Free Blog Weekend: Crystal ball on the off-season


It’s Friday and the weekend is on. That means a Free Blog Weekend. It’s a 9-year tradition, starting back in 2005 on that other site.

Six months ago, if you’d been offered a 66-96 record — a 15-game improvement and 30-game swing — for the 2014 season, most of you would have accepted the offer, gone to the bank and asked for another hot toddy.

Frankly, it’s easy to look at all the injuries and failed signings and see how much better the season could have been. If things had panned out with Jesse Crain, Matt Albers and players like Dexter Fowler and George Springer hadn’t missed so much time with injuries, Jim Crane’s suggestion of a .500 season was a reasonable expectation.

Now that the trade deadline is passed, a new commissioner is on board and the focus is on a sprint to the finish line, let’s take a look at the off-season to start the weekend. It will not be simple as Jeff Luhnow will need to shuffle the roster due to arbitration, 40-man status and the Rule 5 draft. Not to mention performance.

Here’s a quick recap:

Players eligible for arbitration. Some of these obviously will either be released or non-tendered. Only a few will be addressed by offers or trades.

Trade candidates.

  • Fowler, who could earn $10 million plus next season.
  • Scott Feldman, in the second of a three-year deal ($10 million next season).
  • Chad Qualls. Need room on the roster, he has a reasonable salary and Michael Foltynewicz is grooming the rest of this season.
  • Castro. Under performer and pricey.
  • Dominguez. They obviously like him because of the rumored extension last spring, but . . .

Free agent possibilities. It’s time to stop the dabbling and dive in. Houston needs a big, middle-of-the-order bat. Who’s available?

  • Nelson Cruz. He’s 34. A 2-3 year deal might be solid.
  • Hanley Ramirez. Could he be heading into his prime? Or will be a bust from here on?
  • Melky Cabrera. 30. Will the Biogenesis mess bring down his price?
  • Stephen Drew. He’s a Scott Boras client, but could be an intriguing possibility is he hits the rest of this season.

Waiting in the wings. These are the players who could possibly contribute next season from the minor leagues.

  • Mark Appel. Yes, despite a nightmarish 2014, he could be a mid-season addition.
  • Nick Tropeano. If he’s not up next month, he’ll contend for a roster spot in the spring. Should be a shoo-in, no?
  • Collin Moran. Hmmm. Intriguing, to say the least. Could he make the jump early next season?
  • Domingo Santana. Trade candidate this fall? Or, could he be the ultimate AAAA player?
  • Tony Kemp/Nolan Fontana. Keep an eye.
  • Preston Tucker. At 24, it could be his time.

Regardless how he does it, Luhnow must use the off-season to bring significant upgrades. Time to recognize which high-level prospects are in, which ones are the proverbial scrubs and make the investment in key free agents.

  • What does the roster look like next April?
  • Who are the definite keepers from the above lists?
  • Best trade candidates?
  • Which of the above should be signed to two, three or four-year extensions?
  • Which player is the biggest gamble in trading? In other words, by trading or releasing (this player), he could become a key player in another organization.
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59 comments on “Free Blog Weekend: Crystal ball on the off-season

  1. – I am probably in the minority – but I’m a little antsy about getting rid of Jason Castro. Yes – I know he is underachieving with his .675 OPS – but you know Jose Altuve was underachieving last season with a .678 OPS. Castro was a good offensive player in 2012 and very good in 2013. If we had someone knocking on the door at catcher from the minors I would feel differently. I say bring him back and if someone else steps up – trade him at the deadline.
    – From the arb eligible list I say keep Castro, Carter, Corporan, Gonzalez and Dominguez.
    – From the trade list – I might think about Fowler and Feldman – though Feldman might be easier to trade near the deadline when he is halfway thru the deal.
    – Off your FA list – interested in Cruz but he won’t be interested in us, Ramirez and Cabrera are not that exciting, Drew might be picked up as a bargain after a putrid 2014.
    – Waiting in the wings – I’m most interested in Tropeano and daveb’s favortie Joe Sclafani, who is over .400 OBP and OKC. Fontana could move up quick because of the void at SS, Tucker is not hitting that great at OKC – give him time, Appel needs to show us something/anything to move up, Kemp and Moran are very promising and Santana needs more minor league time it appears – he is so young.

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  2. Ok I dont think any big time FA’s will sign with us unless everyone else passes or we shell out stupid $ (Lunhole Affect). Some how we need to find those solid Bullpen guys that alone is another 12 wins the last few years. I wouldn’t trade Fowler, if they could stay healthy for 2015, Springer, Fowler, Marisnick, like to see that. I wold Annie up on Castro, Carter, Corp , and Marwin. I would trade Dominguez in a heart beat an bring up Morin.

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    • Kevin, they overpaid for Feldman this year. How many other organizations would have paid him 3 years, $30 million? Not many. So, I’m thinking they’re prepared for that eventuality. The key for Luhnow, though, is to “overpay” for the right guy, not just do it for the exercise. You don’t need to add pedestrian position players, you’ve already got those. If you’re going to spend, go get a well-defined middle-of-the-order bat.

      Not suggesting they go after Cruz specifically, but imagine a bat *like* that with this current lineup that includes a healthy Springer, Fowler, Carter, Altuve etc.

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  3. 96 losses would beat my preseason prediction.

    On the arb list, I only have reservations about White. If they believe he is progressing enough in recovery, then go ahead and keep him. Otherwise, we need 40 man spots or a big trade to not lose a few prospects. Guzman and Bass should be elsewhere next year. I still don’t think they should have signed Presley – Springer should have had his OD roster spot – but when healthy he showed more than a lot of the guys we’ve seen. As for Castro, paying him $5 million should not be an issue. Whether he deserves it is another debate, but trading him with no replacement in the wings would be something bopert predicts rather than an intelligent business decision.

    Just say no to cheaters and overpriced free agents! Hanley Ramirez will not come here on a one year deal.

    Folty has shown no indications of being a future candidate for closer. Put him back in the rotation in ST.

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  4. How the Astros move in the offseason starts at the top. Crane had expectations (hopes) that 2014 would be better than it has been. If the Astros get a TV deal done, you have to think that Crane would view 2015 as a pivotal year, ie, a year when the Astros make definite progress to putting a winning team on the field.
    Keeping that in mind, you have to think that the Astros would keep Fowler and start the year with him, since he made over $7mil this year. A jump to $10 mil for him is not a huge one, considering some of that is made up by Feldman’s drop in salary. If you knock Crain’s salary out they actually would get Feldman and Fowler and no Crain next year for less money than they got for Feldman, Fowler and no Crain this year.
    Keeping Feldman gives them a veteran starter, Keuchel would be a four year guy, Ober would be a three year guy, and McHugh would be a 2 year starter. That leaves a a spot for a rookie to come in the fifth spot and you have Folty, Nitro, Wojo, White, Buchanan, Weiland, (OMG) Peacock, to try to fill that from within at league minimum or go outside for another starter and spend money.
    The Astros have to make decisions on pitchers by the time Rule 5 draft gets here. They have too many 26-27 year-old pitchers who haven’t made it and they have too many youngsters they need to protect. They have to cut or trade some guys from amongst Owens, Clemens, White, Martinez, Veras, Downs, Crain and Bass that have not proven themselves worthy of keeping, at the risk of losing a younger prospect.

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  5. Bullpen
    If the Astros spend money next year, they need to spend it on a closer. A certified real closer makes your bullpen better because it gets guys like Qualls and
    Albers back into positions they are better in, like seventh and eighth inning guys. A genuine closer makes you much better at closer than we were this year and the guys that were trying to close will add to your situational bullpen improvement in 2015.
    Let’s face it. Folty needs three major league pitches that he can throw for strikes if he is going to succeed as a major league pitcher. But he needs only two major league pitches that he can throw for strikes and a changeup to be a reliever. He’s so young and that fastball is so good. He needs to be able to throw that fastball where he wants it all the time. High and tight on demand. Outside corner at the knees on demand. He can’t do that now. He needs to work with Strom and Clemens and harness his stuff and then he can afford to be fearless.

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  6. Very interesting off season. Castro and Corporan may be as high as $8 Million (See Wieters). There are at least 7 guys on the 40 man that you keep ONLY if you are cheap. They HAVE TO GO if you are trying to win and want to keep the good prospects. Guzman, Presley, Corporan, Bass, MGonz, White, Owens, Veras, and at least 2 more – DFA/Traded. Not because the are terrible, but they are keeping some possible better players off the 40 man. As mentioned above. It is great to have a ton of prospects but when they hit 25+??? – they are not ALL late bloomers.

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  7. In 2003 the putrid Detroit Tigers threw silly money at Pudge Rodriguez, and that was the start of their renaissance. He legitimized the team and made it attractive for other quality players to sign in, and in three years they went from the 3rd worst record in baseball history to playing in the World Series. Would dearly love to see the Astros follow suit even if at first glance it makes neither economic nor baseball sense.

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  8. Don’t look now, but Grossman is hitting .271/.384/.374 since he was recalled July 8. Not to mention 4 HRs and 16 RBI in that 31-game stretch. Wondering out loud if there’s any correlation to not rushing Springer, Fowler or even Presley back while they get another good look at Robbie? Hmmm.

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    • Grossman did the same thing last year so I want to see him be more consistent at the start of next season, assuming he is an Astro. I like Grossman and really like his plate discipline, but I need to see more consistency out of him throughout the year.

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  9. Jake from State Farm hits a huge 2 run double in the tenth on a night when the Astros were 2 for 14 w/ risp. Unbelievable!
    Porter makes a huge non-move by not using his closer in the bottom of the tenth and Sipp gets ’em 1-2-3 for the win.
    First win ever for the Astros at Fenway.
    Telvin Nash gets the two run double in the bottom of the ninth for a walkoff in CC. The Hooks had only two hits in a 2-1 win. Appel went four plus innings gave up 1 run. he had 10 groundouts to 1 flyout, but only two strikeouts.

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  10. Appel’s line tonight: 6 innings-5hits-1run-1bb-2so. Looks like he’s feeling better.
    Chip, you just might be on to something, Grossman is on FIRE. Keuchel pitched an awesome game tonight…….I love lefty’s!!

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  11. He’s no gonna hit 30HR’s, and he probably wouldn’t be on some other teams roster………but Marwin Gonzalez is quietly doing a pretty great job playing short.
    Think back at the beginning of this season, when Villar was a walking error machine
    and we ( me) were pulling our hair out, because he was a disaster at SS. Marwin rarely makes an error, and he can turn a double play as slick as Pedroia. I really like the stability he brings to the infield. Do we think Villar will mature enough to stay on the roster?? I have a feeling Luhnow is going to try and package him with a pitcher,
    in a trade this winter. We hope Correa can come back strong next spring training,
    and we might see him up by the break. Thoughts???

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    • Count me among those that would prefer to never see Villar in an Astros uniform again. I simply cannot take his throwing errors on routine plays despite his occassional gems on tough plays. I much prefer the steady hand of MarGo over him. He may not have Villar’s range, but he makes the routine plays every time.

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    • The key to Villar’s future with the Astros lies with Correa. Correa has not even gotten to AA yet. Villar has more of everything than most shortstops. Real good arm, great range, great speed and better than average power for his position. What’s wrong with Villar is he acts his age.
      As a team the Astros cannot give up on Villar because of his immaturity, because most young immature people grow and mature. Villar deserves a chance to do that and next year is probably the last year he will have to do it as an Astro because 2016 is probably going to be Correa time.
      If Villar shows growth in the next year some team is going to want him.
      It is to the Astros advantage to give Villar every chance to prove himself, whether it’s at AAA or in Houston. Villar has a chance to make a lot of money in baseball if he develops. IF he develops.
      Villar is no Jeter, but even Jeter came up to the Yankees at age 20 and got sent down again. When he came back the next year he was awesome.
      If Villar gets his head together, he will be a good player. If he doesn’t, he will be the player we have come to know right now.

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      • Agree and it needs to start next month with Villar and Stassi. And don’t mean riding the bench. We are not battling for 1st place or the playoffs as best I can tell.

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  12. Wojo and Appel both had good outings last night but Sims was wild with his knuckler and Holberton couldn’t handle him. Walks, 2 WP and a passed ball lost the game for Sims.

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  13. Getting back to the offseason w/ Chris Carter. He leads the team in HRs and RBIs and his BABIP is only .269, whereas last year it was .311. That means Carter was luckier last year and much improve as a hitter this year. Carter has a great chance to be better next year and since it is his first year of arbitration I would like to see the Astros keep him as their DH, especially if he keeps hitting like he has been.
    If the Astros are to improve their team next year, they can’t have the awful performances in the middle of their lineup from Castro and Dominguez that they are matching with Singleton and Carter. Too many strikeouts and way too little production from those two. Both of them have had so many chances to give the Astros wins with their bats and they have failed miserably and that and the weak bullpen are the two biggest reasons the Astros W-L record is so bad. Singleton has been bad, too but he is 22 and has two months in the big leagues. Castro and Dominguez were supposed to be the seasoned vets to lead this team and they haven’t.

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  14. Villar should stay in Okc, if, and until he proves he can play more than one *clean*
    game. I’m not trying to sell everyone on Marwin, BUT the middle infield has settled down since he’s been at short. Like I said, he probably wouldn’t be on many other
    teams as a starting SS, but as for now…..I’ll take him over Villar hands down.
    What happens next year??? I have no clue, but if I were Luhnow his butt would be playing Winter ball somewhere………..
    Speaking of Winter ball here’s my list of guys who SHOULD go.
    Villar
    Singelton
    Grossman
    Marisnick
    Stassi
    Springer?

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    • We are all frustrated with Peacock, but we were all saying the same thing 2 months ago about Chris Carter and Robbie Grossman. I am not saying Peacock is going to turn it around, but let’s not bury him just yet. He has no trade value right now so the Astros probably will just need to finish August with him in the rotation and he can go to the bullpen when the rosters expand Sept. 1st. He may need to start in OkC (or maybe Round Rock-this Round Rock resident can dream, can’t he) at the start of next year.

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  15. Well, if you want another slap in the face following the Astros’ inability to sign #1 pick Brady Aiken, here’s one: Carlos Rodon has been promoted to AAA and will start for Charlotte on Tuesday. Yes, he skipped AA altogether. Seventh pick Aaron Nola of LSU is already at AA for the Phillies.

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  16. Hey Chip Yeah I saw that earlier. Did you see that collision he had last week?
    I thought for sure he would have a BIG concussion after that. His promotion must give Luhnow something to think about……………

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  17. Fowler will stay and probably castro but everyone else will be with a different team come next season. One thing I learned is that everyone on the team has been considered for a trade for the right price. Consistency and producing are the 2 key factors they look for and if the players don’t have them, well bye don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I do think Luhnow does jump to rash decision and trades players before giving them a chance. But that’s him and once he has his mind made up there is no changing it.

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  18. fowler, castro, carter, dominguez, will be back. corporan is most likely back. dominguez and corporan have players behind them that are pushing but not there yet, so i think they are back. gonzales would look to be in the same situation, but there is villar (who i hope like carter has, figures it out and matures as a player) and of course correa, but he is not gonna be in the majors at the start of the year.
    guzman gone didnt work out.
    presley gone unless he will accept minors
    bass gone
    white health/recovery as post says

    fowler, feldman and qualls – any/all will be traded for the right deal
    castro i think stays. cant get rid of him and corporan can you? i think we keep both. now if stassi or another shows they are ready, then that changes the outlook.
    dominguez stays while they wait for moran or trade for a 3B. i think they do the former.
    i dont want any of the FA’s listed.
    all of the waiting in the wings players could contribute next year. with the two pitchers listed, you see why they were willing to trade cosart for a startong OF and what looks like a future starting 3B plus the arm and #33 pick.

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      • Source? Corporan had a pass ball the opened the floodgates in Keuchel’s loss last weekend. It didn’t look like a comfortable arrangement to me.

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      • Dave, I mean that Corporan has developed a tendency to suffer a passed ball or allowing what I would have called a passed ball to be played into a wild pitch. He has also began to drop balls from the outfield. He seems to have become more passive behind the plate…. have you notice the lack of pickoff attempts at first base from him lately? He always enjoyed showing off his gun but now…. I will say though, I believe he is a much better overall catcher than Castro is now.

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  19. Nice win today – Altuve with 4 hits including a grand salami, Mc Hugh hanging on with not his best stuff to put up 6 good innings – the bullpen actually performing well – good game to split the series.

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  20. Gosh Dan, I’m on vacation and a bit out of touch with reality. If Altuve was on a team in the hunt, he’d get a few MVP votes.

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    • Daveb (uncle knuckle) in today’s game they were showing how Altuve’s stats were not that different from Pedroias previous MVP year. Altuve has more speed related numbers Pedroia more power but the base numbers were similar.

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  21. Yes Brian T – they are now working on avoiding the 100 loss mark next – need 11 more wins for that.
    Most interesting stat today for me – Chris Carter – 0 for 5 with 0 K’s. Even that is an improvement for the guy – not sure he has ever gone 5 straight outs without a K.
    McHugh was Peacock-esque with his control, but he bulldogged his way through – giving up 7 hits and 4 walks in 6 IP – but only the one run.
    Foly did a much better job – mixing in some changeups with that 99 mph fastball. And he showed better control overall.
    Grossman continues to get on base another couple times today and Fowler has been solid since coming off the injured list.
    Scrub Marc Krauss finally got up to the Mendoza line.
    And Altuve is All World.

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  22. To tag on DanP. When you survey each game this year, I think Altuve makes a case for MVP in the league. It is normally for guys with power and big RBIs. But Maury Wills was MVP. Altuve has been in the middle of most rallies and wins.

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    • Probably the best we can hope is a few votes for MVP. They just don’t notice guys on 90 loss teams especially non-power guys – but he has been special. If they were a good team he would get some notice.

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    • He looks like a shoo-in to lead the league in SBs / well on the way to leading it in hits and I suspect it may be a dog fight to the end on BA.

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  23. So what are the feasible things the Astros can do to get that record up to the .500 mark or above next year, based on what we know about the players they have and the assumed tv deal?
    -Have Fowler, Springer and Marisnick and Grossman as outfielders from the start.
    -Have Carter as DH
    – Find a 3B who is not a below Replacement Player, which is what Dominguez is right now
    -Play Singleton from Day 1
    -Replace Peacock with a starter who can pitch
    -Sign Sipp. He has been terrific.
    -Get a closer.
    -Dump Crain and find someone who will get on the field. What a waste!
    -Have Strom work with all the young pitchers on their command, secondary pitches and delivery, especially Folty, Fields, McHugh and Appel. Those are guys with arms of the future.
    – Keep your catchers(if they want to be here).

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