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.
- Scott Feldman. $10 million.
- Luke Gregerson. $6 million.
- Pat Neshek. $5.5 million.
- Chad Qualls. $3 million.
- Jose Altuve. $2.69 million.
- Jon Singleton. $2 million.
- Presley. $1 million.
- TOTAL. $30.19 million.
- Dexter Fowler. $9 million.
- Tony Sipp. $1.5 million.
- Jason Castro. $3.9 million.
- Hank Conger. $1.1 million.
- Carlos Corporan. $1 million
- Chris Carter. $3.5 million.
- Marwin Gonzalez. $1.0 million.
- TOTAL. $21 million.
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.