Oh, that TV money is burning a hole in my pocket like a pair of quarters when the new packs of baseball cards came out back in the day. (Yes, I just gave everyone a glimpse at my age.)
But Crane said we’ve got $20 million to spend … I assume (ha!) that’s not including what we save on not re-signing Jesse Crain or Matt Albers, and the money saved by giving Jesus Guzman the old heave-ho. (He’s Japan’s problem now.) Oh, and what we will no longer pay Wandy Rodriguez. Of course, I’m sure it includes whatever raises are handed out in arbitration.
As it is, the Astros will be spending more on those positions. Jason Castro should see a bump over the $2.45 million he made in 2014. Say his salary goes up to $4.2 million. Carter, meanwhile, was pulling down a paltry $510,000 in 2014. Expect that to jump to nearly $2 million in arbitration. After all, he hit 37 homers and shaved 30 Ks off his 2013 total in the same number of at-bats.
So, if we’re spending at or about $6 million on these two, what should we expect from the pair?
Your Whole Job Is To Hit
Let’s look first at Carter. While some of his overall stats came when he manned left field (please, not again!) and first base (ugh!), by far most came when he defended from the bench. A .227/.308/.491 overall slash came with the aforementioned 37 bombs, 21 doubles, 56 BBs, 182 Ks and 88 RBIs in 569 PAs. As just a DH, Carter hit .241/.318/.523 with 34 HRs, 18 2B, 45 BBs, 154Ks, and 78 RBIs in 482 PAs. Yep, Carter’s a better hitter when he doesn’t have to worry about where his glove is from inning to inning.
I’d take the DH version of Carter at $2 million. You can talk all you want about Billy Butler, Jason Kubel or Corey Hart having a rebound in 2015, but Carter actually outperformed them all. Heck, even the occasional left field playing Carter is better than these guys. And if he can cut another 15-20 Ks off his total in 2015, I’ll start being a real Chris Carter fan. And all of them would want more than the $2 million or so Carter will command.
The only real option from the farm is Preston Tucker. He’s got the power (24 HRs, .481 OPS), the hit tool (.282 combined AA and AAA average), the eye (.352 combined OBP, only 120 total Ks in 593 PAs), and the versatility to play in the field if needed. He’s save Houston about $1.5 million, but at what cost of production? Still, if Carter were traded, he could bring a pretty big haul in MLB-ready players and prospects.
Compare Carter’s numbers –either his DH-only stats or his composite 2014 numbers — to the 162-game MLB average for a DH, which came out to a .247/.317/.419 slash with 23 HRs (AL only), 27 doubles (AL only), 83 RBIs (AL only), 55 BBs (AL only), and 140 Ks (AL only). (Note: With counting stats, it’s not fair to add NL teams into the mix.) But all that said, Carter is looking good. And when you realize most DHs are the older players with big contracts and a decent bat, well, even at a bargain of a couple mil, Carter looks like a good deal.
Castro The Astro and His All Backstop Band
Other than a little time spelling Carter at DH (it really is a tough job), Jason Castro played the majority of his games and Houston’s games behind the plate. His slash was .222/.286/.366. He hit 14 HRs, 21 2Bs, drove in 56 runs, had 34 BBs and 151 Ks. His backup, Carlos Corporan, who is also arbitration eligible, went .235/.302/.376 with 6 HRs, 6 doubles, 14 BBs, 37 Ks and 19 RBIs. Castro had 500 PAs while Corporan stepped into the box 184 times. In his September call up, Max Stassi went .350/.350/.450 with no homers, 2 doubles, and 4 RBIs in 20 PAs. He whiffed 6 times and didn’t walk any.
The 162-game average for MLB catchers was .245/.309/.380 with 16 HRs, 29 doubles, 71 RBIs, 49 BBs, and 136 Ks.
Looking to replace any of the three — Castro especially — on the free agent market? Well, J.P. Arencibia posted a .608 OPS. John Buck wasn’t that good. Nick Hundley posted a .625 OPS, but will easily command the same salary as Castro. Wil Nieves had a .614 OPS and that’s been trending downward. Gerald Laird isn’t worth the money.
Russell Martin would be a big upgrade — provide we don’t see Castro return to 2013 form — but he made $17 million combined over the last two seasons. I’m pretty sure signing him would cost half or more of our $20 million total. That said, a 2014 OPS of .832 (career .754) is nothing to sneeze at. Geovany Soto posted a .665 OPS a season after his .794 OPS. Sounds a lot like someone whose name rhymes with “Astro.”
The only real farm option is Stassi, who played much worse in OKC (.247/.296/.378, 9 HRs, 20 doubles, 22 BBs, 103 Ks, 45 RBIs over 414 PAs) than he did in limited Houston action.
I’m not saying there aren’t upgrades available. There are. But they’ll cost a ton, and the player Houston has, Castro, was not far below the MLB average. In fact, combine Castro and Corporan, and you get an MLB average catcher for about $5.5 million total. Is that so bad? Or trade Corporan and hope Stassi is ready for that part-time duty.
Put On Your Thinking Caps
So, here are the questions to ponder:
- If you want to replace Carter, with whom will you replace him?
- Would you consider rolling the dice and trading Carter?
- Are you for spending big bucks behind the plate? If so, do you spend the big bucks for Martin or the medium bucks for Soto?
- I didn’t really talk about defense, but by all accounts, Castro got better in 2014. Do you want to see a different person handling Houston’s staff?
- Should Houston save a little scratch and trade their veteran backup backstop, Corporan? Is Stassi ready to play 50 games a season?
- As frustrating as it sounds, is Houston better off standing pat at DH and catcher?
Bonus Question: speaking of DHs — yes or no — do you vote for Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame?