Houston Astros general manager Ed Wade had a pretty simple offseason to-do list after the season:
1) Get better at shortstop
2) Find another Brett Myers
3) Do something about left field
And that's pretty much it. Sure, he'd listen on help at second base if he needed to and will probably try and find a lefty reliever or two, but those were his three main priorities. For better or worse, the Clint Barmes trade knocked No. 1 off his list, so the next-most pressing need for the Astros is another starter to help fill out the rotation. Especially after trading Felipe Paulino to the Rockies, Houston needs a little more depth heading into spring training than Nelson Figueroa can provide by himself. So, let's take a look at who's left on the free agent market after the jump...
Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors, I was able to sort by all the current free agents this winter and see which ones had signed contracts already and which ones were still available. Makes my job much, much easier, so thanks MLBTR! I'm not going to list every player here, just the most interesting ones.
Brian Bannister, RHP - A statistical darling because he talks about stuff like BABiP and his line drive rate, Bannister hasn't been particularly good the past two seasons. Really, he hasn't been good since 2007, but his FIP has been lower than his ERA in each of the past three seasons. He doesn't really strike anyone out and his walk rate has spiked since he won 12 games in '07. I don't see the Astros making a push for him on anything other than a minor league deal. What gets it done: Minor league deal, spring training invite
Jeremy Bonderman, RHP -Of all the pitchers on this list, Bonderman is probably my favorite target right now. Before he started dealing with a scary injury (blood clot in his throwing shoulder), Bonderman was one of the youngest and workhorsiest pitchers in the American League. He topped 180 innings three times in his first four seasons, including 214 innings of work in 2006. He consistently struck out a good number of batters and had a fairly low walk rate around 2.60. He's not a ground ball pitcher, but his rate always hovered around 47 or 48 percent. That is, until this injury messed up his mechanics and velocity. In his first full season back, he had a GB rate of 44.7 in 171 innings with an ERA of 5.53 and an FIP of 4.90. His strikeout rate plummeted and his walk rate was back over three. However, he missed half of one season and almost all of another, so it's reasonable to expect things to bounce back for Bonderman. If it's really a mechanical thing, I trust Arnie to get it worked out. Of all the guys on this list, Bonderman is probably the closest to Brett Myers circa last offseason. What gets it done: 1 year, 5 million
Kevin Correia, RHP (Type B) -The main, glaring differences between Correia's 2009 season when he posted a WAR of 2.5 and a disastrous 2010 campaign when his WAR was 0.1 are walks and home runs. His BB/9 jumped one full walk, from 2.91 to 3.97. His HR/9 rate jumped from 0.77 to 1.24. Both of those are closer to his career averages than the 2009 numbers suggested, as Correia has a career BB/9 rate of 3.60. If there is a positive sign that he could turn things around, it's his strikeout rate rising for the second straight season. It's now just as high as it was with the Giants when he was a reliever. Correia turned down the Padres offer of arbitration to test the market a little, but it's still unclear how much he stands to earn. What gets it done: 2 years, 8 million
Justin Duchscherer, RHP - The Duke has been mentioned frequently around here as a possible target. He's one of three or four guys coming off injuries that are intriguing. The problem is, I'm not sold on him as a pitcher (seriously, just go look at his 2008 peripherals real quick. Go ahead, I'll wait). The Astros may not be either, but I think the injury concerns will scare them off more. They have not really shown an interest in bringing in pitchers with injury histories under Wade, with the exception of Brett Myers, so I don't think this gets done.
Jeff Francis, LHP - Another guy coming off an injury that is intriguing but possibly too high-risk for the Astros. He may not have struck out over 6 per 9 innings last season, but Francis had a miniscule walk rate and could take off once he's fully recovered from the torn labrum that erased his 2009 season. What gets it done: 1 year, 6 million
Aaron Harang, RHP - How did Aaron Harang go from a 230-inning workhorse who had legitimate sub-4 ERAs to a guy who is barely getting a sniff on the free agent market? Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. In his two big years with the Reds, Harang struck out over 8 batters per 9 innings, In his two relatively mediocre seasons following those, that dropped to over 7 K/9. In 2010, that dropped to 6.61 K/9. His walk rate also spiked up over 3, which shouldn't be too troublesome, since his career rate is around 2.5. Most likely, the walks were a product of his injuries that limited him to just 111 2/3 innings last season. Does he have anything left? Harang will be 33 in May, so he may just be declining quickly. If the money is right, though, he might be worth a flyer. What gets it done: 1 year, 8 million
Cliff Lee, LHP (Type A) - Hah! What gets it done: Eleventy-billion dollars over the next hundred years
Kevin Millwood, RHP (Type B) - At this point in his career, there's not much mystery left with Millwood. He's had negative run values on all of his pitches for the past four seasons. He's basically had the same peripherals for the past three. He doesn't strike out a ton, but he is over 6 most years. That means he can stay effective, but not overpowering. His walk rate is high, but not high enough to hurt him badly. He pitches a lot of innings, but they're not exactly high-quality innings. Ahh, but here's the kicker. Guess where Millwood played back in 2003 and 2004? Guess who happened to be the GM of that team at the time? Yeah, expect to see Kevin in an Astros uniform come April. What gets it done: 1 year, 6 million
Carl Pavano, RHP (Type A) - Realistically, there is no way the Astros would sign someone line Pavano to the three year, 36 million dollar deal he's looking for AND give up a draft pick. That would fly in the face of everything we have heard this front office say since Tejada left and they traded Oswalt and Berkman. What gets it done: 3 years, 36 million
Brad Penny, RHP - The good? Penny had his lowest peripheral numbers since 2007 with the Dodgers, posting an ERA of 3.23 and an FIP of 3.40 in 2010 with the Cardinals. The bad? He only threw 55 2/3 innings in nine starts before an injury ended his season. The injury was supposed to be a strained lat, but obviously it was more serious than that, as Penny didn't pitch for a Cardinals team that could have used him. At this point, a minor league deal seems likely, until he can prove he's really healthy. What gets it done: Minor league deal, spring training invite
Ian Snell, RHP - When, exactly, was Ian Snell supposed to have been good? The 30-year old had a 14-win season in 2006 and a 3.76 ERA in 2007, but his peripherals still said he was pretty average. Now, he's coming off a season when he was designated for assignment in June after appearing in 12 games with the Mariners and didn't play in the majors after that. Yes, he's been mentioned a lot around here as a guy who Arnsberg can turn around, but I'd much rather see about six guys on this list before I want Snell. What gets it done: Minor league deal, spring training invite
Brandon Webb, RHP - The last of the injured pitchers who may or may not be interesting to the Astros. Webb certainly has the best chance of getting fans excited, what with his Cy Young award and two second-place Cy finishes. But, he has only thrown four innings in the past two seasons and will be 32 in May. On top of that, his old team, the one who knows him and his medicals the best, doesn't appear interested in keeping him around. Webb will need to show he's not only healthy, but that his velocity is all the way back. I bet there is moderate interest here, and he'll probably get more than a minor league contract, but not much more. Expect any deal of his to be heavily incentive-laden. What gets it done: 1 year, 2 million with incentives up to 8 million if healthy