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Thursday's Three Astros Things

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Talking about the Hank Conger trade in three parts

Some things to talk about while I trade for yet another backup catcher...

1) Thoughts on the Conger deal, Part I

Have you seen enough content on the Hank Conger mega-trade yet?


Me, either.

Why should a trade for a backup catcher cause so much analysis? Well, for one, it's a really slow news week. Wednesday, I resorted to writing about analytic theory and wild speculation on potential mid-level executive hires.

No more! Today we can talk about an actual move that will somewhat affect the 2015 Astros. I know the reception of this latest Astros move to be...mixed. People don't like giving up a backup catcher and a viable, young starter for another, older backup catcher. On the surface, the move doesn't many any damn sense.

I agree there. Taken on its face, the move doesn't make sense. Why trade for Conger when the Astros have a starting catcher who was an All-Star two years ago and who have a backup that's pretty good at pitch framing himself? Why trade for a guy who the Angels and their fans had no use for?

Well, Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs did a great job of breaking this down. His pitch framing drew the Astros to him like the salmon of Capistrano. Need convincing at how good Conger is framing-wise? Check out the GIFs Sullivan placed in his post. The numbers come alive.

While Corporan is good at framing, Conger is elite. He's one of the best in the game. At a position where a backup can be expected to get more at-bats than at other positions, it makes sense to upgrade there. At the very least, Conger will start twice a week. If Houston doesn't have an off-day, he might see three starts in seven days.

There have been 17 seasons in franchise history where an Astros catcher had more than 450 plate appearances. Catchers have topped 500 PAs just nine times in over 50 years and that includes Jason Castro in 2014. Was that out of necessity because of the backup situation?

Houston didn't need to upgrade at the backup catcher position. They could have gone into the season with Corporan and Stassi fighting it out in spring training. But, by making a move for Conger, Houston might have turned an average position into a strength.

2) Thoughts on the Conger deal, Part II

Could there be another reason the Astros added Conger? Yes, yes there is. We didn't talk about it when it came out, but before the Blue Jays sent Adam Lind to the Brewers, the Astros had interest. In fact, one Canadian source reported that the Astros had a deal before the Brewers news broke.

Lind is not an exciting addition. He's likely limited to first base now and couldn't fit into that corner outfield bat that Houston wants. What Lind does provide is power. In a run environment that is skewing lower and lower, offense becomes more precious. Power becomes more precious.

Conger has one more edge on Corporan that doesn't involve pitch framing. He's shown at times in his career to be a better power hitter.

I mean, he's sort of shown that. In effect, Conger and Corporan's offense output in the majors has been nigh identical. They have about the same isolated power averages. They have about the same batting averages, slugging percentages and all the other measures you might dream up.

Corp just never showed that power in the minors. Conger did. Since neither has much more than 600 plate appearances in the majors, is it fair to base their future offensive performance on just the MLB numbers?

I don't know. But, i do know that Conger's profile sounds more similar to a guy like Chris Snyder than Corp. If Conger can provide power off the bench with that elite pitch framing ability, he will easily be more valuable than Corporan next year.

3) Thoughts on the Conger deal, Part III

It's sort of funny that the criticisms thrown at this trade run counter to the typical criticisms of the front office. Instead of waiting on a player to develop in the majors, they traded for a proven big league hitter. True, he's not an incredibly GOOD big league hitter, but he's proven he can hang with the big boys.

Neither Carlos Perez nor Nick Tropeano have proven anything. Perez got passed over twice in the Rule 5 draft. Why would he be ready to go any time soon? In fact, he's been passed over on Houston's immediate catching depth chart by Max Stassi.

For Perez to show he has more value than Conger, he'd have to leap over two other guys who have more of a track record in the majors AND to prove he has an elite skill. The odds of that are not great.

Why, then, would Houston finally add Perez to the 40-man roster? My guess is that in negotiating the trade for Conger, the Angels balked at including Perez. The may have thought he'd be left open for the Rule 5 draft again and they could just pluck him from there if they wanted him. They probably asked for Heineman or Stassi or some other catcher in Houston's system.

By adding him then, Houston took away that leverage. Thus, the deal happens shortly after that move is made.

As for losing NiTro, it's sad. Rooting for guys who came up through the system is a lot of fun. As Astros fans, the minors have sustained us for the last few years as we wandered in the desert of this uncrecedented and basement-dwelling rebuild.

Yet, even for those optimistic on Tropeano's future, his ceiling was never as more than a back of the rotation starter. How many of those guys does Houston have floating around right now? I can count at least four who have spent time at Triple-A and in the majors.

There was a good chance Tropeano would not have made the major league team out of spring training, yet he'd have eaten up a roster spot. So, Houston moves him to another organization where he might have a chance to make a big league roster. Good for him.

But, the simple fact is that this trade probably won't make much of an impact at all. None of these guys will become All-Stars. It's an intriguing move, because it's the first move in an offseason that will be full of them.

Houston will have another 40-man roster crunch. They need to make more of these moves. They can also improve the major league roster, but it won't come as dramatically. It'll come in marginal improvements over spots like backup catcher.

That's okay. We'll be here to spend 3,000 words analyzing every one of them.