Looking ahead: The calm before the Astros’ storm?


“You can tell where a man will go by looking to see where he has been.”

A crafty old sheriff candidate in my Louisiana hometown used that slogan to compare himself to the competition en route to his first election. And it rings true in most applications, including general managers, managers and major league baseball in general.

Jeff Luhnow seems to work in spurts during the off-season. What seems to be a dry spell often turns into a three-day storm of activity and roster movement, at least historically. It’s obviously not an exact science, but Luhnow does seem to work best in bunches, at least in December and January.

He has generally been quiet between Christmas and New Year’s, but be prepared for a pickup in activity after New Year’s Day. Here’s a review of trades, free agent acquisitions, waiver wire pickups and other movement over the past few Decembers and Januarys. You’ll recognize many of the names, others not so much! Some will cause you to have a lump in your throat and others will probably make you shake your head (or throw up!).

The month of December.

The month of January.

To be sure, this December and January 2018 are very different from most others, though the Astros are likely to distribute a slew of non-roster invites next month.

There still has been no blockbuster, a number of free agents are still on the market and we haven’t heard much from Luhnow since the first half of the month.

Is it the calm before the storm? Or will Luhnow coast into spring training in no major activity?

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62 comments on “Looking ahead: The calm before the Astros’ storm?

  1. Jeff’s ‘problem’ this year is there is simply no room at the inn. We have so many bona fide candidates for the 25 man roster that we cannot just acquire anyone else without getting rid of one or more of those candidates.

    The only way to free up another 25 man roster spot is either to trade a starter [not happening -unless it’s DK (newest Boras client) or McHugh (excess starter)] OR reverse the previous announcement that Gattis is going to DH in 2018 instead of be back-up catcher this year.

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  2. Chip – interesting post
    – Didn’t Beltran sign in December last year?
    – In my bones I feel like he is going to move someone, but in reality he would move an SP only if he picked up a darned good SP.
    – I wonder if he will chase a LF candidate in FA or if he has a trade candidate in mind?
    What I’ve always found with Luhnow is that rarely is a trade or signing a little bit of a surprise.

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      • The Astros appear to be the only AL team in the playoffs in 2017 that didn’t need any major adjustments this Winter. The Yankees are improved but the Indians appear headed in the opposite direction. The Bosox and strangely the Dodgers are presently sitting on their hands. 1OP noted some this earlier. This is not a great year to be a free agent (so far). I think JL is just waiting for a little shake out in the market. On the “available ” list, there are few improvements to the current roster so no need to over pay.

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  3. Our present candidates for LF appear to be:
    1. Marwin Gonzales [effectively a LH hitter];
    2. Marisnick [RH hitter];
    3. Fisher [LH hitter].

    I don’t see Jeff bringing someone else in to play LF against lefties unless Marisnick goes.

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    • If Jake is in the outfield, Reddick will be spending most of his time in left. I still think Marwin is too valuable being Marwin. And if he wants to own left again in the post season, all he has to do is come somewhat close to repeating 2017.

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  4. Tyler White, Tony Kemp and Colin Moran have one option year left.
    AJ Reed and Derek Fisher have 2 and JD Davis has 3.
    Those options will have weight in their fate, and I bring this up only because I think the Astros will go all in this year to win the World Series, which means that some of our guys who are at AAA are going to stay there for one more year or could be moved, depending on those option years
    I believe that Luhnow would like to improve LF by finding a guy similar to Reddick’s career numbers at the time we signed him, but at a lower salary and yearly commitment. In other words: a one-year guy. That would be a trade situation, most likely. Someone who comes to mind here is Hunter Pence. The Giants want to move him , but can’t because of his salary and no-trade clause. If the Astros could get SF to pay a bunch of his salary and take one of our 25 year old AAA guys who are close to ready, they could plug Pence into the lineup, while using Marwin as the super utility guy and as the DH against some righties that Gattis has trouble with. I would play Pence in RF, since he has never played LF, and move Reddick to LF where he excels.
    That lineup would look like:
    Springer
    Reddick
    Altuve
    Correa
    Gurriel
    Bregman
    Pence
    Gattis/Marwin
    McCann
    I’m not worried about Pence’s L/R splits because they have been impeccable over the years and I would keep Jake to spell him and Reddick late in games regularly.
    I believe that Luhnow would like to improve his rotation and facilitate that by moving some salaries.
    What I think may happen is that he finds a way to do one of these things and maybe takes a chance on a pitcher like Cashner, who still has stuff but needs Strom and McCann to help him use it to be a lot more effective, than he was in Arlington with Brocail and Banister

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    • Last year, as is normally the case, it took all 40 to win it all. So if JL is going for a repeat, short of injury, I don’t see how he trades DK or Margo, etc. There are few if any that would improve the team if these are at the top of their game.

      And with so many in “tear down ” do you trade either to a team you have to beat?

      Some of the best management advice I was ever given was “Don’t do anything, just sit there ! !”

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      • I did not say anything about moving Keuchel or Marwin and they were not the players I was referring to. Those two are going to go into free agency after the World Series, but they are two guys I want on the team to make that WS run. They have been great but they are going to test the waters. and we had might as well make one more run with them.

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    • I see us carrying 13 pitchers and 12 position players. Of the position players, the most likely seem to be:
      Altuve
      Correa
      Springer
      Gurriel
      Bregman
      Reddick [RF]
      Marisnick [back-up outfielder]
      Gonzales [supersub/LF]
      McCann [main catcher]
      Gattis [DH]
      Stassi [back up catcher]

      That leaves no room for Fisher, Kemp, White, Reed, or Davis. That is why the only way to add a LF is to trade one of the guys listed above [Marisnick and a prospect for Pence?] ]or let Gattis be the back-up catcher and scratch Stassi.

      The 13 pitchers I expect to see to start the year are:
      Verlander
      Keuchel
      McCullers
      Morton
      McHugh
      Peacock
      Musgrove
      Devenski
      Harris
      Smith
      Rondon
      Sipp [or another guy to hopefully get out lefties], and
      Giles

      That is a pretty tight 25-man.

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    • You know 1OP, Pence might be the leadership addition Beltran was last year, but he also might again be the guy with the .701 OPS that he showed in 2017. At 35, Pence has always been a guy that throws himself around the field. I think I’d stay with options in house rather than bringing a guy like him in. I’ve always loved the Pence though, full effort at all times, and not blessed with the most graceful body in the game!

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  5. Assuming Moran is being seriously considered in LF, solely between Fisher and Moran, based on minor league stats, here you go:

    BA: Advantage Moran, but only by .08 points [.290 to .282], and Fisher has been better the last couple of years;
    OBP: Advantage Fisher, but only by .19 points [.353 (Moran) to .372 (Fisher)]
    HR: Advantage Fisher
    RBI: Advantage Moran [Moran has one additional year in the MiLB, so his number is higher; but Fisher is trending a little upward in this regard the last couple of years
    Speed: Fisher is ‘the Flash’; Moran is a rock rolling up hill
    Defense: Fisher is an outfielder; Moran is a corner infielder

    Unless Moran has developed some wheels and morphed into Marisnick in outfield defense skills during the off-season, Fisher looks like the better choice to me. But, as OP pointed out, Fisher does have two option years left, and Moran’s time is pretty much now or never.

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    • I like Moran, but not in LF. I know they are going to try him there during ST, which is when they should try him there, but I think it will be a disaster even in MMP. I expect Fisher to be the primary LFer with Jake starting against many LHers rotating between giving Fisher and Reddick day off. I wish we had room for Moran to be our DH against RHers, but the 25-man roster looks too tight, barring a trade or two.

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    • I only mentioned Moran because bill left his name off the 25-man and then off the list of extras. I think Moran has as good a chance of making the roster as any of the other bubble guys.

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    • If Moran can hit like a big leaguer then playing him in LF (some) this spring makes sense. He’s not much different than Marwin. They probably finish pretty close to each other in a footrace. Both can play either corner infield position. Moran isn’t going to be called on to play SS for us, but he can fill in there in an emergency. He’s not making the club for defensive value, but the versatility is a bonus. If he can hit, he could make the team. If he can hit, he also becomes a valuable trade chip. There are a lot of mediocre teams and a lot of teams who are tanking right now.

      Having said that…I doubt he makes the team without a torrid spring.

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    • They don’t need Brad Hand. Just sign Darvish and move LMJ to the bullpen. LMJ has been great against LH batters in his career and was even better against them in 2017.
      This way, they have another TOR starter to partner with Keuchel and Verlander in 2018, and a second TOR pitcher locked up for long term to replace Keuchel when he exits in free agency.
      This move would allow them to have LMJ, Giles, Devenski, Musgrove and Peacock in their bullpen for all their pre-arb and arb years years and keep all of their pitching prospect for the post-Keuchel/Morton years. Give me those five guys along with Smith and Rondon and I can match anyone’s bullpen.
      This one move also puts Feliz, Paulino, Martes, Rogers, Deetz, Armenterosback in AAA to allow them to become better starting pitchers and we can choose from the best of them to add to the major league rotation, as Whitley, Perez, Bukauskas get ready.

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      • OP, LMJ certainly has the tools (good fastball, good off-speed) to be successful in the pen. And, he probably has the mental makeup. Just not sure if he has the physical makeup…meaning, can he pitch on back-to-back days or even every other day?

        I remember being around college ball a lot and some pitchers just couldn’t do it. And, it’s not necessarily something that can be trained, it’s just the physical makeup of a pitcher’s arm. Often, those pitchers had to make it as a starter or not at all.

        The Astros already know the answer to that question and it may be why they’ve resisted the move, even publicly. If he did move to the pen, you’d assume he would eventually/ultimately be headed for the closer role. Just a thought.

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      • Chip, as a pro pitcher Lance threw:
        26 innings in 2012
        104 innings in 2013
        97 innings in 2014
        157 innings in 2015, which led to only
        81 innings in 2016 and only
        118 innings in 2017
        So far in his career he is looking like a guy who can’t handle a big load of innings as a starter.
        Maybe he hasn’t developed a pitching style that would allow him to pitch 165-180 innings a year, but whose fault is that? His stuff is too good for him to not be able to be a starter or a reliever. Somehow, there has to be a spot for him to succeed with such good stuff.

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      • OP, no doubt that Houston should have a place for him. NO doubt. Indeed, he has the stuff. My only question is does he have the physical makeup that will allow him to pitch back-to-back days in a closer-like or setup role.

        I’d have to look deeper, but how much of the low innings in recent years is a result of injury and how much is a precaution by management and how much is just a result of circumstances with other pitchers, etc?

        All of the above said (including your analysis), I suspect they will give him every chance as a starter this year, unless of course they go with the tandem approach! 😉

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    • I posted about a month ago why I’m skeptical that Brad Hand will continue to be so successful. I’d rather hold my prospects and try to acquire him in July. The only reason I’d part with anyone now is to prevent one of our rivals from acquiring his services. There is no reason a lack of a dominant lefty should prevent this team from being in first place at the All Star break with a healthy lead.

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      • I definitely don’t buy into the need for a left hander out of the bullpen. As long as you have guys that can get LHers out I don’t care if they are LH or RH. The Astros played their best baseball last year with Sipp being the only LH in the pen, but they had guys like Harris or Devo that were very adept at getting LHs out. I’m definitely on board with getting Darvish, as OP mentioned above, but McCullers is on record saying he wants to start. Maybe they move Morton to the bullpen and McHugh is the 5th starter. Morton defied his career splits last year and was good at getting out LHs. I trust he can continue to do so. A bullpen of Giles, Smith, Devo, Harris, Rondon, Peacock, Morton and Sipp looks very formidable to me. Of course, subbing in LMJ for Morton is just as good if they can convince Lance he is really needed out of the bullpen.

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  6. Another thought to consider, especially with the idea that Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish seem to be wanting/expecting five or six year contracts.

    It’s been a while since the Astros have had a really bad big contract. Think Carlos Lee. Luhnow has been fairly good at keeping those bigger deals manageable. Now, he’s entering a different phase of his GMship and must become very calcuating in that realm. One or two bad deals for one of the young guns, Keuchel or a free agent could turn things around quickly and hamstring the organization.

    Darvish and Arrieta are pushing 32 and Dallas himself turns 30 next week. That means they’d need to pitch effectively into their mid-to-late 30s to warrant a big five or six year deal (which all of them will likely get!). Do you want to pay any of those pitchers $20-$25 million on their 35th, 36th or 37th birthdays?

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  7. It seems that the majority opinion here is that Keuchel will be gone next year or even this summer. Am I reading this correctly? I understand it but do we think he’ll want to much on a long term contract to even consider? Just curious.

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    • Methinks it will depend largely on Boras’ approach and how much of a hit Luhnow will take. With Springer, Altuve and others coming up for big contracts in the near future (2-4 years), Luhnow will have to weigh his productiveness vs. the mega deal. Like I asked above, do you want to be paying Keuchel $20 million when he’s 35, at the same time you need to ante up for Springer, Altuve, Keuchel, Bregman et al?

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      • Yes, unless this season falls completely off the rails, which is highly unlikely, I don’t see any way they trade Keuchel. They’ll just give him a QO and take the draft picks if he signs elsewhere.

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  8. So many tantalizing thoughts. I still think Luhnow will do something significant, but only if the deal is a not giving away the house kind of move. Right now, we’re a better team than we were last year. So if we go to war with the present group, I’ll be confident.

    I like Hand, but would it be worth it with all the guys we’ve got already? Tim, I like Armenteros. He’s one guy I’d like to see pitch in an Astro uniform. I don’t see a place for Moran unless he quickly develops great instincts in left, to overcome his lack of mobility. Yelich is the kid I’m still excited about. He’s one guy I’d be okay with giving up significant talent for. Even Tucker. Yelich is guaranteed. And our further improved outfield would really make some other clubs feel depressed.

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  9. Here are the guys projected for the 25-man who, considering age, agent, probable cost, and past ups, downs, and injuries, I personally want the FO to try to keep beyond their current contracts/statuses – in order of priority:

    1. Altuve
    2. Correa
    3. Springer
    4. Bregman
    5. Gurriel
    6. Morton
    7. McCullers
    8. Peacock
    9. Musgrove
    10. Devenski
    11. Harris
    12. Verlander
    13. McCann
    14. Marwin
    15. Reddick
    16. Fisher
    17. McHugh
    18. White/Moran/Kemp/Reed/Davis – whoever makes the 25 man out of ST
    19. Keuchel
    20. Giles
    21. Rondon
    22. Smith
    23 Stassi
    24. Gattis
    25. Sipp

    Losing any of the ones from 16-25 [including Keuchel] to FA, or trading them away, would not feel like a significant setback to me.

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  10. I think Luhnow will go after Lance Lynn, or back to my first choice Chris Archer. Darvish and Arrietta are both taking the oxygen out of the room for a guy like Lynn. THAT might be the big move Luhnow makes in the next month. There are more than one option for left field, I’m not worried about that. But I want Marwin to be what he is, a jack of all trades, not in left for 90% of the year. By the end of this season he was pretty worn out. And I don’t rule out Luhnow trading for Brad Hand……but probably won’t happen until the break.

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  11. Some odds and ends to chew on:
    * In his first spring training with the club, Bregman’s slash was .087/.292/.087/.279 and he had 9 Ks in 23 abs and was quickly sent to minor league camp.
    * After the All-Star break in 2017 Bregman slashed .315/.367/.536/.903 with 11 HRs and 44 RBIs. If he were to do that in the first half of 2018, does he make the All-Stat team?
    * With the Astros lineup the way it is, is it possible that no one gets to 100 RBIs again this season and still have the team lead the major leagues in RBIs.?
    * The contract Wade Davis signed with the Rockies is 3/52million. That is stupid money for a reliever. No way the Astros would pay that for a for a guy who is 32. Tony Sipp was a cheap lesson.
    * MLBTR was not too high on Lance Lynn’s 5.65 innings per start in 2017, noting that was 42nd among starting pitchers who pitched at least 100 innings. LMJ has averaged only 5.6 innings per start for his entire career.

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  12. Chewing away.

    Re: Alex Bregman. I think he is ready for a major, breakout year – and yes, an All-Star selection is definitely something that I see as being within the realm of possibilities. The big question I have is where is Hinch going to let him settle in the line-up. I like him at #2 [between Springer and Altuve] or at #6 [between Gurriel and McCann].

    Re: RBIs. Last year we had 8 guys with over 6o RBIS, 7 with over 70, and 5 with over 80. If the guy in front of your 2-7 hitters clears the bases frequently, you aren’t likely to have anybody drive in 100. But . . . well . . . who really cares?

    Re: McCullers. Either Lance is an ace waiting to find his rhythm and learn how to get strikeouts and weak contact on his fastball as well as his curve -or he is a closer waiting for Hinch to give up on Kenny Giles. If he can just stay healty, I t think we’ll find out this year.

    Re: Wade Davis and the Rockies. Friends around the campfire, and everybody’s high . . . rocky mountain high. There. Is. No. Other. Explanation.

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  13. This chart I am linking is a great assessment device. The top teams are lurking, waiting to see if they can get one or two more players that could put them at or nearer the top.
    Once you get the chart, you can click on the team’s name and it will show you how they arrived at the WAR ranking projections. Of interest is the projections for the Astros’ defense, in which only their catchers and RF are above average defensively(I just don’t get this!).
    The Astros have the best offense, the second best starting rotation and the fourth best bullpen in the majors. They lack in the DH projections and the LF projections as far as WAR is concerned.
    The big elephant in the room is the 67+ WAR still out there in the form of free agents and the top teams are waiting to jump at some of that WAR if they see true +value there.
    https://www.fangraphs.com/depthcharts.aspx?position=Team

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  14. * I believe the Zack Greinke contract is going to haunt the D’backs for years.
    * The Astros County Sunday story of the intertwining of Hurricane Harvey, Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros is amazing! I was in tears by the end of it.
    * Jayson Stark’s “Strange But True Facts” for 2017 is also a wonderful read.
    * I literally love the Houston Astros.
    * How are the Houston Rockets doing without Chris Paul?

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    • Why on Greinke? Year one was a disappointment, but year 2 was not. Wouldn’t one like David Price jump out more, or the trade for Shelby Miller if you are honest in on Arizona?

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  15. If you’ve been a part of this blog for at least 10yrs, you will know who this is:
    We affectionately called him “Cockroach”, who was he? No fair trying to look it up!! Daveb knows what his real name is, and so do a whole lot of you!
    Happ New Year everyone. January 1st means one thing…….pitchers and catchers will report the middle of N E X T month! WOOO-HOOO!!!!

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  16. Happy New Year to World Series Champs Astros, who defeated de Red Sox, defeated de Yankees, defeated de Dodgers. And to you fans, who are delightful, delovely, delimit (and DeSoto?).

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Becky – we are getting old and are forgetting where are glasses are and the names of our grand children. Plus some of us – like me – don’t go back the whole 10 years.
    So who is cockroach? Bopert?

    Anyways – Happy New Year to all who enter here!

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