It's playoff time

Astros manager Hinch should not forget his bench in the postseason

Astros manager A.J. Hinch Jason Behnken / Getty Images

 A.J. Hinch has forgotten more baseball than I’ll ever know but

Hinch forgot something back in the 2015 playoffs that I hope he remembers this time around: his bench.

 I know in basketball, coaches shorten their rotation in the playoffs. Montrezl Harrell must have hit on Mike D’Antoni’s wife this past postseason. He did something to piss him off because he was not getting on the court no matter how many big men they were short.

 I guess baseball is somewhat the same; at least it was for Hinch in 2015. Jose Altuve was bad that postseason. He hit a measly .154 (4-for-26 with just one walk and no extra base hits.) It was very un-Altuve, but he’s your cornerstone you ride or die with. You’re not taking that dude out of the lineup. Ever. So Hinch stuck with him hoping that at some point he’d pull out of his nosedive but that never happened.

 With Evan Gattis, though, I don’t think you take that same approach. You will remember that Gattis came up with some huge hits for the club that year (the tomahawk chop homer to beat the A’s comes to mind). But unlike Altuve he is not a ride or die guy and he may have been worn out by season’s end. He had 566 at-bats -- second most on the team that year -- but he only hit .246 with a .285 on-base percentage. Those are not ride or die numbers and come playoff time he looked lost at the plate. He was 4-for-23, all singles and six strikeouts, some in critical situations. By Game 5 of the Royals series he was just plain overmatched.

 Same thing for Luis Valbuena. He was a mere 3-for-17 and eight of those 14 outs were strikeouts.  He did homer though in the postseason and that Astros team lived and died by the long ball that year. In the end though, it ended up killing them.

I remember wondering why Hinch wasn’t shaking it up to find someone who’d give them a spark. The history books are filled with the unlikely postseason heroes. For those of you that are a bit older, Mark Lemke and Aaron Boone come to mind.  

 You never know who will step up and do something that will live forever in playoff lore. Brad Ausmus’ homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Braves in game 4 of the 2005 NLDS was as astonishing as it was dramatic. Ausmus averaged a home run about once every 90 plate appearances. The likelihood that he would homer was about 1.1 %. Those are pretty long odds. Chris Burke winning that game in the bottom of the 18th was almost as surprising. He averaged a homer every 63 plate appearances which gave him a 1.6% chance of doing it. Add to that the pressure of the situation and the odds are even greater. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s not always the Bagwells and Biggios or Altuves and Correas that save the day. Sometimes it’s a Lemke or a Burke or an Ausmus. You just never know.

The point being that I hope Hinch shakes things up if he has to this postseason. He had Marwin Gonzalez, Preston Tucker and Hank Conger on the bench that series. Marwin only had three playoff AB’s and Tucker had two. Conger, a guy who was a big locker room presence, didn’t see the plate. I don’t know if they would have done anything special in large part because they never got the chance. We do know now that the stage isn’t too big for Marwin. He’s arguably their second most valuable player this year. He’s going to get his at-bats this postseason and deservedly so, but we will never know if this Marwin wouldn’t have begun his run back then with a big hit in a huge situation. Tucker was another guy who contributed but was relegated to the pine that postseason. In the regular season he hit 13 homers in 300 at-bats. Over the course of an entire season that would be 25 or more homers. And Conger hit 11 in 201 at-bats, some of them huge. He was one of the guys that everyone was rooting for because he looked like he was genuinely having a great time. That spark they needed to get past the Royals with one big hit may have been sitting right there but it never got the chance to ignite.

 My hope is that if someone is worn out, struggling or lost at the plate that Hinch isn’t afraid to hit eject and find a Chris Burke who will step up and give the team a lift. Almost everyone on that team popped their playoff cherry in 2015 including Hinch. Hopefully he learned to use the whole bench if he needs to.

Now I’m not so sure that applies to Gregerson coming out of the bullpen…  

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Let's make a deal. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The NFL trade deadline is less than a week away, and the Houston Texans have a significant decision to make regarding their franchise star, J.J. Watt. The Texans are 1-6 through the first seven games of the season, and the next few years of the franchise seem a bit bleak.

No player or staff member has encapsulated Houston's frustration quite like Watt. Excluding the Texans' victory over the Jaguars, the future Hall of Famer has looked miserable in every post-game press conference. Each week, it's the constant look of despair. And in hindsight, closing the chapter on Watt's career in Houston seems to be best for both parties.

At 31-years-old, the All-Pro defensive tackle should be spending the twilight of his career competing for Super Bowls — not playing for a team who is clearly about to hit the reset button at the conclusion of this season.

By departing from Watt, it would allow the Texans to get a jumpstart on their rebuilding project — one that has the potential to bring back quality draft picks, a young prospect, and clear close to $20 million in cap space.

If they decide not to move on from Watt, the Texans risk putting themselves in a situation where they may miss out on obtaining higher draft picks and strapped for cash heading into the 2021 free agency market. And with one year left on his contract following 2020, the Texans also risk losing leverage in a potential deal if forced into trading Watt come next season.

At this stage of his career, the Texans may not receive a haul for Watt's services but could maximize his trade value by dealing him to a championship-contending team. A move that would give Watt the best chances of adding a championship title to his luxurious resume in return.

With the future of the franchise in mind, here are three potential trade ideas that would be best if the Texans are truly considering moving on from Watt.

Watt returns home to Wisconsin and joins the Packers

Texans receive: 2021 first-round pick and LB Kamal Martin

Packer receive: J.J. Watt

The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams who has a realistic chance to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Following a win over the Texans on Sunday, the Packers stand first in the NFC North with a 5-1 record and possess one of the NFL's best offensive teams.

Green Bay's offense can compete in a shootout with just about any team in the league, but their defense may be the reason why they fall short of representing the NFC in Tampa Bay come February. They have only accumulated a total of 10 quarterback hits and are currently 30th in the league in pass rush through the first six games. The Packers' lack of ability to get to the opposing team's quarterback could be an immense problem during a playoff game that could feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson.

So what do the Packers have to lose by acquiring their Wisconsin native?

The addition of Watt would allow the Packers to add one of the best pass rushers of all-time. Although Watt is nowhere near the player that finished second behind Aaron Rogers for league MVP honors in 2015, he has illustrated that he is still a disruptive defensive lineman five years later.

Through the first seven games, Watt has accounted for 11 pressures, six quarterback hits and three sacks — which would make him Green Bay's second most reliable pass rusher trailing only Za'Darius Smith.

For the Texans, receiving a first-round pick for Watt is self-explanatory and would be the most suitable return for the aging star. However, for a team that is building for the future, the Texans should consider obtaining a young and raw prospect to evaluate.

Kamal Martin, a fifth-round draft selection in 2020, made his NFL debut against the Texans on Sunday and left an exceptional first impression. He recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss in 29 snaps inside NRG Stadium, and could be a building block should the Texans begin to make modifications to their linebacking corps.

Seattle sends multiple draft picks for Watt

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and fourth-round pick

Seahawks receive: J.J. Watt

If the Packers do not take advantage of improving their pass rush with Watt — perhaps the Seattle Seahawks will. Both NFC teams mirror each other with a high-powered offense, but a feeble defense may hinder one another from advancing to the Super Bowl. In a deal for Watt to the Seahawks, the Texans would miss out on the chance to acquire a first-rounder, but obtaining multiple picks would be just as prominent.

Seattle's general manager John Schneider is no stranger to taking a significant risk, and appears willing to make any moves that will put his organization closer to their long-overdue second title with Russell Wilson. Perhaps, Watt would be that missing key.

The Seahawks are pretty solid at stopping the run but need a tremendous upgrade in their pass defense. Seattle has given up the second-most passing yards on the season (2,212), and the reason seems to be their inability to get to the quarterback. Seattle has only implemented pressure to the opposing team's quarterback on 20.1% of their dropbacks, while only recording a total of nine sacks.

The Seahawks pass defense may not become elite, but the disruption of Watt on their defensive line could be enough to limit the devastation they have experienced through the first seven weeks of the season.

Watt to the Big Easy for Brees' last dance

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davenport

Saints receive: J.J. Watt

Seven weeks into the season, the New Orleans Saints are not sitting near the top of the NFC nor their division when compared to recent years. A bevy of injuries have been attributed to their minor decline this season — mainly to their All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas.

However, the Saints have prevailed through the injury bug to march their way to a 4-2 record. If New Orleans can get healthy during the second half of the season, they will be in the running to represent the NFC in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. But unlike the Packers and Seahawks, this could be the Saints last chance to recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in what is likely Drew Brees' last dance.

The addition of Watt to the Saints would give general manager Mickey Loomis a chance to create the most disruptive defensive line in the league. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be able to shift the five-time Pro-Bowler to the interior — allowing the Saints to trot out a d-line of Watt, Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson.

This trade would give Watt arguably the most help he has ever had on the defensive line — which would allow New Orleans to maximize what is left of his career.

This trade would have the Texans missing out on obtaining a first-rounder, but a sound-round pick would be just as valuable for Watt. However, Houston should consider adding a young prospect in a potential swap, and Marcus Davenport would be their best return.

Drafted in 2018, Davenport is a former first-round talent who can help transition the Texans into the post-Watt era. He has showed promise of a bright future through his first two seasons, but injuries have prevented the 24-year-old prodigy of San Antonio from establishing himself as one of the league's top young talents.

This season, elbow and toe injuries have limited Davenport to just a pair of games in 2020. Although there is an immense concern regarding Davenport's health, the Texans cannot pass on adding a player who has already registered 11.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through his first 28 career games.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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