Yesterday I opened the conversation on which available free agents at the infield positions might be interesting to the Astros. Today, we glance through a sheaf of outfielders who are available to ply their trade for the highest and/or most desperate bidder.
The Astros' 2015 outfield situation is clear and murky at the same time. George Springer will be back and healthy and provides an instant upgrade in Right Field. Dexter Fowler, presumably, will make a return appearance, though as he is in his last year of arbitration, seems likely to attract some trade attention. The third outfield position is currently manned by a couple former top prospects: Robbie Grossman, who will be 25 on opening day, and Jake Marisnick, who will turn 24 less than a week before opening day.
The front office has indicated that they wish to add bats in the offseason, and despite Grossman's and Marisnick's youth and upside, Left Field is definitely a candidate for improvement. Playing under the assumption that the Astros will sign a Free Agent to bolster the outfield, here are some names that might pop up on the trade rumor radar.
Guys who will make a lot of money
Melky Cabrera: Melky has established himself as one of the most head-scratching players of the past decade. After almost 3,000 plate appearances in which he hit around .260/.310/.380, he suddenly went bonkers, averaging close to .300/.360/.470 during his next 2,000 plate appearances. Cabrera has clearly learned how to hit. He has clearly not learned to play defense very well. Even so, at age 30 at the onset of the 2015 season, he seems poised for a big payday, possibly as much as 6Y, $105+ million. He doesn't seem like an "Astros" signing at this point.
Mike Morse: When he has been able to stay on the field, Morse has been an offensive force, slashing .281/.335/.473 for a 122 wRC+. But he has not had a fully healthy season since 2011, and so the risk is there for anybody who signs him. At 33 years old in 2015 and having never played even acceptable defense, Morse would make the most sense for a team in need of a DH, which the Astros clearly do not. Still, his Left Field defense might be mitigated a bit in Minute Maid Park, and there's no denying his offense would be a nice upgrade. The question is, when will his decline start, and how bad will it be? I think he'll get a short contract, but an expensive one. The Astros should be inquiring, but he'll probably want to play for a more obvious contender.
Nelson Cruz: Cruz is another guy who will be looking for a payday on a contender after re-establishing his value after a PED suspension. With the Orioles in 2014, he clocked 40 home runs as a 34-year-old, offsetting his sketchy defense (he played mostly DH). Like Morse, he'll probably get a short and pricey contract. If I'm the Astros, I'd want to know how much a 2-year contract would cost me. My guess? Over $40 million.
Interesting Guys that might not be financially painful
Alex Rios: Rios is coming off a season bizarrely ineffectual for him, hitting an empty .280/.311/.398. For a speed guy, his defense is below average. At age 34 in 2015, he's probably looking for his last contract, and it's unclear what the market would be. Maybe the Astros can keep an eye on things and see if Rios gets desperate.
Nick Markakis: Markakis is a guy who never quite lived up to his hype, though that's partially due to abhorrent leather play in the outfield. He's a contact hitter with a bit of pop who gets on base at a good clip, and at 31 years old, somebody will happily snatch him up for a bit less than his bat is probably worth. Despite being left-handed, a move to Left Field might mitigate those embarrassing defensive metrics. Maybe. Markakis is one of the sneaky-best hitters in this free agent market, because there's no way the Orioles pick up his $17.5 million option.
Delmon Young: Former #1 overall draft pick Young hit .302/.337/.442 in partial time in 2014 - only the 2nd above-average batting season he's had since he reached the majors in 2006. Understandably, teams should be leery of this. But there's still the chance that the talented Young could offer some spicy plate appearances for the Astros. Since he only made $200K this season, this might be a buy low that is good value, even if Young is no better than average at the plate. It's a thought.
Colby Rasmus: There's been some speculation amongst Astros faithful that Houston might be the place for the uber-talented but frustrating Rasmus to flourish. He plays defense and has loads of power. He takes walks. There doesn't seem to be an adequate explanation for why his career batting line stands at only .246/.313/.438. If I'm the Astros, I am on the phone with Rasmus' agent discussing a 2- or 3-year incentive-laden contract.
Denard Span: Even after a career season in which Span hit .302/.355/.416 for 3.8 fWAR, it seems unlikely that the Nationals will pick up his $9 million option, though they may try to extend him. If Span does become available, he becomes an interesting and probably cost-effective player who seems perpetually underrated. He probably won't steal 30 bases in 2015. He probably won't hit more than 5 home rusn. But he will get on base and play strong defense, and as a true center fielder, would give the Astros plenty of comfort in the leather of their outfielders. Span leaving Washington seems a long shot right now, but if he does, a contract such as 4Y $30 million might get it done, and would be a bargain.
Michael Cuddyer: Obligatory inclusion on this list. At 36 years old, Cuddyer is probably on 1-year contracts for the rest of his career, especially after playing only 49 games during 2014. But during those games, he was an elite-quality hitter, and that's worth something. He should have plenty of suitors, and they all will likely be in playoff contention.
Norichika Aoki: Aoki has been solidly average at the plate and solidly average in the field. As such, he may be a bit underrated by fans in the market. He'll be looking for "that" contract though, since his current pays only $2.5M plus an option over three seasons. He'll probably be looking for three or four years with an average annual salary north of $5 million. And I wouldn't blame him.
Lottery Tickets and Role Players
Chris Young: It has been a really long time since Chris B. Young hit 27 home runs and stole 28 bases for the Diamondbacks. His name always seems to surface in connection with the Astros, but it's hard to see the hometown nine bringing him in as anything more than a backup role, considering his career .234/.313/.427 line and seemingly eroding defense.
Nate Schierholtz: Schierholtz is coming off the worst season of his career by far. But in the three seasons prior, he hit average-ish at the plate and a bit below average-ish in the field. He's an interesting veteran backup, sort of a more-developed version of L.J. Hoes.
Tyler Colvin: Colvin just elected to enter free agency a couple weeks ago, and he's a complete wild card. He strikes out a ton. He doesn't walk much. He plays adequate defense. But he can hit a lot of home runs, or at least he did the last time he received significant playing time. Colvin would make a good 4th-outfielder slash pinch-hitter slash platoon batter for a lot of teams.