A look at prospective Astro trade targets

In 2019, MLB teams will be facing a single trade deadline at the end of July. The waiver trade deadline at the end of August is gone, so if a team wants to make their version of a Justin Verlander championship building trade, they better have their ducks in a row by 4 PM eastern time on July 31st.

Based on the current roster and performance it is likely that the Astros will be kicking the tires on Starting and Relief Pitching headed into the deadline. They have struggled to fill the 5th spot in the rotation (maybe Framber Valdez fills it, maybe not) and are relying on two guys in the #3 and #4 spots that did not pitch many innings (145 total) in 2018. They also have a bullpen that may be Jello soft (Chris Devenski / Cionel Perez) in some of their lower spots and where they may need a little help with the back end of Will Harris, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, which is not as rock solid as it once was.

It is early. Lots of things can change between now and the end of July. But here is a look at prospective starters and relievers based on a top 50 list from mlbtraderumors.com. It features mostly players from teams that are floundering and likely to be looking to throw in the towel before the deadline. (And the Reds are not as floundering as much as they were last weekend).

Name Team Age 2019 $$ To Go * Future 2019 W-L 2019 IP 2019 ERA 2019 WHIP
Madison Bumgarner – LH Giants 29 $4 MM $0 3-6 93 3.87 1.172
Marcus Stroman – RH Blue Jays 28 $2.5 MM 1 Yr Arb 4-8 87.2 3.18 1.312
Matt Boyd – LH Tigers 28 $900 K 3 Yr Arb 5-5 88.2 3.35 1.083
Tanner Roark – RH Reds 32 $3.3 MM $0 4-6 74.1 3.63 1.386
Jordan Lyles – RH Pirates 28 $700 K $0 5-3 64.1 3.64 1.228
Andrew Cashner – RH Orioles 32 $3.2 MM Note 1 6-3 76.1 4.48 1.336
Mike Leake – RH Mariners 31 $3.5 MM $11 MM Note 2 6-6 95.2 4.14 1.223
Danny Duffy – LH Royals 30 $5.1 MM 2 Yrs $31 MM 3-3 54.1 4.64 1.399
Jeff Samardzija – RH Giants 34 $6.6 MM 1 Yr   $19.8 3-6 72.2 3.96 1.280
Zack Wheeler – RH Mets 29 $2 MM $0 5-5 94.2 4.94 1.331
Trevor Bauer – RH Indians 28 $13 MM 1 Yr Arb 5-6 108.1 3.41 1.117
Name Team Age 2019 $$ To Go * Future 2019 W-L / SV 2019 IP 2019 ERA 2019 WHIP
Will Smith – LH Giants 29 $1.4 MM $0 1-0 19 SV 29.2 2.12 0.809
Kirby Yates – RH Padres 32 $1 MM 1 yr ARB 0-2 26 SV 32 1.13 0.813
Tony Watson – LH Giants 34 $1.2 MM Note 3 2-0     0 SV 28.2 2.83 1.116
Jake Diekman – LH Royals 32 $800 K Note 4 0-4     0 SV 30 4.50 1.200
Sam Dyson – RH Giants 30 $5 MM 1 Yr Arb 2-0      1 SV 33 2.45 0.939
Alex Colombe – RH White Sox 30 $2.5 MM 1 Yr Arb 2-1 15 SV 28.1 2.22 0.671
Shane Greene – RH Tigers 30 $1.4 MM 1 Yr Arb 0-2 21 SV 29 0.93 0.862
Mychal Givens – RH Orioles 29 $700 K 2 Yr     Arb 0-4     6 SV 29 5.28 1.379
Ian Kennedy – RH Royals 34 $5.5 MM $16.5 MM 0-2     8 SV 29 3.72 1.310
Mark Melancon – RH Giants 34 $3.6 MM $14 MM 3-1     0 SV 29.1 3.38 1.466
Craig Stammens – RH Padres 35 $800 K $0 5-3    2 SV 36.2 3.93 1.145
Francisco Liriano – LH Pirates 35 $600 K $0 1-1     0 SV 33.2 2.14 1.188
David Hernandez – RH Reds 34 $800 K $0 1-3     1 SV 32 4.50 1.250
Felipe Vazquez – LH Pirates 27 $1.5 MM Note 5 1-0   16 SV 29.2 2.12 1.180
Raisel Iglesias – RH Reds 29 $1.9 MM 3 Yr    $24 MM 1-6   3 SV 31 2.90 1.387
Brad Hand – LH Indians 29 $7 M Note 6 3-2 20 SV 30.2 0.88 0.750
Currently Injured
Caleb Smith – LH – Starter Marlins 27 $200 K 3 Yrs Arb 3-4 66 3.41 1.015
Ken Giles – RH – Reliever Blue Jays 28 $2.1 MM 1 Yr Arb 1-1   11 SV 25 1.08 1.040
Alex Wood – LH – Starter Reds 28 $3.2 MM $0 —— —– —– —–

* $$ owed for 2019 based on trade near the Jul 31st deadline

Note 1 – Team has $10 MM option for 2020 (FA after that) – $10 MM becomes automatic with 340 IP between 2018 and 2019

Note 2 – Mutual Option for 2021 (both team and player have to agree) of $18 MM or $5 MM buyout

Note 3 – Player Option of $2.5 MM for 2020 or Watson can choose free agency

Note 4 – Mutual Option for 2020 (both team and player have to agree) of $5.75 MM or $500 K buyout

Note 5 – 2 yrs / $13.5 MM plus two more years of $10 MM each team option

Note 6 – 1 Yr / $7.5 MM plus one more year of $10 MM team option

It is an intriguing list of pitchers from rentals to those offering multiple seasons of control. Of course going into this, it is OK to admit that many times this Front Office blind sides those of us, who think they know something. Is there someone who has the super spin rate, but may need a tweak or two on grip or on pitch selection? Is there someone flying under the radar or someone who has been a lot better lately than earlier in the season? Is there someone they think has the right makeup to go from games that are fairly meaningless to games that mean the world?

Here are some thoughts / guesses:

Best Big Name Rentals – Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith – OK, maybe Will Smith only has a big name in a Fresh Prince/MIB kind of way, but Madbum has pitched solidly (ignore the W-L) and Will Smith has been nails so far. Giants will be wanting pretty big packages for rentals and the Astros may kick the tires and move on.

Best Big Name with Control Beyond This Season – Marcus Stroman and Brad Hand – Stroman has pitched well with little support, while Hand has pitched like a left handed Ryan Pressly to this point. They both likely cost big prospect(s) – but the Astros have some prospect capital to at least chase these guys.

Best Under the Radar Astro Reunion Rentals – Jordan Lyles and Francisco Liriano – They both come cheap salary-wise and being rentals, should not cost that much in prospects. But will this Front Office do any do-overs not named Jed Lowrie or Felipe Paulino?

Best How Will the Clubhouse Handle This Guy – Trevor Bauer, who famously opined that the Astro pitchers might be putting more than muscle into their pitches.

Astro Kind of Moves – How about Detroit’s Matt Boyd or the Reds’ Alex Wood (who has not thrown a pitch this season)? Boyd has pitched very well and has a lot of control with 3 arb years. Wood has been injured this season, but was brilliant in the Dodgers 2017 season that died at the hands of the Astros. The Astros took on Roberto Osuna after he sat out a big chunk of 2018 (very different reason), maybe they would take a shot on Wood with a small pitching sample before the deadline.

The bottom line is the Astros have quite a bit available to trade between top prospects and guys who have had small samples at the major league level or who are blocked. It is not hard to see them making a run at some of the available pitchers on this list.

Who would you like to see come here?

Who would you not like to see come here?

What would you give up?



The elephants not in the room:The Yanks’ and Astros’ Lineups

The Astros and Yankees have a lot in common this season. They are both performing at high levels, and both leading their respective divisions after more than 40% of the season is gone (though the Yanks have the Rays breathing down their necks, while the Rangers are just breathing 9.5 games back of the ‘Stros). They both have had good offensive production, both in the top 4 in the AL in OPS and HRs and well above league average in runs scored. And they both have done this with a good chunk of a potential All-Star team on the IL.

For the Astros this has meant living without George Springer (.308 BA/ 1.032 OPS/ 17 HRs/ 43 RBIs so far in 2019), for 24 games and counting. Carlos Correa (.295 BA/ .907 OPS/ 11 HR/ 35 RBIs) had an excellent season interrupted by an overzealous massage (or so we have heard), has missed 22 games and is likely to have missed close to 40 before he is ready to go again. Former MVP Jose Altuve (.243 BA/ .801 OPS/ 9 HRs/ 21 RBIs) was struggling before he went on the IL and has missed 33 games, but is on rehab and hopefully will be back soon. Aledmys Diaz after a slow start has been a super-sub off the bench (.286 BA/ .831 OPS/ 5 HRs/ 21 RBIs in only 98 ABs) has been out 18 games so far. The first three hitters have been the heart of the offense along with Alex Bregman the last few years and Diaz has been a solid addition in a Marwin Gonzalez role.

The Yankees have been succeeding despite many injuries at pitcher and in their lineup. Looking only at the lineup here…..

Didi Gregrorius is back, but only after missing 63 games (27 HR / 86 RBIs in 2018) with TJ surgery. Aaron Judge (27 HR / 67 RBIs in only 112 games in 2018) has missed 50 games but is expected back soon. Giancarlo Stanton (38 HRs and 100 RBIs in 2018) only played in 3 of the Yankees 70 games, but is expected back this week. Aaron Hicks (27 HRs / 76 RBIs in 2018) missed 46 games, but is back even if his bat is lagging. Veteran Kendrys Morales (21 HRs / 57 RBIs in 2018) was brought in to help with the injuries and he went down after only 19 games with the Yanks.

On top of having their middle of the lineup players back soon, the Astros brought up the player they hope is the answer to their DH black hole in Yordan Alvarez (4 HRs in his first 6 games). Meanwhile, the Yanks have just traded for the AL leader in HRs (21) in Edwin Encarnacion. So, the scary part of this is….what will these two lineups look like when the fallen have returned.

Here’s one set of potential lineups……

Astros Yankees
Position Name Position Name
1. CF George Springer 1. 3B D.J. LeMahieu
2. 3B Alex Bregman 2. RF Aaron Judge
3. SS Carlos Correa 3. LF Giancarlo Stanton
4. LF Michael Brantley 4. 1B Luke Volt
5. DH Yordan Alvarez 5. DH Edwin Encarnacion
6. 2B Jose Altuve 6. CF Aaron Hicks
7. 3B Yuli Gurriel 7. C Gary Sanchez
8. C Robinson Cherinos 8. SS Didi Gregorius
9. RF Josh Reddick 9. 2B Gleyber Torres

Neither of these lineups promise much relief to opposing teams. The Yankees have insane power up and down, the Astros are not trailing by much and undoubtedly with better BAs.

Neither of these teams is a popular opponent right now and after the return of the wounded, folks will be wincing when they see these lineups.

So, how do you think these offenses produce through the rest of 2019? How would you construct their lineups?

The 5 biggest concerns for the 2019 Astros

There are certainly major reasons to not worry about the 2019 Astros.

  • They are the 2017 World Champs and came within a play here or there of going to the 2018 World Series despite having Jose Altuve (knee), Carlos Correa (back) and George Springer (thumb) playing through debilitating injuries.
  • Six weeks into the 2019 season, the Astros are tied with the Minnesota Twins for the best record in baseball and are on a pace for 108 wins.
  • They are playing this well despite having three of their best hitters (Altuve, Correa and Springer), their top super-sub (Aledmys Diaz) and their top swingman (Collin McHugh) all on the IL for extended periods.
  • They have arguably 9 of the top 25 players in the AL in Springer, Correa, Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly when they are all back and well.
  • They play in a fairly weak division that cannot challenge them even with all their early season injury problems.

So, as the hero of the irreverent, Alfred E. Neuman would say, “What, me worry?”

Well, we at Chipalatta and all our Nervous Nelly commenters do worry. It is in our nature. We may worry less than we did prior to the team winning their first title, but we nevertheless have that concern that this too will pass – and not in a good way. So, what are the top 5 concerns for the 2019 Astros?

1) Starting pitching – Let’s see….

Justin Verlander? No worries unless his home planet comes looking for him.

Gerrit Cole? In 2018, he was 15-5 with a 2.82 ERA and gave the Astros the most lethal 1-2 punch in baseball with JV. In 2019…..not so much. His 5-5 3.72 ERA is good, but not transcendent. He has upped his K rate and lowered his walk rate. Good, you would think. He has almost doubled his HR rate. Not so good. He is pitching more like Pirate Cole before his trade and that just does not match his talent.

Wade Miley? Well he’s been great – 6-3, 3.14 ERA are far beyond expectations. But… he’s pitched as many innings (80) as he did all last season. Now, he pitched great last season and  the beginning of this season in relatively small samples, but in the four seasons previous to that he had a 4.88 ERA over 718 innings. Is Wade Miley another late bloomer like Charlie Morton? We hope so, but we are worried.

Brad Peacock? He also has been very good 6-3, 3.42 ERA, which is in alignment with his performances since 2016. The concern may be on quantity here. His 71 innings are 6 more than all of last year when he was in the bullpen. His career high was 132 innings in 2017, when he spent time in both the rotation and the bullpen. More than that will be needed from Brad.

#5? Collin McHugh looked like the answer here with a 3-1, 1.96 start. But then he stumbled badly, losing his spot in the rotation and then headed to the IL. Corbin Martin looked like the answer here – through one good start before he stumbled badly and headed back to the minors. Framber Valdez looks like the answer here after one great start – well you get the idea.

The true answer may reside on someone else’s roster right now.

2) Injuries

The plus side may be if the Astros are getting these pesky injuries out of their systems prior to the playoff push and the playoffs, like they did in 2017. The minus side is that the same guys are getting injured and some of the injuries are the kind that are worrisome as far as relapse. Hamstrings for instance. And let’s face it, Correa and Springer have spent quite a bit of time injured most seasons since their call-up and Altuve is in the middle of his second consecutive worrisome season relative to injuries.

3) Bullpen depth and stamina

Bullpens are worrisome by their nature. It seems like blowing leads or being shutdown relievers are both contagious. Lately, even the tough as nails back end of the bullpen of Pressly and Osuna has been a little more hittable. Will Harris and Hector Rondon roll from being good to being suspect. Chris Devenski is a question mark as he searches for the magic he’s  had in previous years. Josh James had finally settled in after a bad start to the season and then came out of Wednesday night’s game with lat tightness. Framber Valdez has been at least temporarily moved from the bullpen to the rotation. His lefty replacement Reymin Guduan came up from the minors, failed and headed back down. Guduan’s replacement, Cionel Perez had one excellent outing followed by one where he failed in his second inning. There is concern that Osuna and Pressly will be over-used due to their excellent performances to date. If McHugh comes back healthy and if the ball club picks up a starter for the stretch run, the bullpen might get some reinforcements. But until we see these guys perform well in the playoffs as well as the regular season, we will worry.

4) Run scoring

Sure, they are without Correa, Altuve, Springer and Diaz. But the offense was not a well oiled run scoring machine before their injuries. The team was hitting well, but it was not scoring commensurate with their other base stats. Even now with the team in the top two in the AL in BA / OBP / OPS they are 5th in runs scored.

That may not seem like a big thing, but the Twins with similar hitting numbers are scoring 0.8 runs more per game than the Astros. Looking closer, the Twins in 3 less games have 39 more extra base hits than the Astros. Also, they have only hit into 38 double plays while the Astros have hit into a whopping 67 DPs, almost one per game (it feels like one per rally).

Will they improve on these numbers? Their eventual success may rely on just that and we will worry until it does reverse trend.

5) Returning hangover

We’ve seen it over and over. Guys get hurt. Guys come back. Guys struggle mightily. Sometimes that is rust and sometimes that is guys trying to play through something that will not totally heal until surgery or an off-season of rest. Last season, Altuve and Correa both never really healed and never really played like themselves after their mid-season injuries. We know they should have plenty of time to straighten themselves out after their returns, but we are like Mom. We worry.

So, are you worried about any of these five things above and how much? Are there other things that worry you more?

Josh Fields — The gift that keeps giving — Yordan Alvarez makes his MLB debut

Most Astro fans know the drill or at least think they do. The Astros traded reliever Josh Fields to the Dodgers for young Cuban Yordan Alvarez in 2016. Alvarez was 19 years old and had not yet played for the Dodgers organization after starting his career with 74 games over two seasons in Cuba. They must have liked him a lot as they signed him to a $2 million bonus, but the Astros were able to pry him out of the Blue Men’s hands.   Alvarez has become a super star before he even played one major league game (and boy he looked like a potential super star in his one game) and all Fields ever did was give up back to back extra inning homers to Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the unbelievable Game 2 of the 2017 World Series.

To be fair to Fields, he actually pitched quite well for the Dodgers, going 8-2 with a fine 2.61 ERA and 1.040 WHIP over 2-1/2 seasons in LA. But if Alvarez becomes what folks think he may become, Fields will be forever linked with Larry Andersen (a solid reliever traded for Jeff Bagwell back in 1990) as “those” guys, players traded for important or even transcendent pieces.

So, what about this hitting wizard named Yordan Alvarez? Well, obviously it will take more than one big swing against Dylan Bundy to ultimately judge the young man, but he is off to a start that most of the recent Astro prospects brought up would kill for. He was 1 for 3 including his two-run homer that gave the Astros the lead they never relinquished and threw a walk in on top of that.  How did other folks start out?

  • Alex Bregman was the poster boy for patience with prospects. He got his first hit in his 19th at bat and his 1st HR (also a 2 run homer) in his 78th at bat back in 2016. Going into his 20th game when he finally hit the homer he had a terrible slash line .165 BA / .235 OBP/ .469 OPS. By the end of his first partial season, he had a respectable slash of .264 /.313/ .791.
  • George Springer was only a tad better than Bregman. George did get a hit in his first game and in fact had a 5 game hitting streak to start his career in 2014. Then he went cold as he dropped to a slash of .170 BA / .264 OBP/ .477 OPS. Like Bregman he got his first home run in his 20th game and his 78th at bat. Before an injury cut his season short he totaled 20 HRs and 51 RBIs in only 78 games.
  • Jose Altuve also had a hit in his first game and posted a quick out of the gate 7 game hitting streak after jumping all the way from AA back in 2011. He didn’t get his first home run until his 28th game and 106th at bat and it did not leave the ballpark as he whacked an inside the park homer at MMP. It would be 10 more games before he hit one that left the park against ……future teammate Charlie Morton. In his first time in the majors he would hit for good average (.276) but his on-base was a nasty (.297).
  • Correa would not be ribbing you (see what I did there) if he said he had the most successful debut of the Astros great young core. He had a hit in his first game, a home run the next day and never looked back on his way to the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year award. He finished the season with a robust .279 BA/ .345 OBP/ .857 OPS slash and 22 HRs and 68 RBIs.
  • Kyle Tucker was called up in 2018 and hit like an overmatched 21 year old. He earned his first hit in his first game, but is still waiting on his first MLB home run. He was sent back down with an anemic slash line of .141 BA / .236 OBP / .439 OPS

Mr. Alvarez has been on a quick track to reach the majors. His norm has been to hit extremely well at a level and then to come down a bit upon promotion. This year he has been the best hitter in the minors before his call-up with video game numbers .343 BA / .443 OBP / 1.184 OPS with a breathtaking 50 runs scored, 23 HRs and 71 RBIs in only 56 games.

Unlike Tucker who looked like a taller, skinnier Terry Puhl when he came up – Yordan Alvarez looks the part of an MLB power hitter or the newest Paul Bunyan. Like Bunyan the question is can he live up to the expectations that came with him from the minors and only intensified when he hit that 415+ ft laser beam to the gas pump in left centerfield on Sunday? We shall see, but it should be fun finding out.

What they said, what they meant – 2019 Astros

Today we return to an oldie but a goodie post called “What They Said / What They Meant”. As you may or not recall, an actual Astro related quote from mlb.com is cited in baseball-ese – followed by an interpretation of what the speaker really meant.

Manager A.J. Hinch talking about Myles Straw after his 3 hit, 3 run, 3 SB game

  • What he said. “He had a very impactful game, obviously. The pressure that he could put on the opponent you could feel every time he was coming up to bat or every time he got on base. And to see him fly around the bases and scoring on singles was huge. … Just exactly the reason why we like him. He can help a winning team.”
  • What he meant. “Damn he’s fast. When he hits the light switch at night, he’s in bed before the light bulb  turns off.”

GM/Prez Jeff Luhnow on sending Forrest Whitley to extended Spring Training.

  • What he said. “Any time a young player, especially a pitcher, reports any sort of soreness or fatigue, we err on the side of caution, especially with him. That, combined with the fact he wasn’t having any success in Triple-A, made it a good time for us to send him to Palm Beach. This will be a good opportunity to take stock of where everything is and work with our pitching coaches and not be distracted by being 60 miles from his hometown [of San Antonio]. It will be a good opportunity for him, but I think he’s mentally strong. He’s had setbacks before, and he came through it. Last year was a great indication of that.
  • What he meant. “Let’s see, in the off-season before the 2018 season, he’s hanging around his friends at home and one of them gives him a stimulant that gets him suspended for a big chunk of the season. Now in 2019 he’s in Round Rock, pretty close to his home and those same friends, and even though he is the top rated pitching prospect in baseball, he has been one of the worst of our pitchers in the upper minors. Maybe we shouldn’t have moved the AAA team from Fresno to Round Rock….”

Justin Verlander on passing Cy Young on the all-time strikeout list

  • What he said. “Sometimes when you’re playing this game, it has the unique ability to really put things in perspective for you. As much as you try to keep your head down and keep pitching and not pay attention to whatever is going on, any time Cy Young pops up on your radar and you’re associated with him, it’s pretty special.”
  • What he meant. “C’mon – Cy Young was so great that they give out awards every year to the best AL and NL pitcher for that season in his name. Catching him in any category is just amazing. Now, if I can pitch until I am 85 I might catch him in wins.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin on Justin Verlander

  • What he said. “He’s just really good. He elevates well with high velocity and throws breaking balls in off counts. Keeps the ball on the corners. We just didn’t have too many good swings off him.”
  • What he meant. “What do you want me to say? He pitches for the other team, so I won’t praise him any more than I would Wade Miley. But deep down, I want to turn to the cheap a%^&s who run my team and say – why don’t you guys get me one like him.”

Reymin Guduan on his second bad outing in two days

  • What he said. “My command has been good. Just the slider today wasn’t falling the way I wanted it to. Unfortunately, that’s part of the game. I need to do better next time around. These are things that happen in baseball and I need to maintain my confidence high and maintain my head high and attack the zone and keep doing my job.”
  • What he meant. “Yeah, my slider wasn’t falling the way I wanted it to. I wanted it to fall into the catcher’s mitt rather than over the fence.”

A.J. Hinch after a 14-1 loss to the Mariners on his bullpen usage

  • What he said. “Most of the game, I was going into it not wanting to use our primary guys. We’ve worked them a ton, so some other guys have to pitch on a daily basis and they struggled tonight and it got really ugly.”
  • What he meant. “You know Brady Rodgers and Reymin Guduan have given up 14 runs in 8 and 1/3 innings. Will Harris, Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly have given up 14 runs in 80 and 1/3 innings. Really ugly does not sufficiently describe Rodgers and Guduan.”

Hinch on Corbin Martin after another poor/short outing

  • What he said. “Long-term, he’s really good. He’s going to be a really good pitcher in this league. He’s got stuff. He’s got the right mentality. We’ve got to coach him a little better and get him out of this funk.”
  • What he meant. “Long term is usually the view on prospects that are not yet in the majors. Once they get here, the view needs to be more immediate.”

Hinch the next day after sending Martin down

  • What he said. “I think it was important for us to be realistic with him and not waste any more time of the same thing over and over again. We had to mix something up and make a change, just given the fact that he’d gone three innings and three innings and three innings. He can make a quick adjustment. His stuff is really good.”
  • What he meant. “You remember yesterday when I said ‘We’ve got to coach him a little better and get him out of this funk’? I decided that ‘we’ did not include the present major league coaching staff.”

Hinch on George Springer rehabbing and being loud in the process

  • What he said. “That’s good. A loud George is a happy George.”
  • What he meant.“You know it is kind of like with your kids, you can tell if the fever is broken or if that ear is not aching any more, just by how rambunctious they are acting. In fact the only difference between my 5 year old and George is on pay day.”

Carlos Correa (with his fiancée Daniella Rodriguez) discussing his cracked rib caused by a massage

  • What he said. “I was getting a massage on this area on the ribs and I heard a crack when my masseuse pressed on this area over here on my ribs. I looked and I was [like], ‘What was that?’ Immediately after, my side started hurting when I was breathing, when I was walking. At that point I figured something was not right, so I obviously called the Astros to let them know.”
  • What he meant. “I would tell you what really happened, but I’m afraid Daniella will break another one of my ribs.”

Bonus quotes – You fine readers – get to do your version of the “what he meant” side of any of the quotes above, but I think the Correa one might be the most fun.

Thank you, Dallas Keuchel!

Former Astros ace,Dallas Keuchel, after sitting out more than two months of the 2019 season and after not being offered a multi-year $100+ million contract, has signed a contract worth $13 million with the Atlanta Braves to pitch less than four months of the current season.

This is worth approximately the equivalent of about a $20 million contract for a full year of pitching and Keuchel will return to the free agent hopper at the end of 2019. A team signing him then would not forfeit a future draft pick though they will be signing a pitcher who has taken one more step into his 30’s, beginning the 2020 season at the age of 32.

The easiest thing at this time would be to chide Keuchel for over-estimating his own worth in a sinking market for “older” players. He reportedly turned down a 5 year/ $90 million extension a couple years ago from the Astros. He did (unsurprisingly) turn down a $17.9 million qualifying offer in the offseason from the Astros that attached a poison pill draft pick forfeiture to his signing. He reportedly did turn down a number of offers since he became a free agent, though there has been no report on the length or annual worth of those offers or even which teams proffered those contracts.

But the point of this post is not to question his ego, question the influence of his agent Scott (Beelzebub) Boras or even question his loyalty to the Astros. It is simply to thank one of the most critical pieces in the Astros run from laughingstock to World Champion and perennial contender.

The Astros picked Dallas Keuchel 10 drafts ago, a seventh round pick out of the University of Arkansas. He rose fairly quickly through the minors despite the fact that he faltered every time he was first promoted to a level and then did better upon repeat. It is probably more a testimony to how bad the Astros were and how bad the minors were that he was promoted to the majors after putting up a so-so 6-4 mark at AAA with a 3.90 ERA and with only striking out 4.9 hitters per 9 IP in 2012.  It is no exaggeration to say that Keuchel is not the kind of pitcher the current front office would ever draft or push up the ladder these days.

Once up in the majors, Keuchel was bad for two seasons (3-8, 5.27 ERA in 2012 and 6-10, 5.15 ERA in 2013) pitching for the worst team in the majors. It was likely he came to spring training in 2014 on his last MLB legs. At this point he made a major leap and was one of the key cogs in pulling this team into respectability and eventually excellence. In 2014 he was a very good 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA, which is no small feat with a team that was only 72-90 and had no real veteran presence to lead the way for him. In 2015, he carried the team to its first playoff spot in a decade with his lightning strike of a Cy Young season – 20-8 and 2.43 ERA. He then pitched brilliantly on the road (6 IP, 3 hits, 0 runs) against the Yankees to win the wild card play-in game and move them into the playoffs against the Royals. Most will remember his ill fated relief attempt in Game 5, but forget that he beat the Royals in game 3 with a 7 IP, 1 run effort to get them to the cusp of a series win.

When Dallas faltered in 2016 (9-12, 4.55 ERA) , trying to pitch through an injury, the team faltered also. Both he and the Astros turned it around in 2017 as he put up a 14-5 record and 2.90 ERA around another injury. But the two most important things he did this season may have been off the field. First, he was not shy in echoing what we all felt when the front office failed to improve the team at the “normal” trade deadline at the end of July. Whether this spurred on Jeff Luhnow to heavily pursue Justin Verlander leading into the waiver trade deadline, we will never know. But we do know that when the Astros struggled to get agreement from Verlander on that trade as time was ticking down, the one player they had call him was Dallas Keuchel. Despite his criticism of the front office, they trusted him to be their banner carrier in convincing the difference maker to leave the comfort of his forever baseball home in Detroit and jump to Houston.

Now there are players, who may not want to win as much as Keuchel does, who would have said no thank you on calling Verlander. After all, Dallas was the Astros ace and he knew that bringing JV here would be ceding that title to the new guy. But he knew that he was playing for a terrific team with a great offense and injury prone pitching that needed that one move to send them where no Astro team had ever reached before. He made the call, the trade was made with seconds to spare and  the Astros rode that move to the World Championship in 2017.

Keuchel was good , not great in 2018 (12-11, 3.75 ERA) and entered the off-season thinking he would be one of those Mega-Lottery winners in free agency. It has not happened and may never happen for him. Keuchel should have no complaints as he has pulled in $30 million in his career with $13 million more coming. The Astros should have no complaints as they picked up 76 regular season wins and a confident team leader for their investment.

And the Astro fans should just say thanks to Dallas Keuchel and best of luck (unless your new team meets our always team in the World Series). The next chapter will be unfolding soon.

A look at the Astros’ (temporary) logjam in the outfield

From the beginning of the 2019 season, the Astros’ riches in the outfield have been something to behold.

  • George Springer (up until his hamstring injury) was a certain MVP candidate as he slashed (.309 BA/ .389 OBP/ 1.038 OPS with 17 HRs and 42 RBIs) to the top of most offensive categories in the AL.
  • Michael Brantley (.332 BA/.389 OBP/.926 OPS with 10 HRs and 38 RBIs) has been on the top of any list of best free agent pickups in the recent off-season.
  • While not quite at the same level as the other two starters, Josh Reddick has bounced back from a poor 2018 and has been solid in the RF spot (.305/.350/.795 with 6 HRs and 20 RBIs).
  • Meanwhile, defensive wizard and fourth OF, Jake Marisnick has put up the best offensive stats over an extended period in his career (.267 BA/ .333 OBP/ .850 OPS with 6 HRs and 17 RBIs) in 120 ABs.

The recent spate of position-side injuries (Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Aledmys Diaz, Max Stassi) has provided OF prospects Derek Fisher and Myles Straw with playing time and both have grasped the bull by the horns.

Fisher, who spent some time with the big club in both 2017 and 2018 and scored the iconic game-winner in the fifth game of the 2017 World Series has looked like a different and much better hitter this time around. In a 10 game sample, Fisher has slashed (.281 BA / .361 OBP/ ..861OPS with 6 runs scored, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR and 5 RBIs).  Straw, who had a 9 AB cup of coffee in 2018,  has been White Lightning since he came up, affecting the game with his speed and a solid bat and glove (.385 BA/ .429 OBP/ .813 OPS with 6 runs scored and 3 SBs in only 13 ABs). Both of these guys are making cases to stay up or to be brought back up as the season moves along.

So that is six OFs who have all produced between good and excellent at the MLB level. Oh, and then there is the small matter of two 22-year-old top prospects at AAA, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Alvarez has been All-World so far this season (.355 BA/ .451 OBP/ 1.216 OPS with 46 runs scored, 22 HRs and 68 RBIs in only 53 games). Tucker was as bad the first month of the season as he was in his 2018 call-up with the Astros, but has been on fire ever since (Overall – .259 BA/ .333 OBP/ .935 OPS with 41 runs scored, 18 HRs, 40 RBIs and 12 SBs also in 53 games).

Obviously, the Astros have an apparent logjam of outfield talent, but with time limitations.

  • Springer is 29 years old and is receiving $12 million in the second year of a two year contract. If not otherwise signed he will go to arbitration once and be a 31 y.o. free agent after the 2020 season.
  • Brantley just turned 32 and his $32 million contract will run through next season when he will be a 33-year-old free agent after the 2020 season.
  • Reddick will make $13 million this season and next season and then he will also be a 33 y.o. free agent after the 2020 season.
  • Marisnick has one more year of arbitration coming and then he will be a 29 y.o. free agent after the 2020 season.
  • All four could be gone after next season.

So what is coming for the Astros, who have eight talented outfielders at or near the MLB level? Here are some possibilities:

  1. As discussed in the previous post, when the injured return the team will be in a roster squeeze that will likely be addressed by sending Fisher and Straw back to the minors, or…..by saying goodbye to Tony Kemp and Tyler White and keeping one of them.
  2. Despite how he is playing, a mid or off-season trade of Josh Reddick would not be that surprising. He is making a good chunk of dollars and after a hot start, he is slowly sinking back to the pack.
  3. If the Astros pursue another top pitcher at the deadline as has been speculated, the Astros might trade from strength to pick up that pitching help and the outfield prospects (Fisher, Straw, Alvarez and Tucker) certainly have value – some more than others.
  4. September call-ups should be led by these four outfielders (if they are all still here).
  5. The Astros work in the off-season to extend Springer and to maybe touch base on an extension with Brantley and maybe even Marisnick.
  6. Depending on how the extensions work out, they will use 2020 to give a couple of their youngsters a shot to win jobs for the long term.

So, how do you see this “good” problem working out for the team?

Astros 2019: The path forward from injuries

The Astros’ roster situation is going to be in deep focus over the next month and a half as the injured return. There are quite a few decisions to be made.

The Astros began the 2019 season in fair health, except for those folks on the long term IL (Lance McCullers Jr. Francis Martes and Joe Smith). Then the last few weeks of May a collection of mostly All-Stars started falling like Tyler White‘s chances of retaining his DH role long term. Looking ahead the following players are likely to return in the next 6 weeks or so. (The Likely Return is based on the best guesses out there in the blogosphere).

Name Injury Likely Return
Jose Altuve Leg Mid to Late June
George Springer Hamstring Late June
Aledmys Diaz Hamstring Mid to late June
Carlos Correa Rib Early to Mid July
Max Stassi Knee Mid to Late June
Collin McHugh Elbow No timetable
Joe Smith Achilles Late June

The players who have come up and done their best in place of the six, who went down in May, include C Garrett Stubbs, IF Jack Mayfield, OFs Myles Straw and Derek Fisher, and Ps Corbin Martin and Brady Rodgers.

Barring trades, the seven injured players are assured of having a roster spot when well, except…..Max Stassi, who has been very ineffective in the back-up catcher’s spot.

Along with the replacement players that were called up, there are other players who may be in danger of losing their spot in lieu of a replacement. That would include Ps Framber Valdez and Chris Devenski, IF Tyler White and OF/IF Tony Kemp.

The biggest wrench in the works. Of the players listed, Stassi, White and Kemp are out of options. Therefore, if any of them are no longer considered Ready for Prime Time Players, they would have to be DFA’d (Designated for Assignment), which means the other teams in the league would have a shot at picking them up for free. While the Astros used the DFA fairly freely back in the time of Matt Duffy, Carlos Pena, Ronny Cedeno and Joe Thatcher, it is a path they have avoided lately with players they believe have some value. If these players are not picked up by other teams, the Astros would then either release them, trade them or send them to the minors. So there is a risk of losing talent in exchange for nothing for each of them.

A Good Guess at the Path Forward

  • All seven of the injured players listed will be put on the roster as they are available, even Stassi would seem likely to return as the team seems to lean towards having veterans behind the plate and would more likely replace him with a veteran from the outside later in the season (see – Maldonado, Martin).
  • Who goes down in the place of the seven? Well, that gets a little dicey and certainly could be affected by further injuries and of course, if someone (Straw? Fisher?) forces themselves to be considered to stay.  Most likely it would include Mayfield, Stubbs, and Rodgers. If Martin does not turn it around he would be the 4th, but if he did turn it around the 4th could well be Devenski who has options and has not been pitching very well.
  • Anyway you look at it, if the Astros stay with a 13 man pitching staff, the Astros would have to unload (or send down) 3 of the following 4 players – Tyler White, Tony Kemp, Derek Fisher and Myles Straw. (Remember that when Jose Altuve went on the IL, he was replaced by Corbin Martin, not a position player as the team shifted from a 12 man to a 13 man pitching staff). This would mean that at least one of White or Kemp would have to be exposed to the rest of the league and that would be tough for this front office to swallow. If they went to a 12 man staff (not likely) Valdez would be heading down.
  • The gut feeling is that with the seven on the injured list, someone will have a regression or extension of their term on the IL. If it is Smith or McHugh that does not help with the White / Kemp conundrum. Of course, someone else on the roster could easily go on the IL closer to the decision time to kick that ball down the block. Right now, the best guess is that White is in the most danger here and whether deserving or not Fisher and Straw would also head down.
  • However……if say Straw continues to be a force both in the field and on the base paths, the Astros might see if they can send Tony Kemp on a trade for a very low-level prospect.

It appears that White is in trouble no matter what if the 13-man pitching staff is kept in place. Of course, he could develop a very painful pulled stomach muscle from some of his food sessions and be placed on the IL until the September call-up time……. Jeff Luhnow will earn his salary, again this season, with roster manipulation as he has the good problem of too many players he wants to keep.