Despite the loss on Wednesday, there was a bit of good news in Jose Altuve finally coming off of the Injured List. Altuve marks the first of several players who will hopefully be returning to the active roster over the next few weeks, but that will in turn bring new questions, the most prominent being of course roster crunch.
This really isn’t all that hard of a question in most cases, but the outfield situation is starting to look a little crowded. After all, once George Springer is back, there will be him, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick, Yordan Álvarez, Myles Straw, Tony Kemp, Derek Fisher, and Kyle Tucker all with cases of varying strengths for being on the roster in some capacity. With that level of depth, it feels like the Astros will have to make a move of some sort, and might even be in the rare position of being able to trade away good players for help in shallower areas.
Granted, any move like that should almost certainly wait until Springer is solidly back and the team looks healthy enough to not have to worry about dipping into depth for extended periods, but it’s absolutely worth planning ahead for that eventuality, especially in the case of a trade where finding a partner will take time and effort. And the first stage of planning would be deciding which players are off-limits, although in this case that feels pretty straight-forward: Springer and Brantley are too valuable too move right now, and Tucker and Álvarez represent the future of the team, and therefore are only moving in the event of a blockbuster.
That leaves Reddick, Straw, Kemp, Fisher, and Marisnick as the options Houston is the most open to listening on. And of those five, while I enjoy watching him play, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Reddick is the one the team has the biggest incentive to move. Granted, the luxury tax isn’t a hard cap, and teams should be willing to cross it in the right circumstances, but given Reddick’s redundancy, his relatively large impact on the payroll ($13 million per year this year and next, while Marisnick makes $2.21 million this year and none of the others are above $1 million), and the need to get at bats for Tucker, it isn’t hard to see why the team might be in favor of offloading his salary before any of the others.
Is there a market for him? Reddick has done a good job this season of establishing that he is still capable of producing in a major league outfield, and his contract doesn’t seem to wildly overvalue him (he’s produced $7.1 million in value through 66 games, per Fangraphs). If you’re a team with some room in your payroll, a hole in the outfield, and a need to wring an extra win or two out of your roster down the stretch, Reddick is more or less fair value and only signed through next year. More directly, if a team was recently willing to take on Jay Bruce, who’s the same age, has the same number of years remaining on his deal, is owed the same amount per year, and generally worse than Reddick in most ways…let’s just say that if the Astros really wanted to deal Reddick in the next few months, it doesn’t seem like it would be impossible.
Let’s just start with this: here’s every team in the majors with a winning record (which coincidentally means every team less than 3.0 games back from a playoff spot) as well as the Fangraphs WAR each of their outfield spots has produced this year to date:
Outfield WAR by position and team
From the list, the situations that jump out at me the most dire:
Rangers: This one would hurt, even if it does make a lot of sense. Nomar Mazara just has not produced in right field, which lines up well with Reddick’s natural position. The Rangers are a game out of the wild card position, and an acquisition like Reddick would increase their chances by a reasonable amount without requiring them to do much other than take on salary (and they do have payroll space). And even the normal hurdle to inter-division trades wouldn’t be as much of an issue, as the Rangers would be clearly going for a Wild Card rather than an AL West crown and the Houston-Texas series for the year is already half over.
Braves: Reddick would be a clear improvement over Nick Markakis and Matt Joyce, who have each been worth about half as much this year, which would help them secure their NL East lead. And like the Rangers, definitely have payroll space (even if they have seemed reluctant to use it at times), and wouldn’t have to sacrifice any major future pieces, which they definitely value. Plus, Reddick is a Georgia native. The big hold up might be Ender Inciarte coming off the DL; Austin Riley has established himself in Inciarte’s absence, but Inciarte has had a pretty bad year prior to his injury. How long will Atlanta wait to see if he can return to form?
Diamondbacks: I don’t know if they consider themselves contenders given their offseason sale, but they’re only two games out of the Wild Card, and their right field situations is one of the rougher ones. They could afford Reddick if they decide to go for it, but I’m not convinced they will decide to do so.
Brewers & Cubs: These two teams are virtually tied atop the NL Central and Wild Card standings, which as we saw last year makes for a big difference. Every extra win matters here. The Brewers have a lower payroll, which is a plus, and have shown a willingness to take on contracts as well as an Astros connection in GM David Stearns (which probably doesn’t matter a lot, but is still fun to note). The Cubs have seemed more reluctant to take on contracts recently, but they could use all the help they can get here, given that the only “outfielder” they can run with a wRC+ over 105 is Kris Bryant on the two days a week the infield loans him out. At least the Brewers have Christian Yelich to lean on, even if none of their other options tops 94.
Indians: This is another team that’s hard to get a read on. Even as they traded away contracts this offseason, they seemed to regard themselves as contenders; they just didn’t think anyone else in the division would be ready to challenge them yet. They’re only half a game back from the Wild Card, and they’ll definitely need help to go for it. Outside of recent call-ups Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow, the other five outfielders who have played for them this year have combined for -0.8 WAR, although both of those players have played more in the corners than center (but they do both have some experience in center either way). And like the Braves, it’s hard to know if they’re willing to spend money.
Rockies: Like the Indians, they have two good outfielders and a mess (David Dahl and Charlie Blackmon have combined for 3.3 WAR, the other four for -0.6). And while Dahl usually mans the corners, they’ve shown a willingness to play him in center. More promisingly, they’ve shown more of a willingness to add salary than the Indians, and definitely consider themselves playoff contenders. And most importantly, they’re currently tied for the second Wild Card and half a game behind the first one.
Phillies: We know the Phillies can field higher payrolls and have payroll space. And Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending injury means they have space. The biggest issue right now is that they just traded for Jay Bruce, and he’s off to a hot enough start that they probably don’t mind him for the time being. If he returns to hitting worse than Josh Reddick (as he has for most of the last few years) while offering little defensive value, though, the sales pitch probably won’t be too hard.
Red Sox: Since Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been the weak link, this would probably require moving Mookie Betts to center. While that’s a not a given, it’s definitely easier to imagine the Red Sox adding salary than some of these other teams.
Outside of a renewed appreciation of Jeff Lunhow and company to spend money when needed so far, my biggest takeaway here is that the Rockies, Rangers, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, and maybe the Braves seem like the best matches. If Houston decides to put Reddick on the block, some combination of these names is what I’d expect to come up. The NL teams have a bigger incentive to try for extra wins (especially the non-Braves teams). And although it’s difficult to know who specifically will be in play without definite information about each one’s payroll plans, the first half of that list seems to be less apprehensive about spending money recently.