Once again, we'll look at the upcoming trade market to see how other teams might see Houston's roster and which players are likely to get dealt. Tim kicked things off this year with a great article on Jose Veras and the Astros closer's market.
Next up is another 2012 winter signee, first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Pena. Let's break down his value, his market and which teams might be a trading fit for him.
At 35, Carlos Pena has been traded twice in his career. Both came in the same year (2002) and both happened four years after Pena was drafted. Since then? He's been granted free agency many times, but never changed hands midseason.
The funny thing is, when I approached this article, I immediately made a connection between Pena and former instant offense bench first baseman Tony Clark. In my head, Clark had been traded half a dozen times at the deadline as teams searched for a veteran pinch hitter off the bench.
Turns out, Clark and Pena are pretty comparable, as they have a similarity score of 904 on Baseball Reference, the third-highest for Clark of any player. They also both rarely got traded, especially late in their careers.
Clark was signed as a free agent in Arizona and made his reputation as a pinch-hitter extraordinaire there. He did get traded once, but it was back to the D'Backs after signing with the Padres in the winter of 2007.
Still, the two players profile pretty neatly. Pena has lost more of his power over the last three seasons (according to his isolated power averages) than Clark did. Clark was still posting ISO averages over .200 until he retired. Pena gets on base at a higher clip than Clark did, though and plays slightly better defense.
Teams probably don't view Pena as a sure-fire answer as a starter at first base right now. He's hitting just .219/.327/.376 this season with eight home runs. He's got to make better contact if he wants to start for a contender, which is why most teams looking to trade for him probably view him as a bench bat who could fill in in case of an injury.
So far this season, Pena has been worth 0.1 fWAR, earning 3.1 Fielding Runs and posting a weighted Runs Created total of 95, meaning he's been slightly below league average as a hitter this season.
Pena is making $2.9 million on a one-year deal signed with Houston, but he also has up to $1.4 million in incentives he can earn. That's not a huge price to pay, especially if Houston picks up some of it in a trade.
It seems like there is always a market for power-hitting bats off the bench. Teams looking to get into the playoffs or make a run at the pennant can definitely use someone to make spot starts and give managers options off the bench, right?
Except there haven't been a ton of trades like that in the past three years. In June and July of the past three seasons, only 16 players got moved who played either first base, left field or designated hitter. If we cut out the outfielders (since Pena isn't pulling a Chris Carter at this point), that number drops to seven. In the past two years, only three first basemen and one DH got traded.
What's more, these types of players don't generally net big-time returns. Of those 16 players, only three of them netted a former top 100 prospect and another one netted a proven big leaguer. Outside those, the rest were organizational prospects, cash or players to be named later.
The good news? One of those trades for a top 100 guy was made by Jeff Luhnow last year and included another Carlos (Lee).
There will be teams that need a bat off the bench or a fill-in at first base. The return, though, might be muted.
5) Oakland Athletics, 44-34 (2nd in division)
Houston and Oakland laid the groundwork for future trades by dealing for Jed Lowrie in February. Jeff Luhnow isn't afraid to deal with Billy Beane, so the two could be a match if Oakland needs hitting.
Right now, that could be the case. The A's are ninth in the league in run scoring right now, but fell behind the Rangers in the standings recently. By adding Pena, they'd get to revel in the Moneyball jokes while also following a formula from the past, where Beane acquires older, cheap sluggers to bolster the roster.
A's first basemen have hit .238/.316/.433 this season with 17 home runs and average defense. Pena could help with that spot, as Oakland's first basemen are 17th in the league in wOBA vs. right-handers. For more information on the A's, check out Athletics Nation.
4) San Diego Padres, 38-38 (4th in division)
According to Danny Knobler, the Padres are unexpected buyers as the trade deadline nears.
San Diego is also slightly below average at first base. While they've gotten decent production out of Kyle Blanks, and Yonder Alonso is the future at the position, the Friars might want to upgrade the bench behind those guys.
Still, Pena isn't a great fit here, since he should probably go to a team with a designated hitter spot open for him on occasion. His defensive prowess would benefit the Padres if they need a spot start here or there.
The other problem with San Diego as a destination is that their first basemen have murdered right-handed pitching this season, so that eliminates possible platoon advantages for Pena. The Padres do need offense, though, as they are tied with the Braves for 16th in the league in runs per game. For a team trying to make a run at the playoffs, that's not good enough. For more on the Padres, check out Gaslamp Ball.
3) Atlanta Braves, 44-33 (1st in division)
Even though Justin Upton has been off-the-charts good for the Braves this season, their offense has struggled at times. The thing that has kept Atlanta in contention is the pitching staff, but they are certainly going to look to add offense at the deadline.
To that end, the Braves haven't been very good at first base this season. Well, scratch that. They've been decent, as Freddie Freeman has a great batting average and okay power numbers with a 20 percent strikeout rate. He's still young and the future of the team at that spot.
But, no other first baseman has gotten time there this season. So, if Pena were to head to Atlanta, he could eat up the at-bats of a guy like Reed Johnson (hitting .232/.302/.348 with one home run). Plus, Freeman probably could use some time off down the stretch, and Pena would make a nice addition there.
Still, it's not a perfect fit, as the Braves have some other candidates who can play at first, including seeing if Evan Gattis works out there when Brian McCann is behind the plate. If they do decide to add a powerful bench bat, though, Pena might make some sense. For more on the Braves, check out Talking Chop.
2) Pittsburgh Pirates, 46-30 (2nd in division)
Once again, the Pirates are making a run at a winning record. They're also a game behind the best team in the league in St. Louis, so there's a good chance Pittsburgh makes it back to the playoffs for the first time since the early 90's.
Two different first basemen have clocked time for Pittsburgh this season, including Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez. Sanchez has hit better than Pena this season, with slightly less home run power but a better ISO average and a higher walk rate. Jones hasn't hit as well and also hasn't played very well at all defensively.
For a team that has playoff designs, the offense is a big question mark. Pittsburgh has the lowest runs per game total of any team with a winning record. They need to find offense in some place, and Pena might make sense. For more about the Pirates, check out Bucs Dugout.
1) New York Yankees, 41-34 (3rd in division)
Aren't they always a buyer here? The Yankees have money to burn (usually) and an older roster, which makes them a perfect spot for aging bench players.
New York also needs offense in the worst way. Only one team with a record over .500 has scored fewer runs than the Yankees, and we just discussed the Pirates. The Yanks are scoring less than four runs per game and have holes at both first base and designated hitter.
First base has also been a disaster for the Yankees this season. Mark Teixeira is hurt and Lyle Overbay has been worse than Chris Carter. That's why Pena and the Yankees have been linked for a solid month.
Add in the lack of production from the DH spots on the roster and New York makes a ton of sense for a Pena trade. For more on the Yankees, check out Pinstriped Bible.