Saturday notes: Dollars, sense and the 2016 Astros’ roster


Let’s talk dollars, sense and the 2016 Houston Astros. When you take a look at the projected salaries and payrolls for the coming seasons, it is evident — very evident — that the Astros have prepared themselves accordingly. From the team-friendly contract with Jose Altuve and the much-complained-about keeping George Springer in the minors to moving multiple top prospects, Jeff Luhnow and Co. has clearly positioned the organization for a sort of rolling payroll for the next several seasons.

Here are a few facts to catch you up.

  • The Astros have $57.2 million committed to 8 players this season.
  • Six arbitration players are projected to earn approximately $23 million combined.
  • 2015 opening day payroll: $72.5 million.
  • 2015 end-of-season payroll: $82.4 million.
  • 2016 projected payroll if season started today: $89 million.

Luhnow has obviously positioned himself to re-tool the team this year and next by keeping his payroll options open. The only player budgeted to earn over $9 million this season is Colby Rasmus $15.8 million). Obviously, that could change with another acquisition or a multi-year deal for Dallas Keuchel. With arbitration hearings set to begin soon, the Astros are still mired in the bottom 10 payroll listings, but it’s reasonable to project them into the middle of the pact by mid-season if not sooner.

Scott Feldman, Carlos Gomez, Jason Castro, Rasmus and Luis Valbuena ($43.6 million combined) will all roll off the books after this season, allowing even more flexibility if they aren’t re-signed. But Springer, Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers also become eligible for arbitration next winter.

The challenge for Luhnow is to identify and establish the core of the organization for the next decade and complement that core with talented short-term additions while continuing to keep a flow of talent through the system and the draft. A delicate balance to say the least. Whether by plan or happenstance, Houston has positioned itself well.  Each of the next 4-5 seasons, about four new players are scheduled to hit arbitration for the first time. Several contracts are also scheduled to roll off the books each of the next few years as well, allowing for further flexibility.

But when you consider that the Astros have added to the core virtually every season for the last four years, the long-term picture does start to come into focus more clearly.

Now, back to 2016. Fourteen players  are essentially under contract, either through a guaranteed deal or arbitration binder. Those 14 will earn approximately $80 million with 11 other players set to make at or around league minimum. Thus the $89 million range roster as of this moment.

That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, though it does appear the Astros are willing to add at least some payroll. With the traded Jed Lowrie and the jettisoned Chris Carter no longer in the system, the Astros have cleared the decks for their internal options to shine or for more flexibility on the trade/free agent route.

More likely, though, is that the Astros add pitching competition for the rotation. They have been linked to Jovani Gallardo, but the team would have to give up its first round pick (#18), thus making Houston’s first selection in the draft #60! A huge gamble, but with the hit and miss of the recent high draft picks, Gallardo might fit into the plans nicely for the rest of this decade. Doug Fister, who would not require giving up the first round pick, is also another notable free agent still unsigned, though you can argue a handful of Fister-like players are already in the system.

Here’s what the team might look like if the season started today.

  • Catcher: Castro, Max Stassi.
  • Rotation. Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers Jr., Feldman, Fiers.
  • Bullpen: Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Tony Sipp, Will Harris, Josh Fields, Pat Neshek, Michael Feliz.
  • Infield: Jon Singleton, Altuve, Correa, Valbuena, Marwin Gonzalez.
  • Outfield: Rasmus, Gomez, Springer, Jake Marisnick, Preston Tucker.
  • DH: Evan Gattis.

Where are the Astros most vulnerable?  On paper, the bullpen appears killer, the rotation is solid, if not well above average and that outfield could do some serious damage if it stays healthy and puts up even average numbers (for each player).

The infield — if you consider projections, talent and some history — could be the ace in the hole. However, it could also become the albatross of the 2016 season if the long line of possibilities flames out.

All in all, though, Houston is better positioned than this time one year ago. And, with room to make another significant move or a few more middle tier moves before opening day, the odds makers will be hard-pressed not to consider the Astros in their projections.

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16 comments on “Saturday notes: Dollars, sense and the 2016 Astros’ roster

  1. Interesting post, Chip. It almost looks like JL has set up the Astros to be a “small market” team for a while. However, if you make the playoffs with a low payroll, who cares. I do think you may be a little optimistic about the corner infield, but I hope I am wrong. Play Ball ! ! ! !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Astros are very vulnerable on the road and against the Rangers because this is the same team that went .500 last year over the last five months of the season, plus Giles and minus Kazmir.
    The Astros are vulnerable at the plate where they will lead the AL in Ks again this season with that lineup.
    They are vulnerable with runners on base because they won’t hit for average.
    They will be vulnerable in 2017 because they won’t have given guys like Reed, White, Duffy, Kemp and Tucker a chance to play regularly in the majors, so those guys will have to learn everything then.
    They will be vulnerable because of a payroll that is up $20million but didn’t add anything, making injuries a killer to their budget.
    They will be vulnerable because this is Luhnow’s fifth year and he will be fielding a team that he never planned on, because he always wanted a team with low Ks, high OBP, high BA, middle of the pack power and low salaried youth in year five of a complete rebuild, and the team above is not that team.
    But they are absolutely most vulnerable if LMJ has the Sophomore Blues, which no one has even considered.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Deviating from the discussion before I hibernate in front of the NFL playoffs this afternoon, is this from Jeff Passan: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/mlb-must-hammer-st–louis-beyond-its-checkbook-for-hacking-astros-005253782.html.
    I have heard some people say that the Astros will not receive player compensation out of this, because it would give the Astros an unfair advantage over other teams, including their AL West rivals. That is Bunk! If the Astros were indeed damaged as a franchise over the long term by what the Cardinals did, the teams that got that advantage were the team’s rivals, and that advantage has to be negated by compensation to the Astros from the Cards, who caused the Astros to be damaged.
    The people who say that he Cardinals’ rivals will gain an unfair advantage if the Cards lose draft picks or players are ignoring the fact that the Cards gained an unfair advantage over their rivals, including the NL Central, by having the scouting reports of two franchises to make drafting and trades easier for themselves, thus harming their rivals.
    The Cards must make compensation to the Astros for the future player damage they caused the Astros that nobody knows about through manipulation of places in the draft caused by committing a felony against the Astros organization. The damage cost the Astros dearly in reputation, draft choices, relationships with players, relationships with other teams and in actual game losses in future years by gaining access to the Astros draft strategy and manipulating Houston’s draft, by having the pick just before the Astros pick in every round of the draft for a year.
    The article about tells everything the Cardinals did and it is huge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Op, in reading this article and several others, there appears to be something missing or not said. He stated in court that he spoke to co-workers about the break in. Someone posted the information on the Internet that he received. This was not the work of just one person. It wasn’t some creepy guy in his mother’s basement. I am not saying that it went higher than the Director of Scouting (Correa) but it is a long way from a guy just trying to see if software was stolen. And he did it multiple times over a one year period. I think he is taking the fall for someone or a group of someones. There are too many unanswered questions.

      Liked by 2 people

      • ac45, I believe the Astros are being diligent and quiet because they know now how much this thing hurt them as a franchise, and how much of an advantage the Cards had over every other team in baseball because of this hack.
        Let me put it another way:
        Let’s use arbitrary figures to make it simple. Let’s suppose that in 2013 the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals each spent $15million on High School, college and international scouting of eligible players to draft and sign as free agents. That moment in March, 2013, when the Cardinal’s Director of Scouting hacked into Ground Control, the Cardinals, led by him, had access to $30 million worth of scouting. That’s twice as much info as his team paid for, twice as much info as any Director of Scouting in the major leagues had at their disposal and a theft of $15million worth of info that the Cardinals did not pay for but the Astros did. Just by itself, that is a huge gain by the Cardinals.
        Please picture this scenario: the Astros like a particular player they have scouted and the Cardinals don’t even have him on their radar. The Card’s DOS calls up his scout and tells him to check out so-and so. The scout checks the player out and likes him and the Cards add him to their list and draft him in the 22nd round, just a round or two before the Astros might have picked him. Nobody knows what happened except the Card’s DOS and harm is done without anyone knowing about it. Let’s also say that while the Cards were looking at that player, they saw another player they may not have noticed had they not been there and drafted him, also.
        The crime this guy committed has long term effects that will not be known and that is why damages have to be punitive when viewed by the Commish.
        The damage has been done, some to all the teams, but mostly to Houston and the Astros need to have those damages made up for by the Cardinals in draft choices and in money.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Intellectual property is important. Cards could also have somebody they have mixed signals from their people on and then they could use Astros info to help them decide what to do.

        Like

  4. I think the Astros are in great position going forward, both salary and age wise. There is a definite chance that they might regress this season due to injury, lack of depth, sophomore slumps and rookies learning to play in the majors.
    But there is a chance that they will improve, if they can hold serve with their pitching and get better hitting out of 2 of 3B, 1B, DH or C.

    Like

  5. Usually I’m the pessimist, but believe the team improves if health is not an issue. I’m on the fence with your roster. Having four players that can play CF is nice, but I wonder if the defensive deficiencies of Gattis and Tucker allow them to both hold a spot.

    Like

  6. 1OP, as usual, as a fan I cheer your comments. I think the cardinals should pay and pay big (to the Astros, draft picks, etc). Of course they won’t because they’re one of the leagues pretty boys. At least Selig’s not in the mix, if he was he would probably fine the Astros and give the cardinals our first pick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe the Cardinals aren’t the pretty boys after this. If I can understand the consequences of this hack, you can bet that the owners and GMs around the league realize how bad this hack was.
      And every one of them is laughing at Correa’s predictable excuses for this theft.
      If I were Manfred I would fine the Cardinals the entire amount the Astros spent for scouting for 2013 and divide that money amongst the other 28 teams to repay them for the damages that was done to them by the Cardinals in having all the illegal information they acquired in this theft. Then I would award the Astros the two supplemental picks the Cardinals will get in the next two years AND the slot money that the Astros would have to pay to sign those draft picks. That accounts for picks and money. That gives the Astros monetary and player compensation they deserve and sends a message to everyone that this crap is serious.

      Like

  7. Welllll…..after watching the Texans get blown away this afternoon…….all I have to say is *40* days until the pitchers and catchers report! Big meetings start Monday, and I’m ever the optimist, and I think Luhnow spins his magic, and we get another starter. But…..if not, I’m ok with the rotation as it is. However, I want Tyler White and or A.J. Reed to open some eyes in Florida this spring! Keeping my fingers crossed that we can trade Singelton.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Who would have thought the Texans would get blown up in a playoff game by their own quarterback?
    Who would have thought that Vontaze Burfict would lose control and do something bad to cost his team a playoff game?
    Everyone!
    In sports, what is obvious to everyone is going to happen.
    In the Astros’ case, if you look at their team, it is obvious where they lack. They lack in heat in the bullpen and in batting average in the last six spots in their lineup. They need to fix it.

    Like

    • I don’t watch football, but GOOD LORD….that was an ugly game! I told my husband it was like watching the 2013 Astros, playing the 2015 Astros…..the Texans were waaay over matched. 39 days until the pitchers and catchers report!!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m not a big football fan but heck, it was a playoff game, so I watched it.
    Such an ugly game! To have another KC team end the season for another Houston team was too much.

    Like

  10. Kansas City Chiefs had not won a playoff game since 1994 (I think) when their QB Joe Montana (yes that Joe Montana) led a comeback against the Oilers……

    Like

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