Non tenders increase pool of possibilities for Astros


As I sit waiting for the plane to take me on what will likely be my last business trip of the year, I can’t help but wonder when the Astros are going to get into the game. By “game”, I mean the off-season game, of course.

Everyday, players come off the board. Everyday, trades are being announced. Everyday, rumors abound for virtually all of the other 29 teams. A little discouraging — okay, a lot discouraging — but I’m also convinced the Astros will make news by Christmas. And, I mean good news.

There are several mid-level or low-risk players that could have helped the Astros next season. But they’ve already committed to other teams for reasonable contracts. Thinking about Josh Johnson, Manny Parra or even Dan Haren or Ryan Vogelsong. Sure, those players were probably looking for contenders or better scenarios and therein lies the biggest hurdle for Jeff Luhnow this winter.

Unfortunately — at least in part — the Astros are being forced to wait until the dominoes fall even farther to get much traction. Other teams will need to fill more of their holes before many free agents will turn to Houston. It’s a tough course for Luhnow and the Astros, but it’s the curse of back-to-back-to-back 100-loss seasons and the turmoil that has become this organization. That’s just a cold, hard fact.

Are they headed in the right direction on the field. Most of us believe the answer to that question is “yes”. Does it change the fact that the road to respectability contains road blocks, detours, “bridge out” signs and other distractions? No, it does not.

Still, the pool of possibilities got bigger on Monday when teams non-tendered 43 players, making them immediate free agents. Guessing Luhnow anticipated many of those and has already determined which players might be targets. Here are a couple I might suggest:

  • John Axford. Yes, he comes from the Cardinal bloodline, barely. But he’s a strong candidate to handle late innings and would provide stability.
  • Andrew Bailey. Not to mention that he’s got a great last name, he’s also pitched well in the past couple of years. He’ll miss a good bit of 2014 after shoulder surgery, so this may not be a great pickup for Houston, which needs immediate help. If they’re convinced he’s healthy though, a one-year deal with a team option for 2015 might be a good bet.
  • Chris Coghlan. Former first rounder and Rookie of the Year who could probably use a change of scenery. If there’s been a worse place to play than Houston in recent years, it’s Miami. He’s 28 and it would be worth checking into to see if he can regain his stroke from a few years back.
  • Ryan Webb. Another Florida surprise non-tender. Could shore up Houston’s bullpen quickly.
  • Daniel Hudson. Didn’t pitch in 2013, but seems ready to return after his second Tommy John surgery. He seems determined to return to Arizona (which non-tendered him), but could be one of those low-risk signings if he’s interested in a rotation shot.

There’s still room for optimism this off-season, but those half-glass-full moments will be fleeting and fans will need to savor those moments while waiting to see which one of the prospects the Astros will start to build around in 2014.

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54 comments on “Non tenders increase pool of possibilities for Astros

  1. I can’t help but be nervous and a little depressed. I really believed we would have seen something by now.
    I understand players not wanting to play in Houston, I can barely tolerate watching the games, can’t imagine how depressing that clubhouse is. But I thought Luhnow could have persuaded at least one.

    All I want for Christmas is a good hitting outfielder/ first baseman and a couple of relievers.

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  2. The Winter meetings haven’t even occurred yet. Patience is required here. That said, I would hope by early January we’d have a better idea what our bullpen and outfield will look like.

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  3. Please, Please, Bo – do not comment, YET. but this is very either nerve wrecking or telling. Ball players that are in their early 30s are still “mercenaries” – they will not turn their back on an extra 1/2 million, especially in a state with no income tax. So all the $50-60 million payroll was smoke and mirrors, and they will go bargain basement again, OR it is time to get off the pot.

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  4. the winter meetings are dec 9-12 and rule 5 draft dec 12. no need to get anxious just yet. i think brian is right targeting early jan as the get nervous deadline

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  5. By mid-December last year, we were down to Pena, Veras, and the NRI guys. So if we wait until January, we apparently won’t have much left in the pool. Chip’s correct in there are several non-tendered pitchers and position players that would be an upgrade. About 40 have already signed with other teams – so the longer the delay – the fewer choices.

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  6. Call me cynical, but I’m looking at another 100 loss season. And Astro45, I don’t buy into your premise that the average 30 something guy would rather come to Houston for an extra half million and no state income tax. Ball players still want to win. And we’re not a very hip destination right now.

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  7. I agree daveb – we may have to give them real additional money in addition to the income tax breaks to get some attention.
    But we need something to chew on as fans soon – this starvation diet of positive news is turning me into a baseball anorexic……

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  8. Daveb & DanP: I understand your opinion, but I am talking about the 2nd best catcher or 2nd best SS, 2nd best whatever on a team or someone that wants to be a closer. They don’t want to ride the bench. Skip Cano, Choo, etc. Look at people like Lowrie a couple years ago. I just don’t see a major league player not wanting to play. Yes, they prefer a contender, but if blocked – they still want to play everyday. Not everyone is Phil Linz.

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  9. Breaking news… Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles traded to Colorado for Dexter Fowler who has a good OBP but little else. I’m the one person on this blog who is not a Barnes fan, but I also don’t think Fowler is a 2 for 1 caliber player.

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  10. I’m a bit less cynical than I was earlier. Billy, Fowler becomes the lead off guy that allows Altuve to hit second. And although historically, he has not hit much at Minute Maid, he’s got a .388 OBP here and a .365 lifetime in MLB. That’s the stuff Luhnow looks at. Of course it remains to be seen how he’ll adjust to not playing half of his games in Denver. But he’s more a gap guy than a long ball hitter anyway. And I have no problem giving up two guys that would have soon been pushed aside by better, younger in house talent. We absorbed a 7 million salary (about time) and gave up none of our future. Looks good to me.

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  11. As mentioned, this trade is a good one for only one reason: Altuve can now hit in the 2-hole, where he belongs.

    Here’s why the deal is a questionable one: Fowler will become a FA after next season.

    Sure Barnes, being out-played by Grossman, is moderately expendable. But Lyles still has decent upside, despite the young pitchers to crowd him out come 2015.

    Fowler has lingering knee and wrist issues too. Will that affect his speed and power? .

    If he does well, he’ll be gone. If he does not, he’ll still be gone. So in essence, he’s a rent-a-player.

    There’s another very important reason why this trade is a bad one. I’ll refrain from opining on that now, and will see if anyone else chimes in with this reason.

    Overall, in my humble opinion, a bad trade.

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    • We got a legit ML outfielder from he deal. That’s one more than we had. So what if he goes at the break? We get quality for him if he’s still getting on base at a .365 clip. And then maybe Santana is ready to play. Or Fowler has a solid year and this team improves. And then he gets a big contract somewhere and we get compensation. I like the fact that this guy is controlling his own destiny. The better a year he has in Houston, the bigger the deal he gets in 2015. So he’s playing for a payday. And by 2015, we should have other options to replace him.

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    • Bo, the biggest negative I see is that this provides a potential block in the effort to promote George Springer to full time starter in CF for the major league club. The salary is not justified by Fowler’s production. I hate seeing Lyles go, as young as he is, but don’t believe he’s destined for stardom. Barnes would have been nice as a 5th outfielder instead of a starter. To summarize, if Porter gets to pencil Fowler and Springer into the lineup everyday it was a good deal. If he only gets to run one out there it was a bad deal.

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      • Player A – .263 / .369 / .407 – 71 R – 109 H – 12 HR – 42 RBI – 65 BB – 105 K – 415 AB
        Player B – .240 / .289 / .346 – 46 R – 98 H – 8 HR – 41 RBI – 21 BB – 127 K – 408 AB

        Player A is obviously better. As it stands, his .369 OBP was 4th best in baseball for CF with 400+ AB last year behind Trout, Choo, and McCutchen. However, his other stats are wanting. To simplify, his WAR of 2.0 would have been 20th in baseball. Player B’s WAR of 1.7 would have been…21st. So what’s the difference in bottom line between the two players? About $7 million.

        The Astros are going to pay Fowler about 20% of their payroll in 2014 to give them 0.3 more WAR than Brandon Barnes. That’s where I have trouble justifying the salary against 2013 performance. For what it’s worth, however, I think Fowler can be a much better player in Houston than he was in Colorado. That has to be what Luhnow is gambling will occur. Otherwise, he did Colorado a favor by taking their salary dump in exchange for clearing up a roster spot. Then again, maybe the PTBN is something really intriguing.

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      • Thanks Devin. But, Almost all of Barnes’ value lies in his defense. COL badly skews defensive war downward. Willy T didn’t suddenly become an awful CFer when he went to the Rockies, though his dWAR would say so. I expect Fowler to become much better defensively while Barnes will seem to go into the tank.

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    • Over 500 Rockies’ fans are moaning and yelling on their biggest blog. They think they were robbed and they don’t even know who the PTBNL is.

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  12. You know what, if it’s true that Springer will play everyday, despite Fowler’s presence in the OF (as reported in the Chronic), then I will proactively retract what I was going to opine… and say “my bad”.

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  13. Well I’ll be damned………never thought the club would trade Lyles. Fowler is quicker
    than a six yr. old girl, stealing bases………I like this trade!

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      • As we get some real hitters into the line up, we’ll be seeing fewer and fewer stolen bases. Fowler has speed, but is not a high percentage stealer. He’s a good bunter though, for whatever it’s worth and has hit over .400 lifetime when laying one down, over 51 at bats.

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  14. If indeed we sign a legit FA veteran starter and Springer does play everyday, then i like this one year deal. the lineup looks better with those two in it.

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    • Fowler is under team control in 2015 as well, but it would be through arbitration unless they sign him to an extension. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a one year deal. If Fowler puts up a .360+ OBP in Houston he’d likely be tops on the team. Unless we become attractive to free agents in a hurry it would make sense not to let him walk.

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  15. Positives and negatives
    Positives –
    – Having a potential top 3 of the order of Fowler, Altuve and Springer – Altuve is a lot better there
    – Having a defensive OF of Fowler, Springer and Hoes/ Grossman would be a huge plus over last year
    – Barnes – though he showed flashes at times – probably was not going to ever be a starter…
    Negatives
    – Fowler the last couple years was a lot worse batter on the road. No bertter than most of our other options
    – He is a Boras client – probably only renting him this season
    – At Lyles age – tough to give up on him (but not betting he “finds” himself in Colorado).

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    • Flash – I think it is one thing dealing with Boras with not that much leverage (Appel had to sign and there was basically a true limit on what could be offered him). The Pena signing was not a problem because it was small stuff. I still think Boras is not the guy you want to have to deal with when he has any kind of leverage.
      That said – when I wrote what I did – I was under the impression that Fowler was a FA after 2014 based on what is written above. Actually he is arb eligible after ’14 and not FA until after ’15 – so that is no longer a problem for me.
      Now if he does not hit a toot at sea level – that is a problem.

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  16. I rate the trade good overall – 2 for 1, but those two were guys that wouldn’t make most rosters. I will be surprised if Lyles is still in baseball in 3 years, and Barnes is no better than a career 4th OF’er.

    No doubt Fowler has positives. His OBP is typically 100 points higher than his average. He will be an outstanding leadoff hitter with plus speed. He has some power. He strikesout moderately high but terribly much. He doesn’t go after pitches out of the strike zone as often as Barnes.

    He is moderately expensive, but this team can afford it.

    Problems I see – I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fowler in left and Springer in CF, Fowler has been a below average defender his entire career with a below average or average at best arm. He isn’t suited for CF or RF. He also has demonstrated durability issues at a young age and will likely progressively get worse.

    Still, he is singularly better than Lyles and Barnes and what they brought. I am glad to see Lyles gone, though I thought Barnes would have a good future in Houston as a homegrown 4th OF’er providing a good glove, good baserunning, speed, bunting, type guy that would hurt you at 500 plate appearances in a season but help you at 200, using him situationally for his strengths – and he was liked by Astro faithful, who appreciate hustle and effort.

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    • Steve, I’d like to point out a little talked about fact. The ball explodes off the bat at Coors field. In the light air. It gets where it’s going faster than normal and you have to allow for this by taking different routes, more doubles in the alleys, etc.Although the CF in MMP is big, the air is heavier, giving outfielders a little extra time to make a good play or cut the ball off. The Astros take this kind of stuff in consideration when figuring their stats and do the same for hitting AND fielding when evaluating players from Coors and at Lancaster!

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      • Yes, I see your point. Willy Taveras looked like a gold glover in Houston for 2 years, and statistically fell off the map defensively in his two years in Colorado. Good look.

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  17. get ready to get stung by the rule 5 draft this year. with what is now a well stocked minor league system expect to get a couple of them plucked by other teams. but also expect to get a high quality player with our #1 pick in rule 5. hmm Luhnow trades two to get a CF he valued, a player to be named (maybe who they might want just as much – we’ll have to wait and see on that) AND open up a slot on the roster for our rule 5 pick. good job

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    • rj, we protected the guys we needed to protect. We may lose a good player, such as C Perez. But we have three catchers at AAA that need to play and they had to choose one of them to leave unprotected. If we lose him or Buchanan, that’s a shame, but we still are going to have eight pitchers in tandems in OKC and Stassi and Garcia have to play and Tyler Heineman is going to catch at CC.
      When you have the best minor league system in baseball and the top pick in every round next June, and the first pick of the Rule 5 and the first pick of every waivered player in baseball, you can afford to lose a couple of selected guys from the minors. Heck, we may not lose anybody. Remember, if they don’t stay on the 25 man rosters, we get’em back for $25,000 if we want them.

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      • wow i just read there is no limit on the number of players a team can lose. thats scary. seems like i remember the yankees losing three one year not too long ago.

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  18. I like this signing! Feldman has a wealth of knowledge to offer these young pitchers!
    AND……..it helps that he pitched in the AL for so long! Now, on to the bullpen.

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    • Yep, and the fact that he pitches about 1 more inning per start than the other starters gives relief to the bullpen. Similar stats to Bud Norris, but lower WHIP and looks like better control.

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  19. 30 million does not buy much anymore. Feldman was better than average in 2013, but he’s just a year removed from a 5.09 ERA. He’s had several seasons like that. I also think the veteran leadership thing is a bit overrated too. If he puts up stinky stats, who’s going to seek out his veteran wisdom? I think we can get equal or better numbers from guys already in the system.

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  20. It looks like every other year that Feldman is either Bud Norris or Jordan Lyles.
    Unfortunately if the pattern follows he will have a 5 ERA this season.

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  21. Basically in the last two days we exchanged Barnes and Lyles for Fowler and Feldman (plus that PTBNL). And all it cost us is $17.5 million of Cranes’ money. How this isn’t a win-win, I don’t know.

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  22. Man, I thought I was rough on Luhnow. My opinion is Fowler and Feldman are probably an improvement over the previous roster (Lyles & Barnes). Nope, not going to take us to the World Series, but this team needs to at least “try” to get better. Luhnow has both hands tied with this situation – he can only do so much. When a guy had rather play in Korea than try to make it to Houston – it speaks to the problem.

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    • The Astros picked Thames up on waivers when they had only 3 healthy OF left on the OKC team that was playoff bound. As tight lipped as the Stros are with the media we don’t know that they didn’t inform Thames that he was going to be released soon and gave him the right to look around. When Fowler arrived, Thames’s time had come. I don’t think this was a reactionary move on his part. I just think it was a place for him to play.
      The Astros have Springer, Carter, Grossman, Hoes, Fowler, Krauss, Wates, Heras, Simunic, JD Martinez and Ruben Sosa at AAA or above. They have Santana and Tucker knocking on the AAA door in CC. Thames wasn’t going to make it here.

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