What the Astros Have in the Cupboard

Even at this point in the season, just past the halfway mark and heading into the All-Star break, few teams want to admit that they’re sellers. But with a league-worst 29-57 record, the Astros are firmly sellers in this market. Of course, a team that has the worst record by 5.5 games probably doesn’t have a deep pool of talent from which to deal. Yet the Astros do have six offensive players with 1 WAR or greater, and a handful of pitchers who are either performing well, or who are talented but faltering. That could create a somewhat favorable situation come deadline time, even if it means assuring the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

As Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi note in a recent column, the Astros change of ownership gives the the team an opportunity to rebuild. Outgoing owner Drayton McLane never favored such a strategy, and his insistence on keeping certain players despite fielding a losing team is a big reason why the Astros find themselves in this position. Rosenthal and Morosi note that even if the sale of the club doesn’t close before the deadline, incoming owner Jim Crane will have a say in what the Astros do in the next three weeks. That will almost certainly involve trading players who are not essential to the team’s future.

Who fits the bill for the Astros? Rosenthal and Morosi name two specifically, while downplaying a strong possibility. There are a few others, too, who could entice contenders.

Wandy Rodriguez

Every team could use another starter at this point, and given Rodriguez’s recent history he could be one of the premier starters available between now and the 31st. His numbers this year — a 2.97 ERA, 3.87 FIP, and 3.54 xFIP — resemble his numbers since his breakout 2008 season (3.31 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 3.59 xFIP). His strikeouts are down about one per nine, but other than that everything looks fairly standard.

The issue with Rodriguez is his contract. This was supposed to be his final season before reaching free agency, but during the off-season he signed a three-year, $34 million extension includes a $13 million team option, with $2.5 million buyout, in 2014. The contract also includes a clause that turns 2014 into a player option, which makes it a bit less attractive. Rodriguez will pitch the 2014 season at age 35, and unless he is spectacular in 2012 and 2013 I’d expect him to pick it up. It’s not terrible, and it could even end up being below market value. But it’s also a significant commitment.

If the Astros were to make him available they would fetch more than if he were simply a rental, but probably won’t maximize their return because of the player option. He’ll still bring home a better prospect package than anyone else the Astros employ, so I’d think his chances of wearing a different uniform by August 1st are high.

Michael Bourn

It’s not often that a team makes available its WAR leader, but in Bourn it is probably the smart move. He will become a free agent after the 2012 season, and so can provide more value to an acquiring team than a mere rental. He’ll also fetch a decent bounty in prospects, since plenty of teams would love a leadoff-hitting, base-stealing center fielder who plays solid, if not spectacular, defense. He has the remainder of his $4.4 million salary this year, plus a third-year arbitration raise in 2012, and so will not be too great a burden on a reasonably sized payroll.

If the White Sox want to make a run they could find use for Bourn. It would allow them to move the struggling Alex Rios to a corner, thereby removing Juan Pierre from the lineup. The Nationals could be interested, but they probably want someone under team control a bit longer than Bourn, since they’re looking for a long-term answer. But perhaps the most intriguing option is the Braves. They’ve used Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth to little positive effect. In Bourn they’d get both the center fielder and the leadoff man they’ve sought for years. It almost makes too much sense.

Hunter Pence

Rosenthal and Morosi cite sources who say that the Astros would like to retain Pence, as they see him as a “cornerstone.” That’s quite a stretch, even though Pence is enjoying his best season to date. His success has relied heavily on a .390 BABIP, which is a great deal higher than any season beyond his partial rookie year. His walk rate and ISO remain in line with 2010, and are close to his career numbers. In other words, the Astros might do well to sell high on Pence.

The only issue Pence might present is his price tag. He makes $6.9 million this year and has two more rounds of arbitration to go before free agency. While the team control is attractive, his potential salary in 2012 and 2013 is not. A higher payroll team, such as the Red Sox, could actually find a great deal of use with Pence. He’s a bit pull-heavy, which will play well at Fenway Park. Smacking doubles off the monster could help keep his BABIP up, and also help mask his lack of home run power. The Phillies could also use an outfielder and a right-handed bat, but both teams are said to have payroll issues. But they both have money coming off the books at the end of the year, so an exception might be made for a long-term add.

Brett Myers

After a spectacular first season in Houston, Myers has predictably dropped off in 2011. Still, his peripherals didn’t suggest such a drop-off in his age-30 season. His strikeouts are down and his home runs are way up, which play a big part in his 4.67 ERA and 4.94 FIP. Perhaps he’d fare a bit better in a more pitcher friendly park. Then again, we can say that for just about any pitcher. But we know Myers has potential, even if he’s reached it only a few times in his career.

Myers’s home run problem will probably preclude a trade to somewhere like Cincinnati, even though the Reds could use a starter or two. According to StatCorner, The Great American Ball Park has a home run factor of 120/133 (LHB/RHB) to Minute Maid’s 107/117. The same goes for the Rangers (120/109). The one contender that could take on his contract and possibly benefit is the Tigers. Their starters have the ninth-worst ERA in the league despite having a reasonably pitcher-friendly park (87/111 factors). They can take on the remainder of his salary, roughly $17 million through 2012, which includes a $3 million buyout of his $10 million 2013 option.

There are other potential trade candidates, too, which we’ll finish in shorter form.

Jeff Keppinger: He’s hit .328/.346/.424 since his return and is a career .285/.339/.393 hitter. That’s not stellar, yet he could still help upgrade a team such as the Braves, Brewers, Reds, Rays, or Giants at shortstop. He earns $2.3 million this year and is arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter.

Clint Barmes: He’s not as adept with the bat as Keppinger, but he’s slick in the field. A team with a poor-fielding shortstop, such as the Cardinals or Brewers, could find use for him.

Wilton Lopez: Bullpen help is always in need, and in the last two years Lopez has a 3.00 ERA, 2.80 FIP, and 3.02 xFIP. He’s a late bloomer at age 27, so the Astros might try to cash in while they still can.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

35 Responses to “What the Astros Have in the Cupboard”

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  1. PL says:

    Bourn and Pence are great fits for Oakland, would love to see Billy pull off one of his patented “effin-A” trades to add to the excellent Scott Sizemore deal.

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    • Jeff says:

      Sizemore isn’t even close to this good. He’s better than Purcey, but trading a turd for a twig isn’t exactly what I would call “excellent”.

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    • brendan says:

      why would oak be buying? they are in last place, and playoff chances are slim. OTOH, they do have spots coming free in the OF next season. Willingham, DeJesus and Crisp will all be FA.

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  2. Luke M says:

    I’d love to see my Braves acquire Bourn, and the Astros have enough needs in the organization that they’d be willing to accept almost whatever package Atlanta can offer. I’m thinking Randall Delgado, JJ Hoover and Schafer for starters.

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    • Worry says:

      How does a Jurrjens for Brett Gardner trade sound?

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      • Scott says:

        And can you tell me why the Yankees would be willing to deal Gardner? Everyone always brings his name up, but I see no reason for them to trade him.

        As for the Braves, why would you trade your best pitcher in a year that pitching is the only reason you are in contention? That trade just makes no sense to me.

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      • Steve says:

        Well, I am sure the Yankees would be willing to trade Gardner for a legit #1 starter. Cashman would drive him to Seattle himself if King Felix were coming back the other way. That’s not the same as saying they WANT to trade him or even that either of those trades are remotely realistic.

        I don’t think the Braves would do that, that was the joke.

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      • Scott says:

        I mean yes, everyone is tradeable for something, it just all depends on what you get in return. In my opinion, as a Braves fan, it is great that Jair is performing this well, but he is no Felix Hernandez.

        As for it being a joke, I am assuming he was making a sarcastic reply to the Delgado, Hoover, and Schafer for Bourn suggestion. Which seams realistic and acceptable for the Astros. You get a future number one, possible future number 2 or 3, and then a player who can be better than Bourn if he reaches his potential.

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      • chuckb says:

        @ Scott — Jurrjens is not anywhere near being the Braves’ best pitcher. See: Hanson, Tommy. Don’t like him? Try Hudson or Lowe or, probably, Beachy. All are better than Jurrjens, despite the ERA.

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      • Scott says:

        I can see the argument for Hanson. Hudson last year, not this year. Lowe, haha good joke, not even close. Beachy is having a good year, but not on Jurrjens level. Look at Jurrjens 2009 season. Last year he was hurt. When healthy, Jurrjens has consistently been great.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Chuck, you can’t keep basing it off peripherals if Jurrjens’ actual performance keeps like this. I’m not saying he’s 1.something good, but I think he’s 2.something good. The only time he really hasn’t been was when he got hurt.

        Hanson is probably better than Jurrjens. Lowe isn’t, Hudson isn’t. Jurrjens is very very good. He’s cheap, he’s young. He’s not being traded.

        I don’t think Atlanta trades any of their ML rotation. Lowe has a lot of playoff experience and has pretty much always pitched good in the playoffs. I know right “lol emotions don’t exist statistically” but I think it’s enough that Atlanta will keep him.

        I can see Delgado for Bourne or something like that. A high percentage of pitchers fail and since Atlanta has Teheran, Minor, Medlen, Hanson, Jurrjens, and Beachy who are all fairly proven and/or better than Delgado. Delgado and Vizcaino can be traded. Or one of their slew of SS prospects.

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  3. Heyward says:

    “Every team could use another starter at this point”

    Not my team

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  4. bSpittle says:

    sounds like you undervalue Pence.

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    • joshcohen says:

      agreed. “cornerstone” probably isn’t the best describer, but it isn’t *that* off either. yes, the 390 babip isn’t sustainable, but he’s been the picture of consistency since his call-up in 07. given that this is his age 27 season… couldn’t we be seeing the beginning of his multiyear 4-4.5 WAR prime? if so, this would be selling low, not high.

      also, IMO a lot of the disrespect/undervaluing seemingly stems from the contract that he might sign in a few years. i say, let’s withhold judgement on that deal until he signs it.

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  5. Dan in Philly says:

    As a Phillies fan, I’ll gladly give Lidge back to the Astros in return for Borne…

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  6. Brandon S. says:

    They don’t have an Indian in this cupboard?

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  7. Steve says:

    Extending Wandy for a team in the Astro’s stage of the rebuilding cycle displays a pretty poor assessment of your organizational position.

    In a vacuum, it’s not a terrible extension, and the NL Central is not a division where it would be impossible for Wandy to see the next contending Astro team, but they sure made things a lot harder on themselves.

    I have nothing against them, but the Astros just seem kindof dumb.

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    • cmoneybeetches76 says:

      Ok so isn’t Wandy like… 32? Wandy should be FIRST on the list to get punted. I love Wandy, I just think he’s wasting his time in what should be an extensive rebuilding situation. Seriously, him and Pence are the whole team. everyone else is just filling a roster spot until they get real players.

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      • Steve says:

        That’s what I’m saying. Giving him that extension makes him much harder to trade, and probably limits what you can get back.

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    • OremLK says:

      The extension is very team-friendly given his performance the past, what, four years? I would think a number of teams would love to get a good starter like Wandy on that kind of contract.

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  8. Eminor3rd says:

    Bourn to White Sox would be AMAZING. Talk about solving the Juan Pierre issue. There’s been some speculation of Rios or Quentin to ATL for Lowe or Beachy, and these two move , in tandem, would be awesome for the Sox, given Vicedo is rotting in AAA waiting for a corner spot to open up.

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    • Luke M says:

      There’s no way the Braves deal Beachy for Rios or Quentin. Lowe is certainly worth discussing however.

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  9. kushernova says:

    There is no way the White Sox make a move to knock Pierre out of the starting lineup. Ozzie Guillen loves Pierre, since he fits his classic “Grinder Ball” leadoff guy perfectly. They go back to the early 2000s when Guillen was a bench coach with the Marlins and Pierre was the CF. Also, Pierre has had several big games the past two weeks, there is no way Ozzie benches him after this hot streak having stuck with him all season thus far.

    Acquiring Bourn and moving Rios to LF is probably in the better interest to the White Sox than the Pierre situation, but I can’t see Ozzie supporting this move very much.

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  10. CJ says:

    I think Keppinger can be valuable to a contending team. But realistically he cannot play shortstop at this point. He just doesn’t have the range. Keppinger can play an acceptable 2d base or 3d base though. Keppinger is a great contact hitter (hardly ever strikes out), and he murders LHPs. I would think that would be valuable for a contending team which needs a lefty killing infielder.

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  11. Antonio Bananas says:

    So tonigh the Stros pitched all Rodriguezes, I wonder how many times a team has had 3 different pitchers all with the same last name in the same. They should try to field an entire team of Rodriguezes.

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  12. randy says:

    Keppinger is a good fit for the Tigers. They need a 2B and a hitter who doesn’t strike out to add to the lineup.

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  13. Mr wOBAto says:

    Is it just me or could the Giants use Keppinger a lot more than Bourn?

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  14. JP says:

    Michael Bourn has “solid, if not spectacular, defense”? Ok, you’ve blatantly never seen him play.

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