In May 1991, I made friends with a guy named Steve. He was a buddy of my best friend, but Steve and I had never met. Serendipity, it seems, had kept us apart until that fateful time.
Steve and I worked late each night together, and one night we were talking books. I recommended to him “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” A couple of nights later, Steve took the book up to a nearby Perkins (kind of like a Denny’s or Village Inn) where he read it, occasionally laughing because, well, read the book and you’ll understand.
Anyway, seated at the next booth was a young lady who kept hearing the freaky goth guy giggle. Finally, she popped up over the partition and said, “If it’s so funny, why don’t you share it with the rest of the group.”
The next night, Steve told me I needed to go to Perkins with him after work. He’d met some people who were loads of fun. So I went with him, and that’s the night I met my wife.
When it’s working for you, well, timing and good fortune are on your side. When it’s working against you, it seems any decision made is wrong for you. Don’t believe me? Ask Anne Frank.
She was arrested about a month before the last train to Auschwitz. She died at Bergen-Belsen about a month before it was liberated by the Allies. In both instances, bad timing worked to send her to her death.
What’s all this got to do with Jeff Luhnow and the Astros, you ask? Well, Houston’s GM has some decisions to make this offseason. He needs to sign some bullpen pieces. That’s just a simple fact.
But at two key positions that underperformed for Houston in 2014 — third base and left field — any move he might make is at the whim of serendipity.
Do you sign or trade for a third baseman now, some guy on the other side of 30, give him four years, $40-plus million? Or will Colin Moran be ready in July to start producing? Is there some outfielder out there that’s the answer to Houston’s prayers? Or is Robbie Grossman ready for full-season prime time?
Let’s have a look at some of those decisions that are coming his way.
Oh, sure, Luhnow can pony up for Hanley Ramirez or Chase Headley. The Astros could make all of Pablo Sandoval‘s dreams come true. Or the Astros could trade for David Wright or send a couple of starters to the needy Twins for Trevor Plouffe. All of these are upgrades over the .586 OPS and not-good-enough glove of Matt Dominguez.
But any free agent is going to want a minimum of three years and $35 million. More likely, the Astros would be looking at five years and $60-70 million. As for trades, David Wright, whom the Mets would happily unload, is signed through 2020. His first four years are at $20 million apiece. Plouffe is entering his second year of arbitration, and would likely command well north of $4 million after getting $2.85 million last year. Still, that’d be a bargain for a guy with a .751 OPS who hit 14 homers and 40 doubles while striking out 109 times (53 BB) in 582 PAs.
As good as Plouffe would be, would Houston be giving up too much — I’m picturing Mike Foltynewicz or maybe Brad Peacock plus Colin Moran — to get him? Then you have got to believe he’s replaceable by Joe Sclafani (.858 OPS, .339 BA, 27 Ks, 26 BBs, 218 PAs in AAA) this year or Rio Ruiz in 2016?
Honestly, Plouffe is probably someone the Astros should target. He’s young. There’s team control for a couple of more years. He produces. But are we giving away the farm to get him, when we have guys who can produce as well.
Look at Moran himself. After being liberated from the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Moran went to Corpus and hit .304 with a .760 OPS while whiffing 20 percent of the time. Don’t like Moran or Sclafani? How about Matt Duffy, who combined in AA and AAA for a .288 BA, .786 OPS and 18 HRs.
Or maybe Matt Dominguez rebounds. (Yeah, I’m not banking on that either.)
See the problem?
This is really any outfield position, but let’s just call it left field for the time being. After all, unless a trade happens, the Astros have Dexter Fowler and George Springer pretty much locked into two outfield slots. That leaves one spot. Left field.
If the Astros stand pat in the outfield, the likely alignment is either, left to right, Fowler, Marisnick and Springer, or Grossman, Fowler and Springer.
We all talk about how great Grossman was after the break, but in reality Grossman posted a .706 OPS after the All-Star Break. Not exactly lighting it up. If that’s great offense, I’ll take Jake Marisnick and his defense … and his .669 OPS. Or maybe the Astros bring up Preston Tucker, whose AA and AAA combined OPS of .834 looks promising. Tucker hit 24 homers while striking out 120 times (about 20 percent) and walking about half as often. Or maybe Houston takes a chance on Andrew Aplin, who walked more than he whiffed in 2014 and posted a .717 OPS across AA and AAA.
The alternative is to sign or trade for something expensive. Melky Cabrera or Victor Martinez might be out of Luhnow’s price range, but Michael Morse might be affordable at around $11-12 million a year for two or three years. Cabrera, Martinez and Nelson Cruz might be the big-name options, but Morse would cost less and provide a quality bat. Other mid-level guys might include Nori Aoki or Nick Markakis who look like opposite answers to the same question. Colby Rasmus might cost about $12-13 million a season.
Want to really break the bank? How about Yasmany Tomas for about $100 million over seven years. That’s a pretty penny for a guy that may need a few months in Fresno.
If the free agent possibilities are confusing, I won’t even go into the trades. That said, anything that’s a major upgrade over Grossman or Marisnick is going to cost one MLB player (think Grossman as a return outfielder for the trade partner) plus an MLB-ready arm and a lottery ticket from A ball.
Or, like I said, we give Tucker a shot or maybe Domingo Santana another shot.
All this goes back to how you feel about timing. Are the Astros farmhands more than a season or two away? Is there not enough guaranteed quality at the top levels? Or would you rather Luhnow spent that $20 million elsewhere than a free agent or higher-priced player through a trade?
What third baseman should the Astros target if they plan to replace Dominguez from outside the organization?
If you had to — HAD TO — use someone within the organization to play third base next season, who would it be?
Who should Houston try to sign or trade for — be realistic — to fill their outfield hole? How much, in either dollars or talent, would it cost?
If Houston stays within the organization, who will be the third outfielder on Opening Day? Who will be the fourth outfielder on the bench?
What farmhand who could be in Houston before the All-Star Break has you most excited among all the position players?