FanPost

Non-Tender Targets

We are all painfully aware that the Astros will not be major players in the free agent market this winter. Heck, they won’t even be mid-level players. The biggest contract we’re likely to see handed out is something around $6 million to bring Berkman back to ensure that butts have a reason to be in seats this summer. But that doesn’t mean the Astros won’t be making some important moves. With the Winter Meetings only a few days away and the Rule 5 Draft quickly approaching, we’ll have plenty of trade and other talk to look forward to, but perhaps the most significant moves this whole offseason will be in the non-tender department. Luhnow has made it clear that after topping out at nearly $103 million in payroll back in 2009, we’re unlikely to see much investment beyond the $30 million mark this year. With (don’t forget the 5m to wandy) only newly acquired Phil Humber’s $800,000 tender guaranteed in the 2013 books, plus a few arb cases with the likes of Bud Norris and Jed Lowrie likely to total about $7M (and don’t forget the $5M owed to the Pirates as part of the Wandy deal), the Astros look to be coming in around $10M with the current roster. That means Luhnow has roughly $20M to hand out to free agents, and you can darn well expect the vast majority of that to be put toward non-tenders after some intriguing names were let go by yesterday’s 11pm central deadline. Jesus Flores, C – The Nationals were scared off by his MLBTradeRumors.com projected a fourth-year arb salary of $1.2M. With Kurt Suzuki and Ramos expected to split duties next year, however, it was a cost the Nationals had no need for, and considering Flores has posted back-to-back hideous averages (.209 and .213), they were probably right to cut him loose. Flores put up a 10% walk rate and .200 ISO in limited play in and could conceivably get some of the way back to those numbers. He could easily agree to a minor league contract with a ST invite with the chance to become the backup catcher, which is probably better than he’s going to get anywhere else. A solid no-risk, medium-reward move for the ‘Stros, who could definitely benefit from his five years of experience, including catching the Nats’ pitching staff all second half last year. Geovanny Soto, C – Remember this guy? He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2008 with the Cubs, and has pretty much fallen right off a cliff since, yet still remains on several teams’ radar. That’s somewhat inexplicable, as his numbers declined but he still managed a 3.5 WAR in 2010 and a 2.5 in 2011 (according to Fangraphs). Last year’s 0.5 didn’t help anything, but even that line (.198/.327/.423 on a .222 BAbip with 13 homers and 48 RBI) would be welcome in a time-share with Castro. Projected to earn $4.6M in his final year of arbitration, he’s clearly not worth that much but since he’s not looking at a starting gig anywhere next year, an offer as a regular backup at $2-2.5M would have to be appealing. His defense isn’t bad either as he’ll hover around 30% caught stealing, just above league average. I would love to read about this signing. Jair Jurrjens, SP – A 2.96 ERA as recently as 2011 non-tender? Sign me up, and I’m sure most teams will be thinking the same. Sure, FIP says it was more like a 3.99 and xFIP had it at 4.23, but it’s not the first time Jurrjens has pitched well below his peripherals. It works for Johnny Cueto, so who’s to say Jurrjens can’t harness a bit of that magic? A double-3.5+ WAR starter with the Braves back in2008 and 2009, Jurrjens has struggled badly to get back to 6.50 K/9, although he has actually kept his walk rate low enough that his numbers should be better. The problem lies in a knee injury that has probably caused his drop in velocity from a 91+ fastball in his glory years to just 88.6 last year, which has led to a nearly tripled home run rate (1.49/9 and 11.0/FB in 2012) and some unlucky BAbips against and LOB%, particularly last season (.354 and only 63.9%). He’s not a stud and certainly not worth the $5.5M projected arbitration salary he was slated to earn, but a $2-3M base with some incentives to bring it to $5M wouldn’t be a bad gamble for a 26-year-old who could still be a solid No. 2 if he gets that velocity back. Mike Pelfrey, SP – Maybe it’s because I live in New York, but I heard so much about this guy back when he came up in 2007 that even I was starting to think he was a guaranteed, bona fide ace in the making. OK, maybe not quite that, but he definitely has enough to be a good pitcher in MLB. A groundball-pitching innings-eater with a respectable walk rate will always have value, and after posting a 2.29 ERA (admittedly in just 19 innings) before succumbing to season-ending injury last year, I for one want to see what he has in his age-29 season. Nothing in the numbers has varied drastically from his 2008 and 2010 seasons (both sub-4.00 ERAs), which leads me to believe he could be a good No. 3 or 4 in his final year of arbitration eligibility, although certainly not at his projected $5.7M salary. A low base of $2-2.5 with incentives up to $5M would probably be fair for him as well, so I’d like to see either him or Jurrjens in the Houston rotation next year. Ian Stewart, 3B – I’ll never forget getting knocked out of my fantasy playoffs a few years back to some fool starting Stewart and Clint Barmes, who pretty much beat out my entire team by themselves. That aside, Stewart is actually not a bad player, posting consistent 10% walk rates and a .340 wOBA in his prime years of 2008-10. His batting average has dropped precipitously since, although BAbips of .224 and .242 were certainly not helping anything there. He also belted 25 homers on a .235 ISO back in 2009 but his power seems to have dissipated since, with only a .134 ISO last year, but that may be due to some lingering wrist injuries. His defense at third has been above-average in most years too, so he’s not a bad all-around player, and projected to earn just $2.3M, it’s a bit surprising that the rebuilding Cubs didn’t keep him for his final arbitration year. The upside is certainly limited here despite his top prospect billing back in 2005, but at maybe $1.5M it’s a risk the Astros can definitely afford. Brian Wilson, CP – I don’t know how realistic this is, nor do I think anyone else does. Wilson is a total unknown after missing all but two games in the Giants’ championship season last year and was let go since he was due at least $6.8M. Wherever he signs, it will be on a prototypical low-base, incentive-laden contract based entirely on games pitched/finished, a la Ryan Madson. I see no reason why Houston can’t get involved at maybe a $3M base with incentives bumping it up to $6M or more. Yes, closers are generally overrated and overpaid and normally I’d agree that the $3M could be better invested elsewhere, but they’re always in the highest demand at the trade deadline and a full-strength Wilson on a reasonable contract could easily net a better return than the Royals got from the Jonathan Broxton trade, which consisted of the No. 12 and 27 prospects from the Reds’ league-average system. And with Luhnow holding the Cards, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Top 100 prospect coming back in the deal. Definitely worth exploring. Other options Dan Johnson, 1B/DH – A big-hitting prospect for years, he’s a bit overaged now at 33 but couldn’t hurt as a Travis Buck-type ST invite. John Lannan, SP – More a casualty of the Nats’ ridiculous rotation, Lannan will be looking for a starting gig after moving reluctantly to the bullpen last year, and at around $3-4M should be a decent value with a sub-4.50 ERA. Manny Parra, RP – A solid strikeout rate has always been undermined by a poor walk rate (never below 4.07), but most agree that the lefty still has the stuff to be a decent reliever after never putting things together as a starter. He won’t cost even $800,000, so it’s worth a look. Rafael Perez, RP – The runner-up in the race for Wilson will probably end up with Perez, who as a full-inning lefty could actually bring more value at as little as half the price. Ryan Sweeney, OF – He’s not flashy, but with the gaping holes in the outfield Houston could do worse than a .280-hitting versatile lefty with above-average plate discipline and average defense. He would probably cost about $1.2M and maybe less with the playing time Houston could offer. Andres Torres, CF – He’s not a high-average hitter, has below-average power and really doesn’t do anything particularly well, but he’s pretty much average in every facet of the game, which definitely has value. He is a pretty good defender though, and not many former 6.9 WAR players are available on the non-tender market. He’s been around 2.0 since then, and 3.0 is probably as high as he’ll get again, but at maybe $3M that’s not a terrible investment, especially with the uncertainty in Houston’s outfield. Mark Reynolds – It wouldn’t be a complete review if this guy wasn’t included. No way Houston goes for him since the 29-year-old will likely cost $5-6M plus incentives, but boy would his power be nice to see in the DH spot, even with the strikeouts. Don’t forget, the guy walks a good amount and even has some savvy baserunning skills. 40-homer potential doesn’t grow on trees, and he’ll be the cheapest source of such this side of Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton. Guys I’d have liked to see non-tendered: Kyle Blanks, 1B/LF; Brennan Boesch, LF; Luke Hochevar, SP You can bet on Houston pursuing the majority of these guys to some degree, and 2-3 signings from this group should not be unexpected. Personally I’d like to see Flores and Pelfrey for sure, with some serious interest in one of the big-namers (Wilson, Jurrjens, Reynolds). Whatever moves Luhnow decides to make here, they could prove to be the most significant of the 2013 season.
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