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Astros batting plan for the 2016-2017 off-season

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CRPerry13 and Idrees Tily conclude their conversation about the Astros’ off-season plans, if the authors had their way. Trade for an outfielder, or perhaps a free agent catcher?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

From: CRPerry13

To: Idrees Tily

Hi Idrees,

To follow up on our conversation about the Astros offseason plans, I'd like to get your thoughts on what they should do about the offense. They sit 10th in the League in Runs scored during the 2016 season, and that has clearly not been enough in the competitive AL.

The way I see it, the following positions are locked down:

  • 2B - Jose Altuve
  • SS - Carlos Correa
  • 3B - Yulieski Gurriel
  • LF - Alex Bregman (sharing time around the infield, no doubt)
  • RF or CF - George Springer
  • C1 - Evan Gattis
  • UTIL - Marwin Gonzalez, and perhaps Jake Marisnick as OF5

That's a nice core, in my opinion. Perhaps one of the best in baseball. However, the lack of consistent production from the rest of the lineup has been the bane of the 2016 bunch.

I have thoughts, but I'll let you take the first swipe. What would you do to make the Astros a Top-5 AL offense?

From: Idrees Tily

To: CRPerry13

Oh boy, this is going to be fun. I find our offense overall to be lacking. Great at times, but far too inconsistent to have sustained success. So it needs help.

Have no fear though, because in just a few moves (which I believe to be pretty realistic as well), we could very have one of the deepest and most talented lineups 1-9 in the entire league.

I will respectfully disagree on one of the positions that you listed as locked down: Evan Gattis at C1. I fully realize that his offensive numbers as a catcher are much better than his offensive production as DH, but I don't think you could or should rely on him through the daily grind behind the plate for an entire season.

Injuries aside, I can see the scenario where Gattis’ offensive production starts to fade as the toll of being C1 accumulates. So this his current usage as C2 as fully acceptable, and probably where he is most value-efficient, sans the time at DH.

As I agree on all of the other positions you listed as locked down, here are the few moves it would take to vastly improve our daily offensive output:

Sign Wilson Ramos to a 4 year/$100M deal.

With Jason Castro and his elite pitch framing skills probably leaving for greener pastures in the offseason, and considering that our thinnest position in the minors is catcher, we really do not have a viable solution at C1 for at least the next several years.

Enter Ramos, who has been crushing the ball this year following lasik eye surgery, and has been among the best catchers in the game this season. He also just turned 29 earlier this month.

A 4 year deal locks him in during his prime, and you could even make the selling point that if his offensive prowess continues at MMP, he can cash in on another huge deal at the age of 33, a la Russell Martin or Brian McCann. And if I am given a choice between a) trading away 3 top prospects for 1.5 years of Jonathan Lucroy vs. b) spending $100M in cold hard cash and losing a draft pick to sign Wilson Ramos for 4 years, I think there is way more value in option b.

There is no way around it, you simply WILL have to overpay in either free agency or the trade market. Why not address your biggest need and sign a catcher you can depend on for the next 4 years, who currently owns a .900+ OPS.

Trade for Yasiel Puig.

People tend to forget that the embattled outfielder is still JUST 25 years old, so maybe it isn't fair to make conclusive judgments on the man just yet. What we know thus far is that he has immense talent, has had clubhouse issues, is still very young, is still on a team-friendly deal, and has seemed to wear out his welcome in LA.

The last point tells me that the acquisition cost to get him will be reasonable. What would it realistically take to acquire Puig? I would pull the trigger on Teoscar Hernandez and David Paulino (who, by the way, may or not not have his own clubhouse issues) as the centerpieces of the deal.

I know some fans will immediately think that is an overpay, but let us not forget that Puig is still very cheap, and he would only cost us $8,214,000 in 2017 and $9,214,000 in 2018. I also can see Puig embracing and loving our Club Astros mantra, and feel free to be himself, and hopefully thrive in our clubhouse atmosphere.

If that happens, I can see him open to signing an extension with the team that gave him a chance when no one else would, and a place he genuinely likes to play. He can hopefully be the follow-up success story after Colby Rasmus.

Let's also consider the presence of Yulieski Gurriel, and how much he can help Puig transition to his new team. Actually, they can both help each other get acclimated to their new team. Win-win!

Obviously there are valid concerns and risks associated with him, but at the end of the day, I believe the potential benefits outweigh those costs. By the way, videos online seem to suggest that he is ready for Club Astros!

I could actually stop here, and I would be more than content. However, I will get a little greedy, and...

Try and sign Luis Valbuena to a reasonable 2 year deal.

He might end up being too expensive to realistically pursue, but I would certainly make a run at it. If signed, I would project him to be the everyday 1B, with Marwin Gonzalez giving him some rest against lefties.

The domino effect would also allow us to have A.J. Reed as our full time DH, which I think he can provide the most value. WAIT - scratch that. I just ran the projected salaries, and it seems like even signing Valbuena at 2 years/$30M won't be a realistic option, as that would bump my overall projected 25-man roster total to almost $119M, and I don't think the front office would make the jump from an Opening Day 2016 total payroll of $97M.

Replacing Valbuena with A.J. Reed full time at 1B, while going back to a combination of Gattis/Marwin/P. Tucker rotation at DH gets total projected down to just over $104M, which seems more than reasonable.

So there you have it Chris, with just two simple moves, you could be cheering on the following everyday lineup for your 2017 Houston Astros:

  • CF George Springer ($5,000,000) - This offseason will be the first year that Springer is arbritration eligible. With about one year experience, Nolan Arendo got $5M last year. I think $5M gets us in the ballpark.
  • LF Alex Bregman ($600,000) - Consistent with the pitching post, this is my projected MLB minimum salary. Again, probably a little bit high, but it is better to be conservative when it comes to expenses.
  • 2B Jose Altuve ($,500,000) - Under contract, no guesswork necessary.
  • SS Carlos Correa - ($600,000)
  • 3B Yulieski Gurriel ($14,000,000) - Under contract, no guesswork necessary.
  • C Wilson Ramos ($25,000,000) - Year 1 of my 4 year/$100M theoretical free agency deal.
  • 1B AJ Reed ($600,000)
  • DH Evan Gatis/Marwin Gonzalez/Preston Tucker ($4,500,000) - Gattis earned $3.4M in abritration last year, I think a $1.1M raise is reasonable.
  • RF Yasiel Puig ($8,214,000) - Under contract, no guesswork necessary.

That, my friend, is a deep, talented, and overall relatively young offense. You asked what it would take to make the Astros a Top-5 AL offense, how about with "just" $25M in free agency and trading away Teoscar Hernandez and David Paulino, you get a Top-5 MLB offense!!

From: CRPerry13

To: Idrees Tily

TL;DR.

Just kidding. Ready for this? I love your ideas, on their merit, especially adding Wilson Ramos. Ramos is a good defensive catcher and a very good offensive player. I also agree that the Astros would have to come in with a strong offer to beat out the other 28 teams who would be interested in his services (assuming the Giants are A-okay with Buster Posey).

Despite that, $25M/Y is a bit much for a catcher, especially one who missed half of his games from 2012 through 2014 due to injury. He might also be looking for that fifth year, like Brian McCann and Russell Martin. Both of those guys signed for 5 years and a bit over $80M. That's a reasonable number for Ramos, though I'd go more if the market demands it.

Five years and $95 million? I'd consider it, even knowing those last couple years might be painful.

Generally, though I am not in favor of addressing the Astros' needs through a massive free agent contract. The reality is, those often don't work out. So the alternative is the trade market!

I would try to acquire Puig, if the Astros can manage it without mortgaging the future. But I believe the cost would be higher than you proposed. The Dodgers are well aware of his talent, and that he's 25 years old. They seem disenchanted with him, but they won't sell low.

The Astros would likely be bidding against a dozen other teams as well. Starting with Paulino and Teoscar, It would take a couple more significant pieces to make the deal work for the Dodgers. Josh Reddick will be walking after the season too, so it would need to be a deal that convinces the Dodgers that they'd be better off with the prospects received than they would be by plugging Puig right back into Right Field in 2017.

My fear is that they wouldn't move Puig unless a prospect like Kyle Tucker were involved (plus Paulino and more). How about Paulino, Hernandez, Derek Fisher, Albert Abreu, and Brendan McCurry? Personally, I doubt that moves the needle for the Dodgers. Andrew Friedman is a sharp guy. And if I'm the Astros, I wouldn't want to pay that much.

One possible solution is Charlie Blackmon. He'll be entering his 2nd year of arbitration, and he's playing for a team that should be solidly in "sell" mode. He's 30 years old and doesn't figure to fit into the Rockies' long-term plan. He plays a decent outfield, and can be counted as a shoo-in for a 20/20 season for the next couple years.

I think a deal like you proposed for Puig might get it done, perhaps with a wild card. Blackmon and PTBNL for Paulino, Teoscar, Brady Rodgers, and Jandel Gustave? I'm just throwing out names here, but I think it's achievable. And I love the idea of two seasons of Blackmon to cross the bridge to Kyle Tucker.

Other players who might be useful and acquirable include Brandon Guyer, Scott Van Slyke, Ender Inciarte, Khris Davis, Kole Calhoun, and Adam Eaton. I support trading for an established outfielder who is around arbitration age, because their team may be motivated to sell, and it doesn't bog the Astros down with a long-term contract.

My pipe dream is a trade involving Kevin Kiermaier coming to the Astros, just because it's fun to watch him play. Guyer is a lefty-masher who would fit well as a platoon partner for Preston Tucker, if it came to that.

On the catcher front, and sticking with the Dodgers, how about aggressively pursuing a trade for Yasmani Grandal or Austin Barnes? Just want to throw that out there.

I think my ideal scenario would be a Free Agent deal to Ramos as you suggest (but cheaper...), plus a trade for one of the outfielders I listed, with Blackmon, Calhoun, and Eaton as the most attractive options.

I think we both agree that A.J. Reed has to be given a large chunk of time to play at first base next season, given his pedigree and talent. Over the past couple weeks, he has hit quite well and still drawing walks, so I'm comfortable with his future projection.

To wrap up the conversation, what sort of trades would you execute if I took Puig off the table and said "no" to big FA contracts?

From: Idrees Tily

To: CRPerry13

Whoa, we agree, I did NOT see that coming! Interesting question at the end, but if we are taking Puig off the table, and not adding any big FA contracts, I have a few ideas.

Outfielders to Target:

I would be all over your Charlie Blackmon idea. I respectfully feel his acquisition cost would be higher than what you proposed. I get that he is 30 years old, and that he will start to get expensive real quick, but the man is currently crushing the ball, to the tune of .924.

I think he would be expensive, and if they make him available, I think multiple teams would be in on his services, which would no doubt drive up his cost. But at your proposed deal of Blackmon and change for Paulino, Teoscar, Rodgers, and Gustave? I don't even hesitate.

Sticking with the Rockies, how about Carlos Gonzalez? Like Blackmon, he is also 30, but his salary is a lot higher, at $20M. That would hopefully drive his acquisition cost way down, but his .282/.335/.427 slash line away from Coors scares me. That is actually slightly higher than I would have guessed, and better than his career averages, but they still scare me.

Enter joke about how that low slash line away from Coors would be among the team leaders this year!

Randal Grichuk - I doubt the Cardinals sell low on him, but he's a hometown kid that is in the midst of a big sophomore slump. He still has all the tools though, but I reckon his acquisition cost would be rather high, if the Cardinals even consider trading him, so he is probably not a realistic option.

A Cubs' OF - they have mounds and mounds of talent and depth, but have 3 OF spots like the rest of the league. What about Jorge Soler, or Albert Almora, or even Ben Zobrist to play LF.

When fully healthy, they have Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Kris Bryant, Jayson Heyward, and Javier Baez that could all play in the OF next year, even without the 3 options previously listed. Don't the Cubs have to make some decisions soon and do something with some of those other options? I'm just saying.

Here's an out-of-the-box idea: Andrew McCutchen. He hasn't been the same Andrew McCutchen the last year and a half, so perhaps his downward trend is too concerning for some. But he's still a good ballplayer that is under control for 2017 and 2018 for just $14M and $14.75M, respectively.

McCutchen could be a perfect "change of scenery" gamble to take. He would be really expensive, and I'd guess that he would cost a big package headlined by Kyle Tucker or an AJ Reed, or perhaps both. The asking price probably ends up being too steep, but it's at least interesting to consider.

And if we can't sign Wilson Ramos to a big FA contract, I make a run at Devin Mesoraco, who is currently out for the year (and he would be expensive prospect-wise), or a buy low candidate like Yan Gomes.

Mesoraco has been abysmal this year (and last), but the previous 2 years he was very good. He's also on a great team-friendly deal, and is just 29, so he would be a real interesting reclamation project in my opinion. The Indians also have prospect Francisco Mejia, and although he is a few years away, figures to be their catcher of the future. Although I really like the idea of Yasmani Grandal, I think he would be excessively expensive.

To wrap it up, I am not nearly as enthusiastic about any of the other options if my Ramos/Puig additions are off the table. I'd make a run at your Charlie Blackmon idea as plan B, and maybe Yan Gomes, or else I'd simply stand pat, and hold onto my assets (both financial and prospects) until better opportunities arise. In fact, your question makes me even MORE excited about Ramos and Puig. Let's make it happen Houston!