While not heavily mentioned by MLB.com 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 seven 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: Published April 27th, 2016
Second Base: Published April 28th, 2016
Third Base: Published April 29th, 2016
Shortstop: Published May 2nd, 2016
Outfield: May 3rd, 2016
Conclusions Drawn: May 4th, 2016
There are two free-agents-to-be in the Houston outfield currently: Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez. If both leave, which appears entirely plausible and even perhaps somewhat likely at this point, especially with regards to Gomez, then the Astros presently would conceivably have Preston Tucker, Jake Marisnick, and George Springer remaining as starting options for 2017 who are currently in the Major Leagues. It is certainly still possible that one or both of those potential free agents could sign an extension (or accept a qualifying offer) to stay, and Colby Rasmus has hinted at just such desires...his comfort level in Houston and his (very early) Herculean performance thus far bode well for the chances of his remaining in Houston, but for the purposes of this exercise we'll assume that:
- Both Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus will decline qualifying offers and leave via free agency after 2016.
- The Astros will trade neither player during the season, electing to hold on to both veteran bats (and gloves) for a playoff drive in anticipation of higher ticket sales, possible playoff revenue, and...oh yeah, winning baseball games.
There is a sentiment of concern among many Astros fans for what the future may hold with the current crop of potential replacement players in the upper minors. It is not a rare sentiment at all within the realm of Astros fandom to be unimpressed by Tony Kemp on both sides of the baseball. Ditto Andrew Aplin to an extent, who does at least have a pretty sterling defensive reputation. Many are concerned that Jake Marisnick, despite his dynamic play on the bases and in the field, will never be able to hit enough to be an everyday starter. Hopefully his recent demotion to Triple-A Fresno will get him consistent playing time against fairly advanced pitching and allow him to work through his offensive issues, allowing him to return to Houston as at least a somewhat capable hitter in addition to being the defensive and base running powerhouse that he is. The early returns on that front have been depressing, however.
And of course, then there's Preston Tucker and his defensive shortcomings.
Tucker's bat certainly looks capable of at least platoon status in the majors - though there is evidence to suggest that it's too soon to hang that platoon label on him permanently - and it seems intuitive, despite the relative spoiling that Houston fans have received recently with our access to outstanding outfield defenders at all three positions, that it is potentially tenable for a less than stellar defender with a good bat to start in left field while two excellent defenders play next to him in center field and right field...especially in Minute Maid Park, and especially with a ground ball specialist like Dallas Keuchel on the mound. Certainly there are four other starting pitchers, not to mention relievers, but the opportunity to play for Preston Tucker must surely be there if his bat continues to improve and carries him to more plate appearances. A recent cooling after a hot start was likely, even expected, and perhaps exacerbated a bit by the return of Evan Gattis cutting into Tucker's playing time some.
This writer is a well-documented fan of Tucker who believes in the bat and believes that playing time is warranted. In a fit of intellectual honesty and an attempt at dogmatic objectivity, however, it is certainly quite possible that Tucker is himself an excellent trade piece to dangle in front of other teams. If Tyler White is believed to be "the man" going forward at the designated hitter position, and if Tucker is judged to be just too poor a defender to start in the outfield with any kind of regularity, it might be better for all parties that he be shipped to a team which is happy to start him, either at a corner outfield position or at designated hitter. It has already been rumored that the Orioles have interest in him, though they balked at the Astros' asking price, and other teams are likely to be given pause when considering whether they'd like to add a 26-year-old power-hitting lefty with some patience - who is still pre-arbitration eligible - to their lineup.
Other notable minor league players (eschewing Daz Cameron and Kyle Tucker, who are still quite far from the Major Leagues) to keep an eye on as potential outfielders in Houston in the near(ish) future are Jon Kemmer, Derek Fisher, Teoscar Hernandez, and even Matt Duffy, who has seen some time recently in left field. The Astros might lack for sparkling, elite outfield options in the upper minors (though the jury is still out on Derek Fisher) but they certainly have a lot of quality young players - one or two of whom are bound to be capable of stepping up at the Major League level if necessary, and soon. All of these players, including Cameron and Tucker and perhaps even a deeper sleeper like Jason Martin, should be considered trade assets ranging from marginal to very high trade value, as well.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the conclusion of our eight part trade series, where we'll discuss what to take away as possible - or even likely - courses of action for the Astros in trade avenues this season.