This is really a post about GM James Click and how he has addressed the Astros needs heading into Spring Training. Reading the tea leaves, it seems likely the Astros are done making moves this off-season based on statements Click has made and the proximity of the team to the luxury tax limit. They may make some minor pickups on some bargains heading into Spring Training, but any larger move at this point would be a surprise.
Click did not get the opportunity to address the team’s needs from scratch the last off-season. By the time he took over as GM at the end of January, all the heavy work of shaping the roster had been completed. Even during the season, the fans did not see much of Click in action as he addressed the pitching staff being ravaged by illness and injury with mostly internal moves, the minor trade for Brooks Raley and waiver signing of Chase DeJong being the exceptions.
Heading into the full off-season of 2021, Click had both a list of needs and the responsibility for addressing those needs. How did he do?
Catching. Martin Maldonado made the vast majority of starts in 2020, because he was the best option and because he was not going to get burned out playing in 47 of the 60 games. Still, based on the poor performances of backups Dustin Garneau and Garrett Stubbs (in admittedly very few ABs), the Astros needed to address either getting someone to be the backup or starting catcher for a full 162 game season.
The Astros did not make the big splash of signing a J.T. Realmuto or a medium splash of signing James McCann. They signed former Astro Jason Castro to a two year / $7 MM (with incentives) contract. This gave the Astros a solid veteran with good defensive skills and a left-handed bat, who undoubtedly will platoon quite a bit with Maldonado. This also allows them to have this veteran in 2022 when Maldonado becomes a free agent.
Grade. B- The Astros are in better shape this season at catcher than they were last year, but not elite.
Bullpen. Heading into 2021, the Astros lost (or were likely to lose) Brad Peacock, Roberto Osuna, Chris Devenski, and Joe Biagini (a minus is a plus) to free agency or release. Now granted they only pitched 14.2 innings cumulatively in 2020 for the Astros. Additionally, the Astros are not sure when and if Josh James will return from hip surgery.
Now the appearance in 2020 of rookies Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, and Andre Stubbs, the pick up of Raley, and the expected return of veteran Joe Smith from self-quarantine make the need to fill all those bullpen spots less of a need. But still, the bullpen was lacking a true closer and was short on veteran arms behind new closer Ryan Pressly.
Click made two direct moves on the bullpen as he picked up veterans Ryne Stanek and Pedro Baez as free agent pieces to fit into the late-inning mix in the bullpen. He has not made a move to pick up another closer and has indicated that he believes there can be multiple closers or closers developed from within. It is quite possible that Baez could help out in the closer’s role or that Paredes might pick up some saves.
Grade. B – This writer is willing to give Click the benefit of the doubt as he would love to see one of the young guys develop into a closer, too,
Outfield. Between losing Jake Marisnick after 2019 and potentially losing George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick after 2020, the Astros have been having to replace 4 outfielders who totalled 1847 ABs, 85 HRs and 276 RBIs in 2019. The Astros started the OF transformation in 2020 as Kyle Tucker reached out and grabbed one of the starting corner OF spots. Click took care of the other corner spot by re-signing Brantley for two more seasons at $16 MM per year, though admittedly he will need to sit a bit more as he grows older. This leaves the CF spot and the 4th OF spot to be filled.
Click has put forth that Myles Straw and Chas McCormick are the main candidates to take those two spots, though it is likely that both Yordan Alvarez and Aledmys Diaz will help out to fill that 4th OF spot. Click went out and picked up OFs Jose Siri and Steven Souza Jr. on minor league contracts. The potentially biggest move Click made in the long term was signing 5 tool OF Pedro Leon out of Cuba.
Fans may be upset that Click did not re-sign George Springer to a huge contract that probably extends to a point where he is a burden, or they may be mad that he has not gone and picked up Jackie Bradley Jr. who thinks he is worth more money and more years than he probably is worth. But if the plan is to fill in for 2021, while Leon gets ready to be the long term centerfielder, he may have played it just right in bringing back Brantley and planning on backfilling with multiple parts until Leon is ready.
Grade. B – This grade may go to A if Leon is who we think he is.
So far, all things considered, Click has done a solid job of picking up reasonably priced assets, while he waits for a ton of money to come off the books after the 2021 season.