represented by projected WAR) for the average annual value of either the player’s current contract or the average of what several sources project the free agent contract to be?
Priority 1: Catcher
Yes, the Astros signed Robinson Chirinos. No, Chirinos is not likely the starting catcher for the 2019 World Series Champion. A battery of Chirinos and Stassi would likely yield the 18th-best performance from catchers in the MLB. The Astros can and will do better.
For Christmas this year Jeff Luhnow will open his first gift box for Astros fans by signing a catcher.
Looking at this comparison, you may conclude that the Astros should trade for Realmuto instead of signing Ramos. While that would be the better value, it would come at a significant cost trade-wise. If the Marlins were willing to make this deal, then Realmuto would be the potential answer.
For this trade proposal and all future trades below, I will quote Steamer600 Projected WARs. This will show the value each player could have in 2019 IF they were allowed to have a full time job.
If the Marlins made this trade; Stassi (C), Davis (1B/3B), Fisher (OF), and Perez (RP) could easily start and be an upgrade for the Marlins. Martin would likely be starting games for the Marlins by the end of the year. Is that enough? I doubt it.
Reports are active that Ramos has signed with the Mets. I think the Astros will aggressively go after the switch-hitting Yasmani Grandal. With the heavy RHB lineup, a switch-hitting Grandal who splits more as an LHB would make perfect sense for the Astros. Let’s hope Grandal is in the catching gift box.
Priority 2: Starting Pitching
The Astros may want two starting pitchers to add to the rotation of Verlander, Cole, James and McHugh. If they do add two starting pitchers, then they will have options of sending McHugh or James to the bullpen. They’ll also have a much better buffer so that their pitching won’t be overly dependent on rookies and prospects.
The Free Agent Options
Given the options that are left on the free agent market, I think the Astros will go for the bigger starting pitcher impact in the trade market. I think they will sign a Morton-like low-risk high-reward possibility in Trevor Cahill, preferably for just one year.
So what are the trade options?
First, here’s the package I would offer:
For Fulmer: Bukauskas/White/Devenski/Marisnick
For everyone else: Bukauskas/Armenteros/White/Devenski/Marisnick
Let’s go through the list, from the least likely to most likely:
Indians Pitchers (Bauer and Kluber): the Indians have pulled back their offering of these two, at least for now.
Noah Syndergaard: I believe the package I would offer would be insufficient for the Mets.
Robbie Ray: This is my preferred target, but the Diamondbacks are claiming he is not available.
Marcus Stroman: Toronto seems to be in a sell mode. Stroman’s 5.54 ERA was bad. His 3.91 FIP was better than Ray’s. Here is what the deal would look like. Would Toronto take it?
Michael Fulmer: As shown above, I would not offer same package for Fulmer, as I have less confidence in him. If the Tigers take the package without Armenteros, I might go for that.
What do I think will happen? Toronto seems to be in the biggest sale and shed salary mode. In that package, I am asking for Justin Smoak as well, to possibly upgrade first base (more on that later.) This also allows the Blue Jays to shed more salary.
For Christmas this year, Jeff Luhnow will open his second gift box for starting pitching for Astros fans by trading for Marcus Stroman (#3 starter) and by signing Trevor Cahill (#5 starter or for depth).
Priority 3: First Base/Outfield/DH
For the third gift box, the Astros could improve their first base (White 1.3 WAR, Gurriel 0.9), Corner OF (Reddick 1.9, Tucker 1.9, Kemp 1), and/or DH (the same players).
Below is a short list of options to improve these areas. Some of the options at first base also assume that White is in a trade for either Realmuto or a starting pitcher. How much the Astros can spend in this area is most likely dependent on deals made in the areas examined above. If the Astros are able to add Reddick to the deals for example, OF becomes an even great need to address and there is more payroll flexibility.
The Trade Options
Brandon Belt would be relatively expensive but would be a significant upgrade at first base. Any deal for Belt would probably require Reddick or Gurriel to go to the Giants. I would not overpay.
Justin Smoak would ideally be in the Stroman deal above. He is also a switch hitter who splits more as an LHB. Smoak would be an upgrade over White or Gurriel and could also DH.
Just say no to Edwin Encarnacion from a value perspective. Unless Seattle is willing to pay half of his salary or more, I am not interested.
Free Agent Options
Mike Moustakas: You might point out that Moustakas is a third baseman. Yes, he is, and he also has dabbled at first. From a perspective of pure value (Projected Cost/ Projected WAR), he is a great option. Moustakas is also an LHB.
Nelson Cruz: Several media reports have the Astros showing interest in Cruz. Given that he is a DH option only, and that he will want more than a one-year deal, I am not really interested.
I’ve saved the best option for last: Michael Brantley has expressed a willingness to play both OF and 1B. This flexibility would allow Brantley to start in LF until the Astros have 100% confidence in Tucker. Brantley could start at 1B over White and Gurriel. The down side with Brantley is durability (games played in 2018: 143, 2017: 90, 2016: 11). However, if Tucker, Kemp, Straw, White, Davis, Reed, and/or Gurriel are available as depth when Brantley is hurt, then the only real question is whether Brantley can be healthy in October.
For Christmas this year, Jeff Luhnow will open his third gift box for Astros fans, and upgrade the outfield and first base, by signing Michael Brantley. He will also get Justin Smoak in the previously mentioned Stroman deal.
This is the Christmas List:
- Sign Yasmani Grandal
- Trade for Marcus Stroman and Justin Smoak
- Sign Michael Brantley
- Sign Trevor Cahill
So, Astros fans, have you been naughty or nice this year?