The Astros came short of winning back to back World Series titles, losing in the ALCS to the Red Sox. Still, they won 103 games and are argaubly a top 3 team in the MLB. They have moves to make with some key pieces heading towards free agency, but they have the prospects and enough financial flexibility to do so.
Current State: World Series Contender
Astros Sign C Robinson Chirinos
The Astros have signed catcher Robinson Chirinos to a one year, $5.75 million contract. Chirinos, 34, was released by the Rangers early in the offseason. Last season, he posted a .757 OPS and a 1.5 WAR. He’s excellent at getting on base, and he’s also a year removed from a 2017 campaign in which he posted a .866 OPS. He struggled defensively last season with a defensive runs saved of 11, but he’s been an average defender throughout his career. This is likely a signal that Houston doesn’t want to trade away the prospects necessary to acquire JT Realmuto, nor spend big money to acquire a catcher in free agency such as Yasmani Grandal. If Chirinos produces like he did last year, then this signing will be a failure. If he comes close to producing like he did in 2017, then this will be a bargain. It’s a risk that usually isn’t a good idea for World Series contending teams to make, but the Astros have contended for the last few seasons despite sub par production at catcher, so this is a well calculated risk.
Astros Acquire SS Aledmys Diaz In Exchange for SP Trent Thornton
In a trade with the Blue Jays, the Astros have acquired shortstop Aledmys Diaz in exchange for pitching prospect Trent Thornton. Diaz, 28, has had an uneven career up to this point. He was an All Star in his rookie 2016 season with the Cardinals, but regressed heavily the following season. After being traded to the Blue Jays, he bounced back somewhat last season. He posted a .756 OPS with 18 home runs and a 1.4 WAR. While the connection has been made that Diaz can be the replacement for Marwin Gonzalez, but that cannot be the case. Where as Gonzalez is an effective utility player that can play several positions well, Diaz is a awful defensive shortstop. He has a career negative 12 defensive runs saved at short, and if he can’t play his primary position well, he can’t be expected to do so at several positions. Still, he’s a useful asset off the bench as depth at shortstop and designated hitter, as well as a power bat off the bench. This trade would make more sense for an NL team, but it’s still a useful pickup. Thornton is a solid prospect who projects as a #4 starter or a middle reliever, but he’s already 25 and was definitely expendable for the Astros.
Astros Sign OF Michael Brantley
After facing them in the ALDS last season, Michael Brantley has joined the Astros, signing a 2 year deal with them worth $32 million. The 31-year-old came back strong after dealing with injuries the previous two seasons, hitting .309 with a .364 on base percentage and a .468 slugging percentage. In addition, Brantley had a 3.6 WAR and was an All Star for the third time in his career. He actually has the lowest whiff rate in the league, meaning he was the best contact hitter in 2018. That fits well with an Astros team that prides itself on making contact, a strategy that worked to their advantage when they won the World Series in 2017. Furthermore, this strategy also helped the 2018 World Champion Red Sox, as their higher contact rates allowed them to come up with more timely hits than a Dodgers team that had a very high strikeout rate. He also fills a short term hole at left field, which allows the Astros to not rush top prospect Kyle Tucker into a starting role or to trade him for an impact player such as JT Realmuto. Brantley’s injury issues would have made him a risky signing for a four or a five year deal, but a two year deal is tremendous value for a player that significantly improves the Astros and may make them as talented and well rounded as any other team in the MLB.
Astros Sign SP Wade Miley
To bolster their rotation, the Astros have signed starting pitcher Wade Miley to a one year, $4.5 contract. Miley, 32, had a career resurgence with the Brewers last season. In 80.2 innings, he posted a 2.57 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP and a 3.59 FIP. Even better was his performance in the postseason, where he had a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings. He completely overhauled his pitch usage, as he threw his cutter 41.8% and dropped his fastball usage to 20.1%. Even though Miley’s strikeout rate was down this season (5.6 K/9), he allowed contact at a career low rate this season (79.2%). Still, there’s no denying how lucky Miley was this season. Despite allowing hard contact rate at a career high rate of 37.1%, his BABIP ripped to .269. Plus, his xFIP of 4.30 is right around where it had been previous seasons. An ERA around 4.00 is what Houston likely will be getting from Miley this season, as I don’t buy the lefty’s resurgence as much as others. While that is still worth around $4.5 million, the Astros will be disappointed if they expect him to be an ideal replacement for Dallas Keuchel in the rotation if they can’t resign the left-hander.
Astros Extend 3B Alex Bregman
The Astros have signed third baseman Alex Bregman to a five-year contract extension worth $100 million. The deal will pay Bregman $11 million for the first three seasons and will rise to $28.5 million for the next two, and will buy out one year of Bregman’s free agency. Bregman, 24, continued his development into a star last season, posting a 157 wrc+ and 7.6 WAR, according to Fangraphs. He improved his walk rate tremendously to 13.1%, cut down his strikeout rate to 12.1%, giving him a very rare 1.13 BB/K rate. His .289 BABIP also suggests his success was deserved; Houston should not expect any sort of backslide from Bregman. Still, the motivation to get this deal done is a little strange. This rises Bregman’s salary to $11 million this season, which is very expensive for a pre-arbitration player. They only time they look to be saving money is in Bregman’s second year of arbitration, where $11 million is on the low side, but even with that it still looks like they’re not making any sort of profit on this deal. $28.5 million seems reasonable for what Bregman could get on the open market if he was a free agent: the Astros aren’t buying out a free agency year at a discount. Bregman is on an upward trend and is a critical piece of Houston’s future, but it’s unclear why the Astros rushed to extend him, especially since he has all the leverage after an MVP-caliber season.
*Will Be Updated With Every Move The Astros Make
Stats Courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant