Edit: This article was written about 4 weeks ago, but was but on the backburner because the trade deadline was far off and the article dangerously wavered in the territory of click bait. Things have changed. Alex Bregman moved to Left Field tonight after first basemen Tyler White pinch hit for Josh Reddick to give the Astros a righty on lefty matchup, which caused Yuli Gurriel to move from 1st to 3rd and Bregman ultimately staying in the game as the left fielder.
The hype train for Manny Machado officially commences. Is it too early? Probably. Did Luhnow go on air and explicitly say the need the team would trade for is possibly a lefty arm? Yes, that very much happened. But shut up and let every Astros fan hope of adding a stud hitter to a team that has in the last year added two aces (Verlander and Cole) to a team already poised to run away from their division and make a deep run. For the sake of Bregman playing outfield and without getting too technical, let’s just have some fun with this for a second.
Some defensive moves coming in the 7th inning: Max Stassi will take over at catcher. Tyler White will play first base. Alex Bregman is in left field. Marwin Gonzalez moved to right. Yuli bumped to third.— Christian Boutwell (@byCBoutwell) June 19, 2018
The Houston Astros have gotten off to an interesting start in 2018. Sure, they are once again atop the AL West, (even if by a much slighter margin than when this article was first conceived) and boast the third best record in baseball (was second when this was written), but the formula for success has been very different.
Last year we saw a scorching offense that featured 11 players with double digit home runs including the American League MVP, Jose Altuve. The high-powered, mashing offense hid a starting pitching staff riddled with injuries and a woesome bullpen that featured Tony Sipp and Francisco Liriano as the team’s best left-handed options (Sipp has been pretty good over the past month, but I mean come on Luhnow just said he would consider adding a lefty, just stay with me).
While the bullpen is still a point of controversy and Sipp is still the club’s best left-handed reliever, this year’s success has still been predicated on pitching. That is news to no one. The Astros have 3 of top 17 pitchers by ERA in their five man rotation and have had the luxury of moving Brad Peacock and Colin McHugh to the bullpen, which has helped tremendously.
Even with a tight lead in the division over the Seattle Mariners (that is likely to grow when you consider the Astros have the easiest remaining schedule in baseball and the Mariners will be without lefty slugger Robinson Cano for an extended period) there is always room for improvement and to avoid all of us from getting a few grey hairs from a tight divisional race
Simply put, this Astros core is special and fans should be disappointed with nothing short of an ALCS appearance. I know, I know the American League is tough. The Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton, then the Boston Red Sox added J.D. Martinez. Sure, the Astros added Gerrit Cole, who has resurrected his career and has lived up to the hype that surrounded him as the first overall pick in the MLB Draft, but playoff baseball is predicated on tough at bats against premiere pitching and it’s not acceptable to take a step back when your top competitors are taking huge steps forward.
The solution? Trade for Manny Machado. This idea raises a few questions. Do the Astros really need Machado? Would Machado be ok with playing outfield potentially? What would this mean for the lineup? What would the Astros have to give up?
The first question is do the Astros really need Manny Machado? The short answer is no. The Astros have solid depth including a log jam on the left side of the infield. But as previously mentioned, the Yankees and Red Sox just added two of the premiere outfielders in the game, so it would only help us to combat them in the American League arm race while also ensuring the Orioles do not deal him to either of their division counterparts.
Giancarlo Stanton is coming off a season where his OPS was 1.007 in large part due to his 59 home runs, which yielded 132 RBIs. JD Martinez only managed a measly 45 home runs (compared to Stanton), yet still produced a 1.066 OPS. Machado’s OPS is in that elite slugger realm this year and would make this lineup as powerful as last year’s team. The team is also poised to welcome Kyle Tucker shortly which will change the dynamic, but who knows if he is ready to give us those tough playoff at bats I just mentioned at such an early juncture in his promising young career. The need is not glaring, but again for the sake of keeping up with our competition’s strides, we will move on.
The next area of debate is would Machado be comfortable playing outfield? There is no way to definitely answer this question at this point in time. What we do know is that Machado has played his entire career on a dreadful Orioles team that has not advanced past the ALCS during his tenure, the Astros offer a chance for the young slugger to win a championship, and the near-guarantee of a long playoff run in a higher powered offense would give Machado a longer chance to pad his stats with more base runners.
Sure, this is the allure of all contenders in on the Machado sweepstakes, but playing outfield, a new position, in a contract year could allow Machado to display some versatility with the down side being his suitors after this year know they are only getting an infielder. I get that the Orioles won’t likely prioritize what is best for Machado, but it works on our end and for Machado, and things have changed considerably obviously. AJ Hinch is comfortable playing Bregman in the outfield. Preliminary compatbillity in the field box checked. Moving on.
The next thing to consider is what this would mean for the lineup. What it would mean is the Astros finally have a definite lineup. A.J. Hinch can continue to tinker with the lineup throughout the regular season, but when the dust settles come playoff time, the team’s utility man, Marwin Gonzalez, won’t be marooned in Left Field every night. Don’t get me wrong Marwin Gonzalez is a big reason the Astros won a World Series last year and his switch hitting and ability to play seven positions is indispensable, but that utility does not get put to use when he is an everyday starter.
His best role would be as a pinch hitter that can create a righty-lefty or lefty-righty matchup for virtually anyone in the lineup in crucial situations late in games. What this does however mean for the lineup is that the Astros would be stacked heavily throughout the starting lineup with right-handed bats, but Marwin Gonzalez has been mediocre this year.
The utility man had a career year last year and it would not be the end of the world if the Astros have to put 4 right handed hitters together in the order, in fact, it may be this exact situation that opens up crucial pinch-hit at bats for Marwin later in games.
Lastly and most importantly, what would the Astros have to give up? It would be nice to say that the Astros could get rid of starting pitching depth, but that really isn’t an option. Colin McHugh, like Machado is in the last year of his deal and provides nothing for a team like the Orioles looking to rebuild and Brad Peacock has been the Astros best pitcher out of the bullpen and is becoming almost invaluable to the team in the role of a trusted late option and capable early inning “second starter” in the event of an injury or blow-up start. It was noteworthy that on air Luhnow mentioned practically the entire bullpen praising even Will Harris, yet seemingly forgot about Brad Peacock.
Even still, I think it would make the most sense for the Astros to structure a deal around Derek Fisher and hitting prospects. A hypothetical deal would almost have to include JD Davis as a near ready replacement for Machado and the whole deal could look something like: OF Derek Fisher, 1B/3B JD Davis, 1B Yordan Alvarez, RHP David Paulino and 3B Joe Perez. In this situation the Astros lose a lot, but would hypothetically be able to retain prized prospects Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, and JB Bukauskas. Pitching is something the Orioles have made clear they do want in return for Machado however.
So, would this be enough and would Luhnow be willing to bridge the gap if it’s not? That part remains to be seen and will be what would hold this up, but Astros fans have seen crazier things. Last year Jeff Luhnow acquired Justin Verlander in the literal last minute possible. I am by no means saying this is probable but it is our duty as a fanbase to get this hype train rolling and get Luhnow hearing the murmurs.
With or without Machado this Astros team will be a team to watch and have a serious chance to repeat. Tell me what you think. Would you want Luhnow to mortgage the future and get a stud like Machado now or let the defending champions follow the tear of Evan Gattis and others surging and try to figure things out with the current roster and the late season boost already more than likely in the form of top prospect Kyle Tucker?