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Astros: How I Would Spend Jim Crane's Money

Astros fans have been eager to spend Jim Crane's money. In Part 1, I described the financial ramifications of the various extension options.

Maybe the more constructive way to approach this is to just admit we all have biases in what we want. Why do I have the biases I have? Let me tell you how I would spend Jim Crane's money for the Astros to maximize the dynastic run.

My top priority is to re-sign Bregman. I admit it. I want the Astros to keep the star third baseman that the ZiPS projections have as the 5th highest WAR producer at third base 2024-2026. Bregman's 11.3 Projected WAR is 4.6 WAR more than the 15th 3B and 6.9 WAR higher than the 30th 3B. Here is a table of Bregman and the top 10, #15, and #30 3B.

3B WAR 2024-2026

I had a belief that the WAR difference I just mentioned would be greater for Bregman than it would be for Tucker and his equivalents in RF. It is not. Here is the Tucker top 10, 15, and 30 RFs.

RF WAR 2024-2026

Tucker is projected as the 6th highest WAR producer at RF 2024-2026. Tucker's 11.7 Projected WAR is 5.7 WAR more than the 15th RF and 8.1 WAR higher than the 30th RF.

This comparison assumes the Astros are likely to be able to acquire at least the 30th projected WAR level performance for either Bregman or Tucker if they leave or both.

If the team replaces both with the 15th highest projecting WAR player, the Astros will lose over 10 WAR! That is a HUGE number, and THIS is why I have been writing about managing the payroll to try NOT to let that happen.

It could be worse. Who are the internal candidates in the minors to replace Bregman at 3B next year? Alternately, one could ask who plays 3B if Bregman is hurt for a month this year? The answer is I don't know. I outsourced to X for ideas.

  • Mauricio Dubon- Has played 16 games and started 5 in his career at 3B. I don't consider that an option.

  • David Hensley- Has played almost as much this spring as Bregman. Unfortunately, Hensley just has not hit in the MLB (career 128 PA- 58 wRC+). He didn't hit last year in AAA (84 wRC+). He is not hitting in ST (32 wRC+). At least most of the statistical projections have him hitting 81-87 wRC+ in 2024. He might be the stopgap until there was a trade.

  • Will Wagner- Has played quite a bit at 3B and 1B. Has had 28 PA at AAA. Maybe he is an option by mid-2024. He is currently 82-83 wRC+ projected 2024-2026. The #15 Astros Prospect.

  • Dixon Machado- Here is the mystery choice. Projected to hit 85 wRC+ by ZiPS in 2024. Then there was this. RotoWire News: Manager Joe Espada said Saturday that Machado has a Grade 2 quadriceps strain and could miss the remainder of camp, Brian McTaggart of reports. (3/2/2024)

  • Corey Julks- In the minors, Julks played quite a bit of 3B (9 errors in 46 starts in AAA in 2022). He never played there in 2023. Not in Houston. Not in Sugar Land. Can he actually play 3B at an MLB level? I don't know. He is not getting a look at 3B this spring.

  • Brice Matthews- Drafted 1st round 2023, maybe he gets to AA this year. Seems like a stretch to expect him to be ready for 2025. The #4 Astros Prospect.

  • Zach Dezenzo- I think he is the default MiLB option. He is currently 75-85 wRC+ projected 2024-2026. Not doing that. The #5 Astros Prospect.

  • Grae Kessinger- When he is healthy, I think Kessinger IS the 2024 answer for giving Bregman a day off. He has the third most PA in ST IF. He is currently 70-76 wRC+ projected 2024-2026. Not doing that for more than a few days.

Folks, post Bregman there are no sure options to take over at 3B. When JD Davis was released, I really hoped the Astros would sign him. Maybe they would after his one-year deal.

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On the other hand, one might ask who are the internal candidates in the minors to replace Tucker at RF next year or in 2026 (when he would actually become a free agent)? Alternately, one could ask who plays RF if Tucker is hurt for a month this year?

First, I'd say McCormick is an option at all OF spots. If the team had to live without Tucker, the Astros would have Alvarez in LF, Meyers in CF, and McCormick in RF as starters and Julks as a 4th OF. The situation in the OF is miles ahead of 3B just based on that.

Also, who has played in RF this spring gives us a clue.

  • Corey Julks- played a lot last year, has more PA than any Astros OF this Spring and done OK, projects to 91-96 wRC+ which is not bad for a 4th/5th OF.

  • Trey Cabbage- Cabbage is one of the most interesting players on the team, he has not had a good spring, projects to 82-96 wRC+ which is a broad variability. Here is what I said about Cabbage at the time of the trade.

  • Quincy Hamilton- Rose to AAA last year, having a good spring in 24 PA, Models project him to hit 83-85 wRC+.

  • Joey Loperfido- I have heard more from prospect-oriented folks about Loperfido this offseason than anyone. He has been tearing it up this ST. He had 138 PA in 2023 in AAA at 79 wRC+. Give him a month of good AAA PA and he may put pressure on the Astros for MLB PT. Models project him to hit 84-86 wRC+ over the next three years. The #6 Astros Prospect. Very likely in the mix as a Tucker replacement.

  • Pedro Leon- There was a ton of excitement when Leon signed with the Astros. His 2023 season was marginally worse than his 2022 season in AAA. Is he basically a 2.5A player? Time will tell. He has been tearing up in limited PA in ST. This season is a make or break for Leon. The #26 Astros Prospect.

  • Kenedy Corona- Reached AA in 2023. Too early for realistic projections. The #12 Astros Prospect. Possible for 2025/ 2026.

  • Jacob Melton- Reached AA in 2023. Too early for realistic projections. The #1 Astros Prospect. Possible for 2025/ 2026.

Overall, the internal options to replace Tucker are far more intriguing and positive than the internal 3B options.

Another way to compare what the top Astros prospects are at OF and possibly 3B. Consider players whose ETAs are 2026 or before.

Astros Prospects 3BOF

Based on sheer numbers the Astros have seven top OF prospects and three 3B/IF prospects. Simply based on that, the odds of a Tucker replacement are higher than a Bregman replacement from the prospects.

Therefore, given all of this I think the Astros should extend Bregman. Given the table below, I do NOT expect the Astros will extend Tucker nor Valdez. I do not expect they will sign a pitcher at cost point of Montgomery. I suspect they COULD be willing to take their 2024 payroll to about $265M to $270M or spend as much as $10M to $15M in 2024 on pitching.

Here are the Bregman related options in the original table I showed in Part 1.

Astros Bregman Payrolls

How would I spend Jim Crane's money given realistic constraints on spending?

I would extend Bregman. The loss of WAR is too high just to let him walk. My takes are built with that bias built in. This is why I come out against signing other big free agents that will for sure prevent a Bregman extension.

If the Astros do sign a player to fill a need in 2024, I will want THAT deal to be a one-year deal max. This could be a Lorenzen, Greinke, or Clevinger to help the pitching. The only way I would come off of that position is for the player they add to deliver 4-plus WAR. There were only two Free Agents that would have qualified- Ohtani and Nola. Ohtani cost too much. Nola would have been the ONLY FA I would have supported the Astros signing knowing it meant a Bregman extension was no longer available.

The ONLY alternative I have to a Bregman extension would be for a trade of Valdez before 2025 to bring a return that gives the Astros another starting level 3B. If trading Valdez brought the Astros a pitcher and a 3B, then potentially a Tucker extension before 2025 would be the best answer. I do not think a Valdez trade happens for 8-10 months at best.

Well, there you go. Extending Bregman is how I spend Jim Crane's money. Astros, make it happen now please. Fans, there is no reason to ask me what I think of the latest rumor having the Astros signing Mongomery or even trading prospects for a $20M AAV pitcher. Any move that impacts this team's ability to keep Alex Bregman here past 2024 is not a move I am interested in nor will I support. Now you know why.

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