As the nation comes down from its turkey-induced coma, and those wary of the overwhelming crowds at Black Friday shopping events turn instead to their computers, I thought I'd do the same - looking for players who may be available at huge discounts for the Houston Astros.
Keith Butler, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
When the Cardinals took Butler off of the 40-man roster, making him eligible for the Rule 5 draft, it was a calculated move on the part of their front office. Why, you ask? Because Butler is recovering from Tommy John surgery and would miss most - if not all - of the 2015 season.
As I understand the rules, a team claiming Butler would need to have him on their active roster for ninety days of the season, and the rest could be spent on the DL or in minor league rehab assignments. To claim him, the team would need to bank on him being ready to join the major league roster roughly by early July, right before the All-Star break.
Butler had the operation on May 28, 2014, so there is a chance that he could be ready in that window, but it's not likely that any General Manager would want to take that chance. Though I expect him to clear the Rule 5 draft, that doesn't mean that he isn't available to an enterprising team with some pieces to spare, particularly since he wouldn't need to be added to a team's 40-man roster.
Before his surgery, in 2013 and 2014, Butler struck out - or induced a groundball or pop-up from 64% of the minor league batters he faced (weighted by total batters faced in each league, an "average" pitcher would be expected to perform this to just 56.49% of the batters he faced,) and walked just 6.5%.
In the past, the Astros have been willing to make moves to acquire pitchers coming off of injuries - Alex White and Jesse Crain come to mind - but the results have been less than ideal. Still, the injury (and particularly what it could mean for Butler's breaking ball, easily his best pitch) may cast just enough questions on him that he could be a good buy-low option for Luhnow's front office.
Chaz Roe, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
I know what you're thinking: Seriously, Anthony? Chaz freakin' Roe!?! I hear you. Roe has been underwhelming in the big leagues so far, and he's got a host of luggage tags to prove it: Drafted by Colorado, traded to Seattle, minor league deal with Arizona, minor league deal with Miami, traded to the Yankees, and claimed by the Pirates.
After being the 32nd-overall pick in the 2005 draft, all he has to show for himself as a twenty-eight-year-old journeyman reliever are 24 major league innings and a 0.0 career fWAR... and nearly six batters walked per nine innings during that small sample size. Still, Roe has excelled at three things over his minor league career: Striking guys out, generating weak contact, and not issuing walks.
Ignoring his small-sample big league numbers, Roe in 2014 struck out 27.5% of the batters he faced and walked just 8% over 64 innings in New Orleans. He's well past prospect age by this point, but if the Pirates face a roster crunch, he could end up being a prime example of a small, unsexy move that ends up paying big dividends.
Nick Greenwood, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
For my money, Jimmy Nelson was the best pitcher in Triple-A in 2014, and he rightly won the PCL Pitcher of the Year award. But Greenwood wasn't far behind.
Evaluating Greenwood is tricky, though, because there are a lot more things to dislike than there are to like. His fastball sits in the high eighties, he doesn't strike anyone out, and he doesn't have a single plus pitch. But the Xavier High School graduate - who was the second-leading scorer in the school soccer team's history, behind only one Jeff Bagwell, oddly enough - has shown some ability at the minor league level to limit walks and to generate weak contact.
It may just be a coincidence that while Greenwood was struggling at the Single-A level in the Padres' minor league system and Jeff Luhnow was in charge of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals, the former was the spare part in the three-team trade that sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego, Corey Kluber to Cleveland, and Jake Westbrook to St. Louis. Despite being labeled a "non-prospect" at the time, Greenwood did make a cameo at the big league level for the Cardinals in 2014, even getting the start in place of Adam Wainwright in the season finale.
Everth Cabrera, SS, San Diego Padres
Okay, okay, this one wouldn't technically be a Cyber Monday offer, because he wouldn't become available until late on Tuesday. Not that I expect it, but MLB Trade Rumors currently has Cabrera listed as a non-tender candidate for the Padres. A year removed from a season in which he put up 3+ WAR despite missing the last two months after getting caught up in the Biogenesis scandal, Cabrera returned to lackluster form in 2014. He struggled with injuries (not to mention an arrest) and posted just a 65 wRC+, with a strikeout rate above 20% and a walk rate hovering around 5%. Even his power - never a strong suit in the first place - saw a significant dip.
At his worst, Cabrera provides a roughly-average glove and tremendous baserunning abilities. For a team like the Astros, who saw less than 1.0 WAR from the shortstop position in 2014, he may be someone worth taking a flyer on and hoping he regains his 2013 form, when he was on pace to post five wins above replacement.
Cole Gillespie, OF, Free Agent
It's hard to figure out exactly what Cole Gillespie is. That is to say, we know what he is not. He is not a very good major league baseball player. Rather - and this is where things get tricky - he hasn't been to date. Someone who hasn't been particularly good in 270 plate appearances spread over four seasons and five different teams isn't that unusual, and given the third-rounder's minor league track record, he'd be a very intriguing candidate... if he wasn't going to turn thirty-one in the middle of the 2015 season.
Still, Gillespie has absolutely mashed the ball in the minors, slashing .305/.396/.492 since 2011 (he had a 1.020 OPS in the minors in 2014). He's also walked at a decent clip and limited his strikeouts. For a team like the Astros, he may be a lateral move to the other corner outfielders who haven't been much more than promising, but if the front office believes he can tap into the 100+-point difference between his minor- and major-league ISOs, or the almost eighty-point difference between his minor- and major-league BABIPs, he could no doubt be had for a steal.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox went out and acquired both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, it not only made Chase Headley's 2015 suddenly very interesting. It also had the same effect on Middlebrooks' 2015. When Middlebrooks went down to injury in 2014, it created the Ben Zobrist, Jr. phenomenon that is Brock Holt, and while Holt may also find himself on the trading block, no doubt the Sox will be attempting to sell high on his phenomenal 2014 season.
That leaves Middlebrooks as the guy most likely to come at a discount. Once the heir apparent to the "Greek God of Walks," Kevin Youkilis, Middlebrooks got off to a solid start with 2 WAR in his rookie season of 2012, but has largely struggled both in the field and at the plate in the two seasons since.
In 2013, the Astros gave more than six hundred plate appearances - and sacrificed 1.7 wins as a result - to Matt Dominguez. With the power depletion and continued lack of plate discipline that he saw in 2014, it can be debated whether Middlebrooks presents a clear offensive upgrade at the position. He's suffered through injuries to almost every imaginable part of his body, is almost a full year older than Dominguez, and he somehow managed to have a higher swinging strike rate than Matty D in 2014, which is no small accomplishment.