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Astros Open Forum: Who’s on First? Will the Astros stand pat or upgrade their weakest position.

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The best team in the league is among the worst at first base. Is that OK?

If you’ve never seen the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First,” you’re not a fully initiated baseball fan. Watch HERE.

Who’s on first? Yuli Gurriel? Tyler White? Maybe neither? I don’t know.

The Astros, even after three weeks without three of their best sluggers, have a team wRC+ of 121, second in the AL and near great by historical standards. And yet, at the position which is usually considered the premier position for sluggers, manned by legends like Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Willie McGovey, the Astros are only producing at 89 wRC+. This is 13th in the AL, and 16 points below the league average of 105 at that position.

Most of the time at first base has been taken by Yuli Gurriel and Tyler White. Tyler White’s wRC+ is 84, ranking 24th in the AL among first basemen. Gurriel takes up the 25th place, just behind White at 81 wRC+ Their fWAR ratings are -0.1 and -0.2 respectively. In short, they are both below replacement level as we approach the halfway mark of the season.

No doubt the Astros will win the AL West with White and Gurriel at first. But to win in the playoffs no team can afford to be that complacent. Will the deficiencies at first hinder the Astros’ chances in the playoffs? Apparently the Astros think so. According to Mark Feinsand, the Astros were all in on the sweepstakes to acquire Edwin Encarnacion.

And so, if the current under-performance at first base is an impediment to another World Championship, what should be done about it?

Here are the available options.

  1. Do nothing. Every team has a weakness, and Gurriel is signed through next year for a total of $18.8 million for this year and next. Both he and Tyler White are under-performing career averages, so regression may bring improvement. In fact, in the last 10 days, Tyler White’s hitting with a 143 wRC+.
  2. Play Aledmys Diaz. With the roster crunch coming with the return of the injured superstars, and the success of Yordan Alvarez, the days of Tyler White as an Astro are likely numbered. Currently injured Aledmys Diaz is a former All-Star who seemed to be re-discovering some of his All Starr mojo before his injury, hitting 118 wRC+, and contributing 0.5 fWAR in only 109 PA’s. He hasn’t played much first base but seemed competent in his few appearances there this year. Play Gurriel only when the utility-man Diaz is subbing for someone else.
  3. Relieve the logjam in the outfield by converting an outfielder to first. The Astros have nine outfielders in their system that range from All-Stars to being starters on at least a few teams in MLB. One candidate has been training some for the role of first baseman, Josh Reddick. Michael Brantley has played some first base, as well. And even a Little League coach can see the potential of a 6’5” left-hander, yes the Man-child, Alvarez, as a long term first baseman. Because it is so obvious, we know the Astros have thought of it and must have excellent reasons for not doing it. But even Lou Gehrig was a terrible fielder in the beginning. The only way to learn is by doing, as they say. Yuli Gurriel might be the next Wally Pipp.
  4. Trade for a rental. The Yankees and Phillies have already done so, acquiring Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce respectively from the now officially tanking Seattle Mariners.

Here are some rental options that I’ve found. There are probably other trade options, as well.

Possible 1st base rental options for the Houston Astros

First baseman/team wRC+ 2019 fWAR contract
First baseman/team wRC+ 2019 fWAR contract
Justin Smoak/Toronto 115 0.7 $8M-2019
Jose Abreu/ Chicago WS 110 0.5 $16m-2019
Pablo Sandoval/SF Giants 129 1.0 $555,000-2019
Howie Kendrick/Washington 145 1.5 $4m-2019

All of these players are potential upgrades at first base and have contracts that expire in 2019. I believe that they each come from a team that is in a rebuilding mode and therefore willing to trade. As rentals, they should not be that costly in terms of lost prospects, but I will leave it to you, the readers and commenters, to speculate as to the desirability and cost of each of these.

So what do you think?

Answer the poll below and add your comments, please.

Poll

What should the Astros do about first base?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Stand pat
    (92 votes)
  • 13%
    Play Aledmys Diaz as the regular 1st baseman
    (105 votes)
  • 58%
    Convert Yordan Alvarez (or another outfielder) to 1st base
    (444 votes)
  • 15%
    Trade for 1st base
    (120 votes)
761 votes total Vote Now