Every offseason there is one trade or signing that can be classified as a signature move of said team. Carlos Lee, Jeff Kent, Miguel Tejada, and Brett Myers are all examples of signature moves that had varying scales of success. Last season the Astros signature was acquiring Dexter Fowler for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes. Fowler turned a quality season at the plate and in field while being a leader for the young Astros.
I posed the question to our splendid TCB writers: "What will be this year's signature move for the Astros?" It could be a trade, a signing, or combination of both.
Oh, I'm all over this.
GM Jeff Luhnow has expressed interest in upgrading the punch in the outfield. He's also hinted at potential trade targets.He's also hinted that he wants to talk with some of the clubs that had recent turnover in the front office.
It's quite clear to me that the Astros will trade for Justin Upton, the only punch-y outfielder of the five clubs that recently lost a GM. Think about it. Upton is a free agent after the 2015 season, but until then, he's being paid $14.5M, well within the Astros budget with room leftover for, say, a bullpen. The Braves' new front office wants to rebuild their way, and perhaps have no interest in extending Upton anyway, who figures to break the bank during the next off-season. The Astros have the minor league assets to pull off this trade without painful impact to the farm system (it's only a year of team control for Upton, after all). As far as we know, the Astros are not on Upton's limited no-tradelist.
Upton will bop 30 home runs in 2015, helping put the club over .500 for the first time in living memory. By mid-season, Preston Tucker or Domingo Santana, whichever wasn't traded to the Braves, will have forced his way into the conversation. Then the Astros will trade Upton to a contender for a better haul than they traded away to get him in the first place because Luhnow is a trade wizard (Photoshop THAT, Ryan!). Alternately, the Astros use their lucrative RSN money to sign Upton to a 7-Year, $160M deal and trade Fowler away, move Springer to center, and fill the void with said prospect who goes on to win the Rookie of the Year award. Either option works for me, but Justin Upton will be a Houston Astro in 2015.
Took me a while to get to this question, but I wanted to mull it over a bit.
We've heard a lot of comments come trickling out from various sources, from Luhnow to Crane and others, and one of the constants has been talk of getting a legit offensive presence in the outfield.
I don't see us making a play for that on the free agent market, which would mean trading for a starting outfielder for the second off-season in a row. A key target would seem to be the Washington Nationals who, thanks to Ryan Zimmerman's yips necessitating his move to the outfield, seem to have a logjam there. Clearly, Bryce Harper isn't someone who they'll be looking to move (and he'd be far too expensive even if he were), so that leaves three possible options.
Option 1 - Ryan Zimmerman: Maybe they don't want to deal with question marks around his defensive transition. Maybe, after an injury-shortened season, they're worried about how he'll bounce back. Maybe they're regretting signing him to a deal that carries through the 2019 season. There are plenty of reasons Washington might want to move him, though he's gained status as the face of their franchise, and he also has full no-trade protection written into his contract. Assuming those problems could be handled, the Astros might find his track record encouraging enough to ignore the small dip in power he showed in a partial season last year. If he rebounds, you have a solid 120 wRC+ or better hitter who will knock you 20 or more homers and should be at least an average defender in left field.
Option 2 - Jayson Werth: His track record offensively is arguably just as good as Zimmerman's, and despite being five years older, was healthy all year and performed well with the bat. He did, however, see a notable dip in power; if that trend keeps up, he's more of a 15 HR guy than a 25 HR guy, which is a huge difference in value. Still, at age 35, it looks as though he's proven that he might age better than some hitters do, and he seems unlikely to age worse than a solid .275, 15 HR hitter with a big walk rate. While no longer a big threat on the bases, he's retained a fair amount of his mobility, and continues to be at least average on defense and baserunning. His contract is also up in three years, two years sooner than Zimmerman's is. He'll make $21 million each of those years, though. With a dip in power, his age, and the high per-year amount of his contract, salary relief could persuade the Nationals to work a deal that wouldn't require the super top-tier prospects in the system like Appel and Correa; I'm sure Washington could use an extra $13-15 million back in their pockets to spend elsewhere. Of note is that Werth also has full no-trade protection to get past.
Option 3 - Steven Souza: Stop me if you've heard this one before (like exactly one year ago); the Astros should target Souza of the Nationals! If the Nationals don't want to move one of their face guys, they could just go with a Zimmerman, Harper, Werth outfield, and heck, who could blame them for wanting to do that? If they do, though, poor Souza is left to ride the bench during his age 26 season. He struggled initially in his first taste of the Majors last year, which is no surprise, but of note is that he didn't turn into an unconscionable whiff machine and he kept his walk rate up. The .071 BAbip certainly can't last, either. Souza will likely never be spectacular, but he provides the upside of a solid defensive outfielder with very real 20-20 potential and a history of drawing walks at a very high clip. A guy that will hit 15-20 homers, steal 20-25 bases, draw a ton of walks, hit for a reasonable (if unspectacular) average and play solid defense? Sound familiar? How about adding a second Dexter Fowler to the mix? Souza provides that upside. The Astros have to decide if they want to pin their hopes on another young, unproven talent though, and if so, they also have to decide if they really like Souza more than Marisnick and the other in-house options (like a possibly-ready-soon Preston Tucker).
Of those, I'd peg Zimmerman as the best option. With all the factors listed, I think the price we'd have to pay, in terms of prospects or whatever we give up, would be reasonable, and I like his chances to bounce back and continue to be an effective offensive player for 3-4 more years. While the length of his contract is a little worrisome, the per annum value never becomes horrific (a very reasonable $14 million for the next three years, jumping to $18 million for just the final year) like Werth's. And despite Werth having aged well so far, a guy heading past the 35 years mark is a real gamble. I like Souza, but not enough that I'd rather have him over a more immediate-impact veteran guy. Zimmerman's desire to be dealt would be the key factor here, in my eyes; if he doesn't want to come to Houston (and that's a real concern, even with our recent uptick), that's that, thanks to the no-trade clause.
I feel that I have been the biggest advocate of signing a big name international free agent, so why not continue that trend?
This comes with a twist though, as he is not Yasmany Tomas or Kenta Maeda. I present to you; ladies and gentlemen:
The biggest reason why I like this kid, is that we have a real opportunity to actually sign him. Since he is 19 years old, he is subject to the MLB rules regarding MLB bonus pools. That means his bidding war has a natural cap to it, which is huge for a team like the Astros. As much as Tomas and Maeda intrigue most Astros' fans, they are realistically pipe dreams, as their bidding wars will likely easily surpass the front office's best and final offer. Yoan Moncada, however, will have controlled bidding. Beyond that, the Astros are actually among the few teams that have a distinct competitive advantage here. We should have among the biggest international bonus pools again this year, which means we have more leverage than most teams (I am not sure if we received any additional international bonus pool money for the Marlins' comp pick - I do not think so, but I suppose it is possible). Even better, the Cubs and Rangers, who exceeded their bonus pools last year, are effectively eliminated from the Yoan Moncada sweepstakes, which obviously raises our chances.
It is great that we may be able to sign him, but what kind of player would we be adding to our farm system? Scouts say he has more upside than Rusney Castillo and Yasmany Tomas. The 6-foot, 210 pound switch-hitting infielder is the best teenager to defect since Jorge Soler, and has had similar success at his early age as Yasiel Puig had. The lofty comparisons are there, and he has performed at just about every level in Cuba. If eligible for the 2015 draft, some say he would be in the discussion for the 1-1. I think adding this kind of dynamic talent is exactly what the Astros need to do this offseason. Sure, it comes with high risk, and maybe he cannot make the transition to pro ball in the states, but the payoff can be huge. If we hit with Moncada, we could have a future infield of Altuve, Moncada, and Correa.
I readily concede that the spirit of the question probably wanted a more immediate impact to the big league club (i.e. using Fowler as an example). However, I feel that there just may not be a high-impact player that can realistically be added this offseason. He would either be a free agent that is not economically feasible, or it would be a player via trade whose acquisition cost would be sky-high. I don't think we should make moves just for the sake of making moves. With the realistic options limited, I would be fully content if we walk away from this offseason with a few additional bullpen arms (let's say Andrew Miller), and more importantly Yoan Moncada. Sure, his impact to the big league club will come with delayed gratification, but we could be adding a future core piece of the Houston Astros this offseason, and that possibility is exciting.