Astros’ questions in a still-active hot stove winter

Remember when fans and media talked of Astros’ moves as just shuffling chairs on the Titanic? Not anymore! Now, other teams like the Red Sox, Indians and Rangers are looking on in disbelief as the World Champion team has arguably improved in the offseason after its best season in history.

But are the Houston Astros done? Will Jeff Luhnow strike another move to boldly put a stamp on 2018 before the season even begins? Is there really anywhere the team can still make significant improvement?

As many of you have noted, the winter off-season is slow when you consider the number of free agents still on the market, teams looking for pitching and other teams rumored to be trying to trade pieces. There is still action to come. The only question for south Texas fans is will that action involve the Astros?

Here are a few questions to help stoke your conversation.

Could a Yu Darvish still actually fall in the Astros’ lap?

Yeah, this one seems like a long shot after adding Gerrit Cole. But imagine a rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Cole, Charlie Morton…and Darvish. Some teams would just cry “uncle” and say let’s skip on to 2019! Certainly, Darvish’s asking price appears to be dropping significantly and if it does drop into the $80 million range, why not complete the assembly of a Dream Rotation?

How about this trade? Collin McHugh and a prospect for Domingo Santana?

Many fans lamented the original Santana trade that brought Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez to Houston in 2015. Now, he may be available in an overstocked Brewers’ outfield. You could see Santana in an Astros’ lineup in various ways: DH, left field, right field. That would keep both Evan Gattis and Brian McCann healthy and rested and provide some crazy depth in the outfield. And he’s under team control through 2021. Whether it’s Santana or someone else, McHugh does seem to be on the bubble and available, at least as far as the roster shapes up.

Free agent acquisition more your taste? Maybe Jonathan Lucroy?

There are still a bevy of free agent choices on the board. One mentioned earlier in the off-season is a catching possibility. The right-handed hitting Lucroy would augment the lefty McCann and be a powerful 1-2 punch behind the plate. Plus, it could provide the backup plan for when McCann leaves in free agency after this season. Lucroy would relish playing in Houston since he’s a Ragin’ Cajun, playing on some of the best UL-Lafayette teams.  Jose Abreu, Manny Machado, Jed Lowrie and J. T. Realmuto have also been rumored to be on the move at one time or another since the season ended. See any other possibilities on the list above?

Oh, and notice that rumors are that J.D. Martinez could be available for only 5 years/$100 million. Yes, it would be nice to have him back in left field or at DH.

Other questions for your consideration:

  • The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197 million. With a payroll that could easily jump to $170 million this season, how long will it be before Houston becomes the next team with a tax bill?
  • Who is more likely to be traded now: Brad Peacock or Collin McHugh?
  • The team now has three pitchers who have been opening day starters. Who should get the nod to start opening day 2018: Verlander, Keuchel or Cole?
  • Only four (count ’em 4) of the opening day, non-pitching starters from 2015 are still with the team. Can you name them? Better yet, without looking, can you name the other five? (NOTE: Only ONE opening day starter from 2014 is still with the team. ONE!)

38 comments on “Astros’ questions in a still-active hot stove winter

  1. I’ve always been big on Santana, since I first saw him play in Corpus. I half joked about his availability a couple of weeks ago. But he won’t come cheap either. How many 25 year old guys are putting up an .875 OPS? Another 30 homer guy? Defensively, he’s a bit of a liability. But he moves well. His bat is for real.

    If Luhnow brought Santana in, some clubs would literally decide not to fight the battle in 2018. They’d quietly begin retooling.

    And Luhnow will do something further. I’d be shocked if he grabbed another starter. But I’ll not be surprised if he improves both leftfield and the catchers position.


  2. – If they sign Darvish then I think that would be just before they trade Keuchel. I don’t think that signing is happening even at discounted prices.
    – I like this idea of McHugh and a newbie for Santana – though why the Brewers would do it I don’t know. I saw where it is a consideration for them on mlbtraderumors. Surprising. I would love to stick that bat in the lineup.
    – With it pretty evident that folks are going to have to settle for lesser FA contracts or less years – it just feels like the Astros will bring in someone for that other catcher spot or for LF/DH.


  3. If they signed Darvish the Astros could trade DK while his price is high. Peacock has the higher value, while McHugh has the track record if your going to trade either one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Remember that winning the World Series is the #1 priority for the Astros. They have an ace under contract for this year at $13.2 million. If Darvish only ends up getting $20 million a year when he is the best pitcher available, that may get Keuchel thinking about staying with Houston and signing an extension. There are worse things than making a lot of money on a WS contender.
    Domingo Santana scares me with that 30% K-rate and that .359 BABIP. And now we would trade prospects for him? No., thank you. Maybe McHugh for Domingo straight up works for me. The Brewers need starting pitchers and have an excess of outfielders. But remember that Stearns would consider trading Domingo for the same reasons I am leery of him, his propensity to strike out.
    Right now I’m content to let Fisher try to win a spot in LF, with Jake and Marwin platooning against some lefties out there.
    I think the #2 catcher spot is a way to improve the team.
    I think Tony Watson might improve this team.


  5. Hey, I have completely given up on trying to predict what this particular F.O. will do. I would have never traded for Gerrit Cole when I had a six man crew of Verlander, Keuchel, Morton, McCullers, McHugh, and Peacock fighting for five rotation spots. OTBG that I am, I would have trusted my starting pitching [since especially since I also had Musgrove, Martes, Devenski, Paulino, and Feliz to start a few games if needed], and would have sought help at the true ‘need’ areas of DH, LF, and C. This F.O., however, has never been one to sign or trade based on need. They seem to think a lot like the late Tom Landry – ‘grab the best player available’, instead of trying to plug a hole.

    Hey – so far it has worked. We won the WS with pathetic DH-ing, with a utility infielder playing left field, and with atrocious back-up catching. So much for conventional wisdom.

    Not that I am complaining, mind you. It’s pretty hard to complain with bits of orange and blue icing from yet another World Series Champions cake still stuck in my mustache. Of course, it all falls to pieces in 2018, and we wind up in the AL West cellar, competing for the #1 draft pick, I’ll reconsider complaining. For now, though, I’m good. Somebody grab a glove, I’ll get a bat and a bag of baseballs, and LET’ HIT THE FIELD.


    • OP, so far that’s a plus for Luhnow. He hasn’t done any dumb contracts. Sipp and Singleton are about as “bad” as it gets right now for Houston. With all that’s in front of him (e.g. Springer, Altuve etc), I don’t mind him being a bit careful with the $$$…


      • Chip, you remember last fall when the Bosox were down to the Astros in the playoffs and Boston decided to not start Price in game 4.
        Well, David Price made $30 million last season in Boston, and they owe him $157 million for the next five years.
        JD Martinez wants to play outfield, but Boston has three good young outfielders, so they want him to DH. Trouble is, Hanley Ramirez is their DH and they owe him $22, 750,000 this season.
        Baseball owners and GMs have to get smarter!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Okay, before the Gerrit Cole trade I had predicted a dominating, breakout season this year for Joe Musgrove -to match the big years of Devenski and Peacock. Now I need another bullpen candidate. Here are the most likely options:
    1. Collin McHugh [or will the odd-man out of the rotation be Lance McCullers?]
    2. Francis Martes;
    3. David Paulino;
    4. James Hoyt;
    5. Joe Smith;
    6. Ken Giles, and
    7. Anthony Gose.

    Help me – I’m not seeing a dominating, breakout year for any of these guys. What am I missing?


    • I don’t know that Cole helps us much in the regular season. When it gets down to postseason baseball, assuming our team stays healthy and doesn’t fall off a cliff, I’m thinking he competes with Morton for the #4 spot in the rotation with the other guy going to the pen. Is he better than the Morton we had last year? I wouldn’t bet on it the way Luhnow did.

      What scares me is that this can quickly become another Carlos Gomez trade. We gave up depth that some of us think is going to quickly play for the Pirates. You ask who is going to break out in 2018 in our bullpen, but I ask if the candidates can transition to the bullpen.


      • I like the Cole deal. I think he reverts back to being the pitcher he was in this new environment. We lost some guys and I’ll sure miss Joe. But we needed room on the 40 man. And the thing about our starters is that it’s likely not one guy will throw 200 innings. And we have starters that obviously excel in a relief role too, as evidenced by the unique way we won multiple games in the post season. Use everyone wisely during the season. Give them a rest or two on the DL. Have them all fresh and sharp when it reallly counts. That’s the MO.


    • I’m kind of in your court Mr Bill. I would have thought that the holes to plug were DH, LF, Catcher. Instead we went to get another TOR pitcher. Of course that could be insurance for a possible DK exit but I’m still perplexed. I guess it will all come to fruition soon. One thing about going after the named players still looking. Is it better to give a top notch prospect a shot 500K) vs 15 – 20MM for an established player. I guess I tend to look at the numbers more than the intangibles.


      • Zanuda, have a bit of patience. I think we solved the DH with Gattis. Leave him alone and he’ll put up far better numbers than Beltran did. And as a few of us have already agreed, I don’t think Luhnow is done yet. You might well still get your wish in left and behind the plate.


  7. Okay, let’s talk about our bullpen. 8 max, of which, barring another trade, 7 are givens:

    1. Devenski
    2. Peacock
    3. McHugh [or McCullers, whoever is not in the rotation]
    4. Harris
    5. Rondon
    6. Smith
    7. Giles

    That leaves 1 spot left for which the following will be vying in ST:
    Rodgers, or

    Who gets the last spot in the bullpen?


    • Tough one Bill. I will eliminate Rodgers and Armenteros. I think they start the season starting in AAA. Maybe someone else starts the season on the DL. Gose remains a long shot. Sipp drives me nuts. Hoyt is a great story, but I don’t think he gets enough ML outs. Paulino is still in the dog house. That leaves me with Martes!


  8. the man who has no options left. would be one answer. gose would be another since he has to stay with the team all year or be given back. the real answer should (and probably will) be the man that has the best spring. with our embarrassment of riches in pitching (i love being embarrassed in that way) you have depth at starter to the point that you also have depth in the pen including multiple inning guys. to me that sets up to give gose (if he performs) the edge for the last spot.


  9. While talk of collusion among baseball owners is something we hear tossed around a lot lately, what if 4 or 5 of the top agents out there were sitting in one of their penthouse suites sharing a bottle of $500 scotch and decided they aren’t going to settle on anything less than their clients want? Is that collusion? I wonder if that has ever happened.


  10. I am not bashing JL but lets be honest about “his contracts.” He got a steal in Altuve. He did a “bummer dude” with Singleton. Matty D and Grossman supposedly turned down his long term deals. So it can be said that sometimes, your best deals are the ones that you don’t make.


  11. I’ll provide the answers for the questions…

    * The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197 million. With a payroll that could easily jump to $170 million this season, how long will it be before Houston becomes the next team with a tax bill? Luhnow may not have to worry about it this year, but with arbitration numbers jumping and the need to add free agents next year with some departures, he could bump up closely against the luxury tax boundaries in 2019-20.

    * Who is more likely to be traded now: Brad Peacock or Collin McHugh? McHugh. Peacock earned his spot down the stretch and in the playoffs.

    * The team now has three pitchers who have been opening day starters. Who should get the nod to start opening day 2018: Verlander, Keuchel or Cole? I would say it’s Keuchel because of his Astros’ seniority, but Hinch may be more likely to slide the lefty Keuchel in between Verlander and his choice for #3

    Footnote: Keuchel has started the last three. Before that, it was (are you ready for this?) Scott Feldman (2014), Bud Norris (2013), Wandy Rodriguez (2012), Brett Myers (2011) and Roy Oswalt (2010). Where are they now?

    * Only four (count ’em 4) of the opening day, non-pitching starters from 2015 are still with the team. Can you name them? Altuve, Gattis, Marisnick and Springer. Better yet, without looking, can you name the other five? Valbuena, Carter, Castro, Lowrie and Rasmus. (NOTE: Only ONE opening day starter from 2014 is still with the team. ONE!) That’s Altuve, of course! Fowler, Grossman, Castro, Guzman, Carter, Dominguez, Hoes, Villar and Feldman were also starters on opening day 2014!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many of those names make me feel nauseous – what tough times we lived through.
      If you want a dizzying flashback – click on the old post link above “Astros: Reputability and integrity must precede respectability.” Back when most of us were doubting the whole organization.


  12. golly gee whiz – you read through all those comments from the link dan referenced and ole tim seems like a pretty good baseball man when viewed with this years WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. where would we be if the luhnow haters had gotten their way and he had been fired?


  13. If they want an OF from the Brewers I’d be asking about Lewis Brinson. Though I think Fisher will step up. More interested in some catching help, but Lucroy doesn’t tick the box for me. I’d love to have a good young catching prospect in the system. Maybe Keuchel can bring that to us.


  14. I really have no interest in bringing Domingo Santana to this team. The Astros have committed to putting together a lineup of high contact hitters and I really don’t want to stray from this philosophy. I know Fisher is not a high contact hitter, but as someone else mentioned I would prefer to let him develop than trade for Santana.


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