It's Black Friday so let's make some deals!
In our previous Astros offseason articles (see the Offseason Outline here) we showed the Astros have four primary areas to improve
In the Free Agent article series we illustrated seven different ways the Astros can improve and rated the likelihood that each scenario will be implemented and the rating I would assign to each for positive impact.
But this is also the TRADE season. A team can buy talent by signing free agents or by trading talent to another team for their talent. In preparation for this article, I asked my site subscribers and followers on Twitter and Facebook to submit their ideas on the chat. I will include those ideas to follow this up in the next few days.
For my ideas let me share my trade filters
Must be better than what the Astros have TODAY at that position
Preferred to be 31 years old or younger and must be 33 years old or younger
Should have two years or more of control
Should not have a serious injury history
Target teams (also consider their projected WAR) should not have won more than 74 games in 2022 unless we see evidence that a team that did better than that is in sell mode
Trade value less than 10- the Astros do not have a ton of trade capital they want to spend
Players in their first 2 years might be really hard to pry loose from their existing teams. I will assume at least a 100% trade value premium in such a case.
Compared to available Free Agents the trade premium cannot be too high
For each position
Review what the Astros have at the position
I am going to give you one or two names per group. It is LIKELY NOT going to be these names the Astros trade for IF they do trade. These are just options I would explore.
Compare these trade options to the free agents still available that would most likely be Houston targets
Based on all of these criteria, I will propose one trade OR recommend the FA that should be targeted
In the next few days, we will compare my trades to the great ideas you all submitted to me!
For each of these, the trade candidates will be in the blue part of the table, the Astros on the team in dark orange, the former Astros that are now free agents are light orange, and free agents in green.
As shown in the the team needs assessment, the Astros are projected to produce the 28th ranked best WAR from catcher. If the team REALLY wanted to improve in 2023, an upgrade here is needed.
What the Astros Have- The Astros have franchise icon Maldonado and two rookie highly regarded prospects at the position. If the Astros upgrade here, they need to consider how to work in Lee and Diaz. Both Lee and Diaz do not project to be great defenders right now. They may be better that these projections.
My Trade Targets
Brian Serven- Colorado- I am not sure the Rockies would even trade Serven. Serven MAY not even be much of an upgrade over the young catchers. However, if the Astros want to have an upgrade and/or insurance policy for Maldonado, Serven would be an interesting lower asset investment option
Carson Kelly- Arizona- This might require Jedi mind tricks, but ask yourself will the Diamondbacks be good in the next two seasons? I don't think so. So IF this trade value is REAL, Carson Kelly would be an excellent primary catcher to bridge this franchise to the next starting catcher- Lee, Diaz, or possibly Berryhill (if he isn't taken in the Rule 5 draft.)
Free Agents Available- The three best FA options are shown. We considered scenarios with both Contreras and Vazquez in the Part 2 of the FA series. If I could control the world, I think Vazquez would be the best case scenario catcher to acquire. However, I am concerned the Astros blew their opportunity with Vazquez and since they treated the near All-star like a below average bench player, There is almost no chance Vasquez signs with Houston. I put this table together to summarize what I think is a difficult catching scenario.
Here is what I think the reality is. The Astros should try to improve catching but I don't think they will with Click gone. At catcher, they are going to go with the status quo.
I would have demanded Vazquez play in 2022 and feel valued. I would have attempted to sign him to a three year deal and explained to Lee and Diaz that their time would like come in 2023 as Maldonado was phased out. Diaz would split time between catcher and first base.
Since NONE of that happened, the Astros are locked into and hoping that Maldy improves at age 36. Good luck.
What the Astros Have- Today, the Astros have by default J.J. Matijevic at first base. Hensley would be a utility and backup 1B. Diaz could also back-up at 1B. Combined this group projects to provide average 1B.
My Trade Targets- I have listed two that meet most of the criteria. BY FAR, Christian Walker is the best trade option.
He would be a significant batting upgrade over starter Matijevic.
He is one of the best defensive 1B today.
He is under control for two years which means that in 2025 he won't be on the payroll. By 2025, one of the internal options will have to prove to be a viable starting 1B.
Would Arizona trade Walker? The same answer as above in reference to Carson Kelly. Will the Diamondbacks be good in the next two seasons? If not, why not get some value for Walker?
Another option some have suggested Rowdy Tellez from Milwaukee. Would the Brewers trade Tellez to the Astros? One of the readers thinks so. Since I set the viable team targets at less than or equal to 74 wins, the Brewers are not a trade partner I considered.
Free Agents Available
Yuli Gurriel- Yuli is the likely player to be signed by the Astros despite him projected to have worse batting performance that Matijevic.
Jose Abreu- He is 36. I am done with mid to late 30s players. I do not believe he will meet the projections.
Josh Bell- He is probably the best FA offensive option. Bell's defense is not great. What would Dusty do if he had to play Bell at 1B?
Brandon Drury- Drury is an option with position flexibility until you realize his batting projections are basically the same as Matijevic.
My Recommendation- I would recommend the Astros go all out for Christian Walker. I will put my trade below. IF they cannot get Arizona to trade Walker, I would default to sign Bell.
Left Field/Center Field
What the Astros Have
I have labeled this section LF/CF because in my mind the upgrade can come to either position. The biggest driver here may be Meyers. Is Meyers a viable MLB CF or not? If not would the Astros allow McCormick to be the primary centerfielder? Meyers and McCormick BOTH project as better OF defensively than the rest of this group
The projections for both Meyers and McCormick are basically the same and average.
This would be a drop of over 10 percent for McCormick's career averages. Frankly I don't believe that.
Meyers was injured in 2022 and his 2021 was almost statistically the same as McCormick.
In addition to Meyers and McCormick, the Astros will play Alvarez at least some and possibly a lot in LF.
The Astros also have a few prospects on the way that some project will get playing time in 2022. These prospects and others are some of the highest ranked in the system (6 of the top 11 are OF according to MLB.com) and it's fair to assume at least ONE could break through by 2024-2025.
So if Alvarez actually plays a lot in LF and McCormick continues to produce at his 2022 pace, do the Astros actually have a need in the OF in 2022? I don't think anyone can actually answer that.
My Trade Targets
I include Trout to be funny. He meets all of the filters except being financially viable.
The only real trade target I found that would meet my criteria is Austin Meadows and it is not a slam dunk that he is actually an upgrade over McCormick and Meyers. Perhaps, the 2025 FA would be perfect insurance at not too high of a cost.
There are other possibilities on teams I excluded because I think they will be buyers and not sellers.
Previously I wrote here about trading some of the Rule 5 eligible prospects to the Reds for Jake Fraley. Since that time I have dug into more data that sows Fraley is not a good defender. I would not make that deal. I did not include him in this table.
Free Agents Available
I have listed several options that meet the criteria I set up. If the Astros sign different options I think it may mean different things about how they view Meyers and McCormick and their prospects. Let me illustrate with this blind table. How would you rank these players (1 is bad and 9 is good)? It's not that easy.
Player A on that table is McCormick. One advantage he has is health. Most of this group of players has been hurt over the past several years.
Player C is Meyers
I don't think a trade here makes sense
I think the Astros will re-sign Brantley- player G
I think a one year deal makes a lot of sense for Player F as Meyers insurance- Player F is Conforto. You may ask why Conforto vs. Brantley
This is not a slam dunk and may completely depend on who demands what deal.
For clubhouse dynamics Brantley would be the choice.
Conforto is 30 in 2023 and Brantley is 36
Both have injury histories with Conforto having a season long shoulder issue in 2022. If Conforto is healthy, he probably is a better injury risk.
I would NOT sign either to a deal more than one year. Conforto may WANT a 1-yr prove it deal
Revisit the performance of Meyers, McCormick, and Conforto/ Brantley at the trade deadline and make a move if necessary
Left Handed Relief Pitcher
If one looks at the Astros pitching roster, one need stands out- a left handed relief pitcher. The Astros traded for Will Smith and were able to work with him to improve his performance in 2022, but he is gone.
If one looks at the team stats for 2022 vs. LHH, the Astros have the BEST FIP in the MLB.
So is this a need or not? I believe it is. The table to the right shows the core of the bullpen and how their 2022 season compared to their career average vs. LHH. For EVERY ONE of them 2022 was better and in most cases SIGNIFICANTLY. better than their career average performance. Was it a fluke or did they change something and it worked? I don't know but the Astros might. However, the performance variability year to year is very high with RP, so I say they need a LHRP to help with LHH in 2023.
What the Astros Have- The Astros have Blake Taylor and Parker Muchinski as the only to LHRPs on their 40-man roster. Neither is one I would want to bank on as THE answer here.
My Trade Targets- I have listed two targets that meet my criteria
Taylor Hearn- Would the Ranger trade with the Astros? The Rangers have 3 other LHRP that pitched for them in 2022. All three are younger or the same age as Hearn. Hearn is not projecting to be GREAT but he was significantly better as a RP than he was as a SP. His wOBA as a RP vs. LHH was 0.282. As a RP he could focus more on 4-seam fastball and slider. Given his trade value is zero, a fairly easy deal should be possible
Joe Mantiply- I wrote about wanting Mantiply at the 2022 trade deadline. I still believe that Mantiply would be the best option in a trade. The table to the right illustrates how Mantiply compares with the Astros bullpen. From a FIP perspective Mantiply would be better than at least half of the current RP vs. LHH. His wOBA stats do not compare as favorably.
Free Agents Available
Andrew Chafin- has long been an Astros target for me. His 2022 season has cooled my interest some. I also saw reports similar to this- "New Tigers reliever Andrew Chafin doesn’t care much for analytics. That’s OK with his manager." It might have been OK with A.J. Hinch to have a veteran pitcher ignore analytical input. I am not sure it will work with the highly analytical Astros pitching coaches.
Taylor Rogers- A cursory glance at the chart would make it clear that Rogers would be an excellent weapon vs. LHH. He would have been my choice as the main RP the Astros should sign this offseason. His stats vs. RHH are not near as impressive. He still represents a significant improvement in the Astros bullpen. Now with the Montero signing, the real question is how much the Astros would allocate financially on RP.
Since the Astros signed Montero first, I think the Astros would be best served by trading for Mantiply. I would think the Diamondbacks would see the 32 year old now as trading him at his peak value.
Summary and how the Astros Could Make This Happen
My Recommendations are
Trade for Christian Walker- Arizona- trade value 3.7
Sign Michael Conforto or Michael Brantley for one year- $10-13M AAV
Trade for Joe Mantiply- Arizona- trade value 6.8
These three moves would add the following to the CBT payroll
The finances of these deals year-by-year
What would Arizona want/ need
- younger players with 4+ years of control ready to peak in 2025-2027
- pitching, pitching, pitching!
I updated the Astros trade charts from the trade deadline with current trade values. The players shaded in green I would be willing to trade for the right deals.
Mantiply (6.8) for Joe Perez(3- 40 man), Seth Martinez (1.9- 40 man), Miguel Ullola (1.9) and Edison Batista (1.2)
Walker (3.7) for Urquidy (3.6- 40 man) and Grae Kessinger (0.9- Rule 5 eligible)
These deals improve this excellent Astros team by about 3 WAR total (I will use the playing time model to detail a more precise projection.
Given where the team is financially and with more prospects staged to help, I believe tese are the most prudent pre-season steps. If the Astros find additional opportunities for improvement are needed, they would have the financially flexibility to pursue those before the trade deadline.
Let me know what you think. There is still time to get your last minute trade ideas in the chat here or in a comment below.
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