Now that the Astros’ World Series dreams for 2018 are dashed, it’s time to start thinking ahead. The Winter Meetings are in a month and a half, and as we saw last year, even the best teams can’t afford to rest on their laurels, and even a champion could use a Gerrit Cole.
It’s not hard to guess that Houston will be going for it all again last year, and while they may not need an acquisition as splashy as the Cole trade, the team is coming off a less successful season and is actually likely to lose a few important players this winter, so there’s a much clearer need for some sort of improvement. Thankfully, we’re already starting to get some rumors about what other teams are thinking ahead of December, so we have more than just a list of free agents to go over.
It appears that the Diamondbacks are open to making some moves. The team has two of their best players in A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin hitting the free agent market, and has decided that it may be better to rebuild rather than try to break the bank bringing both of them back and bring in new pieces to compliment a disappointing core that finished this year just 82-80. Given how they’ll be paying Zack Greinke and Yasmany Tomas a lot over the next two-plus years (those two alone will be getting $50 million or more the next two seasons), and have even more talent hitting free agency next year, rebuilding is a reasonable idea to be entertaining.
It’s not hard to see the areas where the two teams match up. Starting on the offense, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer should serve as the core of the Houston lineup for years to come. There are plenty of internal outfield options to compliment Springer, between Josh Reddick, Tony Kemp, Jake Marisnick, Kyle Tucker, and other prospects, so even if Reddick gets worse with age, they won’t be totally lacking for potential fixes. The likely loss of Marwin Gonzalez will hurt, but there are replacements ready to go just about everywhere they used him regularly.
There aren’t really holes for Houston, so much as question marks. There are a lot of options competing for catcher playing time next year, but given that D-backs catchers collectively put up a 58 wRC+ and -0.4 WAR last year, there’s not really a good choice to cut the Gordian knot there. But the question of first base/designated hitter is another matter. Tyler White seems ready to take one of them out of Spring Training, but Evan Gattis is a free agent this winter and Yuli Gurriel had a down 2018 with the bat that has to make you worry if age is catching up to him. Yuli might be better off taking over Marwin’s super-sub role, given his increasing positional versatility, but given the Astros’ heavy use of Gonzalez the last few years thanks to injuries, Gurriel might not wind up spending a lot of time at first or DH anyway.
And of course, adding Paul Goldschmidt to the lineup couldn’t hurt. The Woodlands native is only under contract for one more season, which is probably why Arizona is even considering dealing him. But at $14.5 million, you could definitely add him and other pieces to the 2019 roster quite easily. Besides, it’s not like the free agent market this offseason is awash in young first basemen/DHs, with names like Matt Adams, Justin Smoak, Joe Mauer, and Nelson Cruz leading the way. For 2019 on, I’d take one year of Goldschmidt over any of those guys for any number of years. Maybe you can try to lock him up long-term too, but it’s going to starting cutting in to money you might want to allocate for guys like Bregman, Springer, Correa, and Gerrit Cole. That’s a question for after you acquire him, though.
Pitching is a more interesting matter. The bullpen is probably fine, given its strength last year and the fact that everyone is probably returning except for Tony Sipp and maybe Will Harris (depending on whether the team picks up his $5.5 million option). If there’s a player who looks intriguing that the Diamondbacks feel willing to part with, go for it, but there are also plenty of free agent options who won’t cost prospects.
Starting pitching is another question. While it was a strong point in 2018, things are far from settled in 2019 given Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton’s impending free agencies and Lance McCullers’s injury at the end of last year. Maybe one of Morton or Keuchel returns (or both? Unlikely, but not impossible). Maybe McCullers is healthy. Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock can both step in as well, plus there are young arms like Josh James and Forrest Whitley.
But over-preparedness never hurt a team either, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Shelby Miller, Robbie Ray, and Taijuan Walker are all relatively young arms who have shown brilliance in the past but had injury-marred 2018s (which may make it better to start them in the bullpen). Maybe Arizona doesn’t want to sell low, but all three will be free agents within the next two years. If the front office sees something worth working with, like they did with Cole, I wouldn’t question it.
But the bigger question is Zack Greinke, a likely future Hall of Famer and the piece that the Diamondbacks seem to be most willing to move. He’s still an above-average arm, which is important: based on my work studying the careers of other top-tier pitchers in their later days, given that he’s already had some success as an older pitcher, there’s a good chance he’ll provide decent value over the next three years. The bigger problem is that he’s owed $104.5 million over the next three years, and it’s not likely that he’ll provide the 13-ish WAR needed to make that a good investment.
Almost any trade for Greinke would need to involve the Diamondbacks eating some of that money before the Astros traded for him. And even then, it would mean tough decisions would need to be made; there’s a lot of money being freed up in the next few years, but Springer, Cole, and Verlander will all be hitting free agency as well (although thankfully, Correa and Bregman will still be around after Greinke comes off the books, which is one of the reasons I would be willing to consider it). Can the team take on $25-30 million of Greinke’s deal and resign any of them? I don’t know what the team sees as the upper limit on potential payroll, so they might be able to resign one or even two of them, but I would wager on one or none of those three getting another deal if Zack comes to town.
But at the same time, Greinke is a good bet for two-to-three years of #2/#3-starter quality on a relatively short-term deal, and that’s something in short supply on this year’s free agency market. Clayton Kershaw or David Price might opt out, but you’ll still be giving them gobs of money for lots of years. After them, what’s left? Matt Harvey? Lance Lynn? Clay Buchholz? Nathan Eovaldi, who will likely inspire his own bidding war after his end of 2018 performance? 33-year-old Gio Gonzalez? There are options, but the only ones likely to come substantially cheaper or with fewer years than Greinke all have much bigger questions about their performance, and may not be a clear improvement over McHugh/Peacock/other prospects, given the costs involved.
Paul Goldschmidt is still the more obvious target, and would compliment the lineup beautifully, but the possibility of acquiring Zack Greinke also intrigues me. Given that money would almost certainly need to be eaten to make a deal happen, I wouldn’t go as far as to call a deal for him more likely, but I do think it’s a real opportunity to shore up a rotation that looks much more questionable than its 2018 performance would imply. And I don’t know what’s going on in Arizona’s front office, but I imagine they would much rather trade Greinke than Goldschmidt; in doing so, they’d be offloading biggest remaining deal from the previous administration, and might free up enough money (even after taking on some in trading him) that they don’t need to totally blow up the rest of the roster. I can’t begin to guess how all of that will affect trade discussions, though. Either way, these two teams definitely line up well in their needs, and should definitely have some deep discussions in Las Vegas this December.