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What the Astros COULD Have Done in Free Agency

Sometimes I use polls to test the pulse of the Astros Twitter community. I did this this week when I asked this question:


The Astros clearly should have signed Andrew Benintendi instead of Brantley

  • Agree 45.9%

  • Disagree 54.1%

I am surprised the results were not even more agreeable than that. I suspect after the news today that Brantley is shutdown indefinitely, that the results might shift. Maybe my Twitter followers have figured me out. :)


My answer would have been disagree. That is because I know that Benintendi has been arguably worse than Julks. It would have been a waste of resources.

So, what was the right answer? If not Brantley nor Benintendi, who should have the Astros signed?


Today, let's review what I thought the Astros SHOULD do and also look at what they COULD have done in the off-season in Free Agency. I am going to say this upfront. This exercise can be unfair. It's easy to look back and look smart. It's better to get it even half right before hand.


First, we will look at the players I considered that were projected to make a difference in that their projected WAR would have materially impacted the team positively.


Second, the measuring stick we will use here is WAR efficiency or $/WAR. Ideally, one wants this number to be as small as possible. The ideal team is the one producing the best results for the least cost. That team would have flexibility to make the most moves at the trade deadline and/or make the owner the most money. I promise to help you think like a GM on this site. This metric reflects GM thinking.

Third, I will be using a projected WAR for the 2023 season which is the WAR delivered so far plus the projected WAR for the rest of the season. Cells shaded in RED are unacceptably too low for a championship team.


I believe in accountability to you, my readers. I admit when I get things wrong so that hopefully you can see that what we say here is right more often than it is wrong.


Catcher


Anyone following the site knows I thought the team SHOULD have done SOMETHING at catcher. However, I did not expect them to upgrade even when Crane said they would.


I said the Astros SHOULD have done whatever it took to keep Christian Vazquez even if it meant they had to trade or release Maldy. We explored trades and free agent deals in numerous articles. Here were the main FA options.

Vazquez is off to a unusually bad start hitting. His defense has been good. Zunino would have been the most efficient option.


As you may have guessed Maldonado, given his projected WAR is 0.1; his efficiency is terrible.


My Option- Vazquez- 1.2 WAR for $10M AAV- $8.3/WAR

Astros Option- Stick with Maldonado- 0.1 WAR for $4.5M- $45/WAR

Best Option- Zunino- 1.5 WAR for $6M- $4.0/WAR

Worst Option- Maldonado- 0.1 WAR for $4.5M- $45/WAR


First Base


I stated I wanted Josh Bell even before the Astros signed Abreu.



Bell is off to a mediocre start. This is obviously better than the start for Abreu (who has delivered -0.9 WAR this year so far- 2nd worst among qualified hitters.)


I know the Yuli fans will point to his great start and his low efficiency number. He has NOT been this year, nor is he capable of being a full time starting first baseman. Gurriel and Abreu both project to a full year 0.3 WAR. This is NOT what the Astros wanted.


Rizzo was the best option. You might balk that he signed for $20M. Abreu signed for $19.5M. Now COULD the Astros have signed Rizzo away from the Yankees is a completely different issue.


My Option- Bell- 1.0 WAR for $16.5M AAV- $16.5/WAR

Astros Option- Abreu- 0.3 WAR for $19.5M- $65/WAR

Best Option- Rizzo- 3 WAR for $20M- $6.7/WAR

Worst Option- Abreu- 0.3 WAR for $19.5M- $65/WAR


Outfield


Everyone seemed to have an opinion what the Astros should do in the OF. Knowing the Astros had so many top prospects on the way, I did not think the Astros would do a long-term deal.


The Astros signed Brantley on 12/18/22 for $12M and one year knowing he was going to be recovering from shoulder surgery (his third on the right shoulder.) It is not looking good for the team right now. I wrote at the time that I would have preferred Conforto IF he would sign a one-year deal. He didn't; and therefore. I would not have gotten Conforto. I said in that case I would roll with Meyers and McCormick with Alvarez and pushed Dirden or some of the other OF options. I was fairly unique in being open to giving Meyers an opportunity to succeed or fail because of the prospects I believed were on the way even THIS year. Therefore, for this exercise I will say my OF option was Meyers.



My Option- Meyers- 1.5 WAR for $0.8M AAV- $0.5/WAR

Astros Option- Brantley- 0.8 WAR (this will be going down) for $12M- $15/WAR

Best Option- Gallo- 2.4 WAR for $11M AAV- $4.6/WAR

OR

Best Option- Bellinger- 3,4 WAR for $17.5M AAV- $5.1/WAR

Worst Option- Conforto- 1 WAR for $18M AAV- $18/WAR


The best options were not on my initial list but we talked about them a lot. Twitter Spaces had many conversations about Bellinger. We all said it would be an opportunity but not one the team so worried about clubhouse dynamics would take.


My friend and site contributor ClintTheScout and I discussed Gallo several times. I will look for the video clip if I can find it. He was adamant that Gallo was the perfect option for the Astros. He was right.


Imagine, IF the Astros had Gallo, they would have an option at ALL three OF spots (less of a great option in CF- 8 starts in OF) AND 1B (17 starts). Gallo is an average to good fielder at both. Now if Dusty would have played him this way is another issue. One might have been the BEST answer would have been Gallo with a part time Gurriel at 1B.


You might see that Nimmo in the table is actually the best efficiency. He signed for EIGHT YEARS. Jim Crane was never going to do that deal. I disqualified him from the exercise for that reason.


Relief Pitcher


Montero was signed on 11/12/22 the day after James Click was let go by the Astros for 3yr/ $34.5M. His FIP is far better than his ERA and he has delivered only 0.1 WAR. He does project to still be good for the rest of the season and end up at 0.7 WAR.


I really wanted the Astros to sign a LHRP and said Taylor Rogers was my target. He has been worse than Montero. Not a good choice,

Andrew Chafin, a target of mine for multiple years, would have been the choice of these three. However, as I said in the fall, Chafin has repeatedly expressed disinterest in analytics which would not be a match to the Astros way.


My Option- Rogers- 0.1 WAR for $11M AAV- $110/WAR

Astros Option- Montero- 0.7 WAR for $11.5M- $16.4/WAR

Best Option- Chafin- 1.2 WAR for $6.3M AAV- $5.2/WAR

Worst Option- Rogers- 0.1 WAR for $11M AAV- $110/WAR


You may be thinking none of this matters at this point. Let me show you why it does.


Here is what the Astros chose to do.

Here is what I said I would do

Here is what the optimal solution could have been.

Let me say this again. It is easy to say what should have been done after the fact. Here is where making the better choices is also important. The Astros have about $14M below the CBT. Following my plan, I would have $22M. The optimal plan would have $18M.


With the SP injuries that means more flexibility for a trade. I advocated for minor trades to get a swing SP option. Here are the SP FA options that might have been possible.

Now you see the value of the right choices above. Only some of the options are available. I did filter out the long term deals from this table.


As the offseason progressed, I REALLY was in favor of Miley (signed 1/4/23) or Smyly (signed 12/18/22) being available as a LHSP/ LHRP option. This could have been possible. The Astros felt like they were done with the moves they had made.


Ultimately, we hope the team does the right things going forward. The right trade(s) could fill the gaps the team has. We will pick up on that as the season progresses. There is not much that can really be done in the near future. We will need to be closer to the trade deadline.


The Astros currently project to get 1.9 WAR from their moves. I would have gotten 3.8 WAR. The optimal plan would have gotten 8.1 WAR. That is 6 projected extra wins. That's why making the right decisions matters.


It is fun to imagine the Astros Roster/ Depth Chart COULD have been

​Position

Starter

Backup

Catcher

Zunino

Diaz

First Base

Rizzo

Gallo/ Diaz

Second Base

Altuve

Dubon

Short Stop

Pena

Dubon

Third Base

Bregman

Julks

Left Field

Gallo

Alvarez/ McCormick/ Julks

Center Field

McCormick

Meyers/ Dubon

Right Field

Tucker

McCormick/ Julks

Designated Hitter

Alvarez

Rizzo/ Gallo

Starting Pitcher 1

Valdez

Starting Pitcher 2

Javier

Starting Pitcher 3

Brown

Starting Pitcher 4

Garcia

Blanco

Starting Pitcher 5

Urquidy

Bielak

Starting Pitcher 6

Miley

France

Closer

Pressly

Setup 1

Abreu

Setup 2

Neris

LHRP

Chafin

Mid 1

Stanek

Mid 2

Maton

Mid 3

Martinez

Gage

Long 1

Miley

Bielak

Long 2

Blanco

France

Let me know what you think.

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