A Dickensian summary of the Astros 2014 season starts out with two simple moves.
It was a season for playing Jesus Guzman and for cutting J.D. Martinez.
Those two moves couldn't have worked worse for the Astros, however well-intentioned both were at the time. When Houston sent Ryan Jackson to the Padres for Guzman, it seemed like a nice move. Sure, the Astros gave up a defense-first shortstop, but they got a potential power bat at three positions.
Then things just fell apart. By the end of the season, Guzman was infuriating people on a regular basis by his place on the 25-man roster. Didn't matter that Guzman got 39 plate appearances after July. He shouldn't have been there at all, not in a world where Preston Tucker, et. al, exist.
Listen to Jeff Luhnow this offseason, though, and you'll hear something familiar. The kind of player the Astros seem to want to add sounds a good deal like a hypothetical, pre-2014 Guzman. They want a guy who can play third and first, filling in in case of injuries. Though they didn't say it, this spot will likely see 200-300 plate appearances off the bench.
Guzman was on pace for 300 PAs before he fell off a cliff, and that was before a back injury sidelined him for about 16 days in August. Matt Dominguez has value, but his offensive struggles can't be ignored. The same goes for Jon Singleton, who may have a gaudy contract, but needs to hit his weight before guaranteed playing time again.
That's why Houston is looking for help. With Colin Moran on the way and Singleton with that big investment in his future, don't think the Astros will be looking at more than a stopgap solution. That means only idiots who don't put VMart on an MVP ballot would suggest they go after Chase Headley.
Yet, there are some low-cost, under-the-radar options who may make sense.
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This exercise is about identifying okay hitters who are older and don't fit into a team's immediate plans. Valencia is arbitration-eligible and set to earn $1.7 million next season, if his MLB Trade Rumors projections are true. He's also listed as the backup to Brett Lawrie at third base for the Blue Jays, meaning he could be expendable.
Valencia has an up-and-down defensive reputation. He's been slightly above average at third before and slightly below average at other times. He doesn't hit a ton, managing a line of .240/.273/.364 last season with just seven walks in 165 plate appearances.
He also has little power, an area where Guzman excelled in the past (though not with the Astros). But, his defense means he'd be a capable fill-in if Dominguez gets hurt or his offense falls off a cliff.
What would the Jays take for Valencia? Let's just play out this scenario a bit. The Jays just signed Russell Martin, making Dioner Navarro a backup. What if they capitalized on the shrinking market for catchers and dealt him, saving Toronto the $5 million he's signed for in 2015.
They could then turn around and deal Valencia for Corporan's much more reasonable $1 million projected arbitration salary, getting a pitch-framing backup for pitch-framing Martin.
Of course, finding a taker for Navarro's contract would have to happen before this plays out and there's no guarantee that a catcher-needy team would go after him. Still, it's an intriguing scenario for Houston.
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If the Cubs and the Astros make sense as trade partners, what with the Cubs looking for a catcher and the Astros needing to deal one, maybe a Valbuena-for-Corporan swap makes more sense. Instead of dealing a starter for a starter, the teams could trade backups for backups at positions of excess.
One thing the Cubs have in plenty is third base prospects. Between MIke Olt, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, Chicago could deal Valbuena and not blink. In Corporan, they'd also get a very good pitch framer for a non-outrageous price who could play 40 percent of the time. If they bet on his power from this year sustaining itself, maybe he makes sense.
Valbuena is listed as the Cubs starter at third on the team's official depth chart, while Baez has been moved to second. Bryant, too, may take some time to debut. But, Valbuena is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and scheduled to make $3.1 million.
If Chicago chooses to save a little money and invest in their youth at the position, maybe a deal gets worked out. Valbuena is clearly the best hitter of these three, hitting .249/.341/.435 last season with 16 home runs. His defense was slightly below-average this season, but Defensive Runs Saved liked him in his two previous years at third.
Of all the possibilities, here's one who could conceivably step in and start for a period of time over Dominguez. Yet, that value also makes him an unlikely target for the Astros.
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If it worked for Valencia, it can work for Francisco, too. The 27-year-old played in 106 games last season and hit .220/.291/.456. He also played 74 games at third and 20 at first.
Francisco is not a great defender, nor does he have a great track record as a hitter. He does provide power, and seems like the best comparable to a pre-trade Jesus Guzman. Of course, Francisco would also easily become the worst whiffer on the team (and that's saying something). He's topped a 34 percent strikeout rate in each of the past three seasons.
Giving up Corp for this guy would be indefensible, even for the most rabid Luhnow Truther. But, he does make sense. Maybe for a Rule 5 pick?