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What the Astros SHOULD Really Do at First Base

You will read a lot of articles and posts on social media that range from head in the sand refusal to do anything at first base to pipe dreams that expect the Astros front office to get an All-Star level first baseman for their 100th prospect straight up.

This article will closely model the first article on catcher here.

This article will do three things

  • Make the case that a change at first base IS needed

  • Explore the reasonable and best options to upgrade at first base

  • Define real and fair trade deals for BOTH sides

Daniel Meyer at the Astros Locker wrote an excellent article that supports patience. He did a great job and those that support that view can point to it. I will take the opposite perspective.

The goal of this article is that we stop arguing whether the Astros need to do something at first base and begin to discuss WHAT they need to do. I do not think the timing here is as critical as what I wrote related to catcher. HOWEVER, IF Yuli does not start producing, the Astros cannot expect to win a championship with their first base and catcher production.

At the end of this you are going to analyze 90% of what others say on this subject and realize it is lacking. THIS is why you need and why you should subscribe.

Why the Astros need to improve at First Base

Age is undefeated in baseball. Bill James stated when I was a kid and has repeatedly shown players reach the baseball performance peak and age 26-28. Their skills diminish gradually at first and then the performance rapidly declines at age 33+. Yes there are the rare exceptions of players that excel into their late thirties, but sooner or later the decline comes. This is why no teams want to sign long term deals to players over age 32.

As Daniel showed, Fangraphs updated the aging curve in October 2021. PLEASE read that article now as it discusses Gurriel extensively. In that Fangraphs article, Chet Gutwein includes this graph.

Yuli Gurriel celebrates his 38th birthday today. Per the graph ON AVERAGE, players lose 10-15 wRC+ per year at age 38. Here is Gurriel's data (batting, overall value, defensive value) over his age 33-38 seasons.

As discussed other places, Gurriel has a lot of variability often tied to plate discipline. If AVERAGE Gurriel is a 114 wRC+ at the midpoint of this timeline (2019), then with three years of 10 wRC+ drop, we SHOULD expect Gurriel to be the 80-90 wRC+ player he has been so far. MAYBE he bounces up to what the projections have him for the rest of the season, 112 wRC+, but it is unlikely. At age 38, I believe time has finally caught up to Gurriel.

But Larry others point out reasonably and with data why Gurriel may not be done. Let me be clear. I want to be wrong, but I don't think I am.

Let's look at career Gurriel by month and 2022 so far.

This is a potential positive sign and something to monitor.

The trade deadline is August 2. If Gurriel does not bat >110 wRC+ in June/ July, it is time to consider other options.

How bad is the first base position for the Astros in 2022?

- 29th in wRC+

- 29th in wOBA

- 27th in WAR

It's terrible. It's not worse than horrible like the catchers but it is close. As far as I am concerned, unless Gurriel has his typical June (he is way behind pace) and July; a change is needed.

Let's dig into Gurriel's Baseball Savant Data.

I don't need you to fret about every number in this table. Focus on one thing. in the 2022 line how much BLUE there is. Folks, BLUE is always bad in my heat maps. Gurriel is a career worst in 7 of the 11 statistics I show in 2022.

Question- what would it look like for a 38-year old player to be done? Gurriel in 2022.

What's wrong? I will leave that to the scouts. Perhaps Daniel has found the issue or Clint can find it. Some observations

  • Gurriel is not barreling the ball

  • Gurriel is launching balls up but this number is down from last week (-7.4 LA in June)

  • The quality of his contact reflects poorly in his expected batting stats. Gurriel has not been great in expected stats but 2022 is BAD.

  • Gurriel is striking out worse than ever. He isn't seeing or he is no longer able to hit what he sees.

  • 2021 was an anomaly of plate discipline for Gurriel, the walks are back down

My recommendation is if things don't look better by July 15th, the Astros need first base help THIS YEAR if the goal is a championship and it should be.

What Are the Reasonable and Best Options to Upgrade at First Base

The Astros need a first baseman that is a better (but not necessarily great) version of Gurriel. They have some prospect possibilities at 1B but none any that are seen as the next star at 1B. With the rest of the Astros lineup they do not HAVE to be an All-Star.

I have chosen my words VERY carefully here. We are going to apply filters to the active career first baseman list. I am only going to suggest players that

  • have had >600 PA in their careers- there are only 39 active 1B meeting this requirement. I don't believe many teams will trade a top prospect nor would the Astros be willing to pay that price. Given the team needs, an experienced 1B would be better.

  • are a strong offensive threat- preferably 110+ wRC+ career- this filters out 9

  • are at least decent defensively - this filters out 3 more

  • are on teams that are already projecting to NOT be in pursuit of a postseason appearance (teams with <0.440 winning pct- OAK, BAL, DET, KC, MIA, WSH, CHC, CIN, COL)- this leaves only 7. As the season progresses there may be more teams to add to this list. This will give the Astros more options.

  • are less than 33 years old- this eliminates Votto

  • have reasonable trade values- this eliminates Mountcastle

I am going to include rentals (FA in 2023) but the strong preference will be in players who are not FAs until 2024 but if longer they are likely to have too high of a trade value.

This is why you have me. Everyone else is going to push a ton of frankly stupid trade ideas at you that will likely not meet multiple of the filters I suggest. So here are the FIVE first base trade possibilities that meet these screening filters.

So what will the trade cost be for these players? I also got the trade values from I do this for an independent vetting of trades. Are they perfect? No, but this keeps a trade proposal from being simply a subjective I think they can trade this for that exercise. I included their trade values.

So now we are left with five possible trade options to improve the 1B position. So what about these five with the same data we showed for Gurriel? Given the projected stats for the rest of the season how do these five compare?

All five project to have a better season than Gurriel.

What are Real and Fair Trade Deals for BOTH Side

So what are the trade options and how likely are they? As a reminder, Gurriel sits at 81WRC+ today and projects to 102 for the season.

  • C.J. Cron- Cron would represent a very consistent performer and a 122 vs 102 wRC+ upgrade. Imagine RHH Cron batting in between Alvarez and Tucker. The scouts out there can tell me but by DRS Cron appears to be good defensively. At $7.3M AAV he wont break the bank and is signed through 2023. Rockies need young pitching how about Santos and Solomon with Barber?

    • Trade proposal- Barber, Solomon and Santos (Trade Value- 8.9) for Cron (9.7)- per

    • Likelihood of trade- 5

  • Trey Mancini- Mancini did not play in 2020 and had an up and down 2021. Overall, would be an EXCELLENT fit for the Astros and this is the first call I would make to upgrade 1B. Projects to 130 wRC+in 2022 (huge upgrade) and his RHB would EXCELLENT in between Alvarez and Tucker. Mancini is capable of playing both LF and RF too if needed. Has a mutual $10M option for 2023 that Mancini is likely to decline and test free agency. This keeps his trade value down and makes it easier for the Astros to execute a fair deal.

    • Trade proposal- Solomon OR Santos and low level prospect (Trade Value- 2.8) for Mancini (2.3)- per

    • Likelihood of trade- 6 but rising with Yuli's struggles

  • Garett Cooper- Folks I don't know much about Garrett Cooper so I am not going to fake it. Here is what the numbers tell me- he mashes but appears to struggle defensively primarily in the outfield. Has been mainly a part time player in Miami before the NL DH in 2022. Has split time 1B/ DH in 2022. Not sure how good he is at 1B (25 GS in 2022, 14 GS in 2021). I would ask the scouts to evaluate Cooper as a 1B. Arbitration in 2023 and Free Agent after 2023 Season. IF the Marlins go into sell mode the Astros should be ready with a deal. Trade value is oddly the highest of all five players at 12.0

    • Trade proposal- Urquidy and low level prospect (Trade Value- 13.0) for Cooper (12.0)- per

    • Likelihood of trade- 4- I have less knowledge here so less certain

  • Jesus Aguilar- Aguilar has been the time share partner with Cooper at 1B and DH for the Marlins. Aguilar is the least spectacular batter in this group as he projects to 108 wRC+ while batting 97 wRC+ currently. Mutual option for $7.5M in 2023. At a projected 1.2 WAR, I am not sure the upgrade is worth the negative impact on the clubhouse here. I am going to pass on a deal here.

  • Josh Bell- Probably the most talked about 1B trade chip option. Bell is a Free Agent after this season and is making $10M now. Was down in the COVID year 2020 but very consistent otherwise. Projects to a 125 wRC+ in 2022. DRS seem to be trending better. Projects to 2.4WAR. Iso is only 0.119 in 2022 vs. career 0.200, but avg is 0.300 and OBP is 0.371. Switch hitter that might be nice to have in 3 hole and move Bregman to 5th. If the Astros lean to a rental Josh Bell might be the choice. Trade value only 3.7 due to rental status, but I do think their will be a slight premium.

    • Trade proposal- Siri (Trade Value- 5.6) for Bell (3.7)- per

    • Likelihood of trade- 6- I can see the Astros choosing the rental route,

So there you have it. The five best options for the Astros to upgrade at First Base. I do not expect action before July 15th unless Yuli gets hurt. Monitor Taylor Jones in AAA as an internal option too.

If it were up to me, I would trade for Mancini.

As stated earlier, time may push more teams into sell mode but with very few viable trade target options, the team needs to monitor additional opportunities closely. We will revisit and revise this article as the trade deadline approaches.

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