“OK, so tell me, Tammy, do you want to choose what’s behind door number one, or would you like to keep this food dehydrator and Cuisinart?”
Oh, Tammy, I don’t envy you. You’ve got a nice food processor and some thing that’ll take the water out of your fruits and meat. That’s a nice pair of prizes. But there could be something great behind door number one. It could be a new kitchen from Maytag. Maybe it’s five days and four nights in tropical Honolulu, Hawaii! For all you know, it’s a new car!
Or, it could be a year’s supply of Turtle Wax or some microwave popcorn.
And that’s the problem with taking what’s behind door number one; you just don’t know what you’re going to get. Of course, a Cuisinart and food dehydrator just aren’t getting it done. So, maybe you need to make a change. Maybe it’s time to say “Yes, this,” and “No, that.”
Well, if you think Tammy’s got quite the conundrum, you should meet Jeff. He needs to decide whether to keep what he has or make a move 25 times. Now some decisions look pretty simple. I mean, Jose Altuve is like a new car AND that trip to Hawaii. You keep that. Dallas Keuchel is a solid keeper, and I’d guess Collin McHugh looks like a brand new dinning room set from Broyhill as well.
So let’s take a look at some of the dilemmas Jeff will face this off-season:
It’s A New Car!
As I mentioned above, there are some obvious cases where you don’t make a change. There is no better option available at second base because there’s no better second baseman in the league than Jose Altuve. Oh, you can make an argument about Robinson Cano, and he’s a fine player, but Altuve is easily his equal (if not better) and less than half the cost. Heck, if you offered Seattle Altuve for Cano straight up, they’d take the deal. But Altuve isn’t the only no-brainer.
Keuchel and McHugh look like locks going into the off season. Some would suggest trading McHugh while his value is high, but I don’t think we’ll find anything worth what he can be to the Astros: a quality starter who is cheap and under team control for several years. Since we’re on the subject of starters let’s talk about the other two guys in Houston’s rotation with a positive pitching WAR: Brett Oberholtzer (2.0) and Scott Feldman (1.0). Like McHugh and Keuchel, I think Obie is a no-doubt keeper. Feldman? Well, I’d like to know for sure what’s behind door number three before making that deal, but he seems like a mostly solid keeper despite the price.
The other big “keeper” is George Springer. Despite his leg problem, this is a guy who will be a key piece of this team for several years. He will be part of that 2017 World Series team (ha ha!). Now, there are some other players who look like solid keepers such as Dexter Fowler and Chris Carter, but the question is this: Can we find something better. I mean, they might be a custom kitchen, but nothing tops a new car in this game show. Can either be replaced by a new car?
So, the automatic keepers are Altuve, Keuchel, McHugh, Oberholtzer and Springer. That’s leaves 20 spots. Well, sort of. The bullpen is its own special episode of this game show. (See Way Below.)
A New Lounge Chair!
Now, let’s look at the guys who look like a nice prize, but can certainly be exchanged for an upgrade.
First Base: Jonathan Singleton is a nice recliner from Lazy Boy. Maybe. Does he go with our decor in the living room? Does he support the lumbar? We just don’t know yet. What we do know is this: In half a season of at-bats, Singleton has 12 homers, 41 RBIs and a whiff rate of almost 36%. Yep, that’s bad. But it’s not all bad. In 2013, Singleton was moved up to AA then AAA, and for the first time in his life, his whiff rate topped 30%. Then he restarted 2014 in AAA and that rate dropped back to 22%. Combine that with his age (he’s still 22) and his babip (.255), and I think it’s fair to say Singleton is due a rebound next year and the year after.
The other options at first base are either Chris Carter, who is actually a bigger defensive liability than Singleton (who will probably get better as his hitting and confidence come around) or a free agent. Some names available are Adam Dunn (unless he retires), Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart and Michael Morse. I think Morse is a pipe dream, and honestly, so is Cuddyer. And while I’d like to do better than Singleton, I think there’s two things to consider: Singleton will probably be better in 2015 and Jeff has sort of already committed to this prize with Singleton’s contract.
Shortstop: Boy, do I wish Jonathan Villar would get his head on straight. He’s got so much more range than Marwin Gonzalez, which is so crucial to our defense. But Villar needs to learn how to hit, and unless he proves he can do so, I’ll stick with Marwin and a little Gregorio Petit for a backup and maybe some defensive replacement. And let’s be honest, all of these guys are just placeholders until Carlos Correa shows up. So, what is it we have? Well, Marwin has an OPS just under .700, and he has a positive WAR, though his defensive value drags his total down. And, let’s remember this, Marwin is a former Rule V pick who doesn’t turn 26 until next March. It’s not like he’s 32 and has deteriorating skills. There’s every possibility he (or at least his offense) gets better.
Still, if you want to take a chance, here are the options behind door number two. You have a rookie shortstop who missed most of 2014 at high A and still would barely be old enough to drink if the Astros make the playoffs in 2015. (He turns 20 in September.) Or, we could look for a stop-gap free agent such as Asdrubal Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie or Hanley Ramirez. Other than Lowrie, the rest are upgrades, but only Hardy and Ramirez are significant upgrades. If one of those two is available, do we bring them in on a two- or three-year deal? Is three years too many with Correa probably starting 2015 in Corpus Christi?
Outfield: Well, this depends on who our center fielder is. Going on the assumption that it’s Dexter Fowler, the question is kind of complex. We could trade Fowler for pitching or a third baseman or whatever. He’s got real value. Furthermore, we probably upgrade defensively because as good as Fowler is — and he’s good — I think Springer and especially Jake Marisnick would be ideal in that vast center field.
But losing Fowler in this lineup is huge. He gets on base. A LOT. He is consistent. Well, except when he’s hurt. Yet, this guy is never going to be good for more than 120 games a season. So you can get about a 2.0 WAR for 120 games. Nice, but maybe his value could be exchanged for something else we need. Maybe.
Our other options are both internal: Marisnick and Springer. Personally, I’d put Jake from State Farm over there whether we keep Fowler or not. I know there’s an ego thing with Fowler about center field, but I’d give him the winter to get over it. He’s got to understand how much better a fielder both other guys are. Of course, if we trade Fowler, who plays left field in his place? Well, Robbie Grossman has given us a nice second half again. (Yawn.) Again, we’ve got Cuddyer and Morse and Nelson Cruz and and whole bunch of guys who make me wonder if replacing Fowler is worth it.
In the end, I think we have Fowler, Springer and either Marisnick or Grossman to start the season. It’d be nice to get Nelson Cruz, but there might be better places to spend our money.
DH: Chris Carter has an OBP below .300, he whiffs at a 32% rate and his walk rate is 8.1%. Oh, and he has the second-best WAR on the team. Considering his wRC+ is tied with Altuve for the team lead at 127, the question becomes “if you replace Carter, what do you replace him with?” Honestly, his inability to consistently put the ball in play is a major problem for me. But when you consider our other problems, I think replacing Carter is like saying, “I’ll pass up this compact car in the hopes there’s a new Cadillac behind door number two.” That’s crazy.
A Cuisinart And A Food Dehydrator
Third Base: There are days I look at Matt Dominguez manning the hot corner and think, “Wow, we’re lucky to have this guy.” He made a play the other night cutting in front of Marwin that was just amazing. But it’s becoming apparent that he’s not the .255/22 HRs/80 RBI guy we’d need him to be. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m ready to look at what’s behind door number three.
The options are plentiful. Chase McGehee, Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, Michael Morse (again … he plays a lot of positions) and Eric Chavez. There’s also some internal options such as Gregorio Petit (actually, Petit would play short and Marwin 3B), Colin Moran, who is putting up good numbers in AA (.792 OPS and just 20 Ks in 94 ABs), and Joe Sclafani (.849 OPS, 24 Ks, 25 BBs in 173 ABs) in OKC, and Matt Duffy (.796 OPS, 12 HRs, 65 Ks, 20 BBs, 298 ABs). So, I guess the question is this: Are we trying to compete in 2015? If so, maybe grab a free agent. If not, I’d go with one of our prospects. Either way, I’m willing to pick another prize.
Catcher: Would the real Jason Castro please stand up? Are you 2013 Jason Castro with his 4.3 WAR and his .835 OPS? Or are you 1.2 WAR and your sub-.700 OPS? I’m guessing that even if he’s just something in between, there’s nothing on the market worth the exchange. I think there’s a box of Chiclets behind door number one. As much as I’ve been frustrated by Castro this season, I think he’s worth another try. Same with Corporan, who has been worth half a run in 166 ABs.
Starters: OK, so McHugh, Oberholtzer and Keuchel are in. Feldman is probably in, unless we can get a good deal for him. That leaves Brad Peacock, who gives up one and one-third homers a game, walks too many, strikes out enough and gives up too many runs. Can we package Peacock with a good prospect for a closer (see below)? If so, who takes his place? Well, Jake Buchanan has been solid this season, though not great. Mike Foltynewicz looks promising. Nick Tropeano just above 3.00. And there are loads of free agents. I’m willing to send Peacock packing … maybe as part of a package deal.
And The Bullpen
Here’s the thing, there’s seven bullpen spots. So, is Tony Sipp one of the best bullpen arms in baseball? I don’t know, but I think he’s worth one of seven spots on this roster. Same goes for Qualls (despite Wednesday night) and Fields. I’d give Matt Albers another try. And Jose Veras. That’s five. Do we give Jesse Crain another pile of money? What about Anthony Bass? Do we bring him back?
There are a LOT of relievers who will be free agents, and I don’t have time to look them all up. Just don’t. But I think this is where a trade might happen. This is where we may be able to get some value from a piece such as Matty D or from our minor league prospects. The key is, we need a closer. A REAL closer, not Chad Qualls, who is a nice reliever for the seventh inning, but I don’t want him as my closer.
So, while it’s easy to say “Replace the Bums!” it’s not always that easy. Replace them with whom? Baseball Prospectus has a list of potential 2015 free agents. We have our loaded farm system. Maybe Luhnow pulls of a great trade. But don’t tell me you want to get rid of Jason Castro unless you have a reasonable replacement for him. Don’t tell me to dump Qualls when we need seven arms in that bullpen, and you’ll need to convince me you can find seven guys who are better.
With that said, Let’s Make A Deal …