Houston Astros Rumors

Houston Astros trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Quick Hits: Gardenhire, Bryant, Valverde

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was in attendance as the team his son coaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout took on a Twins rookie team Tuesday, would be thrilled to manage again, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune writes. “Oh, no. I’ve got a lot left in me in baseball,” says Gardenhire, shown in a photo wearing a T-shirt and smoking a cigar. “If somebody is looking for a manager and I’m a fit, great. I would love to manage again.” After the Twins fired him following last season following the team’s fourth straight season of 92-plus losses, Gardenhire lived for a month in an RV parked near his daughter’s house in Oklahoma while he waited for his first grandchild to be born. Gardenhire turned down a front-office job with the Twins, but says he’s still willing to help his former organization, perhaps with occasional scouting tasks. Here’s more from around the game.

  • MLBPA head Tony Clark says it’s “unfortunate” that teams delay promotion of top prospects for service-time reasons, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports. “We don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest, and we don’t think it’s in the industry’s best interest, to not have the best players on the field all the time,” says Clark. This has become, of course, a point of discussion every year. This season, top Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has been the focus of the issue. The Cubs are likely to send him to the minors to start the season even though he’s leading MLB in Spring Training homers with six.
  • One Padres move that didn’t attract much attention in a high-profile winter was their signing of former Diamondbacks, Astros and Tigers closer Jose Valverde to a minor-league deal. Valverde has performed well in camp, however, and now appears to have a good shot to make the team, Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com writes. “I feel like I’m 21 because I’m throwing 98 [mph],” says Valverde. “I’m surprised because I haven’t walked anybody yet.” Bloom suggests Valverde could even be the Padres’ closer. That would be an upset if it came to pass, since Joaquin Benoit performed well in that role last year after the team traded Huston Street.

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.


Quick Hits: Walters, Kang, Aiken

Right-handed power hitters carried the day in 2014, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. By the numbers, 12 of the top 16 power hitters batted right-handed. Several clubs including the Padres, Astros, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays have committed to a mostly right-handed lineup in a search for more power. Unfortunately, right-handed power extends to the mound, where an influx of relievers are throwing over 95 mph with nasty secondary pitches.

Here’s more from around the game:

  • Indians utility fielder Zach Walters has injured his oblique and will miss the next three to four weeks, reports Chuck Crow of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Walters was acquired last season in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera. The switch-hitter is a career .193/.253/.452 batter in 146 plate appearances, most of which came last season. He played five positions for the Nationals and Indians last season. Oblique injuries can be tricky to rehab, so expect the club to proceed slowly.
  • Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang has the work ethic and bat speed to succeed in the majors, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The South Korean star will make his major league debut this season. No former KBO hitter has succeeded in the majors, so Kang will aim to pave the road for future generations. He uses the exaggerated leg kick first popularized by Sadaharu Oh, but he quiets it with two strikes. FanGraphs swing expert Dan Farnsworth analyzed Kang’s swing earlier this winter (FG+ required), concluding “he has all the makings of an absolute monster.”
  • Former number one draft pick Brady Aiken is expected to make his season debut with IMG Post Grad on Thursday, tweets Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. Aiken was selected by the Astros last June, but their agreement fell apart due to concerns about his pitching elbow. Aiken remains among the top prospects in the draft, although the Astros will presumably pass on selecting him with either of their top five picks.


Central Notes: Rosen, Robertson, Rodriguez

The Indians announced that former star third baseman Al Rosen died last night. He was 91. “He was an inspiration to us all and had a special presence, strength and intellect,” says Indians president Mark Shapiro, calling Rosen’s competitiveness and toughness “legendary.” Rosen hit .285/.384/.495 over a ten-year big-league career spent entirely with the Indians. His best season came in 1953, when he hit .336/.422/.613, won the AL MVP award and missed a Triple Crown by one point of batting average. Injuries ended his playing career early, but he went on to become president and chief operating officer of the Yankees (1978-79), then became president and GM of the Astros (1980-85) and Giants (1985-92). Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • The White Sox paid $46MM for closer David Robertson, but they weren’t planning on spending heavily on a closer if they didn’t get him, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes. Robertson was the specific player they wanted, and if they hadn’t gotten him, they would have developed a closer internally. “I still feel strongly that we have a very solid track record in terms of that development, whether it’s (Bobby) Jenks or (Sergio) Santos or (Addison Reed) or whomever else through the years, like Keith Foulke before that,” says GM Rick Hahn. “And that’s going to continue to serve us as we build out the bullpen from the back in front of David.”
  • Reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who officially signed with the Brewers Saturday, turned down more money elsewhere to return to Milwaukee, Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel tweets. His decision to sign with the Brewers was primarily about his comfort with pitching for them, not about finances, he says. 2015 will be the fifth consecutive season in which Rodriguez will have spent at least part of the year with the Brewers.

Tony Clark On Astros, Nix, Draft, Springer, Singleton

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed a host of interesting topics in an interview with Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich published two separate articles, both are worth a full read: one focusing on draft-related issues and the other on various recent contractual matters at the major league level.

Generally, Clark had positive words for Houston, crediting the team with a “tremendous stable of young talent,” which, along with some recent veteran signings, “suggests that there’s a plan in place and a light at the end of this rainbow.” He noted that the team’s relatively new ownership and management group is “continuing to acclimate.”

Here are some more key takeaways:

  • We’ll turn first to the well-publicized matter of the Astros failing to sign recent draftees Jacob Nix and Brady Aiken. Drellich reports that the settlement between the club Nix, which avoided a grievance proceeding, was actually for a value in the six-figure range, not the full $1.5MM he had originally agreed upon for a bonus (as had previously been reported). Aiken, meanwhile, has not taken any formal action — either through the grievance proceeding or otherwise. Clark says that the “entire situation was unfortunate,” but declined to criticize the club for manipulating the draft prrocess (as he had previously charged) and indicated that the focus was on ensuring that the players “land on their feet with an opportunity to get drafted again this year.”
  • Drellich explains that the settlement avoided a potentially tricky jurisdictional issue in the grievance matter. Even as the team (if not also the league) bore risk of an adverse judgment from an arbitrator, Nix himself could have won a hollow victory by having the better of the substantive argument but not receiving any actual monetary relief. This is because the draft is a subject of collective bargaining, but non-40-man players like Nix are not members of the union. Clark did not tip his hand on the union’s view regarding possible changes to the draft, but did say he has “a feeling it’ll be a topic of discussion when we sit down in ’16.”
  • Last year, the Astros (among other teams) came under scrutiny regarding service time considerations, in their case involving two of the team’s best prospects. Outfielder George Springer turned down an extension offer and started the season in the minors. Per the report, “steps that could have eventually led to a grievance hearing were taken on his behalf,” though that process was halted when Springer was ultimately promoted. Because he missed the first couple weeks of the season, Springer will be controlled for an additional season, though he is lined up to qualify for another arbitration year as a Super Two.
  • Meanwhile, first baseman Jon Singleton ultimately accepted a $10MM extension and was simultaneously promoted to the big leagues. That deal — the first of its kind — created quite a stir, though as I explained at the time there were certainly good reasons for the youngster to reach agreement. Clark’s comments were fascinating on this point, given the controversy surround the contract. “We are supportive of every opportunity a player has to sign a contract,” Clark said. “All we ever ask is that the player is as educated as he can be on all the different moving pieces that may enter that conversation. But no, we think it’s great, and we also think it’s a testament to how well the industry is doing that clubs are being willing more and more to make those commitments to guys who are younger and younger.” (If you’re interested in the subject, Singleton’s agent, Matt Sosnick, explained the deal from his perspective in a recent MLBTR Podcast episode, at the 10:33 mark.)

Minor Moves: Escalona, Head, Rowland, Stock

Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reports several new minor league transcations (all coming via Twitter). Let’s take a look…

  • The Giants have signed hard-throwing right-hander Edgmer Escalona to a minor league pact, Eddy reports. Though Escalona didn’t appear in the Majors least year, the Orioles thought enough of his arm to give him a Major League deal in the offseason. Escalona, 28, has a career 4.50 ERA in exactly 100 innings in the Majors, but he posted a 5.80 ERA from 2012-13 with Colorado. Though he averages just under 94 mph on his heater, he’s only whiffed 6.4 hitters per nine innings in the Majors.
  • The Athletics released corner infielder Miles Head after a pair of injury-plagued seasons in which he batted just .233/.292/.352 at Double-A. Head was one of the prospects sent to the A’s from the Red Sox in the Josh Reddick-Andrew Bailey swap prior to the 2012 season and has previously ranked among the organization’s 10 best prospects.
  • Right-hander Robby Rowland has signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals, per Eddy. Formerly a third-round pick of the D-Backs (2010), Rowland has yet to pitch at a level higher than Class-A Advanced. He has a lifetime 5.28 ERA in the minors with 5.6 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. Rowland turned 23 in December.
  • The Astros have signed righty Robert Stock, says Eddy. Stock is a converted catcher who was drafted in the second round by the Cardinals in 2009 when Houston GM Jeff Luhnow was still their scouting director. Stock is clearly still a work in progress on the mound, as he’s walked 6.9 hitters per nine innings at two different Class-A levels.

NL Notes: Thornton, Dodgers, Young, Neshek

Nationals lefty Matt Thornton has exceedingly rare velocity for his age, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. Now 38, Thornton joins former closer Billy Wagner as the only 35-and-up southpaws to sustain a 95+ mph average fastball over an entire season. Thornton’s method of maintaining his velo is rooted in a somewhat non-traditional workout program and commitment to an early but gradual build-up each offseason. The Nats have benefited thus far from picking up the veteran on a waiver claim last August, thus taking on his $3.5MM salary this year, and he is arguably the club’s top left-handed pen arm heading into 2015.

More from around the National League:

  • The new Dodgers front office is finding its hands tied somewhat in putting together a final roster, as Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register writes. While the organization likely would prefer to open the year with recent acquisitions Chris Heisey and Enrique Hernandez on the bench, the contracts of Andre Ethier and Alex Guerrero make that difficult. Both Heisey and Hernandez have options, creating some flexibility, and will presumably start out at Triple-A unless the team swings a trade.
  • Eric Young Jr. is the early leader for the Braves center field job out of camp, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Manager Fredi Gonzalez says that the club feels comfortable with Young’s ability to play the position defensively in spite of his limited experience.
  • Reliever Pat Neshek says he was somewhat disappointed, but understanding, of the Cardinals‘ decision not to pursue him after his breakout year with the club, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Neshek ultimately landed with the Astros for two years and $12.5MM. In discussions during last season, GM John Mozeliak told Neshek that he held a “lottery ticket” and that the team would not be able to compete with the offers Neshek would receive on the open market. “In one sense it was kind of disappointing,” said Neshek, “but he knew it. He saw better. He could do something cheaper and try to get better. I see where they’re coming from. It was a good run. It worked out for everybody.”

Out Of Options Players: AL West

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I’ve included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR’s sources.  Today, we’ll take a look at the AL West.

Astros: Chris Carter, Alex Presley, Luis Valbuena, Sam Deduno

Presley is vying for the Astros’ fourth outfielder job, competing with Robbie Grossman.  Grossman is off to a hot start in four games this spring, but he has options.  That and a $1MM contract make Presley the favorite, unless the Astros trade him.

Deduno is competing with Asher Wojciechowski, Roberto Hernandez, and Dan Straily for the Astros’ fifth starter job.  He was knocked around on Friday, but none of the others have distinguished themselves.  Deduno’s lack of options should help him make the team in some capacity, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle.  Drellich also noted that Brett Oberholtzer‘s lat strain is a factor.

Angels: Drew Butera, Johnny Giavotella, Cesar Ramos

Butera is expected to serve as the Angels’ backup catcher behind Chris Iannetta.  Giavotella, acquired from the Royals in the offseason, is part of the Angels’ second base competition this spring.  He’s battling with Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, and Taylor Featherston.  According to MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez last Friday, two or even three of these players will make the team.

Ramos’ spot in the team’s bullpen is secure.

Athletics: Fernando Abad, Jesse Chavez, Sam Fuld, Evan Scribner, Stephen Vogt

Chavez seems guaranteed a spot on the pitching staff, whether in the rotation or as the long man.  Abad seems locked in as well.  Scribner is in the mix for a bullpen spot, which will become a tighter squeeze if Chavez doesn’t make the rotation.  Jeremy F. Koo of Athletics Nation had a strong A’s bullpen breakdown a week ago.

Mariners: Dustin Ackley, Erasmo Ramirez, Justin Ruggiano

Ackley will platoon in left field this year with Rickie Weeks, while Ruggiano is expected to pair up with Seth Smith in right field.

Ramirez is competing with Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, and Kevin Correia for the Mariners’ fifth starter job, and he’s not considered the favorite.

Rangers: None


Colby Rasmus Discusses His Future

Outfielder Colby Rasmus, who signed a one-year, $8MM contract with the Astros this offseason, sat down with Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this past weekend to discuss his tumultuous tenure with the Cardinals, and in doing so, he revealed an interesting view of his future in the sport. Rasmus told Hummel that he wasn’t eyeing a particularly lengthy career. Rather, he hopes to play this season in Houston, then possibly play for another three years before retiring to his recently purchased cattle ranch to spend time with his wife and two daughters.

“I’m getting a little older now” said the 28-year-old Rasmus. “I’ve been taking a beating on this body. I’m a lot older than I used to be. Playing on that turf in Toronto was pretty tough. It has a nice slab of concrete underneath and I was diving on it. I didn’t baby myself and take it easy.”

While one can hardly blame Rasmus for wanting to spend time with his family, it’s rare to hear a player express a desire to retire at such a young age. Rasmus will only have recently turned 32 at the end of the 2018 season — an age at which many are still in the latter stages of their prime and seeking lucrative multi-year deals on the free agent market.

Rasmus won’t likely be hurting for money by that point; he’ll have earned more than $23MM in salary by the end of this season alone (plus a $1MM signing bonus from the draft), and another three years of market-value salary could easily double that sum, if not more, depending on how Rasmus plays in 2015.

Still, this is certainly something to bear in mind as Rasmus approaches free agency again next offseason. While it’s entirely possible that a new environment and getting away from artificial turf will change Rasmus’ tune when it comes to his future, sticking to this desire would create a rare scenario in which a player in the midst of his physical prime would seek a limited contract in terms of years.

As such, a big season from Rasmus in Houston could lead to a very interesting trip through the free agent market, with teams potentially bidding aggressively in terms of average annual value, knowing that the allure of additional years won’t necessarily hold appeal. Of course, with a big enough season — e.g. something similar to his .276/.338/.501 batting line from 2013 — teams may very well try to test his convictions by offering longer-term deals at a price that’s difficult to turn down.


AL Notes: Darvish, Porcello, Kluber, Royals, Gattis

The Rangers have an insurance policy on Yu Darvish and could recoup more than half of his $10MM salary if he undergoes Tommy John surgery and misses the year, reports Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. The Rangers could use the insurance proceeds to add payroll. The policy’s total value to the club, however, is dependent on when the clock begins on the deductible. Grant notes the Rangers could make a case that this injury is a recurrence of the elbow problems Darvish suffered last year sidelining him for the final 50 days of the 2014 season.

Elsewhere in the American League:

  • Darvish’s injury is not just a blow to the Rangers, but to all of baseball, opines CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman.
  • Rick Porcello told reporters, including Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (via Twitter), he has not had extension talks with the Red Sox this spring and does not expect to have any.
  • The Indians and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber have not made any progress in negotiating a contract extension, writes Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Kluber is a pre-arbitration eligible player and Wednesday is the deadline for signing such players. If a deal cannot be reached, teams can renew the contracts of those players at their discretion, usually for a fraction above the MLB minimum of $507.5K. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently provided a primer on understanding pre-arbitration salaries.
  • In a separate article, Hoynes chronicles how the Indians have re-built their farm system through the draft (especially their willingness to select high-upside high schoolers rather than college players), trades, and international free agent signings.
  • Royals GM Dayton Moore told reporters, including MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan right-hander Chris Young, who the club signed yesterday, will make the team and pitch out of the bullpen. Flanagan notes, in a second article, the Royals have discussed keeping eight relievers and, if so, will have several contenders battling for just one spot.
  • Evan Gattis has had two months to reflect upon his trade to Astros and still has mixed feelings, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The negative is that there’s a good fan base in Atlanta, I felt loved there,” Gattis said. “The positives are that I’m in the American League, I might be a little more durable; I’m going to try to have a healthy season. And I’m in Texas, stoked about that. So yeah, positives and negatives.