The Astros’ success over the past nine years directly resulted from the team staying on the cutting edge in all things baseball operations. The Astros have been a clear-cut above the competition from the draft to player development to player evaluations. A team operating this way can take a patient approach to personnel decisions because the “competitive window” should always be open.
The Astros, however, no longer operate like a club trying to be innovative and efficient, so maybe it is time for Dana Brown to maximize his chances of success in the next season or two. One of the best ways to do that would be to add production at one of Houston’s weakest positions: First Base. Trading for Pete Alonso is the best option to do that.
Listen, I know we technically have a First baseman already. However, Jose Abreu is coming off of a negative WAR season, and, especially when you consider he is going into his age 37 season, it is unlikely that he will bounce back to even a league-average first baseman (around 112 wRC+). I know that Jose Abreu showed up in the playoffs, but you have to consider the sample size. I also understand that Abreu is making almost $20 million a year, but that is a sunk cost, and Dana Brown, or, more accurately, Jim Crane, cannot let that factor into his decision-making process. The Astros cannot afford to go another year with sub-replacement production at First.
Pete Alonso has a career wRC+ of 133 and has averaged a shade over three WAR a year over the past two seasons. In 2022 and 2023, Astros’ first basemen were below replacement level, so Pete Alonso would likely be a massive improvement and add several wins.
With Michael Brantley departing, Jose Abreu could fill in as a bench bat/DH type. It is probably no coincidence that Abreu was significantly better after his stint on the IL for lower back pain in August; he is probably no longer suited to playing a full 162-game season. If you have ever had lower back pain, you know that it is not something that gets better with age and use.
Most Astro fans will agree that Alonso would improve the team’s chances in 2024, but how much would the Astros be expected to pay? One of the main factors determining that is how much salary the Mets are willing to send over. Assuming the Mets do not send over any money, the Astros will likely have to pay Alonso $22 million for his last year of arbitration. This means the team’s payroll will only be eight million over the luxury tax, which should be a reasonable price for a team consistently at the top in revenues. Also, if the Astros take on his salary, they will not have to send the Mets a large haul of players in return. Suppose Alonso is projected to produce three wins next season and is paid $22 million. In that case, his projected surplus value will only be $8 million, meaning the Astros would probably only have to part ways with Dubon or Meyers and, maybe, a top-20 prospect.
I am assuming the more likely option is that the Mets take on most of Alonso’s salary and maximize the prospect return. This would likely mean the Astros must trade Brice Matthews, another top-10 prospect, and either Meyers or Dubon. If this sounds like I am proposing the Astros should mortgage their future, I would argue they already have. The dynasty is probably already over after 2025, but making a trade like this at least maximizes the chances the Stros will win another pennant next year. Also, by sending more prospects to the Mets for a reduced salary, the Astros can use that money to sign more starting pitching depth.
An alternate option would be to use the proposed prospect/salary capital on a starting pitcher. That makes sense, but the proposed trade package would likely only net the Astros a middle-of-the-rotation starter, a spot in which the Astros already have plenty of depth. The incremental value of adding a bona fide MOR starting pitcher is far less than adding Pete Alonso at 1B. Below is the projected starting rotation for 2024:
Middle of the rotation:
Garcia (Half season)
Brown (I expect for him to take a big step forward)
Bottom of the rotation:
Even though the Astros have eleven potential starting pitchers for next year, they must add another. However, the best way to do that is to pick up a bottom-of-the-rotation type for cheap, think Spencer Turnbull.
In an ideal world, I’d like the Astros to take a long-term approach to success (i.e, do not let Jeff Bagwell have substantial input in baseball decisions) and try to keep a competitive edge in baseball operations by hiring front-office personnel with a strong analytics background. However, Jim Crane has moved away from this philosophy over the past few years. Thus, I think the Astros may as well go all in on winning another championship in 2024. It will be difficult, but trading for Pete Alonso will significantly improve their odds.