Six Players For The Astros To Consider In Free Agency
Despite the Astros fighting for a playoff berth this year (only 2 games out of the second wild card spot and playing much better at the time of this writing), I have recently been thinking about what next year’s club might look like. It will be interesting to see how Jeff Luhnow and company attack the free agent market this year as there really aren’t too many holes to fill in the field. It is an exciting time to be an Astros’ fan as we have shown success despite having 8 rookies on the 25 man roster. With the expectation that some of these kids will only get better with more experience, it is understandable why people anticipate many years of playoff baseball to come.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Astros’ success is that many of the players who are driving their success are cheap and under team control. In fact, most of the significant contracts that we have will be off of the books after this year. Colby Rasmus ($15.8 million), Doug Fister ($7 million), Pat Neshek ($6.5 million – has a club option that I don’t think will be picked up), Luis Valbuena ($6.125 million) and Jason Castro ($5 million) will all be free agents at the end of the season. Those contracts alone open up over $40 million dollars and that does not even include the rest of Carlos Gomez’ contract coming off the books. In addition, we have had one of the lowest payrolls in the majors and could be in store for a bump their, too. Now, Luhnow does need to be somewhat cautious with his spending, though. These young players are eventually going to get expensive and they may start to look to extend players like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers sooner than later. Especially with Altuve on pace to contend for the AL MVP and having just hired Scott Boras to represent him, he isn’t going to come cheap.
When it comes to improving the club next year, one option that I could see Jeff Luhnow taking advantage of is the trade market. With a thin free agent market, I could see Luhnow taking advantage of the Astros’ prospect depth to shore up some of the thin spots. Players like Colin Moran, Frances Martes, Derek Fisher, and Tony Kemp may be seen as expendable. Additionally, players like Teoscar Hernandez, Joe Musgrove, Chris Devenski, and A.J. Reed could also go in the right package, although I would anticipate those names would be for something pretty significant given the success they have shown they can have at the big leagues.
The Astros don’t have too many areas that need shored up, which is a luxury for Jeff Luhnow. Some will depend on what they determine are the best spots for their current players. For instance, if they decide Yulieski Gurriel is going to take over left field, then maybe they look for a designated hitter. If they decide he will work at DH and first base, they may look for an outfielder. They also need to decide if they are going to give players like A.J. Reed and Evan Gattis full shots at first and catcher, respectively. Reed has been inconsistent throughout his stints with the big club, but has shown improvements over the last few weeks. Gattis has shown statistically that he bats better when also playing the field, but his work behind the plate can be spotty.
Lastly, when it comes to the pitching side, you unfortunately are not going to find an ace in this year’s free agent market. There are some three through five type pitchers available, but certainly not a one or two in the rotation, especially since Stephen Strasburg signed a long term extension earlier in the season with the Nationals (he would have been the only free agent that would have fit this profile). With that in mind, unless it is just to bring in a veteran for some competition, I see a starting pitcher coming via trade instead of free agency. On the relief side, we are strong, although some of our solid relievers (Chris Devinski, Michael Feliz) may get an opportunity to start. With that in mind, they may look for a couple options in the bullpen as well, especially from the left side where Tony Sipp has been dreadful this year.
With all of this in mind, here are some potential free agents that I would love to see the Astros consider this offseason.
Ian Desmond – Desmond has been tearing it up this year for the Rangers after signing for $8 million dollars to play outfield when he could not find a shortstop gig. He is definitely having a good year going into another crack at free agency. Thus far this year his slash line is .288 / .336 / .469 with 21 homeruns, 76 RBI’s, and 19 stolen bases. Ian Desmond could easily fit into left field and it would be a double win for the Astros given they would be stealing him away from their division rivals.
Yoenis Cespedes – Cespedes still has a remaining 2 years, $47.5 million dollars left on his contract after this season, but can opt out if he so chooses. My best guess is given how weak the market is, he will opt out and try to cash in on being the best available option. He has been hampered by injuries at times this season, but is still hitting .294/.364/.562 with 25 homeruns and 64 RBI. The possibility of playing left field at Minute Maid combined with the ability to DH at times may help fend off some of those injury risks. Plus, wouldn’t you love to see how many outfield assists Cespedes, Springer and Teoscar Hernandez could rack up.
The one negative I can think with Desmond or Cespedes is that they are right handed in an already right handed heavy offense. As of right now, AJ Reed would be the only projected starter that is left handed for the Astros next season. For that reason, the Astros may also consider players like Michael Saunders or even resigning Colby Rasmus, who could be a cheap bounce back option after his injury plagued season.
Wilson Ramos – Ramos picked the perfect year to have a career year. He is currently batting .312 / .360 / .510 with 19 homeruns and 67 RBI’s. He has also only struck out 58 times in 430 plate appearances. My concern with Ramos, though, is that this is by far the best year he has had in his career. In fact, last year he only batted .229 which begs the question of whether this was just a fluke year or whether he truly made a permanent adjustment.
The real question for the Astros, though, is whether they believe Evan Gattis can be an everyday catcher or not. If so, they would probably be looking for nothing but a backup, but if not, Ramos might be the best option. I also considered Matt Wieters, but honestly might prefer Gattis behind the plate over Wieters as he has struggled over his last several seasons. The only advantage to Wieters is he is a switch hitter which would give another option from the left side.
Edwin Encarnacion – Let’s just say that Edwin Encarnacion is good at hitting. This year he is batting .269 / .358 / .550 with 35 homeruns and 102 RBI’s. He could easily move into the middle of the order and would likely serve as our designated hitter while seeing some time at first base. My biggest concern with Encarnacion, though, is he is going to be 34 years old. Knowing that this will probably be his last contract, he will likely be looking for up to 5 years and will be very expensive. The question is do the Astros want to spend that type of money for a player towards the end of their career. He is a monster at the plate, having hit at least 30 homeruns in the last 5 years, but there are a lot of risks associated with signing him as well. In fact, it is for those same reasons that I am leaving off this list his teammate, 36 year old Jose Bautista.
Aroldis Chapman / Kenley Jansen – A lot of this will go towards whether Luhnow thinks that Ken Giles can be a permanent closer or not. At times this year Giles has looked unhittable, but at times this year he has looked very inconsistent. With that in mind, if you can get either Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen to slot into the 9th, Ken Giles for the 8th and then Will Harris for the 7th, that will be a three reliever combo that might rival the likes of Lidge, Dotel, and Wagner from several years ago, and that doesn’t even include your other relievers like Luke Gregorson, Chris Devinski and Michael Feliz. Adding one of these two would definitely shorten the game, easing some of the stress on our starting rotation.
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