During the MLB GM Meetings the second week of November, the Houston Astros’ GM, Jeff Luhnow, mentioned that team owner, Jim Crane, has “given the go-ahead to increase our payroll, and make the investment we need to make.”
Not content to lead from behind, Luhnow and the Astros are firing the first shots across the bow in the early stages of the hot stove league.
November 17, within an hour of the announcement that Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve came in third in the AL MVP voting, this flurry of activity came across the wire:
- The Astros signed free agent outfielder Josh Reddick to a 4-year deal worth $52 million. The team made the signing official at a November 23rd press conference.
- Houston obtained catcher Brian McCann and cash from the Yankees for prospect pitchers, Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.
Immediately noteworthy is the fact that, in the span of several minutes, the Astros’ starting lineup went from starkly right-handed to one of near-balance with this addition of two left-handed bats.
Not to be ignored, either, is the transfer of funds from the Yankees’ corporate wallet to Houston’s coffers (with McCann), and the trade stipulation that the Yanks pay $11 million of the backstop’s salary.
Add to that the addition of a catcher to take the place of outgoing free agent Jason Castro, newly-signed with the Twins. McCann will platoon with Evan Gattis behind the plate, as well as share time, with Gattis, at DH.
As a small market team, the Astros have to be nothing short of creative and crafty when it comes to landing assets to help improve the on-field product. Luhnow did an excellent job of obtaining needed talent, while also tending to the team’s bottom line; not an easy juggling act for a small market team.
Next on the agenda? Landing yet another left-handed bat….say, free agent DH Carlos Beltran for an Astro redux? December 3rd, the rumor mill had the ‘Stros doing just that, signing him to a one-year, $16 million deal.
The Hunt For Reddick
Bolstering the outfield was an identified post-season need. That box can be checked with the addition of RF Reddick, although it probably means RF George Springer will move to CF, leaving good buddy Jake Marisnick a spot on the bench as a reserve.
Or, Marisnick could platoon as a left-fielder with the newly-signed Nori Aoki, an awkward situation for the former, as his speedy ground coverage would be wasted in the notoriously short left field of Minute Maid Park. Kinda like giving Deion Sanders the responsibility of covering a broom closet.
Jake Kaplan identifies a “where do I park my Cadillac” kind of nice problem to have in November 18th’s Houston Chronicle, where he posits that Reddick’s signing “makes it less of a certainty the team tenders Aoki a contract in arbitration before the Dec. 2 deadline.”
Continuing, Kaplan explains, “The 34-year-old from Japan stands to make about $6.8 million through the arbitration process, according to MLB Trade Rumors‘ projection, a lot for a player who now most likely projects as a fourth outfielder.”
Finally, “the Astros could attempt to strike a below-market deal with Aoki, or tender him a contract in arbitration only to trade him. Non-tendering him would make him a free agent.
Yulieski Gurriel could also find his glove in LF, if not at 1B, or in a 3B/DH rotation.
At the Nov. 23 press conference, Luhnow hinted that the books aren’t closed regarding the outfield configuration: “We still have a move or two left this offseason that could impact our outfield mix.”
My call? Tender Aoki a contract in arbitration, obtain a pitching prospect for him, and trust the big league capital already built up by the Teoscar/Tucker/Tony triumvirate. One, if not two of them, are ready for a break-out season.
November 30 Update:
Avoiding arbitration, the Astros and Aoki agreed on a one-year, below-market $5.5 million contract.
Clearly, the outfield production was a decided black hole for the team after the 2016 evaluations were collected. Hunter Atkins, in his November 23 Chronicle article, horrified Astro fans with this sober reminder:
“(Luhnow) actually discussed trades for Reddick last season, when the Astros’ outfield ranked 29th in OPS and the CF position – a carousel of unremarkable production from Carlos Gomez and Marisnick – posted a negative WAR (wins above replacement), which suggests center fielders cost the Astros wins.”
Atkins continues, in his article: “Reddick brings experience to a young team. His appearances in 21 postseason games far exceed anyone else on the roster, including (the recently obtained) McCann.
“Reddick said he did not know the Astros were seeking a new outfielder and was thrilled by their aggressive approach at signing him to an early offer. He admired the hustling style of the Astros’ young talent, specifically lauding Springer, Carlos Correa and Altuve, whom Reddick said deserved the AL MVP award.
“‘These guys have always been a pain in my side as an opponent,” he said. “These guys seem to run everything out. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to being a part of. They seem to know how to play the game the right way.'”
Highlights from the Nov. 23 official Astros’ press conference, announcing Reddick signing:
“This is the most exciting day for me in baseball,” Reddick said.
“To be a free agent for the first time and have it go so smoothly was a great thing for me. Hopefully some of these fly balls I hit at the (Oakland) Coliseum the last 4 1/2 years will be 10 rows up here (at Minute Maid Park).
“I didn’t know these guys (the Astros) were interested in me. Once I heard from these guys, it was pretty smooth sailing.
“Texas is something that brings me closer to home, and it’s more my southern roots (Georgia) and I can hang out with rednecks a little more.”
Reddick on fellow Astro outfielder Springer (who’s OK with a move from RF to CF to make way for Reddick): “We’re going to run through the wall and catch anything, and if it hurts it’ll feel better tomorrow. I’m going to bust my butt every day.”