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Do the Astros need to trade for a LHB?

Third is a series of articles on Astros’ trade options

MLB: Washington Nationals at Houston Astros
Astros’ Michael Brantley works out last month at Minute Maid Park before a game.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Astros’ GM Dana Brown has stated that he would like to acquire a LHB at the trade deadline. In more recent days, he has added starting pitchers and relief pitchers to the possible acquisitions he would consider.

I previously wrote articles about potential starting pitcher and relief pitcher trade targets. This is the third installment and it pertains to potential left handed bat trade targets.

But the initial question is whether the Astros need to trade for a left handed batter. Based on wRC+ and WAR, the Astros’ offense ranking has slipped from 6th last year to 12th in 2023. And the Astros have only one LHB (Kyle Tucker) in the starting lineup, and only two LHB on the active roster (Bligh Madris is the LHB on the bench).

However, the Astros expect reinforcements for the offense as players return from the injured list. Yordan Alvarez is a huge part of the offense and a left handed batter, as well. Presumably he will return to the lineup before the end of the month. The offense will also be bolstered by the return of Jose Altuve in a few weeks. But even with these expected additions to the lineup, the regular batting order will only contain two left handed bats. The Astros lineup would benefit from the bat diversity associated with adding another left handed bat.

But the Astros could add another LHB to the lineup if and when Michael Brantley returns. Brantley has been recovering from shoulder surgery, and the Astros have not publicly stated when he will return. This is a key uncertainty that could affect trade decisions at the end of the month. In my view, the need for a trade on the offensive side may depend on whether the team is confident that Brantley will return in time to significantly affect the team’s performance.

As discussed in my previous two trade articles, starting pitching and the bullpen probably should be the top priority at the trade deadline. The Astros don’t have a lot of trading resources (in particular, a relatively weak farm system). It will be difficult to expend trading resources on all three areas of need.

Therefore, my listing of potential LHB trade targets is focused on the lower end of the market—batters who might be obtainable with lower tier prospects or fringe major league players. The role of the acquired batter could range from a regular platoon batter to bench player with occasional at bats.

Potential LHB Trade Targets

The targeted left handed hitters all have a wRC+ above 100 against RH pitchers.

Seth Brown (OF, 1b) Oakland

Brown profiles as a pure platoon hitter. His overall batting line looks bad (.194 BA, 85 wRC+), but he is highly effective against RHPs. with a 114 wRC+ a .230 ISO, and 9 HRs in 153 PA. The projection systems at Fangraphs project Brown’s rest of season wRC+ of 104 - 115. At 31 years old, he is arb eligible next year and under team control through 2026. [I had planned to put Brown’s teammate Ryan Noda on this list, but Wednesday he left the game with a dental emergency, which turned out to be a broken jaw.]

Daniel Vogelbach (1b, DH) Mets

We don’t know if the Mets will be sellers or not, but the current standings would favor selling. Vogelbach is top of the league in patient at bats and has a 14% walk rate to show for it. His overall batting line is mediocre (BA .225, wRC+ 97), but his batting against RHPs is much better (BA .240, wRC+ 108). The hefty sized Vogelbach is a classic platoon lefty or LHB off the bench. He is under contract through next year, with $1.5 million owed next year.

Max Kepler (OF) Twins

This is probably unrealistic because the Twins are battling for the AL Central, and both the Astros and Twins would like to improve on offense. Kepler was once viewed as a budding star outfielder, but that hasn’t panned out. Kepler is a rental with a $7 million club option for 2024. Kepler is exactly average overall (BA .224, wRC+ 100), but those numbers are brought down by his batting against LHP. Kepler is much better against RHP (wRC+ 109, 12 of 14 HRs). Kepler has been coming on strong in July.

Trevor Larnach (OF) Twins

As noted in the discussion of Kepler, the Twins seem like an unlikely trade partner. However, the 26 year old Larnach was demoted to AAA last month, which raises the question as to whether he fits into Minnesota’s future plans. Larnach has a combination of good power and patience, but struck out at a high rate in the majors (30%). He had contact problems against LHPs, but was better against RHP (BA .224, wRC+ 102). If he is available, he may be an improvement over Madris’ role on the Astros.

Jemier Candelario (3b) Nationals

Since Alex Bregman doesn’t take many rest days, it’s unclear if the 29 year old third baseman would have much playing time except at DH. Candelario is a switch hitter who had a fine year on offense, and will be a free agent next year. Because he is a rental, the Nationals have good reason to consider trading him for prospects. He has good power (15 HRs) and a good overall batting line (wRC+ 119). He is particularly tough on RHPs with a 129 wRC+ and .268 BA. It’s worth noting that Candelario has some experience playing 1b, as well as 3b, in his career.

Other LHBs

My primary list, above, is selected with the intent of limiting the trading cost required to acquire the batter. However, I identified several other interesting LHBs who crush RHPs but are less realistic either due to high trading cost or contract cost. They are shown below with the wRC+ against RHP.

Michael Conforto (OF) Giants (wRC+118)

Joc Pederson (OF) Giants (wRC+ 121)

Lars Nootbar (OF) Cardinals (wRC+ 120)

Alex Verdugo (OF) Red Sox (wRC+ 135)

Jack Suwinski (CF) Pirates (wRC+ 141)

Cody Bellinger (CF, 1b) Cubs (wRC+ 116) Higher split vs. LHP (wRC+ 186)

Andrew Benintendi (OF) White Sox (wRC+ 104) High Contract Cost

Jeff McNeil (2b, OF) Mets (wRC+91) High Contract Cost (projected ROS wRC= 111)

What are your thoughts?