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Astros 2016 Potential Trades Series: First Base

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The Astros have a flat-out glut of talented players all jostling for major league position. How is this going to be handled going forward? Let's examine first base in part three of an eight-part series.

After a veritable feeding frenzy to start the season for the Great White, he's begun to cool off and fall back to normal mortal levels.  But he will still be a major component of the team going forward.  Probably.
After a veritable feeding frenzy to start the season for the Great White, he's begun to cool off and fall back to normal mortal levels. But he will still be a major component of the team going forward. Probably.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

While not heavily mentioned by as particularly active this trade season, it seems exceedingly likely in spite of a rocky start to 2016 that the Astros are once again deadline buyers this season, and not just to address holes at the major league level...but possibly also to address mounting logjams at the upper minor league levels.

Welcome to part three of an eight-segment, position by position run down of the situation with the club, and then we'll examine possible (and perhaps even likely) outcomes of these situations near the end of the series. Here’s the schedule, so you know when to expect each article:

Pitching: Published April 25th, 2016
Catching: Published April 26th, 2016
First Base: April 27th, 2016
Second Base: April 28th, 2016
Third Base: April 29th, 2016
Shortstop: May 2nd, 2016
Outfield: May 3rd, 2016
Conclusions Drawn: May 4th, 2016

First Base

Remember when this was the question facing the team?  Way back to Spring Training?

Good times.

Tyler White has cooled noticeably after his red-hot start but has still assuaged most doubts about his bat playing in the Major Leagues, and his glove work at first has been notably better than we were led to expect as well.  He's no Bagwell, he's likely not even Carlos Lee over there...but he's apparently not Chris Carter defensively, either.  All in all, he looks more than capable of manning the position for the foreseeable future.

But oh wait.

Reed after being signing with the Astros. - @MiLB_PR

A.J. Reed after signing with the Astros. - @MiLB_PR

That's right: A.J. Reed, the highest rated first base prospect in the game, is knocking on the door in Triple-A.

And let us not forget the former top rated first base prospect in the game, who is currently laboring away in Triple-A: Jon SingletonMatt Duffy might also merit a mention here, but we'll save him for a later section.

With most of the talk about Preston Tucker being tried out at first base finally dying out after it was attempted in Spring Training this season and subsequently kibosh'ed, White, Reed, and Singleton make up a three headed monster at the very top of the organizational first base depth chart.  While it's not necessary that any of them be moved, per se - Reed and White can conceivably coexist in the major leagues just fine once Reed is past his Super Two status while Singleton continues trying to build consistency in his in Triple-A at bats - it does certainly draw the eye of anyone examining potentially land-locked positions in the minors when attempting to ascertain positions of strength from which to trade at the Major League level.

A potential trade of Tyler White is absolutely a possibility, especially once Reed is ready to make the jump to the big leagues, but it would seem more likely at this point that the Astros try to find a way for both Reed and White to get plenty of plate appearances in the Major Leagues once Reed passes his Super Two eligibility deadline. Singleton may be the odd man out here, and could possibly be destined for a different organization by the time August first rolls around…despite the fact that it would be a clear low-sell at this point, and Jeff Luhnow is not well known for making those kinds of deals.
One potential suitor that already looms as a possible landing place for Singleton, should the Astros decide that clearing the 40-man roster space and saving the $2 million per season or so is worth a low sell, is the Toronto Blue Jays.  They appear to have a first base hole to fill thanks to the news of an 80 game suspension handed down to Chris Colabello for a failed PED test.
As is noted in the above-linked article about Colabello, the Blue Jays are not presently believed to be searching outside the system.  But the internal options for replacing Colabello include:
  • Playing an aging Edwin Encarnacion at first, where he has played in 317 different games in his career - including four already this season and fifty nine last season.  However, he is definitely primarily a designated hitter first and foremost at this stage in his career, between concerns about injuries and fatigue. 
  • Playing Justin Smoak, who appears to be the current starting option.  A quick perusal of his stat line shows some possible worrying signs for the Jays.  He's posted a mediocre career .701 OPS from the left side of the plate.  He is a career 96 wRC+ hitter in the major leagues, with a peak wRC+ season of 112 (in 2013, with the Mariners) and a career .309 wOBA with a peak (that he's met twice, in 2015 and previously in 2013) .331 wOBA.  He has a career .261 BABIP and a career .166 ISO, though his isometric power did peak last season with the Blue Jays at .243 - whether that is tenable going forward or a statistical outlier of a season remains to be seen.  Thus far in 2016, his stat line is a grab bag of absurdity.  Entering play on April 26th, he's walking at a 25.6% clip (versus a 10.7% career walk rate) and striking out at a whopping 43.6% rate (far, far above his career average of 23.0%, though he saw a noticeable rise in strikeout percentage in 2015 accompanying his isometric power surge) while hitting with the rough equivalent power of a kitchen mop, posting a microscopic ISO of .036 to this point in the season.  Somehow - it seems almost impossible to fathom - his slash line was .238/.484/.286 with a cartoon character BABIP of .833 a couple days ago, and has fallen to .214/.436/.250 with a still-absurd .545 BABIP entering play April 26th.  Yes, it's very early, but his track record is not great, and there are some pretty alarming red flags here with him.  Neither Steamer nor ZiPS loves him, and he's posted a whopping 0.6 WAR in his entire five-plus year career.
  • Casey Kotchman, 33 year old journeyman first baseman currently in Triple-A, hasn't had significant major league playing time since 2012. And outside of a respectably valuable 2011 with the Tampa Bay Rays in which he posted a 127 wRC+ with a .306/.378/.422 slash line, he hasn't spent much time in his career as a terribly relevant major league player.
  • Jesus Montero, former top catching prospect of the New York Yankees and then the Seattle Mariners, transitioned to first base full time not too terribly long ago and has played in a grand total of 28 games at the Major League level at the position.  He owns a career 5.5% walk rate and a 19.9% strikeout rate to go along with a career .145 ISO, 92 career wRC+, and a .299 career wOBA - and he's been worth negative WAR for his career thus far.  He's still got a tiny shot in the majors, but his plate appearances (865) are starting to mount without tangible success in the majors.  Also, he's a right handed batter - more on this in a minute.
  • Matt Dominguez.  Yes, that Matt Dominguez.  For his career he has a 77 wRC+, a 4.8% walk rate, an 18.1% strikeout rate, a .141 ISO, a .285 wOBA, and he has also been worth negative WAR overall.  He's not much of a major league player, despite his 21 home runs in 2013.  But Astros fans probably don't need to be told this.  Dominguez was, in fact, called up to the Blue Jays yesterday (April 26th) in the wake of the Colabello debacle and figures to see time at both corner infield positions, but it's hard to imagine this lasting.
That is the gist of the internal options at first base for the Blue Jays.  Obviously Encarnacion is an offensive monster still, but it's unlikely he starts full time.  Each of the other options appear to be busted prospects to this writer's mind, though at least Smoak is still a worthwhile Major League player.  Singleton's Major League struggles have been the stuff of nightmares for Astros fans the past two seasons, but many Astros fans forget that he's still only had 420 Major League plate appearances, spread over two seasons.  In other words, he still hasn't even had a full season (assuming 500 plate appearances as a rough approximation for a full Major League season) in the Show.
It's very possible Singleton is a bust, like most other prospects are.  It is, however, also still possible that the 24 year old (I know, it seems like he's older than that based on how long he's been around) rounds into a productive - if not downright valuable - Major League player.  It just doesn't seem likely to happen in Houston, with so many other options available to the Astros.
So, even though it would be out of character for Jeff Luhnow and Co. to sell low on a player, it might actually make the most sense for the Astros to look for an Akeem Bostick-type (young, projectable arm) rookie ball player in Toronto's system and see if a low risk, high potential reward trade piques some Canadian interest.  Shaving the relatively small salary would be a minor bonus, and opening up a 40-man roster spot would be a huge bonus, given the fact that Colin Moran and A.J. Reed could still both conceivably be in Houston before September and that neither are presently on the (currently full) 40-man roster.
Also worth mentioning in regards to Singleton's possible attraction to Toronto - if Singleton hits and hits well, he could potentially replace Smoak and be the only powerful left handed bat in the Toronto lineup.  In the same division as Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, it could be of benefit to have at least one southpaw slugger - provided Singleton can at least raise his performance to a respectable level in the big leagues.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part Four, examining the second base situation in Houston and its trade potential!
Yes...I said trade potential.  For second base.