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.  

 

Alvarez is the third in franchise history to get the award

Astros' Yordan Alvarez wins AL Rookie of the Year

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

As expected, the MLB announced on Monday that the winner of the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award is Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros. It comes as no surprise, considering Alvarez's performance since being called up on June 9th of this season was powerful, to say the least. He beats out the two other finalists: John Means of the Baltimore Orioles and Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays.

After dominating at the AAA level for the Round Rock Express where he led the minors in home runs (23) and RBIs (71) while hitting for a .343 average and 1.184 OPS over his 56 games before being promoted to the major leagues, he brought the same power to Houston's lineup. He wasted no time showing what he was capable of, notching his first career home run in his second at-bat at Minute Maid Park in his debut game.

He followed that by hitting home runs in four of his first five games and going on to slash .317 / .406 / .733 for a 1.139 OPS from his debut through the end of June, tenth best in all of the majors over that span. Though he finished the month with seven homers in just 60 at-bats, he also maintained his ability to drive in runs, notching 21 RBIs in his first sixteen games. He slowed down slightly in July, banging just five homers in 75 ABs to go along with 15 RBIs, though increasing his average to .333.

He picked the power back up in August and September, though, finishing the final two months of the regular season with a combined 15 home runs and 42 RBIs over 178 at-bats. That ended his regular season with 27 homers, 78 RBIs, a 1.067 OPS, and .313 average, a line that would have been decent for a full season, much less one that started in early June. One of the shining moments of his debut year came in the matchup with the Orioles on August 10th, a night when the Astros put up a franchise-record 23 runs, seven of which came off the bat of Alvarez on a three-homer night including a grand slam.

Although not factored into the voting, Alvarez did contribute in the postseason for Houston, though not at the same level as his regular-season numbers. He had just one home run in the playoffs, a two-run blast in World Series Game 5 against the Nationals in D.C. to help Houston take that game 7-1. He had just one other RBI in October, in ALDS Game 1 against the Rays, giving him just three total along with the one homer to leave his postseason stat line as something to improve on.

Nonetheless, Alvarez's power is something that Houston will gladly put in their DH spot as long as he can continue to drive in runs and be a difference-maker in a game with one swing of his hefty bat. Yordan is the third player in franchise history to win the Rookie of the Year award, joining Jeff Bagwell, who took home the honor for the National League in 1991 and Carlos Correa, who also won in the American League in 2015. The future is bright for this left-handed slugger and the Houston Astros as a result.

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