Astros still have flexibility, maneuverability with 2015 payroll

With two seemingly simple bullpen signings, the Astros have already plugged the most gaping hole of the past three seasons. And, so it would seem, Jeff Luhnow has poised his organization for the most significant off season in recent memory.

With a rising, yet still fragile optimism, rumors swirl about players like Jed Lowrie and even Cole Hamels, Houston is still Houston. Not the Yankees. Not the Red Sox. Not the Cubs. The payroll is still expected to fall into the $65-$70 million range, though owner Jim Crane has said publicly that his team is prepared to go higher for the right player.

Houston has its own free agents and arbitration players to consider and has re-signed only one to this point: Alex Presley, for $1 million. So, as much as fans would like to see an extension for Dallas Keuchel or tie up George Springer into his arbitration days, Luhnow must consider the bottleneck I’ve written about several times.

Let’s review quickly where the Astros are at this moment:

2015 committed contracts.

Expected arbitration.

Add in the remaining 11 players at or around the league minimum and the Astros’ payroll to date is in the mid 50s. Still maneuvering room for another quality free agent signing or two. Still flexibility, especially if you move a player like Fowler or Castro. Still plenty of wiggle room for significant upgrades.

Perhaps the key movement of the winter thus far for Houston, however, is the lack of movement with the team’s own free agent/arb-eligible players. Luhnow has clearly kept his powder dry and his options open. Why is Preseley different? You can reach your own conclusions, but it does provide Luhnow some depth, especially if he already knows or is planning for significant movement in the outfield in the coming weeks. Read: Jake Marisnick, Robbie Grossman et al.

As the off season has progressed, it’s clear that Houston not only has holes, but that the organization is now moving in the direction of solid, longer-term replacements in lieu of the patch work, retread, stop gap solutions of recent years.

Here are some of my predictions, some of which is based on a glass half full mindset.

  • Perhaps not by opening day, but Houston’s payroll ultimately ends up north of $70 million, perhaps closer to $80 million when all is said and down.
    • Why? The ultimate roster will be pushing toward mid 80s in wins and Crane will add $$ in an effort to make a playoff push. Didn’t say they’d get there, but your team starts projecting near 83-84 wins and you want to see what can happen.
  • Castro or Fowler open next season in another uniform. I still believe these guys will have a higher arbitration number, but Luhnow will parlay their skills into an upgrade at one of the needy spots for the Astros.
  • Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock or possibly Michael Foltynewicz is traded. Perhaps even two of the three if Luhnow upgrades the rotation. Note: Hamels is a lefty to go along with Keuchel, so Obie would definitely be out if that scenario develops.
  • No upgrades at 1B. Singleton is the guy for 2015.
  • One surprise trade. One surprise free agent acquisition, though not necessarily a major splash.


34 comments on “Astros still have flexibility, maneuverability with 2015 payroll

  1. After all the arbitration and MLB minimum guys are signed, payroll is probably $57-58 million. That leaves $9 million per season on a three-year Jed Lowrie rental (I expect he’d be traded sometime in the last year of that deal) and another $3 million for another bullpen arm (can’t have too many). Anything above that is Crane giving the OK for Hamels. If we trade Castro for that bullpen arm, then there’s $7 million toward Hamels.

    Yes, there’s a bit of flexibility. I think 2016, if Crane gives Luhnow another $20 million to spend, gets real interesting.


  2. If they add Lowrie, one more back-end bullpen guy and another starting pitcher I would be very happy with this offseason. I think the Astros are going to trade Castro. I doubt Luhnow gave up 2 decent prospects just to have Hank Conger be the back-up. I am fine with trading Castro. Despite his down year last year teams are always looking for a decent catcher with some pop and Castro fits the bill. I think they can get adequate value for him.


  3. I would make Veras an offer and otherwise stand pat unless a fantastic upgrade opportunity fell in my lap. I think once ST starts you will see a market develop as teams figure out their needs on the field rather than on paper.

    I do have one suggestion though…why not pay a few million $ to get Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Lent, or another former Astros standout to privately tutor Castro and Singleton on approach and preparation? Heck, throw in Matty D and see if we can get all three up to par.


    • Great thought. Reminiscent of Hakeem tutoring Yao and Dwight. Wouldn’t you think Singleton, Matty D et al would jump at the chance to improve their games?

      PS – agree also with getting one more bullpen arm and that Veras is the cost-effective way of getting that done.


  4. Thats funny Billy Ty

    1 I think the BP is OK with what we have add some Non roster stuff they do before ST and in AAA
    2.I’m far from being impressed with Singleton but they will give him every shot to succeed in 2015, otherwise Lunhole will look lame on that contract.
    3. One more solid SP an upgrade at 3rd we are smoking.


  5. Glad Headley is gone, that contract I think will be bust for the SPIT Yankee’s. I think Lowrie is another Fowler, OK bat with attitude and injuries. What about the 3B dude in Minn.?


  6. Of course, once Lowrie is officially signed that puts us right up against the $20M increase Crane mentioned. I think there will be some more additions coming, but probably via trade. Any speculation on the roster move we make tomorrow to have the room to add Lowrie to the 40-man roster?


  7. Jed Lowrie needs to leave his smart a$$ remarks in California. This is an ok signing
    so……..meh. Looks like someone is going to find a new home tomorrow, who do ya think goes??


  8. I think Marwin stays and Dominguez is on a very short leash. Straight up, if Lowrie ends up at third, the infield offense improves significantly. Even if Lowrie gives us just a .700 range OPS, he’ll be getting on base much more than Dominguez. And if wiser heads prevail and Fowler stays, we’ll have quite a few guys on base for the long ball hitters. This cynic is somewhat encouraged!


  9. I have to say I love how Luhnow front loads these 3 year contracts. Lowrie’s contract, like Feldman’s, decreases in AAV each year. This way the player’s salary decreases when his production is likely to decrease, which makes the player more tradeable.


  10. Defensively, I think Lowrie slots at SS and MarGo goes to 3B.

    If we need to get rid of someone, I think L.J. Hoes is a waste of a 40-man spot. Maybe someone picks him up, and I’m fine with that. He wasn’t the big return in the Bud Norris deal anyway.

    Yeah, at this point I think the Astros need two things to be truly competitive. 1. Production from first base. 2. Another reliable starter. Maybe that starter is Folty or Peacock once he’s healthy. Maybe it’s Buchanan. Or Appel in July. But this is looking a lot like a baseball team.

    Even good teams have a hole or two in the lineup. They just don’t have five.

    We’re down to two or three at most. That’s encouraging.


    • Dan Johnson could be an interesting low value pickup for the Astros. He is an OBP machine. He doesn’t hit for a high average, but has a decent shot to make the club if Singleton continues to struggle.


  11. “Houston has its own free agents and arbitration players to consider and has re-signed only one to this point: Alex Presley, for $1 million…”

    Really? A whole million bucks?


  12. Brian T- If you move Marwin over to 3rd. base,( which I don’t think will happen)
    his glove can’t make the plays Matt D. makes. You lose a lot of defense, if you move him over there. My prediction is Matt Dominguez starts the year at 3rd.
    Got my 2015 Astros calendar today! Counting down the days until the pitchers and catchers (all three of them?) report to spring training!


    • How much defense do you lose with Lowrie at SS over MarGo? I think I would play MarGo at SS and Lowrie at 3B and bring Matty D in for late inning defensive substitution. Give Matty D starts against LHs and occassional spot start against RHs. His defense is not good enough to make up for his lack of offense.


      • Tim ( or anyone) do you have additional info on Dan Johnson. At first look, he is a 34 yr old in AAA last year. Then I see a story that in Toronto he was working on a knuckle ball. Just wondering if he was picked up for a NRI in the bullpen?


  13. Not my kind of pickup as it does not improve the 2017 team. However, given it’s happened, sez here Luhnow will package Villar and a catcher for a corner outfielder with pop.


    • Actually, it does improve the 2017 team, especially if Correa and Moran/Ruiz are manning the left side of the IF. What a nice utility/bench player Lowrie makes on our championship team. If nothing else, he is a decent trade chip, especially considering what his salary will be in 2017.


  14. Just speculating: (1) I wonder if Conger was brought in because there was a deal for Castro that fell through. and (2) with Perez and Garcia both selected by other teams on the cheap – I wonder if Castro and his attitude MAY be a drawback for other clubs. Wonder if he is difficult to move for very much. One would think he has high trade value – Conger and Corporan may be easier to move. Again, just wondering if you are GM for another club. You need a catcher and you see no need to give anything for Castro when at some point you may get Conger or Corporan for FREE.


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