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MLBTR Top 50 Trade Candidates as potential Astros Targets (1-10)

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

You may have seen MLBTradeRumors’ article listing out the top 50 Trade Candidates, using a methodology that was a combination of trade value and likelihood of being traded. It’s definitely worth checking out as they dig in to each a little. We’re going to take a look at their list, strictly from an Astros perspective. I’ve put a grade next to each player based on my personal belief on how strong of a potential trade target they would be for the team. My evaluation will be based on 3 components, 1.) Team Need 2.) Contract Status 3.) Cost to Acquire.

The ideal targets would either be rentals or long term cost controlled assets that fit where the Astros have a gap.

**As a side note, I did an article in regards to the Astros salary and the challenges they will be facing to remain under the Competitive Tax Balance Threshold (as Crane stated we would). We currently only have ~$14 Million to replace or re-sign 7 players (Cole, McHugh, Miley, Chirinos, Harris, Rondon, Smith) in 2020 **

1.) Will Smith - San Francisco Giants - RP - A+

1-0, 2.16 ERA, 2.04 xFIP, 2.14 SIERA, 13.77 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, .235 xwOBA

Contract: 1 Year $4.225 Mil Free Agent: 2020

Will Smith is a consistently dominant Lefty who is deserving of a closer type role. He would be an excellent addition to the Astros Bullpen. We wrote a whole article on his potential fit for the team and the proposed cost. There will be strong competition for him as he’s likely to be the most dominant relief pitcher on the market coupled with a low salary. He is only controlled until the end of the season somewhat limiting the prospect cost to acquire him. The Astros “need” for a lefty in the pen and no salary impact with a lesser prospect cost makes him a prime target for acquisition.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

2. Madison Bumgarner - San Francisco Giants - SP - B-

5-7, 4.02 ERA, 3.98 xFIP, 3.98 SIERA, 9.27 K/9, 1.97 BB/9, .332 xwOBA

Contract: 8Year (2012-2019) $58 Mil Free Agent: 2020

Bumgarner continues his downward trajectory, with his third straight year of basically pitching at a 4 ERA pace. Riddled with injuries and ineffectiveness, Bumgarner still seems to gain a lot of hype based on his namesake. The argument often made for him is that back when he actually was a top of the rotation starter, he was lights out in the play offs, with some believing a return to a competitive team and being in that spotlight will return him to his former glory. His K/9 and BB/9 are trending up but he is being hit hard this year. The fact that he is a pure rental would work and the Astros could benefit from another proven starter. He will command far less than many anticipate based on his perceived “star” status. I’m not a huge fan of the potential acquisition, but he could fit the needs if the Astros believe he could turn it around.

Theo wrote an article in regards to acquiring him and was much higher on the potential of doing so summarizing with this:

But I find it hard to convince myself that the Astros shouldn’t be looking at Bumgarner as their top target right now. He fits the team’s most glaring need, he’d represent a definite improvement in a way that few other pitchers can offer, and his October success seems relevant for a team that already looks like it can focus more on what it will do in the postseason rather than how it will get there. Plus, he’s young enough that if he does request an extension, you would likely get several good seasons out of him.

3. Marcus Stroman - Toronto Blue Jays - SP - B+

5-9, 3.18 ERA, 4.16 xFIP, 4.47 SIERA, 6.96 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, .290 xwOBA

Contract: Arbitration $7.4 Mil Free Agent: 2021

Stroman has been consistently rumored as an Astros target for years with recent news breaking that they were pursuing him as hard as Verlander before ultimately making that decision. I wrote a pre-season article on Stroman, and then recently took another look at him as a potential fit and the prospective cost of acquisition. Stroman is an interesting case, as his current results do not represent what the advanced stats find his performance to be indicative of. This normally would be a significant red flag of “buying high” on a player. This is still somewhat the case for Stroman, but my interest in him is largely in him fitting the “Strom Model” - a high spin 4-seam FB and breaking ball pitcher. It would be a significant shift for Stroman from a pitch to contact model into a strike out style pitcher, very similar to the transition Gerrit Cole undertook. As mentioned, he would fit the need from a starting pitching perspective and is under control for another year after this year. I actually would rank him higher, but despite being cost controlled, the ~$12.5-$13 Mil he will cost in arbitration next year will be a challenge to fit within the Competitive Tax Threshold unless we are able to cut salary.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

4. Justin Smoak - Toronto Blue Jays - 1B - B-

.227/.361/.440 - 117 wRC+, 14 HR, 0.7 WAR, .403 xwOBA

Contract: 3 Year (2017-2019) $16.25 Mil Free Agent: 2020

Smoak is listed as the back-up plan if you missed on Encarnacion on the MLBTR article. Although his 133, 121, and 117 wRC+’s over the past 2.5 years show him to be an above average hitter, he does not have nearly the same firepower as EE. Interestingly, the Astros were rumored to be pursuing Encarnacion this year, but were reluctant based on cost. Smoak is a pure rental, which aligns well from a financial perspective, and his stats have been somewhat suppressed by a .227 BABIP, which explains why his .403 xwOBA is significantly higher than his .351 wOBA That xwOBA would rank 3rd on the Astros behind only George Springer and Yordan Alvarez (just ahead of Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa). I’m less of a believer that the Astros are in desperate need for a power hitting 1B than others, but I can see the potential fit.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

5. Kirby Yates - San Diego Padres - RP - B-

27 SV, 1.27 ERA, 2.40 xFIP, 2.14 SIERA, 14.26 K/9, 2.29 BB/9, .208 xwOBA

Contract: Arbitration $3.0625 Mil Free Agent: 2021

After bouncing around for a few years between the Rays, Yankees, and Padres, Yates looks to be on the market once again. Over the past 2 years, Yates has established himself as a dominant relief presence, with his 14.26 K/9 ranking him 5th best in baseball with all pitchers with 30+ IP, a dominant figure even before adding in the stingy 2.29 BB/9. Yates is a cost controlled asset who won’t become a FA until 2021. Yates could be an excellent addition as we look at fortifying the bullpen, but I believe his cost from both a salary component (~$6 Mil next year), prospect cost for acquisition, and a long term need limit his fit with the Astros.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

6. Tony Watson - San Francisco Giants - RP - C-

2-0, 2.48 ERA, 4.22 xFIP, 4.00 SIERA, 6.61 K/9, 1.10 BB/9, .287 xwOBA

Contract: 2 Year (2018-2019) $12 Mil + Player Option Free Agent: 2020 (2021 with option)

If Justin Smoak is the fall-back plan to Encarnacion, I guess the same could be said about Tony Watson. He’s a lefty reliever who has ranged from successful to dominant over the past few years. He is signed to a reasonable $6M / Year contract with a player option for next year. His peripherals indicate that he potentially faces significant regression which limits his value as a prospective trade target to me. Despite being a successful lefty reliever, his projected regression, age, and player option deter me from believing he would be a strong prospective trade candidate for the Astros.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

7. Jake Diekman - Kansas City Royals - RP - C+

0-5, 4.76 ERA, 3.76 xFIP, 3.60 SIERA, 13.50 K/9, 5.29 BB/9, .298 xwOBA

Contract: 1 Year $2.75 Mil + Mutual Option Free Agent: 2020

Another veteran Lefty Reliever that may be available at the deadline is Jake Diekman, who takes a very different approach to attacking hitters. Where Tony Watson is a low strike-out, low walk pitcher, Diekman is the polar opposite. His advanced stats indicate a positive regression showing that he’s pitched almost a full run better than his ERA shows. His contract ends this year with a mutual option for 2020 and comes at a roughly half the cost of Watson. If you’re a firm believer that the Astros need a lefty and are looking for a “buy low” type of candidate, Diekman is not a bad overall selection. Personally, I think the Astros will focus on higher-end upgrades if they look to bolster one of the best bullpens in baseball.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

8. Nicholas Castellanos - Detroit Tigers - OF / 3B - C-

.276/.339/.461 - 111 wRC+, 8 HR, 0.9 WAR, .344 xwOBA

Contract: 1 Year $9.95 Mil Free Agent: 2020

Castellanos is another pure rental that has been consistently rumored to be up for grabs, with even some interest from the Astros side. Obviously neither 3B or OF are high on the Astros list for needs, but Castellanos has been a consistently above average hitter across the past 4 years. The Astros rumored interest in Encarnacion drives a belief that they were looking for an additional bat to reinforce the already potent line-up, but with no prior 1B experience and a bat that is not overwhelming doesn’t seem to be a great match with the Astros needs.

9. Matthew Boyd - Detroit Tigers - SP - A-

5-6, 3.72 ERA, 3.52 xFIP, 3.32 SIERA, 11.42 K/9, 1.77 BB/9, .292 xwOBA

Contract: Super 2 Arbitration $2.6 Mil Free Agent: 2023

Matthew Boyd is a cost-controlled starter which is basically on top of every team in baseball’s wish list, including the Astros who have recently been rumored to have interest in him. We did an in-depth piece on his potential fit with the Astros, looking at his arsenal, and the potential cost, and recently Josh did a piece comparing him to Randy Johnson. Matt Boyd is a cost controlled starter and his results appear to be sustainable based on difference in his approach (the article goes into far more details). I think many fans will underestimate what it would take in regards to a return as he is cost controlled through 2022, meaning even with the reduced value due to being Super 2 Eligible, he has an excess value of nearly $72 Million. Boyd has implemented a lot of the changes that we generally see when someone works with Brent Strom (pitch location / style). He would be a good fit, but the prospect cost is going to be tough to stomach.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

10. Whit Merrifield - Kansas City Royals - IF/OF - B-

.303/.352/.500 - 121 wRC+, 11 HR, 2.2 WAR, .335 xwOBA

Contract: 4 Year $16.25 Mil + 2023 Club Option Free Agent: 2023 (or 2024 with option)

Merrifield had a break out year last year accumulating 5.2 WAR and has done nothing to dispel that he’s a star caliber player since that time accumulating 2.2 WAR so far this season. Merrified has been used somewhat in a utility type role with his primary focus on 2B. Although the Astros were interested in another hitter, I can’t imagine paying the prospect cost required for a star level player that is on a $4 Year / $16.25 Million dollar contract without a given position for him. I would honestly love to have him added to the team, but there doesn’t seem to be an imminent fit.

Tell us your thoughts. Do you agree with my grading? Who do you want the Astros to pursue? We will go through the rest of the Top 50 in upcoming articles, and luckily with how they did the rankings wasn’t based purely on player value so each of the articles should have some exciting players!