The real Moneyball begins: Astros’ payroll options


As in the HEB commercial where Carlos Correa is “singing” about their Creamy Sensations (an ad that Astro fans, unfortunately, saw about a thousand times this season), the Astros were oh so close to a World Championship in a league that spans two countries. But now reality hits as the roster makeup of this offseason turns into payroll decisions for the team.

What We Know

Writer’s note. The estimated arb numbers are from Spotrac and it is hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that Springer might get approximately three times what Correa gets in arbitration. Springer has been great, but has missed time (not as much as Correa). That is eye-opening.

Salary Options.

There are a number of ways the team can move on from here relative to salary, But obviously, the key here is what is the budget for next season and does Jim Crane apply any of the playoff “bonus” revenue to the payroll …..

  1. Ignore the “luxury tax”. It is not necessarily going to cost them that much as first time offenders.
  2. Don’t tender offers to all of the players eligible for arbitration. This goes from the more likely to be bypassed like Biagini, through the possible like Sanchez to the out of the box like Osuna. Do the Astros think that Osuna at $10+ MM,  who has been solid overall, but shaky in key spots is worth the cost in both budget and in bad press….. They might not invoke the team option on Devenski, also.
  3. Deciding to not pursue most of the free agents. Though anyone could use a Cole, it keeps feeling like there have been at least outline talks about an extension during the last off-season and the two sides are far apart on length of contract as much as annual salary. They would likely go back after Chirinos, kick the tires on Maldonado, see if they can come to some kind of agreement with Harris and Smith (if he would come down in asking price). If they know something about Miley (maybe pitching hurt) they could well try to bring him back (hard to figure what his value is for 5 months of excellence and then a crash and burn). But it would not surprise me if only Chirinos returns from that bunch.
  4. Trading contracts. With Alvarez up and Tucker playing decently – Reddick’s contract sticks out as some low hanging fruit to see if another club will take on. You would not get much for him unless you want to swallow contract, which is the opposite of what this exercise is talking about. Even an oft-injured Correa seems like a bargain for what they are likely going to be asked to pony up for him. You would only trade him for some low cost – high-performance pitching help. Verlander and Altuve have full no-trade contracts and Greinke has a partial no-trade – so even if they were considering it…..not likely to occur. Bregman is untouchable. Hard to picture any scenario that would lead to them trading Brantley, Pressly or Gurriel.

The gut feeling is that the Astros will likely attempt to send Reddick elsewhere, and might well separate from Devenski, Biagini and Sanchez, but unless someone blows them away they are not likely to pull any other rabbits out of their hats, like a Correa trade. They will most likely try to pull pitching help from the minors and off the heap of pitchers out there, who are underperforming but have a high spin rate. The end result may be a team that is not as good as in 2019.

61 comments on “The real Moneyball begins: Astros’ payroll options

  1. Astros added Kent Emanuel, which I was expecting, to the roster. They declined Devenski’s option and he becomes arb eligible, as we expected.

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  2. I know it will never happen , but package CC, Greinke, and Reddick, pay some of ZG’s salary, get a good number 3 and 2 great pitching prospects and Sign Rondon! BOOM!

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    • We lost Cole, Harris, and Miley when they filed for free agency. We lost eight guys to free agency and now we have go about finding new Astros.
      It is the exact same thing for every team in MLB. We just have the advantage of having a bunch of great players who are not free agents.

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  3. Some things I have noticed about the Astros:
    -The Astros consider present value in a huge way. Correa’s 3.2 WAR in only 75 games in 2019, far out produces the value of his projected salary for 2020.
    If you projected his 2019 stats to get 140 games of Normal Correa, he’s an All-Star and that value difference really jumps up..
    -The Arbitration service time announced this morning by MLB is 2 years 115 days, the shortest amount of service time ever in this era. The Astros had Yordan Alvarez on the payroll for 113 days, meaning they could have him at pre-arb rates for 3 more years instead of two. The next CBA will factor a lot into this situation. The way things stand right now, Luhnow nailed this one.
    -Adding Emanuel to the roster reflects his year’s performance in a lopsided offensive league, his left-handedness, his Rule 5 status and even perhaps whether or not he is getting attention from other clubs about his availability.
    -Just off the top of my head, if Kyle Gibson is able to conquer his stomach troubles, he is the kind of pitcher the Astros would look at. He did not get a QO and Odorizzi did, which seems to matter a lot to Houston, mainly because of their draft position, as a winner who drafts late in every round.
    -I’m not a minor league expert because I can only view our minor leaguers on stat sheets, scouting reports, and video clips, which usually show their best moments and not their worst ones.Some of the players the Astros may consider adding to their roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft might be:
    Taylor Jones 1B/OF/1B- Versatile and improved a ton at AAA from 2018 to 2019. Gurriel’s contract expiration after 2020 plays into this.
    Christian Javier RHP- Does this need an explanation?
    Andre Scrubb-The Astros made a trade for a reliever who would be Rule 5 eligible two months later. That says something to me after all the free agent relievers we had declare the other day.
    -Brandon Bailey RHP- I still think they like the guy they got in the Laureano trade.
    Enoli Paredes RHP- They liked him last year. He fits the profile of a guy whom they could lose in the Rule 5. They need a closer in AAA. One of the best fastballs in the system.
    -A Maybe-Jamie Richie catcher.

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  4. Interesting the speculation that Rendon might be looking for a shorter deal and to retire young. Maybe he’d also like to settle back home in Houston and would not have a problem with deferred money. Then we might leverage our world class shortstop for much needed pitching help. Of course all of this is a whole lot of speculation!

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  5. You know 1OP, it is fun. And I do think Luhnow will make significant changes to the club, even as we come off a World Series. Half our pitching staff could be new. Losing Osuna would not shock me. And I do think Luhnow will try to make the offense more robust too. I’m looking forward to seeing where our GM takes us.

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    • Becky, I know when I was a kid and playing in our backyard, I batted, fielded, and pitched in the World Series. Man I made some superior plays. Now imagine a 30 year old having done that in his mind for over 20 years. And then BANG. It has to be devastating. In your mind, all that time you are a hero.

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  6. Saw my neighbor across the street yesterday,(a chef at a restaurant a lot of Astros players eat at) he has seen Will Harris recently, and said Will is absolutely devastated about what happened in game 7. Nick said Will told him he would never get over it. Nick said he was near tears just talking about it.
    So…..Jim Crane spoke to the media yesterday and said he was “going to make a run at Garrit Cole”. I wonder what “making a run at” means and how much money?

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    • If I could speak to Will Harris I would tell him we would not have gone as far as we did in the playoffs without him. He put out others fires time after time. He made a good pitch and the hitter hit it well but to probably the only place in the park where it could go out.
      This was a team loss as much on the hitting as the pitching.

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  7. I tend to think Uncle K might be right about Osuna. I’ve made my points previously but I think we have other options and is he worth 10MM to us? I’d love to keep Harris but I think he’ll probably go elsewhere. Cole? Who knows but I don’t see how we can afford him, and I think he wants to go elsewhere.

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  8. There is the sport of baseball that I love. Then the business of baseball which I don’t. At $200 million with 25 players, the average needs to be $8 million each. Pick any of the top 3 or so players and it takes 2+ at minimum wage to get back to average. This year “average MLBers” can’t be paid average wages.

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  9. Dan I’m quite sure Nick offered his hand of friendship to Will, but I’ll tell Nick to tell Will and ANY of the Astros who come to his restaurant that ALL of us send our hearts to those guys. They SHOULD have won that game…..this team is too talented to have let game 7 slip through their fingers. I’m pretty sure Will has made his case to return next year, I hope both side can come to an agreement.
    Garrit Cole LOVES to come to Nicks restaurant, because Nick let’s him cook!

    P.S. I think it would be in the Astros interest to let Asuna pitch some where else next year, because this story won’t die.

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    • I imagine Toronto was doing backflips when we took Osuna off their hands. Who is Luhnow going to find to do that this offseason? Osuna might be a candidate for non-tender, but I have to wonder if the PA would file a grievance in such a case.

      Will Harris is tougher on himself than any of the other Astros players. I stand by my initial statements about him though – he pitched some of the biggest innings for the Astros this postseason and without those contributions the team would have been watching from their couches instead of competing against Washington.

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  10. Will Harris has nothing to hang his head about. He was fabulous in the regular season and he was fabulous in the playoffs.
    https://blogs.fangraphs.com/will-harris-played-well-didnt-get-rewarded/
    This article says it all. But look at the short clip of the swing itself. This wasn’t a Tyler White-like lunge at a pitch low and away. This was a beautiful, controlled swing by Kendrick. If you play baseball you are going to get beaten. This was the biggest stage in the baseball world and Howie Kendrick was the star. He beat a really good Will Harris pitch with a world class at bat. Hats off to both of them for being so accomplished that they made it to that moment.

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  11. Martin Prado retired from the Marlins having played 14 seasons in the majors and having made $89 million in salary. He retired at age 36 and played in 1 postseason game in his entire MLB career.

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  12. It will be very interesting to see who signs the first big FA pitcher this year. With the luxury tax, and with arbitration awards being so high lately, the market just may pay as much as the agents and media seem to want.

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  13. I admit that I don’t understand the “luxury tax” system. But when you talk about trading a guy, and paying him to play someplace else, MLB can still penalize some contracts. Per Sportrac, Greinke is costing Arizona this year $17 million against the tax threshold. Prince Fielder is costing the Rangers $9 million. Those teams are way below the threshold. But the Astros may not get much, if any, relief by trading veterans when it comes to the luxury tax.

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  14. Yeah….I’m not too good on trying to figure out those HUGE contracts, but I’m shocked the Astros still owe Singelton one penny! I just shake my head when I think of what could have been for that kid.
    I talked to my neighbor Nick this afternoon, and told him when any of the Astros pitchers,or position guys come to eat at his restaurant to tell ALL of them how blessed we were to watch them have such an awesome season! He gave me a big hug and assured me he would pass the our good wishes to those guys!
    Owners meetings are a month away! We will play the Nat’s Feb 23rd in Florida!
    I miss baseball already😭

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  15. Things I know:
    -Jake Marisnick played in 120 games, had 318 plate appearances and delivered 1.1 WAR. He would cost approx $3 million in 2020 playing the outfield.
    -Myles Straw played in 56 games, had 128 plate appearances and delivered 0.9 WAR. He would cost approx $560,000 playing OF/SS/2B.
    -In 35 appearances including 8 starts in 2019, Collin McHugh delivered 0.5 WAR. In nine appearances including 8 starts Jose Urquidy delivered 0.9 WAR. Those figures don’t include Urquidy’s great game 4 start in the WS.
    -Money aside, the Astros lineup in 2020 will look like
    Springer CF
    Altuve 2B
    Brantley LF
    Bregman 3B
    Alvarez DH
    Correa SS
    Gurriel 1B
    Reddick or Tucker RF
    ????Catcher.
    That is a terrific lineup and contains the 2019 defensive team of the year, which was named last evening.

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    • I’m pretty sure Verlander will have his catcher back. Right field is the most practical place for Luhnow to create more offense. Tucker is the obvious answer. I’m still not convinced, but it’s time to put him out there everyday or trade him. Even if we have to pay half of Reddick’s salary, we’re still saving 6 million. If Tucker crashes then we can always find a replacement in July. I look for Brantley to regress a bit, maybe miss some games. But overall, I’m looking to get more games out of our starters, which will create more offense. My one disclaimer remains the shortstop position. Just thinking back, we won 107 with significant time from Stassi, Kemp and White. Yikes.

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    • That’s an impressive list of names; but it is pretty much the exact line-up that proved to be horrible at hitting with runners in scoring position last year and staged absolutely zero come-from-behind wins after trailing in the 8th inning. Beside each name except Yuli Gurriel I see an asterisk that reads: ‘not particularly good at delivering in clutch situations’. Not saying we need new personnel – these guys can hit – but I sure hope the brain trust tweaks our offensive approach for them in 2020.

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    • 1OP, one thing I forgot to mention. I remain fully on board with Straw. He’s the 9 hitter who could get 70-80 starts resting multiple guys, creating real havoc at the bottom of the order where we had trouble this year.

      A .378 OBP with 29 runs in 108 at bats. 19 walks and 24 K’s. Jake had a .289 OBP with 46 runs in 292 at bats. 17 walks and 95 K’s.

      And a couple more million trimmed off the payroll.

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  16. Let’s say the Astros cut ties with Osuna – do not tender him heading to arbitration – decide $10 million and the baggage is too much
    – Would Ryan Pressly take over the closers role?
    – Would they try to groom Josh James for it?
    – Would they consider Lance McCulers who is just now throwing curves as a possible closer?
    – Bring someone else in?

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    • Dan, yes, all of the above potentially. And with the three batter rule, does that change philosophy somewhat? Closer by committee based on match ups? I would not rule Lance out. I don’t think Josh is done getting better. One of these days it’s all going to come together. Most of this year I would have preferred Pressly coming out of the pen in the 9th. And maybe a Harris resigning becomes financially feasible without the Osuna 10 million. And what about Abreu? Does Whitley initially get a job coming out of the pen?

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    • I see no internal alternative to Osuna. James does not have the kind of movement on his fastball, or good enough secondary pitches, to be a major league closer. He is great – if he throws strikes – against the bottom third of a bad line-up, but that’s about it. Pressly has that lingering knee problem that makes him unreliable for long stretches of time. And Lance [a] would hate being a reliever, and [b] can’t consistently throw that curve for strikes against the kind of patient teams we are seeing line-up against us these days. I am not sure Lance is going to do much at all for us next year, fresh back from surgery; but whatever he does, I don’t see it being as a closer.

      And, of course, since our salary crunch means we can’t afford to bring in anyone from outside, I think Osuna pretty much has to stay – despite the continuing PR disaster his presence on the club engenders.

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  17. I think LMJ comes to camp with the intention and promise of being one of the five starters in the Astros rotation.
    I don’t think the Astros have another closer on their staff right now, that they would trust to save games for all of 2020.

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  18. When it comes to Harris – you have to wonder if he has been “Lidge’d”
    After the Pujols HR – Lidge was terrible the next season – it took him at least a year to get back to his normal self

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      • Could Harris close in place of Osuna? He came through in a lot of tight spots last year, but closing is always a different animal

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      • The closer is glorified, but often times those aren’t pressure situations. 14 of Osuna’s saves came in games where we won by at least three runs. 9 came in games we won by 2 runs. The remaining 15 came in one run games. However, he earned saves in seven games in which he gave up runs. Excluding blown saves he only earned a save in 10 games where he entered with a one run lead. So realistically, do you want to pay $10M to a guy who most fans don’t have a lot of confidence will put elite competition away?

        For my money, I’d try out some internal options. A healthy Pressley does go to the front of my list. Let’s see how LMJ does as a starter. If he’s struggling to get into the sixth inning let’s consider moving him back there if we are having issues later in the season. If things aren’t looking great there will always be closers available in July.

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  19. In my mind when a guy (like Pressly) has a non-arm health issue (except for backs – CC) that is far less of a concern than elbow or shoulder issues. So if Pressly has time to get his knee straight in the off-season – he has to be a consideration.
    Lots of good points there Devin

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  20. This comment does not reflect anything other than what it says:
    The Players union would have absolutely nothing to say about it if the Astros were to non-tender Osuna. It happens all the time. Teams non-tender players who they don’t want to pay big bucks, if it doesn’t cost them anything to do so.
    Osuna, becoming a free agent MLB closer at age 25 is what the players union dreams about.

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    • I know the union would love to have players his age as free agents, but it would be very interesting to see how they would react if no one offers him anything or what he thinks he is worth. Its a bit of a balancing act for the union because the media seems to lean their way on most employee-owner relations, but in this case the media may have caused the team(s) to think hard about whether they even want this particular player.

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      • I agree. If owners don’t slobber all over any free agent, throwing absolutely obscene money at him, the player’s union is always going to be – or at least pretend to be – upset/outraged/offended and you name it.

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      • Yes, Bill, but if Osuna is non-tendered by the Astros and becomes a free agent, then it becomes a non-issue for me because I couldn’t care less what the union thinks about it and he would not be on my team.
        It’s the same with every free agent. I move on when they leave.

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