Big offseason

Patrick Creighton: Who’s next? 5 potential additional Astros moves

Should the Astros upgrade over Ken Giles? Al Bello/Getty Images

Patrick Creighton is co-host of "Nate & Creight" on SportsMap 94.1 FM Houston, a host on SB Nation Radio and PxP broadcaster for Texan Live. Follow him on Twitter at @PCreighton1

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow may be fresh off stealing SP Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that doesn’t mean he’s finished sculpting the roster of the defending World Series champions.   One message that Luhnow has always been consistent with since taking his post in Houston is that he is always looking to improve the club.

The Astros don’t have a lot of holes or needs (they did just win the World Series after all) but here are 5 moves that could bolster the team as it embarks on its quest to repeat as champs in 2018:

Greg Holland, closer

Holland (32) is coming off a season where he led the National League in both saves (41) and games finished (58).  He is a thee-time All Star who racks up tons of Ks (11.0 K/9 in 2017).  He’s the best reliever on the market.

There are reportedly some within the Astros organization who feel the closer spot (currently occupied by Ken Giles) is a question mark that needs addressing.  Holland is the best and surest solution to that question on the market.

Holland won’t come cheap (he passed on a $15M option and declined Colorado’s $17.4M qualifying offer), he’s struggled with handing out free passes (4.1 BB/9 in 2017) and he did miss all of 2016 with Tommy John surgery.  

While the offseason has moved slow for many higher end free agents, there is a chance the Astros can wait out his asking price some more and get him for a more amenable price.  That said, Holland is easily the best choice the team has in free agency to upgrade from Giles.

Jonathan Lucroy, C

The Astros have been fans of Lucroy (32) for a while, including chasing him at the trade deadline in 2016.  

Lucroy’s power tailed off last season, although perhaps part of his offensive struggles could be related to the Texas Rangers overall struggles, as his offense saw a significant uptick after being traded to Colorado.  Lucroy slashed .310/.429/.437 (.865 OPS) in 142 AB for the Rockies after being acquired.

Lucroy is no longer the elite receiver he once was, but he’s still considered above average defensively, which is far more than can be said for Evan Gattis’ prowess with the leather.

Lucroy could pair with Brian McCann in a platoon behind the plate, allowing Gattis to focus strictly on being a DH, which is ultimately his best position.  In this situation, Gattis would share time with Marwin Gonzalez at DH, as Marwin is a significantly better hitter as a LH than a RH batter.  Also, A.J. Hinch likes to get Marwin ABs at various places in the field regularly, so Gattis would get a significant number of ABs in a DH only role.  It would also allow the team to go full platoon with McCann/Gonzalez as LH batters vs RHP & Lucroy/Gattis as RH batters vs LHP.  

Tony Watson LHP

Jorge De La Rosa LHP

Fernando Abad LHP

The Astros would love to have two LHPs in their bullpen.  Right now they have none (or they shouldn’t have one, as Tony Sipp and Reymin Guduan don’t belong on the roster). They definitely want at least one.

The LH reliever is a scarce commodity, and these are likely the 3 best available on the market.

Watson (32) is not as dominant as he once was but he is still a workhorse who went a combined 7-4 with a 3.38 ERA last season, although he pitched better after being acquired by the Dodgers  at the July 31 deadline (2-1, 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 24 G).  He had a  5:1 K/BB ratio vs LHB, surrendering only 5 XBH to LHB in 2017.

De La Rosa (36) made the transition to the bullpen last season after spending the previous 10 years exclusively as a starter.  He has spent the last 10 years of his career pitching in hitters’ ballparks as well (nine years at Coors Field in Colorado, last year at Chase Field in Arizona).  He finished last season 3-1 with a   4.21 ERA.  He was very tough vs LHB, holding them to a .194 AVG, and a very weak .545 OPS.  He also had a  5:1 K/BB ratio vs LHB.

Abad (32) is someone most Astros fans are likely familiar with, as he started his professional career with the Astros Dominican Summer league team in 2006 and progressed through the system, ultimately making his major league debut with Houston in 2010 at 24.  

Abad was solid in his first year with the team in 2010, but struggled badly as the Astros lost 100+ games for the first times in their history in 2011 & 2012.  Since then, he’s found himself as a pitcher and been one of the better LH relievers in baseball.  He finished 2-1 with a 3.30 ERA for the Red Sox in 2017, proving he could pitch in one of baseball’s toughest divisions and in the heat of playoff race.  He gave up only 4 XBH hits to LHB last season and held them to a .227 AVG and .288 OBP, while maintaining a 4.2 K/BB rate vs LHB.

Adding any one of these three LHPs to the bullpen would be a boost.  

 

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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