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 the final installment of an eight-segment, position by position run down of the situation with the club, where we'll examine possible (and perhaps even likely) outcomes of these situations. Here’s the schedule, if you missed any of the previous articles:
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: Published May 3rd, 2016
Conclusions Drawn: May 4th, 2016
What Does It All Mean?
As you can tell by this point, if you’ve read the previous seven installments of this series in their entirety, the Astros have an exceptionally high number of players with serious trade value. They also have an embarrassment of riches, to use an appropriate cliché, from which to select the best roster to compete with going forward. Taking a look on Cot's Contracts at potential free agent departures after the 2016 season, we see these players could all be moving on to new homes via free agency:
- Jason Castro, Catcher
- Luis Valbuena, Third Baseman
- Colby Rasmus, Outfielder
- Carlos Gomez, Outfielder
- Scott Feldman, Starting Pitcher
- Doug Fister, Starting Pitcher
- Pat Neshek (Relief Pitcher, possesses an option for 2017 with a $500,000 buyout)
Given the volatility of prospects, and the financial burdens that would be lessened on the payroll were all of the aforementioned players allowed to depart via free agency after 2016, it does seem possible for the Astros to pursue adding at least one excellent or even elite player at the trade deadline in 2016. But who to target?
Who Are Potential Trade Partners?
When it comes to identifying a potential trade partner, it's a difficult undertaking at this point in the season. It's early - a lot will change (injuries, poor play, promotions/demotions, etc.) before August first. As the picture sits right now, a couple teams who jump to mind as rebuilding but with a couple notable MLB pieces are Milwaukee, Atlanta, Philly, and maybe the, who this writer expected to be much better this season than they have been. Of those teams, here's where this writer perceives their need with regard to young players and how trades might shake out with the Astros.
Needs: Pitching. Good lord, pitching. Not that they don't have a couple solid guys on the farm. Also have to figure the third base position in the minors is a focus of theirs.
Potential fits: Joe Musgrove, Francis Martes, Albert Abreu, David Paulino, Michael Feliz, J.D. Davis
Potentially Interesting Chips To Target: Jonathan Lucroy, assuming he rounds back into form as an elite catcher (and not a first base-bound former catcher with less than desirable offense at first) would be an obvious choice. Jimmy Nelson or Wily Peralta
Needs: None, probably. Possibilities, though: Catcher, Outfield, maybe Third Base
Potential fits: Colin Moran might be a good fit if Bregman sticks in Houston on the left side of the infield. Derek Fisher might pique some interest in Atlanta.
Potentially Interesting Chips To Target: Arodys Vizcaino, Jhoulys Chacin
Julio Teheran has been mentioned quite a bit, both on this site and other places. However, his walks per nine innings have risen fairly consistently, from 2.18 in 2013 to a slight dip in 2014 at 2.08 before ballooning to 3.27 last year and sitting uncomfortably close to three (2.97) so far this season. He's certainly a fly ball pitcher who owns a career 10.2% HR/FB rate (it's at 10.9% so far this season, so not terribly inflated versus his career) and has shown a track record over his career of his ERA beating his FIP/xFIP by almost half a run - a trend which has continued through his first six starts of this season. The ERA results haven't even been that good between last season and this one, though his current 3.72 ERA is better than most current starters on the Astros. He seems not to be a great fit, in this writer's estimation.
Needs: Major League hitters who aren't under-performing, and starting pitching. Basically, the same needs the Astros have. Notably, the shortstop position for the Twins is very weak. They are 22nd in wRC+, 26th in ISO with a minuscule .056, 22nd in wOBA, and not even entirely impressive on the defensive side of the ball. In short, 27-year-old third year starter Eduardo Escobar is not getting it done, and hasn't been terribly impressive offensively in his career.
Potential Fits: Alex Bregman. Our pitching depth in the upper minors (or currently in the Majors) would likely be interesting too, particularly Paulino, Musgrove, Martes, Feliz, and possibly Devenski.
Potentially Interesting Chips To Target: Jose Berrios is not likely to be available via trade, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that a rich package couldn't pry away talented young outfielder Max Kepler. He's met great success in the minors and is highly regarded by many writers here at TCB, this writer included, and would likely be expensive despite struggles in the Major Leagues so far. If the internal data the Astros possess endorse picking the German-born slugger up, a package including Bregman might be mutually beneficial for both teams. Kepler, just 23, has played both center and right field in the major leagues this season. Byron Buxton has also struggled, but with his future still very bright and a talented young Danny Santana coupling with Miguel Sano, Byung-Ho Park, and Joe Mauer to occupy (if not block) other potential positions, Kepler might actually be a possible target.
Needs: Offense is an obvious need. The Padres team offense is turning in a sickly, AAAA-esque 75 team wRC+ and a putrid .285 team wOBA, 27th in all of baseball. Their team ISO of .118 is second weakest in baseball. For reference, Marwin Gonzalez and Evan Gattis are both hitting for better isometric power right now than the entire Padres team is, collectively.
Potential Fits: A.J. Reed, Jon Singleton, Derek Fisher, J.D. Davis
Potentially Interesting Chips To Target: Tyson Ross is making $9.625 million with San Diego this year, and has a year of arbitration eligibility remaining. He has also been noted as a player the Astros are interested in in the recent past...though he's currently having worrisome shoulder issues. Andrew Cashner is another Pads player with ties to Houston in the rumor mill in recent years, though he is a free agent to be after the 2016 season.
Needs: Unclear. With David Wright ailing off and on recently and for the foreseeable future, a wildly inconsistent Yoenis Cespedes currently performing well but a serious regression candidate at any point, an over-performing (.400 BABIP) Michael Conforto, and a Neil Walker who is currently outperforming his career numbers in several notable areas (like wRC+, wOBA, and drastically so in slugging percentage and isometric power) and walking at only a 5% clip...the Mets seemed poised to have an offensive implosion at some point this season. The Mets' first basemen are currently 14th in wRC+, 12th in slugging, 15th in wOBA, 22nd in BB%, and 11th in K%. Their shortstops are 11th in wRC+ and wOBA and a combined .256/.320/.359 slash line. Third base is, as mentioned, an injury concern.
Potential Fits: Colin Moran, Jon Singleton, Alex Bregman, Matt Duffy
Potentially Interesting Chips To Target: It is exceedingly unlikely that the Astros possess enough talent outside of Correa or Lance McCullers or maybe Altuve or Springer to land one of the big three starting pitchers. So Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Jacob deGrom are likely out. But Steven Matz might be a possibility, and adding another impact left-handed starter with cheap control remaining to the rotation might be worth throwing quite a bit of prospect capital at. A deal involving Alex Bregman, Jon Singleton and David Paulino might be enough to at least open discussions, were the Astros interested.
Needs: The Rays are currently 21st in baseball in wRC+ with a 92 team score. Their recent history includes plenty of pitching but not very much offense. So the needs here are fairly obvious: MLB-ready or near MLB-ready position players who can hit.
Potential Fits: Alex Bregman, Preston Tucker, Derek Fisher, Jon Kemmer, Colin Moran, Jon Singleton, A.J. Reed, Teoscar Hernandez, J.D. Davis, Matt Duffy
Potentially Interesting Trade Chips To Target: Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi. The Rays continuously seem able to churn out Major League arms, and these three guys are the most seasoned and successful pieces that are at least somewhat likely to be on the block at the end of July. Odorizzi's xFIP is a bit high currently, at 3.97, but he has a solid track record. Smyly and Archer are aces, full stop. They would be incredibly expensive to obtain, no matter what. Archer's current xFIP is 3.13, belying his 5.01 ERA and staring pointedly at his 25% HR/FB ratio, and Smyly has pitched well overall (10.64 K/9, 2.60 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 3.21 xFIP, 1.56 BB/9) in the face of a 11.6% HR/FB ratio. Smyly has an injury history that might help his cost stay somewhat more reasonable, but the Rays always - always - seem to extract their pound of flesh via trade, so if the front office elects this route, we'd better be prepared to pay handsomely.
So, What Do We Do?
After seeing the logjams popping up all over the organizational depth chart in the upper levels of the system, this writer is left with the opinion - while acknowledging that, once again, many possibilities still exist - that a trade of Alex Bregman is probably very likely, in the end. The Astros have been playing him exclusively at shortstop, without attempting to diversify his utilization possibilities at other positions. This despite having elected to maximize positional flexibility with most other position players in the minor leagues not named Carlos Correa. It would seem to indicate that, as of right this second, they view both Correa and Bregman as shortstops.
It's absolutely still a bit early yet - they could still teach him another position later, as has been pointed out more than once by others in these conversations. But unless some work at positions other than shortstop begins in the next few weeks* for Bregman - while he can get competitive work in live games, and not just back field work in the off season or semi-seriously competitive work in the Arizona Fall League or next Spring Training - then it at least seems more likely to this writer that any future in Houston for Bregatron resides at shortstop. This would ostensibly coincide with Correa moving to third, as many scouts predicted when he was drafted. If that is not the case, then it seems likely that Bregman would be a serious candidate to be the crown jewel of a package to make a large upgrade elsewhere on the roster - like in the starting rotation. This writer considers the latter scenario the more likely of the two at this juncture.
The utility of a trade of this magnitude would be twofold - increasing the overall talent of the roster, obviously, but also alleviating some of the logjam and need for more playing time for more players with fewer positions to go around. Moving another cluster of prospects, as the Astros did in their trade deadline deal with Milwaukee last season, not only brings talent to the Major League roster (either by addition or subtraction/minor league promotion) but prunes, if the expression may be permitted, the minor league system at its upper levels and alleviates potential 40-man roster and Rule V draft pick concerns in the near future.
And there it is. Thousands and thousands of words to break down the positions for the club and point out that not everyone who deserves to play for the Astros is going to get to play for the Astros. Astros fans should strap in and expect another wild trade season from Jeff Luhnow and company. And perhaps that's what they really mean when they say "It's a great position to be in."
Thanks for joining us on this quest to ascertain realistic options for the organization going forward with regards to trades. Obviously the comments have been flooding in for these pieces, and we thank you for them. We look forward to discussing your views on this piece, as well.
* "Next few weeks" here beginning once Bregman returns from his current hamstring injury.