The Astros’ signing of Michael Brantley is interesting for a number of reasons, only some of which are directly the result of Brantley himself. Sure, there are a number of things to watch for the newly-acquired outfielder, like whether he’ll return to the form that saw him finish third in MVP voting just four years ago, or if his health will hold up in a way it didn’t in 2016 and ’17.
No, it’s not a bad or confusing signing in isolation, but it definitely opens up a lot of questions about what the team’s immediate plans are, which is mostly what I find myself wondering about in its wake. This is the team’s first major signing of the offseason (depending on your opinion of Robinson Chirinos), and it’s not the direction many of us expected the Astros to go in. With some degree of question marks at first base, catcher, and the rotation, the team instead picked up another outfielder, something that’s not exactly in short supply in Houston.
Sure, the team may rotate Brantley through the outfield, first base and designated hitter. Or, it might be a sign that the front office is lining up other plans. Kyle Tucker has been mentioned as a possible centerpiece in trades for Noah Syndergaard or J.T. Realmuto, for one. But we also heard rumors this week that it may in fact be Josh Reddick that Jeff Lunhow and company wants to move.
Reddick, as an aging veteran on a decently-sized deal, comes with a lot more strings attached than Tucker, which means we’ll have an easier time narrowing down potential trade partners the Astros may be talking to. With two years and $26 million remaining on his deal, and as someone who will be turning 32 in February, Reddick is not totally without value, but he’s also clearly not the type of player a rebuilding team will be looking to bring aboard. Instead, he’ll likely need to be part of a deal that involves multiple contending teams and at least one other big contract.
But first, what type of value does Reddick have right now? By Fangraphs’ estimates, a $26 million deal on the free agent market should bring back roughly three Wins Above Replacement over two years. The past few years have seen Reddick put up WAR totals of 3.4 and 1.1, with his defense holding strong but his bat collapsing last year from a 128 wRC+ to just 99.
A big part of that was his average on balls in play dropping from .339 to .258, which likely over exaggerated a more subtle decline in some of his peripherals (his K% increased a little, he lost a percentage on both hard- and medium-contact balls, his line drive percentage dropped a little, he pulled the ball more). That 3.4 WAR total is probably not going to happen again as a result, but a little bounce back 1.5 to 2.0 WAR certainly seems possible; we can probably assume his deal is fair, but not likely to return much surplus value. There’s some potential upside there, which might encourage teams to take a flyer on him rather than another random depth signing, but “fair value” is probably what any trade partners will be working from in their evaluations.
That in turn colors the type of return we can expect; it’ll either be to help pay down overpays to good players for teams that want to dump salary, or for other decent players who similarly won’t far outpace their salaries, likely from teams with holes in the outfield but surpluses elsewhere. In the latter case, this is a decent year to try and make a trade like this; the free agent crop of outfielders was relatively light to start with and is only getting lighter, so Reddick might make a nice consolation prize for a team that loses out on Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock.
With that in mind, let’s go to Fangraphs’ 2019 Depth Charts and look at every team that’s expected to get 1.5 WAR or less from left or right field at the moment, bolding the ones that appear for both positions:
Phillies, Royals, White Sox, Rockies, Padres, Mariners, Orioles, Athletics, Blue Jays, Marlins, Indians, Braves, Giants, Diamondbacks, Reds
We can make a few quick cuts to this list. The A’s taking on a lot of money isn’t impossible, but probably isn’t likely for someone with such limited upside, even for someone like Reddick who used to play there. The White Sox and Blue Jays are both in various states of rebuilding, and neither has a particularly bad deal to offload, meaning there aren’t many reasons Reddick would come up in a discussion. The Phillies are only here because Odubel Herrera underperformed, and they’ll likely be sticking with him since he’s young and signed for a long time. The Braves will be moving Johan Carmargo to the outfield to make room for Josh Donaldson, and while the projections are a little skeptical of that move, I can’t imagine the Braves will be too desperate to take on Reddick’s contract until that experiment actually falls apart.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s take a look at the remaining teams and which players they have that (1) fit with the Astros’ existing roster, and (2) that they might be willing to swap (along with their guaranteed remaining money) for Reddick, which will form the basis of his likely trade market.
Reds: Joey Votto could fit in as the Astros’ first base/DH option, but he’s also 35, owed at least $132 million over five more years, and has repeatedly shot down trades out of Cincinnati. I’d need to see any sort of shift on that last one before trying to work out how long Votto will stay good.
Orioles: The only real salary dump options this rebuilding team has are Chris Davis ($92M/4 years) and Alex Cobb ($43M/3 years). The Astros are nowhere near that desperate.
Padres: Much like the Orioles, the Astros are not anywhere near the point where they should be considering Eric Hosmer ($123M/7 years) or Wil Myers ($74M/4 years).
Marlins: Wei-Yin Chen ($42M/2 years) is certainly interesting; he set the record last year for largest difference between home and road ERAs (1.62 vs. 9.27). Maybe whatever went wrong in road starts can be fixed, but again, the Astros have plenty of other options better than this, so there’s no need to try and find out.
Royals: There’s no real reason to acquire Ian Kennedy ($33M/2 years). Danny Duffy ($46M/3 years) had a down-year in 2018, but he’s been much better in recent memory and is just 30, so I don’t know if Kansas City regards him as a salary dump candidate despite being more expensive than Josh. I don’t think they’d trade a piece like that for Reddick, unless there were several other major pieces involved.
Giants: There are a few pieces that the Giants might be willing to move that line-up with the Astros’ needs, but there are questions marks for each of them. Jeff Samardzija struggled through injuries last year, which makes his larger deal ($39.6M/2 years) a little scarier than Reddick’s to take on. Before the injury, though, he was regularly a 2.0-4.0 WAR pitcher, which isn’t too out-of-line with that salary, so it might be worth it if you think he can stay healthy. Brandon Belt is a little better than Reddick at this point, but probably won’t provide a ton of surplus value on his current deal either thanks to its higher cost ($51.6M/3 years). If it were one year less, I would be a lot more enthused about his better positional fit, and I think the extra yearly cost would be worth it. That extra year makes the total cost almost double what Reddick has left though, which feels like a lot to take on and makes me a lot more hesitant.
Diamondbacks: The biggest candidate here is Zack Greinke. I gave a rough outline of how that type of trade with go a few months ago if you want something more in-depth than just a paragraph, but the summary is that Reddick’s contract alone is not enough to pay down Greinke’s mega-deal ($104.5M/3 years), and the Diamondbacks would have to include something else to make it work. It’s not unthinkable that it could happen, and Greinke would make a nice addition to the rotation, but it will mostly hinge on just how badly Arizona wants to dump salary and/or rebuild.
Mariners: Edwin Encarnacion is another trade candidate I discussed a few months ago, back when he was on the Indians. I don’t know that he’d be a massive improvement (other than potentially clearing out the outfield logjam), but he costs about the same as Reddick while likely coming off the books a year earlier ($26.67M/1 year guaranteed), which frees money up to re-sign all of the players hitting free agency next winter. Mike Leake ($36M/2 years guaranteed) could provide quality innings as well. If your evaluation of Leake is that he’s about half-a-win better than Reddick the next two years, it’s a very reasonable deal for a competing team to take on, and the rotation is definitely thinner than the outfield right now. It’s not clear saving just $10 million would be enough incentive for Seattle to move him, but never underestimate Jerry Dipoto’s love of making trades.
Indians: The Indians have dealt Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso and agreed to an extension with Carlos Carrasco since I last covered them, but it sounds like they’re still thinking of trading Corey Kluber ($17M/1 year, but with multiple team options). I think he would be an amazing trade target, but the Indians would almost certainly demand more than just Reddick, even with their sparse outfield. The same goes for Trevor Bauer (2nd year of arbitration), who’s also apparently on the trading block. Carlos Santana probably isn’t on the block after returning in the Edwin Encarnacion trade, but if he is, he has a lot of the same downsides as Encarnacion but with an extra year remaining on his deal ($41.66M/2 years), which kills a lot of potential interest.
Rockies: This is the most boring option, but it’s probably the most practical one. The Rockies, who are likely competing this year, have David Dahl (projected for a little over 1 WAR) as both their starting right and left fielder on their depth chart at the moment. Since the Rockies aren’t rebuilding, the Astros won’t necessarily be stuck having to take a less-than-ideal contract in return, and can work out a deal for something like bullpen help or prospects. It wouldn’t be the most exciting upgrade, but the bullpen will likely be thinner this year with Josh James, Collin McHugh, and Brad Peacock likely all getting a number of starts, so more arms couldn’t hurt. It would require a lot more balancing from there, but I don’t think that’s an unreasonable starting framework to build off of.
All things considered, the Rockies or Mariners are probably the most likely trade partners in a Reddick deal, although the Giants and Diamondbacks aren’t out of the question either. There likely wouldn’t be massive demand for him, but there are enough teams that could use a decent outfielder that it makes sense to consider moving him, given how many they now have. And while the return likely won’t be a long-term member of the team’s core, it might bring in someone who will make a difference at the margins.