The potential Astros’ need no one is talking about

The Astros’ litany of “needs” this offseason has consisted of the following.

But one potential need has really not been discussed and that is a replacement for 1B Yuli Gurriel.

There are a number of valid arguments for why the replacement of Gurriel is not a potential need:

  • Gurriel’s 2020 season was bad (.232 BA/ .274 OBP/ .658 OPS), but Jose Altuve‘s 2020 season was worse (.219 BA/ .286 OBP/ .629 OPS) and no one seems to be fretting about replacing him.
  • Gurriel is one year removed from his finest season in 2019, (.298 BA/ .343 OBP/ .884 OPS/ 31 HRs/ 104 RBIs).
  • The Astros are so confident in Gurriel that they signed him for two seasons (well actually one guaranteed with a team option on the second that includes a $500 K buyout) for between $14.5 MM to 18.5 MM depending on bonuses, so they must think he is ready to bounce back.
  • His BAbip (batting average for balls in play) last season was an unbelievably unlucky .235 for someone who had a career .298 BAbip heading into 2020. Also, his strikeout rate continued at an excellent 11.7% rate in 2020, only slightly higher than his 10.7% career rate headed into the season.
  • We should consider the start, stop, start again 2020 season a candidate for a mulligan. We do not know what was going on with the players in their personal lives last season, how many family members had gotten COVID or even died and the effect the enforced isolation had on them. We don’t know how this affected their training regimen and their fitness for the season.

On the other side of the coin, there are reasons for concern about Gurriel and a 1B being a potential need:

  • Yes, Altuve was worse than Gurriel in 2020, but two things stand in his favor. One, Altuve turned it around with a brilliant performance in the postseason, including 11 runs, 5 HRs and 10 RBIs in the 11 games against the A’s and the Rays. Yuli had five measly singles in 44 postseason ABs in 2020. Two, Altuve will turn only 31 in May…..
  • Which brings us to the biggest number to doubt Yuli and that is 37, the age he will turn in June. It can be argued that Yuli has less wear and tear on his body than the normal 37 year old athlete since the Cuban baseball seasons ran about 80 -90 games. Still, when he stepped on the field as a 32-year-old rookie in 2016 for the Astros he had 15 seasons of professional ball under his belt. Father time waits for no one and we need to look no farther than the two biggest icons of the team, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, to see how play, skills and health decline in a baseball player in his later 30’s.
  • If the Astros were really sure about Gurriel they would not have committed only $7 MM ($6.5 MM in base salary and a $.5 MM buyout) to him. That is not nothing but is not a big commitment these days.

The overriding argument of giving the whole team, or at least those who regressed, a giant do-over in 2021 makes sense. But what if Yuli is as ineffective in 2021 as he was in 2020? It is one thing to have a defensive-oriented catcher (Maldonado) or even centerfielder (Myles Straw), but the corner infield spot is supposed to be a position of power and production. Can the Astros survive long with a hole in the lineup where there traditionally shouldn’t be one?

It is weird to think that fans thought Yuli was brought in to be our 3B, when he was signed for 5 years/ $47.5 MM out of Cuba. But his 2016 arrival also coincided with the arrival of Alex Bregman to the majors and the scramble around that reminded us all of what happened when 3B prospect Jeff Bagwell arrived in Houston and was immediately handed a 1B glove. In 2016, the first base spot was a hodgepodge as Marwin Gonzalez started 74 games there, Tyler White 50 games, A.J. Reed 27 games, the late (so sad) Luis Valbuena 7 games and Gurriel only 4 games. He actually started 20 games at third base, but rookie Bregman got 40 starts at the hot corner and never gave it back going forward. In 2017, the Astros handed the first base spot to Gurriel and he has not looked back since.

So, what happens if Yuli continues the slump that killed his 2020 season? Aledmys Diaz has played at 1B some, but he has missed so much time the last couple seasons, he could not be counted on as the new 1B. Kyle Tucker was handed a 1B glove last spring training, but with the holes in the Astros new outfield, he will not be anywhere but in the far fields. Yordan Alvarez looks like a 1B, and has played some 1B throughout his Cuban and minor league career, but with his knee problems and rehab he will probably not be moving out of the DH spot too much in the coming season. Taylor Jones would seem to be the most immediate prospect to fill the 1B spot. He did not have too auspicious an MLB debut last season but was only given 21 ABs, so any judgment would be a bit early on him. He had been a solid hitter the previous two seasons in the minors and would seem to be the next man up. Of course, the Astros could go chase some 1B help via the trade route during the season, though unless there is a bargain to pick up that does not seem very likely.

So, where do you stand on this topic? Is Dan P being like your mom and worrying about something not worth worrying about or is this a true concern? How would you address it?

51 comments on “The potential Astros’ need no one is talking about

  1. So you want to talk about the obvious pineapple in the room.
    The exit velocities Gurriel produced told me he was hurt or hurting in September and October. I think it was a core injury that he couldn’t make worse by playing but could get fixed it by Spring Training and I don’t think we will know until ST.
    Saying that, I think Jones is his backup replacement and he shares time with Diaz at 1B. Jones is probably a better player right now than the Gurriel we saw in the last two months of 2020. But he is not as good as the Gurriel who carried this team in August.
    If Gurriel has indeed let age catch up to him, the Astros would probably buy
    out his 2022 option.

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      • Bregman also had a huge knot on his right hand in a photo after he got off the bus during the ALCS. There, that’s my one time to Take Up for Alex. I had to use it sometime!

        I still don’t have any idea though what happened to Bregman in the most important spots last year. As they say in baseball, everybody is playing hurt. There’s mercy in the judgment.

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  2. Yuli has actually gained a step since 2016, I don’t really see age as a culprit here.

    If you look at his Statcast, what stands out is his previous years’ powdering the curve and slider, while in 2020 he got eaten up by everything [Run Values vs Pitch Type].

    https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/yuli-gurriel-493329?stats=statcast-r-hitting-mlb

    His barrel% is quite concerning imo. Someone posted the Brandon Inge video the other day (increasing lauch angle by catching the ball out in front of plate), and it seems to me Yuli could start a bit of a swing change in where he is setup when his bat meets the ball. He has really good bat to ball skills, as he proved it in 2017-2018 with RISP. Maybe injury and the start stop, lackidasical lockdowns of the players had something to do more so with our club — Straw said it was pretty unbearable. I figure Astros extended Yuli because he has a much bigger role than just offensive stats.

    I like Jones and Toro too at 1B to get some innings.
    My best case scenario would be Yordan comes back strong and takes 30 games in the field, so Yuli and others can DH a bit.

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  3. Given good health, we’ll have one of the most productive infields in MLB. Although he looked like he was running bad in 2020, Yuli remains a young old guy. I’m more concerned about finding an outfield that will produce offense. Tucker had his breakout, but I’d hate to see undo pressure on him to carry the load out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Not really worried about Yuli. As we saw with the Rays last season, you don’t need a lot of hitters to win (as long as you have the pitchers).

    As Yogi Berra once (allegedly) said: Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting.

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    • Amen! If a guy throws a 2 or 3 hitter, it doesn’t matter if your defense is the Little Rascals. Take that extra money and invest in more young pitching, and let some of the prospects Straw McCormick Stubbs have a day. We’ll never know til we turn them loose.

      One more reminder, Forrest Whitley is an animal! The last we saw of him he struck out 7 straight Astros in live action, said Putila, and looks “electric.” We are none the lesser off not having him pitch in big leagues so far, and what’s under the hood of that V-12 is going to astound the nay-sayers.

      With plenty of depth, we don’t have to hang the season on the young rook, but can interweave all this talent with Baker Strom’s deft touch on the pulse.

      Here’s some older footage of an 11 K night for Forrest. He was *4 yrs younger* than average age of AA…

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    • I might have a little more prospect envy than most, and I certainly understand when I asked “where’s Forrest?” to Blummer in 2018, he replied, “Who?”

      He said “my job is to cover the big league boys.” It truly threw me that this guy didn’t even know our top youngster, but it really does outline how these people think.

      What gets me the most is NONE of them ever take chances and put themselves out there with bold picks. These puff pieces are incredibly boring to me because Brian T can’t even mention one possible SP (of the dozen available) heading into camp. So sterile, generic and the least bit provacative, I’m really “over it” re: mainstream news. The alt sites will put them out of business in short order, and it’s the reason fans still come to Chipalatta, as it was when Chip’s insights were more fertile than Richard Justice.

      Today, those insights come from Prospects Live, or Astros Future, Fangraphs/Rotographs, coaches or scouts, players posting video, etc.

      You do a great job of anticipating these kind of articles weeks ahead of time, Dan. You’re the only person on the planet that had the guts to write what it would take for Luhnow and Hinch to be gone, right smack in the middle of their heyday! Even if you were wrong, you had the guts to put it out there. Keep up the good work.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks GoStros – I do my best to jump out there and think a little ahead. You folks fill it out more because you have your areas of interest – especially on prospects that add a lot to the conversation. I appreciate everything you folks bring to the blog.

        By the way – Happy 2021 folks. May it bring us all so much more joy than 2020.

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  5. Some thoughts:
    * Whitley having a great spring puts the Astros bullpen in a better position. If all the current 5 starters are healthy, one of them may be a good guy added to the bullpen.
    * Having Straw start in the outfield makes the Astros lineup so much weaker than it was with Springer in 2020. I just don’t see the Astros settling for that trade-off.
    * As the pitching dominoes start to fall, I think the Astros will add a veteran starter and a veteran reliever.
    * The Padres are going to be good. They are also headed for the highest payroll in baseball, possibly as soon as 2022.
    * The Phillies are reluctant to spend, but they finished 3rd in their division, are trying to stare down their best player from last season and I wonder what they end up doing. If they don’t make the playoffs in 2021 it is not going to be good.
    * Almost all of the young pitchers the Astros used in 2020 still have multiple options remaining. Even Josh James has 3 left. The exception is Cionel Perez, who has none. That could be interesting.
    * Just thought that it was interesting that one of the wealthiest franchises in MLB, LA Dodgers, will end up with both of their top affiliates in Oklahoma, even after all the restructuring. On the flip side of that coin, the Astros have…..well, ya know! and the Rangers have….well, ya know!

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    • I’d think the veteran reliever we’re getting this year that we didn’t have last year, especially since we’re already paying him … is Joe Smith.

      A starter I’ve racked my brain over; Richards? Minor was a 1st choice who’s now off the board. I just find it very interesting the Astros haven’t made any intimation whatsoever on SP, and if OF was such a worry we’d hear more than just Brantley. I tend to believe that JBJ was from their camp since it was never confirmed by Click.

      My other first choice in relievers was Reds, Iglesius and he got swiped immediately too. It makes me suspicious that league officials have their hand in approving trades. Hate to be a theorist, but it seems like every deal that’s perfect for us (since 2017?), never happens.

      I agree Straw looked outmatched last year, but he had a 92 OPS+ his 1st campaign and I have seen his upside in RR. If nothing else, he gets half the CF innings in 2021, not coming off that prediction since last Fall. The Astros gave him #3 for a reason. Time for the hitting coach to earn his keep there.

      January 15, Op! Right around the corner. Bring us Pedro Leon who will be 90% to speed, and call him up before September — that’s the plan.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a beautiful, crisp, sunny day in Houston! I simply must drag myself out there and get some sun, maybe take my Labrador fishing at Br Crk Park. He got really spooked last night from the War Zone of fireworks here in Katy.

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      • Long ago, I used to play Bear Creek’s golf courses. I understand they are gone now. There are a lot of Houston golf courses I played that are gone.

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      • OP – I grew up in Spring Branch so I played at Bear Creek very often.
        Looking on line it says that Bear Creek Golf World is still there and is open today.

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      • And their 2021 calendar on their web site has nothing on it. It is to be part of the reservoir to try to contain flooding in West Houston, I think.
        That is a shame. The Masters at Bear creek was a course I could not handle.

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      • Yes, some really great memories at Br Creek growing up. My dad took me there to play many times in high school. He was in procurement, pipe fitting, and so the salesmen would entertain and say, bring your son sure! Back then, I was shooting about 86, and could barely make varsity. One time we played with the fella who currently held the course record at 66 on the Masters’ side. Being a freshman, I started getting into sports stats, and noticed they played the NCAA Championship there when Steve Elkinton sank a 7-ft putt on 18 to win Dave Williams’ 17th title. That year a kid from UNC, Joe Inman shot a 63.

        And so it is pretty sad yet a page-turner for me now. It did get flooded and is closed. They tore down some caddyshacks, but still have the old pumphouse by the driving range and I never knew before there’s a 10 acre lake hidden by treeline all those yrs. It’s kind of my own spot, though there are scant fishermen. There are as you recall many lakes out there, and lots of bass catfish perch, the works. When all this covid stuff hit, I decided to buy a tent and go into the woods there to rough it from time to time. It’s been good to getaway and be 10 mns from home. I even bought a motorized bike so driving miles is a whiz ha!

        Yes, just like Island dave, I’m biding my time for Opening Day, counting them in pieces like Op and 1/15. Soon thereafter, Becky will tell us when pitchers & catchers meet I don’t even have to look she’ll tell us, and then Dr. and Mr. Bill will like ol chums, stir up the waters. Set your clocks by them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well that is a shame – they always did have problems when huge tropical storms and hurricanes dumped out there – the course would be under water forever unusable and damaging the course

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      • Yes, sir thanks! I went back and have 17 pages of Pena comments over the years. Have been really high on that kid since draft day. His father and their story is really intriguing. Nothing like that kind of pedigree, similar to Grae Kessinger’s. Bet you remember his dad?!

        One of the things nobody ever talks about with HOU. We draft really smart and with character kids. I always liked Tanielu but he wasn’t really a fit, same as Guduan and incidentally Deetz. I figured Matijevic would have “weeded” himself out, so maybe he’s trurned a corner. I mention these rare birds because I noticed a bunch of our guys were academic all-americans. One such guy who really is getting passed over in rotation discussions was a braniac at Notre Dame. Bet you can guess who I mean?

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      • I wouldn’t be surprised if Solomon was brilliant too, as this was written about him coming out:

        “Draft experts were indicating that he would be drafted very high in the draft. However, academia meant more to Solomon, as he was dead set on attending Notre Dame. The Padres took a chance and drafted him in the 21st round of the 2014 Draft. He ultimately declined.”

        But Bielak was the other Two-time ACC All-Academic Team (2015, 2016).

        Looking forward to big things in coming yrs from them both.

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    • My Dad’s parents lived in Huntsville. With us living in Pasadena in the early 60’s it took us 2 – 3 hours to get there. We used to stop in Conroe at a place we called the Corn Dog Stand if we couldn’t get there by lunch. Sometimes my mother made sandwiches, or would pack up some fried chicken and we’d stop at one of the Roadside Parks to eat. It was a much simpler time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zanuda, every now and then when living in Las Colinas, we’d head back north after visiting in Houston, but we’d get off 45 and instead take a parallel route along State Highway 75. Much better way to go if you’re not in a hurry.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You can pick on a team or a person so much that they will take it no longer.
    I was a skinny little guy in high school and a few bigger guys were always picking on me and making fun of me. One day a few of them were really coming after me and I was fed up. I picked out the guy I wanted and nailed him good and then chased him all over the gym until he ran outside and I caught him and nailed him again. They never bothered me after that.
    People are eventually get the Astros pissed off enough that they might regret it. This is a team with a lot of talent and experience. I don’t think the Astros are going to let others push them around much longer.
    They are going to find their batting strokes and others will realize they talked the Astros out of their funk.

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  7. For an example about ignoring the Astros, read this synopsis on the Dominican Winter League. Jeremy Pena played every game as the starting SS for Estrellas and was their best player. There is not even a mention of him in the Estrellas recap.
    https://www.prospects1500.com/milb/dominican-winter-league-2020-recap/#:~:text=The%20Dominican%20Winter%20League%20just,more%20important%20for%20their%20development.
    They mentioned how good Siri looked but didn’t mention that he signed with Houston.

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  8. I have no argument with Astros being picked in the upper tier of West Division yet middle of the pack league wise. I hope at the end of 2021 these picks are laughable, but right now, it seems about right to me. We lost our outfield and picked up no one YET. So a team with a losing record and no new additions YET would not be in my top 10.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m getting impatient get on with it and start fixing the outfield.
    Go get a closer.
    Stop pretending Crane didn’t have the money to give George a contract….
    Get everyone a vaccination BEFORE spring training.
    My only resolution for 2021 is to walk again unassisted. That’s all I want.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The Rangers signed Shin Soo Choo to a 7 yr/$130million contract before 2014. That contract has expired and he delivered 8.8 WAR total for those seven years, according to Fangraphs.

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    • Choo was a slight over-pay by genius, Jon Daniels.

      Rangers do have two very talented prospects about to hit the scene — their future. 3B Jung and C Huff are going to be studs.

      I was pretty impressed with the grit out of Solak, and I expect a similar path from McCormick if he ever gets a shot. The difference is the Rangers’ player is a 2nd round, while Astros turned a 21st round from Lancaster, PA into something.

      Speaking of Astros prospect outfielders, I really like De la Cruz, but someone posted Dawson taking Dustin May long a few times, from some old footage. He’s the real enigma to me, I really cannot say Ronnie D is a “shoo-in.”

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  11. Thought that this was interesting coming from an outsider, rather than me looking at Jeremy Pena through orange colored glasses

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  12. I thought this was interesting coming from someone other than me:

    This is the guy we signed a couple of weeks ago to a minor league deal, who has worked hard on a big swing change.

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