For better or worse, the Astros are stuck in payroll purgatory for at least one season. The roster, as currently constructed, is looking at paying a minimum twenty percent on any salary over the $208 million threshold as established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That’s just the reality of the situation, which is the key reason why we haven’t seen any notable additions to the roster. Instead, there have been plenty of subtractions, albeit that weren’t completely unexpected.
The bulk of projected savings in the near future will likely come at the expense of the Astros’ primary outfield depth with George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick all scheduled to hit free agency next offseason. As noted here by Spotrac, Houston currently slides into fourth place on payroll allocated solely to the outfield at a projected $50.4 million. Only the Angels, Phillies, and Brewers rank higher, and each of those teams employ an MVP-caliber outfielder. For the Astros, their MVP-caliber outfielder is Springer, who would’ve likely garner more award support if he didn’t miss forty games in 2019. In total, Houston’s outfield was the second-most productive group behind the Dodgers last season, posting a 15.1 fWAR with a 117 wRC+ in addition to generally terrific defense.
As we recently saw with the trade of Jake Marisnick to the Mets in the name of salary relief, this front office knows there are limitations to the ownership’s willingness to spend. It isn’t a well kept secret they would trade Reddick and his $13 million salary in a heartbeat if another team was willing to consummate a deal with Kyle Tucker already waiting in the wings. Barring a prospect joining him though, the Astros aren’t likely to find a suitable trade parter for the veteran right fielder.
It is also rather unclear if Springer will remain an Astro beyond 2020 as he enters his last round of arbitration. His projected salary of $20.750 million would be the fourth-highest figure on Houston’s payroll this season, trailing only Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, and Jose Altuve. Springer is an obvious extension candidate, but it remains to be seen if the 2017 World Series MVP is open to the idea. He would be a highly sought after next offseason, especially if his production remains constant when compared to past seasons.
Brantley’s two-year, $32 million contract that he signed a little over a year ago is also expiring next winter. The former Indian produced well in his first season with the Astros as his left-handed bat helped balance a primarily right-handed lineup. He’ll also be thirty-three by the time he re-enters free agency. Brantley and his status beyond 2020 with Houston feels like a wait-and-see approach.
The Astros ideally would like to keep Springer long-term while probably retaining Brantley’s services for at least one more season at a reasonable salary. Reddick is the odd man out under any circumstance as the club seems intent on letting Tucker claim the right field assignment as his own in the future, even as early this upcoming season. And don’t forget Myles Straw, who is on a cheap pre-arbitration contract, is in line for additional playing time in the outfield in a backup capacity with Marisnick and his projected $3 million salary off the books. Yordan Alvarez is another candidate for the outfield under the right circumstances as they look to expand his positional versatility. In any case, we better appreciate this outfield group this year as we may not see these guys as Astros much longer.