Yesterday the Astros made their first move off the offseason that didn't include someone that had been in their system last year. They picked up outfielder Travis Buck who last year batted an uninspiring .228/.275/.342 line. His overall Major League career line is .246/.320/.408 in 5 seasons, fourth outfielder material. Right? Something doesn't add up though.
Why the left handed hitting Buck? The Astros already have Jason Bourgeois and J.B. Shuck penciled in as reserve outfielders. Even if you take out Jordan Schafer, because of his peanut butter cup fetish, that would mean two reserve left handed hitting outfielder, assuming Bourgeois is the fill in at the center field position. Buck and Shuck do rhyme making it easier for Jim DeShaies to entertain us through what looks to be another dreadful season, but that's certainly not it.
Maybe it's outfield depth for the Minor League system. Quite possibly and probably the most likely situation, he was after all signed to a Minor League contract. However, allow me for a moment to enter the tinfoil hat stage (sorry National League fans you're not going to like it). What if signing Travis Buck is an indication that the Astros front office is preparing for a move to the American League. My thought process after the jump.
He's coming over from two American League teams one of which, the Oakland Athletics, reside in the AL West. He's got some serious Major League time. Yes, he has spent time in the Minors every year in his professional career, but he has also spent every year in the Majors since his debut.
Then there's the on-field angle. With the signing of Buck and a move to the AL it allows the Astros the flexibility of moving J.D. Martinez out of left field and into a designated hitter role. Obviously this changes if Brett Wallace is actually hitting in Spring Training. In which case either Carlos Lee or Wallace are put in the DH role and Buck is put in a reserve role. However, Wallace has to prove that he can hit first and it's not a bad idea for the Astros to be prepared with some flexibility. Either way this is a low cost solution for the Astros and give them some flexibility in regards to the DH position.
I thought I remembered Ed Wade making a statement just a few days ago that the Astros were going to take a passive role to free agency. That doesn't eliminate the possibility that Buck approached the Astros and really wanted to sign here, but I see no Houston ties and for the Astros he seems kind of redundant with Shuck around. He also isn't platoon candidate with Brian Bogusevic who also bats from left hand side.
Still I like this signing. It's low risk and Buck is relatively young and has the potential to do something similar to what Bogusevic did this year. He was once rated a Top 100 prospect pre-2007 by Baseball America and did I mention he plays a pretty good right field. At the very least he does provide some competition for Bogusevic in Spring Training.
While I'd like to think this was just a regular offseason signing I can't help but think there's something more to this signing.
On another note the Astros also inked right handed pitcher Adalberto Flores who was a Texas Rangers farmhand. Last year in AA Frisco he posted a 3.32 ERA in 81.1 innings which included 2 starts. He should be a bullpen candidate for the Astros.
The third signing was 1B/OF Nick Stavinoha previously of the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. He spent time with the Major League club from 2008-2010 compiling a .234/.256/.325 line. In AAA Memphis last year he posted a .270/.329/.488 line with 28 homeruns. Also of note is that he was drafted by the Astros in 39th round of the 2002 draft. He didn't sign and was selected three years later by the Cardinals in the 7th round. I imagine he compete for the Darin Erstad role in Spring Training, backup outfielder who can play first base. In that regard he may be a candidate to platoon with Bogusevic as he is a right handed bat.