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Starting Nine: Astros’ free agency

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The TCB staff puts on their GM caps.

MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The GM meetings and winter meetings can be some the best few days of the baseball calendar. The surprise signing and wheeling and dealing can be intense. But the TCB staff wanted to take a crack at...

Who should the Astros sign? And why? (as needed, are they worth losing a first round pick)

David

Houston doesn't have many holes. For a roster that hasn't yet broken through to 90 wins despite all the plaudits from talent evaluators and stat geeks, that's somewhat remarkable.

Yet, look at this team. Where could they add a bat? Catcher, center field and possibly first base are their only options. It's almost a lock that they'll add a starting pitcher, but it's a thin starting pitching market, so I'd still bank more on that add coming via a trade.

That leaves us with the bats. Assuming that Alex Bregman will play third base next year, the infield seems near set. Bregman also bumps Yuli Gurriel out to left field. Houston could go with recently-added Nori Aoki in right field and bump George Springer to center, but it's more likely they add a premium defender in center field. To bump Springer to center, they'd have to add a premium bat to the corners.

At first base, it makes much more sense for the Astros to add a low-key addition who could help if A.J. Reed falls flat, but who wouldn't hamper his development if he has an Anthony Rizzo-esque turnaround this year.

That leaves the market pretty limited. Catcher and center field are also not deep positions in free agency. In the center, the options are guys like Carlos Gomez (yikes!), Alex Presley (double yikes!), Colby Rasmus (triple yikes!), Michael Bourn (sad yikes!) or Drew Stubbs (what might have been yikes!). Ian Desmond (Rangers yikes!)? World Series Hero-Who-Was-Quickly-Forgotten Rajai Davis? Old Friend And World Series Hero Who Probably Can't Play Center Field Dexter Fowler?

Yeah, the options aren't great. Yoenis Cespedes? Most metrics show he shouldn't be a center fielder. Austin Jackson can't hit. Peter Bourjos can't either. Gregor Blanco may be a good option, but he doesn't play much center field anymore and maybe can't hit.

So, no, none of those options will inspire Astros fans. If Brian McTaggart is to be believed, the Astros may have an interest in Michael Saunders, which would cause Springer to bump into center field. That's fine, too, because Saunders can actually hit (if he can stay healthy). Matt Joyce might also be a nice fallback option there, but with the Aoki addition, it feels like Houston doesn't need that kind of somewhat starter on the corners anymore.

There are no perfect players in free agency this year. Yo will get a huge contract. A couple of other guys may top $100 million too. But I doubt the Astros spend big, not because they don't have the money, but because none of the big ticket players make sense for this roster.

Jason

Ten million recs for the last paragraph, David. I was going to respond with my own answer, but any disagreement I have with what you wrote is so minute as to not merit mention.

Chris

I'm strongly against signing a big-contract free agent this off-season. If the Astros acquire a franchise-quality player, I would like it to be via trade. The future cost of a big free agent is just too high. (See my debate with Jason about Yoenis Cespedes last week for the impact of a big-dollar free agent signing).

I also feel that the Astros are one of the best-drafting clubs in the majors right now, and Jeff Luhnow's record with the Astros and previously with the Cardinals support this thought. Therefore, I do not want to sacrifice a first-round draft pick in order to land one of those monster free agents.

With that as a backdrop, here are the types of Free Agents I would like to see the Astros pursue:

1. A catcher with good defensive chops and decent-ish offense. Particularly, I'd be fine with Chris Iannetta, Dioner Navarro, or Alex Avila. Each should be half the annual cost of Jason Castro and are likely to sign shorter deals. All of these are above-average defensive catchers, all have a good amount of pop and/or patience in their bat, and as we have discussed ad-nauseum, Castro and Evan Gattis are good exhibits for the claim that good pitch framing can be learned. Whoever is signed would be catcher "1-B" in a 60/40 time split with Gattis.

2. A short-contract starting pitcher who can eat innings, pitch middle relief if things break the right way for young Astros pitchers, and generally play the "Doug Fister" role in 2017, although with hopefully better results. Names I'm eyeballing include Charlie Morton, Ivan Nova, Andrew Cashner, Hisashi Iwakuma, Edinson Volquez, and Brett Anderson.

3. A corner outfielder or center fielder, if a trade can't be executed. Aoki is too risky for my comfort level. Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, Jon Jay, and Michael Saunders are among the names I'd be okay with, although there are several more who would fit the bill. Unfortunately, the most intriguing outfielder on the market who wasn't offered a qualifying offer is Carlos Gomez.

Clack

I like the way Chris layed out his ideas. It brings to mind a few comments. First, wouldn't it be funny if the Astros re-signed Carlos Gomez. It might be worth seeing the twitter storm. Yeah, it's not going to happen, but Chris is right that he is one of the intriguing outfielders on a market which doesn't exactly line up with the Astros' needs in CF.

Second, I am intrigued by the idea of signing Cashner to a Fister type "make good" contract. He is from the Houston area and, if he has to sign a pillow contract, why not play close to home? And his disappointing results in 2016 doesn't match his stuff. What better candidate for some work with Strom?

Third, it's unclear to me whether the Astros view Gattis as a No. 1 catcher (based on defensive considerations). I'm not saying "yes" or "no" to that question; but I can see arguments on both sides, and I haven't read anything which suggests how the Astros' front office feels about it. If the Astros simply need a No. 2 catcher, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the Astros look internally and let Stassi, Heineman, etc., compete for the job.

Brian

No, clack and Chris. No, it would not be funny if they resigned Gomez. That would not be funny at all. There are some things you don't joke about.

Anthony

I want - no, I need - the Astros to acquire a very good starting pitcher this offseason. The basic problem is that there aren't any really good starting pitchers, at least not on the free agent market (unless they can somehow acquire both Jake Peavy and a time machine!). There are some guys I wouldn't mind seeing come into camp - Edinson Volquez, Jered Weaver, and Ivan Nova come to mind - but there's no one that feels like 2017's Jon Lester. So if that guy is coming into Houston, it's going to be via trade.

Certainly, big bullpen arms are never bad, and I wouldn't mind seeing Kenley Jansen on the 2017 squad, but there are teams with a greater need, and I daresay they'll very likely outbid Houston.

I'm still a big believer in Matt Wieters if the physicals work out and the financials make sense. He defends well, and if he hits like the pre-TJS Matt Wieters, he's a fine addition to the club.

But the face I'd like to see most is Edwin Encarnacion. Houston was definitively middle-of-the-road in 2016 with 724 runs scored - less than every playoff team but the Mets and the Giants. They need a veteran who can help out Correa, Springer, and Altuve - particularly with the departure of Luis Valbuena - and Encarnacion is the best hitter in this market. Encarnacion gives you a proven hitter at first base, a position of need, and you can periodically move him to DH to give A.J. Reed big league looks.