Chris Carter Rumors

Adding Offense A “Growing Point Of Focus” For Astros

Much has been made of the Astros’ pursuit of a rotation upgrade — specifically of the top-of-the-rotation variety — but general manager Jeff Luhnow said today that adding another bat to his lineup is a growing point of focus, tweets’s Brian McTaggart.

Recently, when previewing Houston’s trade deadline approach, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle noted that an upgrade at first base was something the Astros were considering, but pitching, at the time, was said to be a priority. Luhnow’s comments, it should be noted, came even before Chris Carter exited tonight’s game with a sprained right ankle (as McTaggart wrote tonight). Carter was able to walk off the field under his own power, and said after the game (also via McTaggart) that while he’s swollen and sore, he hopes to avoid the disabled list. Houston also has Jon Singleton as an option to step in at first base.

Neither Carter nor Singleton has been particularly productive this season, though. Astros first basemen, in fact, collectively batted just .189/.296/.372 in the season’s first half. Both corner infield spots were problematic, as Houston third baseman slashed .208/.289/.418. Luis Valbuena, though, for all of his batting average woes, is showing the best power of his career. And, the Astros also have Jed Lowrie on the mend, who one would think could take some at-bats at the hot corner now that Carlos Correa has cemented himself as the club’s shortstop.

Both center field (.224/.284/.364) and designated hitter (.240/.279/.436) have collectively resulted in below-average production for their positions as well.

It would seem that the Astros are positioning themselves to be one of the most active clubs on this year’s trade market. Luhnow himself has now stated a growing desire to add a bat, a desire to add a front-of-the-rotation starter and an openness to adding bullpen pieces (specifically, a pitcher with well above-average velocity). Luhnow and the Astros are in a new position as buyers on the summer trade market, so this will be the first opportunity we have to see how aggressive an approach the Houston front office will take when it comes to adding big league talent.

Luhnow, Hinch On Astros’ Roster, Trade Deadline

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow finds himself in an unfamiliar position this trade season, as he’s now in the driver’s seat of a club that’s looking to buy, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich spoke to both Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch about the club’s roster and the needs they face entering the July 31 trade deadline.

Per Drellich, starting pitching remains a priority, and the team is likely focused on adding a front-line starting pitcher. Luhnow specifically mentioned a desire to strengthen a potential playoff rotation. “I still think if we are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, having a pitcher that can pitch in those first few games of the playoffs will make a difference,” the GM said. He’s made similar remarks in the past, but the stated importance of strengthening the front of his rotation with the trade deadline so near is nevertheless notable. (Of course, I wouldn’t think that Luhnow and the Astros would shy away from adding a fourth or fifth starter type either.) Manager A.J. Hinch also weighed in on the need for a pitcher: “You always feel like an extra pitcher or two would be ideal, and some of that is out of just strengthening a strength, and some of it is not really knowing what’s in store moving forward on a couple different spots on our team.”

Drellich writes that there’s little indication of serious interest in Cole Hamels, but Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija remain names of interest to the Astros. Houston faces competition in acquiring either free-agent-to-be, with a source telling Drellich that other teams vying for Cueto include the Blue Jays, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and possibly the Royals. Many have speculated that it could be difficult for Luhnow to strike a deal with former colleague Walt Jocketty — the two “butted heads” while working together in St. Louis, Drellich notes — but multiple sources indicated to Drellich that previous transgressions between the two won’t impact the Astros’ chances so long as they make the best offer.

Regarding possible trade chips on the Padres, Drellich feels that Tyson Ross could be too expensive to pry away due to his remaining club control (through 2017), but Andrew Cashner‘s one-and-a-half years of control are a more reasonable target. Ultimately, however, he notes that the Astros are expected to land a pure half-season rental.

One potential area of need that hasn’t received much focus for Houston is first base. Luhnow was candid in pointing out that Chris Carter‘s production “hasn’t been there” and “it’s frustrating because we know what he’s capable of doing.” Luhnow, though, adds that Carter’s production in 2014 was particularly potent in the second half. The GM doesn’t specifically state it, but it seems like the club may entertain an upgrade at first base if Carter and Jon Singleton stumble out of the gates in the second half. “He hasn’t achieved it yet, and I’m not sure we can wait all year for something to come if it’s not coming,” said Luhnow of Carter’s production. “I believe he will get off to a quick start after the break and give us the production we need.” Drellich adds that Luis Valbuena has been taking grounders at first and could see some time there when Jed Lowrie is healthy.

Adam Lind and Adam LaRoche are oft-speculated first base trade candidates, though Drellich also wonders about a possible match with Yonder Alonso, who doesn’t hit for much power but also rarely strikes out and has a connection to Hinch, who previously worked in the San Diego front office. Michael Morse and Ryan Howard represent more expensive options that, of course, haven’t lived up to their respective contracts.

Houston certainly has the prospects to deal in order to facilitate a trade for a big name, and Drellich, interestingly, writes that the club may be more willing to move right-hander Mark Appel than top outfield prospect Brett Phillips. (Phillips ranked 21st on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 prospects list, while Appel was 39th.)

The current iteration of the Astros’ front office is indeed in somewhat uncharted water, and they’re currently being challenged by a surging Angels club that moved into first place on the final day of the first half. As things currently stand, the Astros and Twins — perhaps the two most surprising clubs in baseball — would square off in the Wild Card playoff if the season ended today. Based on comments from Luhnow and reported information from Drellich (whose full article should absolutely be read in its entirety), it doesn’t seem like the Astros will take a passive approach and hope that the eventual returns of Lowrie, George Springer and Scott Feldman will be enough to propel them to a division title.

Teams In Need Of Offense Monitoring Astros

Teams in search of offense are keeping an eye on the Astros, tweets ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Stark adds that if Jon Singleton wins the first base job in Spring Training — he’s hitting .381/.458/.619 in an obviously small spring sample — and Evan Gattis is healthy, then DH/first baseman Chris Carter could become available.

It’d be a surprise to see Carter moved this close to the season when he’s expected to be a significant piece of their offsense. Still, the Astros do have a player with a similar offensive production in Gattis, who is considerably more affordable. Gattis will earn just over the league minimum in 2015 and isn’t arbitration eligible until next winter. Carter is earning $4.18MM in 2015 as a Super Two player and will only see his price tag rise, as he’ll be arb-eligible three more times before hitting free agency. Both are controlled through the 2018 season.

Were Gattis to shift to DH (presumably also filling in occasionally in the corner outfield, at first base and/or behind the plate), the team could deploy Colby Rasmus in a corner outfield spot and use Jake Marisnick‘s excellent glove in center field, giving the club a much improved defense (albeit at the cost of some significant power).

The Astros, it would seem, have a few other bats that could be displaced by the offseason’s activity. Matt Dominguez has 20-homer power at third base but has struggled in terms of average and OBP over the past two seasons; offseason acquisition Luis Valbuena seems poised to take over his regular role at third base. Robbie Grossman has yet to carry his .304/404/.418 batting line  from Triple-A over to the Majors and now looks at a crowded outfield mix involving Rasmus, Gattis, Marisnick, George Springer and Alex Presley (who could be squeezed out of playing time in his own right). Of course, these names are purely speculative, but the Astros do have crowded pictures in the outfield and in the infield, which could lead to some late-spring transactions. It should be noted that the 29-year-old Presley is out of minor league options, as well.

Further Moves Likely For Astros

The Astros made a splash yesterday by acquiring Evan Gattis from the Braves in exchange for Michael Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman, but the team is “almost certainly not done” making moves, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (All links to Twitter).

Houston has three catchers on the 40-man roster (not including Gattis) and has discussed trades of Carlos Corporan, Jason Castro and Dexter Fowler as well, according to Rosenthal. If either Corporan or Castro were to be moved, Hank Conger could split time with the remaining catcher, with Gattis filling in behind the plate sporadically. As far as a potential trade of Fowler, both George Springer and Jake Marisnick are capable of handling center field, and Fowler, of course, is in his final year of team control before reaching the open market.

Additionally, Rosenthal lists Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez as trade possibilities, noting that Gattis could fill the role of a right-handed DH/first baseman in Carter’s stead. The signing of Jed Lowrie gives Houston an option to play at third, should Domniguez be dealt. Rosenthal also adds that the Astros have some concern to how much they’ve thinned out their pitching depth (Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano, Jarred Cosart and Jordan Lyles have all been traded in the past two offseasons), indicating that the Astros may prefer to acquire some young pitching should any of those bats be moved.

Yesterday, Rosenthal and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports indicated that Houston may be looking at short-term additions for the back of its rotation, with Rosenthal naming Kyle Kendrick and Ryan Vogelsong as potential targets.

Players Avoiding Arbitration: Wednesday

We’ll keep track of the day’s smaller arbitration deals in this post, with all projections mentioned referring to those of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. Here’s the latest…

  • Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press tweets that the Astros have avoided arbitration with Chris Carter, settling on a one-year, $4.175MM pact. Carter, 28, cut back on his strikeout rate to an extent in 2014 (it still checked in at 31.8 percent), but the real improvement came in terms of his power production. The slugger finished with 37 home runs, trailing only Nelson Cruz and tying him with Giancarlo Stanton for second in the Majors in long balls. His elite power served him well, as Swartz’s projection model had him ticketed for $3.5MM.
  • In addition to avoiding arb with Drew Stubbs (link) and Tyler Chatwood (who inked a two-year deal), the Rockies have also avoided arb with right-hander Jordan Lyles, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Lyles will earn a salary of $2.475MM in 2015, per Heyman. A client of Palmetto Sports Group, Lyles enjoyed a nice season with the Rockies that was shortened, to an extent, by a fractured broken left hand (his non-throwing hand). Still, the 24-year-old worked 126 1/3 innings, posting a career-best 4.33 ERA with 6.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and an excellent 51.7 percent ground-ball rate. Lyles’ performance prior to the injury — 3.52 ERA, 3.76 xFIP — was markedly better than his post-injury performance, though the discrepancy between his post-injury ERA  (5.31) and xFIP (4.23) indicates that there could be further improvement. He had been projected to receive $2.5MM.
  • The Yankees have announced a deal to avoid arbitration with righty Ivan Nova. He will earn $3.3MM, per a tweet from the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. That sum also matches Nova’s salary from 2014, unsurprisingly, as he missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery after struggling out of the gate. Nova, who just turned 28, had a highly productive 2013 campaign (3.10 ERA in 139 1/3 frames). Though he posted significant innings totals in prior years, he had never put together a season like that in terms of both results and peripherals (3.47 FIP). All said, it was an easy call for New York to roll the dice on Nova’s rehabilitation.

West Notes: Angel Stadium, Carter, D’backs Front Office

The Angels have cut off talks with the city of Anaheim regarding a new ballpark lease arrangement, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Owner Arte Moreno says that the club can afford to build a new ballpark, and indeed the team is exploring its options in other Los Angeles-area locations. After agreeing upon a “deal framework” a year ago, the parties have been unable to finalize a new contract.

Here’s more out of the west:

  • Astros slugger Chris Carter will be shopping for a new agent after losing former adviser Dave Stewart,’s Brian McTaggart reports on Twitter. The decision is a particularly important one for Carter, 27, given that he will qualify for arbitration as a Super Two player in the coming offseason. His 37 home runs make for a nice arb case, of course, but his raise will be well-deserved. Carter’s bottom-line production over the last three years: .228/.322/.480 (121 OPS+) over 1,409 plate appearances with 82 long balls.
  • Stewart, of course, made the rounds today after being announced as the Diamondbacks‘ new general manager. One burning question has been how Arizona will incorporate statistical analysis into its decisionmaking, and Stewart told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link) that the organization must “get on board with it” after having not done so to present. That does not mean that the club will turn its back entirely on its scouting and culture-heavy focus; to the contrary, Stewart made clear that he hopes former GM Kevin Towers will stay on and discussed the importance of developing an organizational culture in several interviews.
  • One element of the D’backs decisionmaking structure that has become clear is that De Jon Watson will play an important role in developing and disseminating information. In an appearance on the team’s television broadcast, Watson said that he will have wide-ranging responsibilities in the arenas of amateur scouting, player development, and MLB roster construction. He indicated that he likes the idea of being able to have such a broad role. That being said, Watson said the club intends to keep scouting director Ray Montgomery and player development director Mike Bell in their present roles.
  • Turning to the actual ballclub, Stewart said in an appearance on 98.7’s Burns & Gambo show that Arizona has no intention of dealing away young talent. Calling the team’s farm system “pretty much depleted,” Stewart said that rebuilding depth — rotation candidates, especially — was a key focus. That being said, Stewart indicated that he hopes to put a winning club on the field quickly and will look to the free agent market for a “front end guy.”

Astros Looking To Move Chris Carter

3:11pm: Though Seattle is in need of offense, the Mariners don’t have interest in Carter, a source tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

3:08pm: The Astros are looking to trade first baseman/DH Chris Carter, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link).

The 27-year-old Carter has plenty of power, as evidenced by the 50 homers he’s mashed since Opening Day 2013 (21 this season). However, the righty slugger is hitting just .212 with a .291 OBP despite a .474 slugging percentage that is huge, considering his paltry batting average.

Carter also comes with limited defensive value. He has some experience in left field, but the results haven’t been pretty (-29.6 UZR/150, -7 DRS in 509 innings). He’s also highly strikeout prone, having whiffed in 31.7 percent of his PAs this season and 33.9 percent in his career. Carter will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason and is under team control through 2018.

Cafardo On Utley, Gonzalez, Crain, Yankees

As impressive as young players like Manny MachadoMiguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Yasiel Puig have been, no one was more spectacular than young Alex Rodriguez, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.  However, A-Rod has since tarnished his legacy by being linked to performance enhancing drugs.  It all comes back to Rodriguez's love of baseball, because for him, being the best was never good enough.  Now he finds himself rehabbing from injury in Tampa, Florida and no one knows how it will play out.  Rodriguez could retire because of a physical disability and collect the remaining $114MM on his contract or he return to the Yankees after the All-Star break and provide the righthanded bat they sorely need.  Here's more from today's column..

  • One team that has at least discussed acquiring the PhilliesChase Utley is the Royals.  Kansas City would love to stabilize their lineup and/or second base situation with someone of Utley’s caliber.  Meanwhile, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that he wants the second baseman to retire in a Phillies uniform, if possible.
  • The Red Sox are one of the teams extremely interested in Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, but they won’t break the bank for him, according to a team source.  The Sox were certainly burned by the Daisuke Matsuzaka signing and don’t want to get burned again on a deal for the 26-year-old righthander. Even though Gonzalez seems to be the real deal, past injuries seem to be giving some teams pause. 
  • White Sox reliever Jesse Crain will draw interest and Cafardo warns not to rule out the Red Sox. Pitching coach Juan NIeves coached him in Chicago and he’s a stable force at the end of games.  Meanwhile, there will be others vying for Crain, including the Orioles and Yankees.  Our own Charlie Wilmoth recently examined Crain as a trade candidate.
  • FIrst baseman Chris Carter is an interesting righthanded bat the Astros would move for the right package of young players. The Yankees are a possibility since they need a righthanded hitter who can play first base and the outfield.  Even though he strikes out a lot, the 26-year-old Carter could be an intriguing option for clubs. 
  • The Cubs have a lot of desirable trade pieces, starting of course with Matt Garza, who could be dealt sooner rather than later – maybe even sooner than the Marlins' Ricky Nolasco.  Besides Garza, there’s been a lot of interest in outfielder Nate Schierholtz and veteran righthander Scott Feldman, who Cafardo sees as a match for the Orioles.  Outfielders Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus along with relievers Kevin Gregg and James Russell could be moved as well.
  • While the Twins say that Glen Perkins is not available, they should expect some club – possibly the Tigers - to offer a substantial package.

Trade Reaction: Athletics-Astros Deal

The Athletics and Astros completed a five-player trade that fortifies the 2013 A’s and adds depth to Houston’s organization. Infielder Jed Lowrie and right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez join the Athletics in exchange for first baseman Chris Carter, starting pitcher Brad Peacock and catching prospect Max Stassi. Here’s the latest reaction to the trade, which was officially announced last night:

  • While the deal fits into Houston’s long-term vision, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wonders how low the Astros can go before becoming an embarrassment to MLB. The Astros have lost a total of 213 games since 2011, and it seems likely that they’ll struggle again in 2013. “There aren’t many years where you can say one team will definitely have the No. 1 pick,” a rival GM told Rosenthal. “But they will definitely have the No. 1.” Astros GM Jeff Luhnow maintains that his primary objective is putting together a consistent winner. “Whether that’s ’14, ’15, ’16, we don’t know. But that’s what we’re working toward. So, any move we make has to be seen in that light.”
  • The Astros added three young players with value, "but no star potential"'s Keith Law writes. It's a good return in terms of value, though none of the newcomers are likely to become All-Stars. Law wonders if the Astros could have obtained a possible star in the deal instead of adding depth.
  • The 2013 Athletics have a deeper, better infield following the trade, FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan explains. Meanwhile, the Astros have more talent now than they did at this time yesterday.
  •’s Buster Olney points out that Bud Norris’ $3MM salary now leads the Astros. That’s less than the average MLB salary and what Zack Greinke will earn in three weeks, as Olney points out. It's possible the Astros will have a historically poor record. "What you question is, how bad can they be," an NL official told Olney.
  • Entering the offseason it was clear the A’s needed to bolster the left side of their infield, and I like that they’ve managed to accomplish that goal at a reasonable cost. That said, I can see why the Astros decided to move Lowrie at a time that his trade value remains reasonably high.

Athletics Acquire Jed Lowrie In Five-Player Deal

The Astros announced that they sent shortstop Jed Lowrie to the Athletics in a five-player trade. The Astros acquire first baseman Chris Carter, starting pitcher Brad Peacock and catching prospect Max Stassi from the A's in the deal, which sends right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez to Oakland along with Lowrie. Jed Lowrie

The Astros are trading Lowrie approximately one year after acquiring him from the Red Sox. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow maintained throughout the offseason that he didn't want to trade Lowrie unless he could obtain impact players in return.

“This trade gives us power, pitching and catching,” Luhnow said in a statement released by the team. “Three valuable commodities that will help improve our organization.”

Lowrie, who turns 29 in April, enjoyed arguably his best season in 2012 — his lone season in Houston. After being traded from the Red Sox along with Kyle Weiland in exchange for Mark Melancon, Lowrie hit .244/.331/.438. He hit a career-high 16 home runs, but was held to just 97 games due to a thumb sprain and an ankle injury. Unfortunately, those 97 games also represent a career-best for Lowrie as well.

Lowrie is set to earn $2.4MM in 2013 after avoiding arbitration with the Astros last month. He'll be eligible for arbitration a third and final time next offseason and is eligible for free agency following the 2014 season. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports points out (on Twitter), the Astros now have less than $15MM in guaranteed contracts for this upcoming season.

The 28-year-old Rodriguez struggled in 2012, posting a 5.37 ERA in 70 1/3 frames for the Astros. However, his FIP (4.22) and xFIP (4.23) are nearly identical to the marks he posted in 2011 when his ERA was 3.96. He averaged 93.9 mph on his heater last season and has fanned 136 batters in 123 1/3 innings. He can be controlled through 2017.

Peacock, who turned 25 on Saturday, ranked fourth on Baseball America's list of Top 10 Athletics prospects. The right-hander was a key component of last winter's Gio Gonzalez trade but had a down season in 2012. He had a 6.01 ERA, 9.3 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 134 2/3 innings for Oakland's Triple-A affiliate. BA's Jim Shonerd wrote in November that Peacock pitched up in the zone too frequently in 2012, and added:

"When he's going well, he still shows three quality pitches. Peacock's fastball works at 91-95 mph but lacks movement, underscoring the need for better command. He also flashes a sharp curveball and a changeup with depth. He has added a slider/cutter hybrid to help induce weak contact, but it remains a work in progress."

Stassi, 21, entered the season as Oakland's No. 14 prospect, according to BA. He spent 2012 at High-A Stockton, where he batted .268/.331/.468 with 15 homers in 360 trips to the plate. He's been bothered by shoulder problems throughout his professional career, but BA praises his compact swing, solid power and ability to use the middle of the field.

The 26-year-old Carter is a former top prospect in his own right, and he displayed the power that earned him that distinction in 2012. Carter batted .239/.350/.514 with 16 homers in 260 plate appearances for the A's. He is under team control through 2018 and is not yet eligible for arbitration.

Beane has now traded away two of the four players he acquired in last offseason's trade of Gonzalez. He moved A.J. Cole back to Washington in a trade that sent John Jaso to the A's and Mike Morse to the Mariners. Tommy Milone and Derek Norris still remain a part of the A's organization.

Steve Adams also contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.