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2013 Winter Meetings: Pros and cons of the Astros first base options

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Considering that the Houston Astros possess a young first baseman who smacked 29 homers in 2013 as well as the best first base prospect in the Minors, you might not peg them as a team in need of a first sacker from outside the organization.

There is reportedly mutual interest in signing from both Houston and Michael Morse
There is reportedly mutual interest in signing from both Houston and Michael Morse

However, Jonathan Singleton, following a 50 game suspension after testing positive for marijuana usage a second time, showed up out of shape and not ready to play; he ended up striking out a lot at each level he played at, and finished the year with an unimpressive .220/.340/.347 batting line in 73 games for the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks.

Brett Wallace, after parts of four seasons trying to establish himself in the Majors, has .242/.313/.391 batting line, and 29.5% of his 1,077 plate appearances have ended in a strikeout. While he hit for more power in 2013, his walk rate continued to trend downwards, and his strikeout rate shot up to a massive 36.5%.

Throw those things into the pot with Chris Carter's own strikeout issues and the fact that the recently-acquired Japhet Amador, not a tremendous prospect to say the least, has drawn a grand total of four walks in 48 games combined between Triple-A, the AFL and the LMP Winter League, and you're brewing up a big pot of uncertainty when it comes to first base for this club heading into 2014.

It comes as little surprise, then, to hear that the Astros have been linked to several potential options to bolster the position. Along with players at other positions, we learned on Tuesday that the Astros have strong interest in Michael Morse, as well as Grady Sizemore (apparently to man first base, ostensibly in an attempt to help keep him healthy).

Richard Justice also mentioned on MLB Network that the Astros have at least some interest in former Milwaukee Brewer Corey Hart, who is expecting to make a decision on where he'll sign very soon. Reports say that he wants to stay in Milwaukee if possible though, so he might be the least-likely to sign with Houston.

I asked for opinions from fellow TCB writer Ashrib, and came to discover that we had opposite views on all three of those players. So, here are our arguments for or against signing these three potential options:

Michael Morse - RHB

For - Ashrib

I think Morse will be a good addition to the Astros for one simple reason: he’s a prime bounce back candidate. Morse hit a ridiculous (in a bad way) .215/.270/.381 in 312 at bats with Baltimore and Seattle last year. Those numbers are completely off base with his career slash line of .281/.334/.473. The biggest reason why? A .254 average on balls in play. If that BABIP trends more toward Morse’s career average of .330, his numbers will stabilize. Plus, he’s just two years removed from a 3.4 rWAR season and has four-straight seasons of double-digit home runs.

Given the addition of Dexter Fowler, and the (hopefully) impending call up of George Springer, it’s safe to assume Morse will play first base, where he grades as neutral, albeit in a small sample size. That would add to his overall value. For the right amount, which shouldn’t be too much, I would put money down on Morse being better than expected this season.

Against - Ashitaka

Morse is a pure-bat type of player; his defense has been horrific just about everywhere he's played. On his career, he's -15.5 UZR and -6 DRS in left field, -18.1 UZR and -17 DRS in right field, and -1.1 UZR and -5 DRS at first base. While below-average defense at first base won't usually kill you, it does mean that the guy has to hit, and I mean hit, in order to bring any real value to a team. Morse, outside of one good year in 2011, simply hasn't done that with any consistency.

They only thing about Morse that has been consistent, in fact, is his inconsistency; he's struggled to stay on the field for years, and even when he has played, he's rarely been an above-average hitter. You may not remember, but Morse debuted in the Majors in 2005. Remember that year when the Astros made it to the World Series? When Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and Morgan Ensberg and Andy Pettitte and the rest were all here and winning? Yeah, that's how long Morse has been trying to establish himself as a healthy, consistent player, and he's put it all together once.

He has 2,027 plate appearances over parts of nine seasons in the Majors. That's 225 plate appearances per year on average. He's averaged less than 300 PAs per season for nearly a decade and he reportedly wants $7 million or more. In those nine seasons, he has accumulated a grand total of 2.6 WAR. In nine years. When he is (rarely) healthy? Power, sure, but mediocre walk rates, less-than-ideal strikeout rates and the aforementioned-inability to play defense as well. Um, no thank you, Mike.

Grady Sizemore - RHB

For - Ashitaka

Considering how I just crushed Morse, I wouldn't blame you for thinking this is an odd pick by me. The difference is that, in the past, Sizemore has shown the same kind of 30 home run power, but also has been historically much more disciplined at the plate; Sizemore has walked 10.6% of the time in his career, compared to just 6.0% for Morse.

Sizemore also has a 2.2% lower strikeout rate than Morse. Morse does tend to hit for a bit better average, but it's close, and Sizemore's superior discipline grades him out to being a marginally more productive hitter on the whole.

The "upside" (they're both over 30 so I use the term a bit loosely) rests with Sizemore then, and considering he hasn't had a Major League at bat since 2011, he'll likely not cost more than a million bucks or so, if that. If we're going to roll the dice on a soon-to-be 32-year-old with severe injury concerns, I'd much rather do it around a million, rather than seven or eight million.

Against - Ashrib

I would not want the Astros to sign Grady Sizemore based on his injury history alone. The guy hasn’t had a single at bat since 2011. I’m honestly not sure why his name has even come up in rumors. Even if he was signed, which would have to be as a bench player at best, do you really want a 30-year-old injury-prone shell-of-his-former-self taking up a roster spot for a team that has as much youth as the Astros? I certainly don’t.

Corey Hart - RHB

For - Ashitaka

If you like what Michael Morse brings to the table, then you have to like what Corey Hart does. If you take a look at their numbers, they're practically the same guy; they'll both hit .270 to .290 depending on how good a year they're having, walk around 7% of the time, and belt you 27-30 homers. They're both largely butchers with the glove (though interestingly enough, DRS likes Hart as a slightly above-average defender in RF) as well.

The difference, of course, is health history; though he missed all of last season, Hart averaged 596 plate appearances per season from 2010 through 2012. From 2005 through 2013, Hart has 3,802 PA, and Morse has just 2,027. And keep in mind that's with Hart having none all of this year.

Having missed an entire season, Hart seems unlikely to land anything more than a two-year contract, and if you're worried that a multi-year deal could end up blocking Singleton, remember that under the new CBA's rules about draft pick compensation, a guy with a year left on his deal, if healthy and performing, can actually be more attractive than an impending free agent.

Hart seems much more likely to stay healthy and productive than Morse for the first four months of the season, and if he does and Singleton is ready, he could net a couple of solid prospects at the deadline. Morse, on a one year deal and quite possibly hamstrung by injuries yet again, bears little of that sort of upside.

Against - Ashrib

Corey Hart walks the line between Morse and Sizemore for me. On one hand, he’s probably a bounce back candidate with a career slash line of .276/.334/.491. On the other hand, he didn’t play all of last year and wasn’t exactly an iron man before that. The only reasons I would want Morse over Hart is because of injury history and money. The rumor so far is that Hart is willing to take less money to stay with Milwaukee, his only MLB team, so it would take a little something extra from Houston to pry him away. I just don’t think he’s worth that little extra.

What do you folks think? Do any of these three players tickle your fancy as an option at first base, or maybe even the outfield? Any other players out there that you'd rather have to fill that role?