Building an Astros’ roster without throwing cash around

Throw money at this guy. Make that guy an offer he can’t refuse. Sign him whether we lose a draft pick or not.

It’s easy to look at a list of free agents and say, “Let’s spend that $20 million there!” But a smarter way to build the 2015 roster might mean finding impact players who don’t cost an arm and a leg.

Here’s a look at two of the Astros’ positions of need with a pair of moves that have been mentioned here at Chipalatta in passing over the past week or two. But I’m going to say, right off the bat, these are two moves I think Luhnow needs to make.

Mark Canha, 1B, Marlins organization. Rule 5 draft
It’s no secret the Astros need help at first base. Maybe Jon Singleton is that help. He’s young. He could put it together in 2015. It’s possible.

But maybe Singleton, and his high strikeout rate, is not the answer after all. If not, Houston needs a new option at first. Should they spend big money (thereby giving up on Singleton)? Or should they find another low-cost option who comes with a high upside?

Last year, Canha hit for a .303/.384/.505 slash line in 527 AAA New Orleans plate appearances, whiffing 112 times and hitting 20 HRs. He bats right, plays some third base and walks about half as often as he Ks.

Why did Miami leave a AAA player with an .889 OPS available? No idea. But someone is going to take this kid, and I’d be happy if it was Houston. Canha might be the second coming of Singleton, but he might be so much more.

Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Twins, Trade

So the Twins’ No. 2 prospect, Miguel Sano, sat out the 2014 season after Tommy John surgery. But he should be ready to go this spring. And he’s allegedly ready for prime time. The upshot here is that if Sano is ready, Trevor Plouffe is expendable to the Twins. The pitching-needy Twins.

Plouffe is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, so the Astros would probably be looking at about what Jason Castro make in 2014 for the third baseman with the .751 OPS, 14 HRs, 109Ks and 53 BBs in 573 PAs.

The problem is the Twins don’t need a catcher. Kurt Suzuki is signed through 2016. Their backup catcher, Josmil Pinto, is serviceable too. So the Twins won’t be happy with Carlos Corporan or even Castro. They could, however, use some serious rotation help and a maybe a reliable outfielder (though Byron Buxton may make that need obsolete).

Lance McCullers Jr., Michael Feliz, Vincent Velasquez, Josh Hader: Luhnow could offer any one of these along with Teoscar Hernandez or Tony Kemp. Maybe the Twins demand Mike Foltynewicz. The point is, there are plenty of options without giving up Appel. (Or Luhnow could just give up Appel, but I don’t see that happening.)

Change In Our Pocket

Total, these two deals might cost the Astros about $2.5 million or $3 million in salary. And that leaves plenty of money where Houston should spend it: the bullpen.


So, what are the holes in my plan?

How would you fix third base and first base if not with Plouffe and Canha?

Will your plan leave enough money to fix Houston’s biggest problem, the bullpen?

With Colin Moran and Rio Ruiz in the pipeline at 3B, and Singleton possibly ready to step up at 1B, are these low priority moves? Is the price — any price — for Plouffe too high?

46 comments on “Building an Astros’ roster without throwing cash around

  1. Brian, I heartily echo your thoughts about Canha. I do find it strange that he is not being protected and he is not among the Marlins’ top prospects. I would still draft him to be a serious competitor to Singleton.


    • I looked deeper into Canha’s Marlins situation. He started out not ranked because he was a seventh round pick at 1B. That right there is like a concussion for being ranked as a top 20.
      Sickels had Cahna as the Marlins #14 in Jan 2012 but said that his home run production would be the determining factor in his rankings from then on out. Canha had only 6 hr’s in Jupiter in 2012 and fell out of the rankings. Jupiter is where Marlin hitting prospects go to die(See Colin Moran 2014!). Canha’s power bounced back in 2013 and 2014, but by then the Marlins top 20 was absolutely dominated by pitchers. The Marlins have only 7 position players currently in their top 20 prospects.


  2. I’m leaving Olde Time Baseball Guy(OTBG) out of this and am going off stats and projections only.
    Canha first. He costs 50 grand for the pick, a roster spot(which is currently available) and does not push Kraus out at this time and will cost league minimum and the team has max control for at least five years. His projections are way higher for 2015 than either Singleton’s or Kraus’s level of performance was in 2014. Canha’s 2015 WRC+ projections are 101, while Singleton’ are 104 and Kraus’s are 97. If Canha doesn’t make the team at his age you either get 25 grand back from the Marlins to take him back or you waive him or put him in the minors if he isn’t claimed on waivers. He becomes at RH hitting 1B or corner outfielder or a RH pinch hitter with power off the bench if he makes the team. If Canha is ever going to make a splash in the majors with his tools, 2015 is the year he will do it. His 20% projected strikeout rate makes the Crawford boxes a good target for a RH power hitter. By the way, his splits against LH/RH pitchers were good in the minors.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The plus sides to each of the moves:
    – Basically free (I think they pay $50,000 for Rule 5 players)
    – Can play 3 positions of need – 1B, 3B and LF
    – Strong numbers in the minors including an OPS of .889 at AAA

    – Experienced 3B in the majors
    – Has played some 1B, corner OF and even some SS(though not well)
    – Solid bat – certainly way above Dominguez
    – Not too costly – probably about $3.5 -4 million in 1st year arb

    The minus sides to each move
    – Has to be on the roster the whole season (of course if he does not earn it – turn him back to the Marlins)
    – Will be 26 by the start of next season
    – Not a whole lot of difference between his minor numbers and Marc Krauss

    – Do we really want to give up a couple pieces to shore up a spot for perhaps one season or less before Moran or Ruiz arrive
    – Will get fairly costly in a hurry as he starts arbitration this season and is not likely to be given a longer term contract
    – An OK bat – not a huge corner infield bat

    Thanks, Brian T – thoughtful piece – makes you think about what the GMs have to balance when doing thier jobs.


    • I think Plouffe being a 2-3 yr guy is a plus. There is no guarantee Moran or Ruiz is here in ’16. I’d force them to force the me to make a trade.


  4. This is where it gets painful. I’m not prepared to pay that much for Ploufe. Any trade sending multiple players from our top 20 to MN for him would seem like a negative at this point. In fact, given Sano would have had his job last year if not for the injury, I expect their bargaining power is reduced. How many utility infielders can you afford in the AL?

    As for Canha, we saw Singleton put up a .922 OPS at age 21 at CC in 2013. At age 22, he put up a .941 OPS at OKC before being promoted and hitting 13 HR with 50 walks in about 360 PA. The Marlins chose not to protect Canha for the second consecutive year. If I were Luhnow and I had an open 40 man spot, I’d try the same thing he did with Nate Freiman. I would try to work a trade for his rights with Miami, however, if he was unable to crack the 25 (which is my suspicion).


  5. With Sano recovering from TJ and adjusting to the ML, Plouffe is likely staying to play third for half a season, then possibly shifting to LF.

    I like Canha as a rule 5 guy. I don’t like giving a roster spot for a tryout. I’d prefer a actual major leaguer at the corner – Alberto Callaspo, Luis Valbuena, or Michael Morse.


    • I think Michael Morse is a perfect fit for the Astros. He can alternate between 1B, LF and DH. Granted, he is probably Chris Carter defensively in LF, but man can he rake. The Crawfish Boxes posted a graph the other day showing several of Morse’s outs at AT&T Park would have been HRs at MMP. Acquiring him might light a fire under Singleton or give us an option to replace him if JS continues to struggle.


  6. For me if we are trading anyone of our top 20 guys it better be for a long term upside dude.So I don’t think 3B is that spot. Are either Plouffe or Canha a good option at first for the next 3-4 years. I think Lunhole will give Singleton 2015 to make or break it, unless he really stinks early on. I can live with that . I’m just hoping Moran beats out slow motion. I think we will score more runs anyway than 2014 with a healthy Springer and new coaches. So spend a bunch on a A+ closer , there is 10-12 wins right there!


  7. Plouffe: No OTBG here either.
    Last year Plouffe’s WRC+ was 112 and Dominguez’s was 62(one of the worst at any position in the majors). The Steamer projections for them for 2015 is 105 for Plouffe and 86 for Matty D. (Sclafani’s projected WRC plus for 2015 is 83, 3 less than Matt’s 2015 projections and 21 points higher than Dominguez’s 2014 performance).
    So Plouffes 2014 was eons better than Matt’s and his projections for 2015 are light years ahead of Matt’s.
    Plouffe will cost a roster spot, so one of the players we give up needs to be a 40-man guy to make room. Otherwise, we’d be giving up an extra guy for Plouffe by losing a guy off the 40-man plus whoever we give up in the trade. Plouffe is worth the money and two prospects to the Astros because of our 3B problems. In two years, when he becomes expensive and Moran or Ruiz are knocking at the door, you move Plouffe in a trade and get a prospect back to replace one of the guys you gave up.
    By stats, Plouffe is a big upgrade. By projections, he’s a big upgrade. As long as Luhnow trades from our wealth in the prospect dept, two for one major league player is fair. Correa and Appel are not in the discussion.


  8. A lot of folks around here wanted Ed Wade’s head on a stick because he took Castro over Smoak. Raise your hands if you’d like the Astros to pick him up after he is NTed.


  9. nice piece brian. i would take canha. low risk possible high reward. if he sticks great, if he doesn’t, not much was wasted, we lose little money but no players.


  10. I wouldn’t be opposed to either move. I am not sure they are tremendous upgrades, but Cahna sends a message to Singleton that he is at least in jeopardy of losing his job.

    Offensively Plouffe is Matty D at his best potential, a slightly inconsistent .250ish hitter with some power that doesn’t walk enough. Plouffe probably walks a tick or two more, and they both will strikeout around 20% of the time, but Plouffe is not a very good defensive 3B. He does play a lot of positions, but he has played them all poorly.

    Maybe it comes down to how many pitchers and outfielders they will carry. Singleton and Carter are limited in the field, one will be at DH, the other at 1B. It appears that there will be some combination of Grossman/Marisnick in the OF with Fowler and Springer, and Presley as the 5th guy. They would almost have to carry 11 pitchers or have one very talented back up infielder to even have Cahna on the roster, and having Cahna, Singleton, and Carter all on the roster will put you in a tunnel with how you handle injuries – especially since Cahna has to be on the roster the entire year.

    Bottom line – I like Cahna as a low cost replacement, but only as a replacement. Can’t keep them both, and I don’t think the Astros are ready to give up on a 23 year old slugger based on his first 362 plate appearances. In the perfect world Grossman wins LF and posts a .370+ OBP, Marisnick shows us his tremedous skill sets at all 3 OF positions, relieving everyone, defensive subbing, even pinch running, and effectively wrecking havoc without having to bat 500 times, and the Astros don’t see a need to carry Presley, and we can carry Cahna. It rarely works out like we see it though. Maybe Fowler gets moved and solves all of it.


  11. Off subject… I would continue to give Krauss some at bats just to allow him the chance to bust out. Looking at his stats over the last couple of years, he is hitting a homerun every 30+ at bats. That runs out to 20+ over a season. He just needs to get more hits. Do the Astros sit Singleton or send him down if he gets off to a rough start just to put Krauss in there or do the Astros place him in left field?


    • This time last year I was a not so quiet advocate of putting Krauss in LF and letting him start. I’ll squelch that some this year – but I do think if he played LF regularly and was given 500+ plate appearances he would probably hit .260 with 20 HR while walking 10% of the time and giving us close to a .350 OBP. That said, I’m not sure you can live with the liabilities of doing that – terrible defensive player, and even drano wouldn’t help the basepaths with him on it. Best way to make sure noone can score from 1st on a double is have Krauss standing on 2nd.

      Regardless of what most of chipalatta world thinks though – he has potential as an offensive player – he has demonstrated that in the minors and shown short flashes in the majors – which is why he is still here (but even I am surprised he survived the 40 man). If an injury were to occur to Fowler or Grossman, I would advocate actually starting Krauss more often and keeping Marisnick in a super sub/defensive replacement role, a role I think he will excel in. Otherwise, barring injury, Krauss probably will not be in Houston on opening day.


  12. Please Please no Krauss or Hoes ever move on. I was hoping the same for Presley. i would much rather see some of our other younger guys


  13. i’m with you on presley. i thought he would be a non tender candidate. makes you wonder if something is in the works involving trading a catcher (castro) and an outfielder (fowler). that would make having 4 catchers at present make more sense and signing presley as a reserve outfielder make more sense.


    • It seems Presley had undergone a fundamental change to his approach (ala Colin McHugh) that seemed to be paying off before his injury. He was hitting too many ground balls and not enough line drives. He is a high contact guy, and suffered with a low BABIP. I’m fine with resigning him.


    • I really don’t care for Presley in that the OF was already full. I would prefer Marisnick in that 4th OFer role and the Astros not to carry a 5th OFer, though I don’t think Luhnow will care much what I think, so I would assume we have a Presley, so hopefully he succeeds with this new approach. In my opinion new approaches usually end up with similar results when it comes to hitters. See Wallace, Brett.


      • A possible roster config would see the Astros take only four OF on the 25. JFSF and Springer can play both CF or RF. Grossman manned both corner spots. Even if we decide Fowler can only play CF, you can expect adequate to great defense running any combo from that bunch out there. In a pinch you could let Marwin or Carter catch balls in LF. Why do I suggest this? Our infield has only one certainty, and until we trade a catcher… I really don’t believe Presley is anything other than a cheap insurance policy that gives JL flexibility in the off season. I don’t see his contract as a guarantee he’ll make the team…remember they can bring him to camp and still only have to pay him for 30 days if he gets cut.


  14. Pressley’s contract doesn’t guarantee him a job, but it sure guarantee’s him a million dollars, whether he makes the team or not.


  15. The Astros have tendered all their arb eligible players.
    Some interesting players who were non-tendered include Wesley Wright and two Braves pitchers Medlen and Beachy.


    • Which arbitration eligible players would you have non-tendered? Corporan was the only question in my mind. As a player one year removed from the AS game I think Castro has enough value that JL can easily move him without the arbitration result being a factor. After trading for Conger, it would have seemed assured that he would not be NT.

      The downside is that with no one traded after arb or terms agreed, these increases likely eat up all the money they get back (no Wandy, Crain, Albers, etc.), but also cut off about half of the proposed $20M payroll increase. Given we are taking that increase with a grain of salt…


      • Devin – here is how I looked at the available money for free agents in the previous blog comments
        Under contract (5) – Feldman, Altuve, Singleton, Qualls, Presley – $18.5 million
        Due for arbitration – (7) – Castro, Conger, Fowler, Marwin G, Sipp, Corporan, Carter – estimated to get total of $21.1million by mlb trade rumors.
        So that puts us at $40 million
        The other 13 spots are right now approx. $500 K apiece or $6.5 million.
        So that is approx. $46.5 million total payroll before adding any additional salary.
        So if you are looking at $68 million or so for 2015 – then that leaves you about $21.5 million to play with (which could be $30 million if Fowler gets moved).


    • OP – saw that but have not seen what the Astros want in return – RP or 3B or ????
      It would loosen up about $9 million for use elsewhere this season, but leaves you a big hole in the OF and at the top of the lineup.


      • Flash, are you looking at Sanchez as a potential closer? Are you looking at Norris as a potential starting pitcher? Do you see either of them as a enough in a 1 for 1 trade?


      • I like both as starters, but each might need to spend some time in the BP. I think the Astros would need to include a 10-20 prospect to get one of those guys, particularly Sanchez.


  16. I wish we could trade for a KC Royal reliever – they have a lot of great arms but I’m not sure what they would want in return – maybe a starter with Shields leaving.


  17. If you took the word “throwing” out of the title of this post, it might be something to talk about as well. Building an Astros roster without cash around.


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