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Luke Gregerson signing: Why the Astros didn't just add a trade chip

It's already out there, but I don't think the Astros signed Luke Gregerson just to trade him away.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It didn't take long for speculation to begin. Minutes after the news leaked that the Astros had agreed to a three-year, $18.5 million deal with Luke Gregerson, already people were claiming they could just flip him this summer in a trade.

That's how some teams work. Heck, maybe that's how the Astros should work. But, I don't believe that's what this move is about.

First of all, they need help in the bullpen. Runs aren't a great way to predict future performance, since they're so dependent on things outside of individual players' control. But, the Astros were close to the median runs scored in the league, lagging behind last season by about 19 run.

They were 81 runs under the median runs allowed and 62 of those runs came from the bullpen. That's how bad Houston's bullpen was last season. And that was a dramatic improvement from the previous season.

So, there are concrete reasons why Houston could leverage this market into improving their team through the bullpen. If we accept that four of the starting pitching spots will be taken by Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Scott Feldman and Brett Oberholtzer, there isn't much room to improve the pitching staff there.

By adding a couple solid bullpen arms, who won't melt down like Jerome Williams, Paul Clemens or Josh Zeid, Houston could fix that bullpen runs allowed deficit easily.

Get that under control and they're close to a .500 team (by third-order wins).

Still, smart teams do exactly what Dave Cameron describes in this piece for FanGraphs:

Let's say they hold him until mid-July, so they'd have paid him $3 million of his $6 million 2015 salary, then agreed to pick up $5 million of the remaining $15 million he was still owed. An acquiring team would only have to absorb $10 million in salaries for 2.5 years of relief work, which would look like a bargain at a time when there are going to be few other options to upgrade in-season. And so, the Astros could likely extract a solid young player in return, essentially buying that prospect for $8 million in salary.

The Astros might do this. Their relationship with Gregerson, though, could mean they see him as a building block. Jeff Luhnow drafted him previously and A.J. Hinch was around him in San Diego. They have connections to him that might lend themselves to keeping him around long-term.

There's also the fact that Gregerson has been incredibly consistent as a reliever. He's never had an ERA over 3.25 in six seasons of relief work. Of course, he's coupled that with quite a few meltdowns over those seasons. Gregerson averages 12 meltdowns a season.

Meltdowns, for those unfamiliar, are a way to look at how relievers performed by win expectancy and can show more effectively how good a reliever was over something like blown saves.

Gregerson's 13 meltdowns would be the most in the Astros bullpen and nearly double how many meltdowns Chad Qualls had in 2014.

He's not closer material.

But, he will dramatically help the bullpen. How many times do I say that reliever are volatile, that they're fungible? It's true for the most part. But, some guys can remain consistent. Maybe Gregerson is one of them. Certainly, his track record hasn't shown much volatility in those years.

So, it seems a good deal all around. Houston gets better in one of its most needed areas and the contract isn't outrageous. They don't need to use him as a trade chip, even if they have that ability.