Houston Astros Rumors

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

Coaching Notes: Thome, Braves, Yankees

Here’s a roundup of coaching-related items as several teams look to revamp their bench staffs for 2015…

  • The Braves considered Jim Thome for their vacant hitting coach position, but the retired slugger wasn’t interested in the job, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports.  Atlanta’s list of hitting coach candidates includes such names as Milt Thompson and Rick Eckstein, while ex-hitting coach Terry Pendleton will likely stay as first base coach rather than return to his former position.
  • Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman has spoken to the Astros about becoming the team’s bench coach, George A. King III of the New York Post reports.  Hillman could also be a candidate to be the Yankees’ new first base coach or infield coach.
  • The Yankees announced that hitting coach Kevin Long and first base/infield coach Mick Kelleher won’t return in 2015.  Newsday’s Erik Boland speculates that former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette (one of Joe Girardi’s best friends) could be a contender to take over as hitting coach.  Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey, a long-time former Yankee bullpen coach, has been rumored to be on his way back to New York to resume his old job, which could set off a shuffle of other moves — Boland says current bullpen coach Gary Tuck could become the bench coach, while Tony Pena would move from bench coach to the open first base job.
  • Long will at least be discussed as a candidate for the Mets‘ hitting coach job, a source tells Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter link).

West Links: Saunders, Gregorius, Lovullo, Tomas

In a lengthy and interesting piece, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times looks at the potentially fractured relationship between the Mariners and Michael Saunders following some comments made by GM Jack Zduriencik at an end-of-season press conference. Asked at the time what he felt about Saunders’ future with the team, Zduriencik said, “…It’s up to Michael. … He was playing well, got hurt, came back, got sick, came back again and did some nice things. But I think what Michael has to do and has to answer this to himself, is ‘how do I prepare myself to play as many games through the course of 162 that I can possibly play without being setback by injury.’ … some of these things need to be handled from a maintenance standpoint where he put himself in a position where he’s able to compete through the course of the season.”

Divish spoke to Saunders himself, who declined to comment on the situation. Saunders’ agent, Michael McCann, said it was both “shocking” and “very disappointing.” Said McCann: “These comments don’t reflect Michael Saunders’ work habits. They imply that that he’s lackadaisical.” Part of the trouble, Divish writes, is that Saunders had never before had his work ethic or preparation questioned by the Mariners, and to have that done in a public forum was hurtful. Zduriencik clarified that the comments he made could be applied to any player, and he was adamant to Divish that the organization is not planning on moving on from Saunders. However, he has previously identified corner outfield as a potential area to add some offense. Divish speculates on an offseason trade, though he also notes that even if Saunders is pushed to the role of fourth outfielder, his low salary (he should earn less than $3MM via arbitration) would be an acceptable price for that role, especially given his upside. Over the past three seasons, the former top prospect has batted .248/.320/.423 with 39 homers and 38 steals. I should note that Divish’s entire piece is well worth the read, as this brief write-up doesn’t capture nearly all of the quotes and information he compiled.

Here’s more from baseball’s Western divisions…

  • The Diamondbacks should give strong consideration to moving one of their young shortstops if it can bolster the rotation, writes the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro. The Snakes finished the season with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed all on the roster, but no room to play all three of them with Aaron Hill being owed $24MM through 2016 and prospects Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury both looking like third base options in the near future. (Lamb already received a taste of the Majors in 2014.) The team seems to view Owings as the best of the bunch, given his greater offensive ceiling, but both Gregorius and Ahmed have value to other clubs. Piecoro spoke to rival executives about each shortstop, with one stating that while Gregorius might not bring back “a Matt Harvey or a Jacob deGrom,” he could be worth someone such as Rafael Montero of the Mets. Another evaluator told Piecoro that his club actually prefers Ahmed to Gregorius, so both could seemingly have good trade value.
  • Though he’s been a popular managerial candidate this year, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo will not be interviewed by the D’Backs for their own managerial vacancy, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Lovullo interviewed with the Astros prior to their hiring of A.J. Hinch, he’s already interviewed with the Rangers and will reportedly interview with the Twins as well.
  • Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler tells Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune that they have “definitely expanded our international focus under [new GM] A.J. [Preller].” Lin examines whether or not that could mean a legitimate run at Yasmany Tomas, though as he notes, that would be an unprecedented move for the Friars. In fact, last season’s signing of Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5MM contract was the largest free agent expenditure in franchise history, Lin points out. The largest contract in franchise history, he adds, is Jake Peavy‘s old three-year, $52MM deal. Tomas could cost double that amount, but the Padres have just $40.5MM committed to next year’s payroll, and the $90MM Opening Day figure from 2014 could rise, ownership has said.
  • After losing hitting coach John Mallee to the Cubs, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow spoke highly about Mallee’s work to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich points out that Mallee deserves some credit for the success of Jose Altuve and Chris Carter in 2014, although skeptics could also point to the strikeout problems some of the other team’s young hitters had. Luhnow said he hopes to have a finalized coaching staff in place by month’s end, and as Drellich notes, only pitching coach Brent Strom is a guarantee to return at this point.

NL Central Links: Cubs, Marshall, Cueto, Lara

The Cubs announced their finalized coaching staff for the 2015 season today, which included a pair of new additions: hitting coach John Mallee and first base/outfield coach Doug Dascenzo. Mallee spent the 2010-11 seasons as the Marlins’ hitting coach and the 2013-14 seasons as the hitting coach for the Astros. He also spent eight seasons with the Marlins as a minor league hitting instructor and brings to the table 19 overall years of pro baseball experience. Dascenzo spent the 2014 season as Atlanta’s third base coach and has previously spent 13 seasons in the Padres’ minor league system as a manager or coach. The rest of the coaching staff will return, though first base coach Eric Hinske will shift from first base coach to assistant hitting coach.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Reds lefty Sean Marshall tells MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that he’s progressing well in his rehab from June shoulder surgery. While he still has some range of motion work to do, Marshall says that he feels like he “has a whole new shoulder” and is aiming a return in Spring Training of next year. The 32-year-old has been limited to just 31 appearances over the past two seasons and is entering the final season of a three-year, $16.5MM contract.
  • In a second piece, Sheldon also spoke with Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto, who has a $10MM club option this offseason that the team is a lock to exercise. Cueto said that despite the small nature of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, he enjoys pitching there and wants to remain with the Reds. As manager Bryan Price noted to Sheldon, however, it’s unlikely that the team can afford to retain Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon, all of whom are free agents following the 2015 season. As Sheldon points out, Cueto is by far the most attractive trade chip of the bunch, and the Reds may not be able to afford his price tag if they look to go the extension route. They could, of course, also take another shot at contending next season and either trade Cueto in July if they fall out of the race or make a qualifying offer at season’s end if they do contend.
  • Top international prospect Gilbert Lara, signed by the Brewers for a $3.2MM bonus this summer, has selected Len Strelitz and Nick Chanock of the Wasserman Media Group as his agents, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).

Astros Decline Matt Albers’ Option, Outright Jesus Guzman And Rudy Owens

After letting Jorge De Leon go on a waiver claim, the Astros have cleared three additional roster spots with a series of moves today. As the club announced in a press release, it has declined its option over reliever Matt Albers and outrighted first baseman Jesus Guzman and lefty Rudy Owens. According to the team, Houston’s 40-man roster now has four vacancies, though it would appear from this list that it stands at 37 (with Albers still technically on the 60-day DL).

Albers, 31, will head back to the open market after an injury-shortened 2014 campaign. He allowed only one run in his ten frames on the year, striking out eight and walking three batters, but shoulder troubles ended his season. Houston had signed him to a one-year, $2.45MM deal that included the option. The Astros elected to pay a $200K buyout rather than taking on the $3MM option price.

Guzman, 30, continued to see his star fade after showing some promise earlier in his career with the Padres. He hit just .188/.272/.248 at the major league level. The 26-year-old Owens, meanwhile, had his first big league start but posted a 4.33 ERA in 135 innings at Triple-A, striking out 6.9 and walking 2.2 batters per nine.

Athletics Claim Jorge De Leon, Release Adam Dunn

The Athletics have claimed righty Jorge De Leon off waivers from the Astros, the team announced on Twitter. To clear 40-man space, Oakland released Adam Dunn.

Clearing Dunn from the roster was more a procedural mechanism than anything else at this point. The 34-year-old has indicated he is likely to retire at season’s end, and has already played out his contract. Over a short sample in Oakland, he put up a .634 OPS that dropped his season line to .219/.337/.415 over 511 plate appearances.

In De Leon, the A’s have picked up a hard-throwing reliever who has accrued minimal service time. The 27-year-old has thrown just 17 1/3 MLB innings, allowing ten earned runs and both striking out and walking ten batters. He was much better over 68 2/3 frames in the upper minors this year, however, posting a 3.01 ERA and posting 8.0 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.

Offseason Outlook: Houston Astros

It was a tumultuous season for the Astros, to say the least. A security breach led to a large number of trade notes being leaked to the public, the team failed to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken and manager Bo Porter was dismissed in September after apparent communications problems with the front office and possibly some players. GM Jeff Luhnow and his staff will need to work to move past that bad press and focus on furthering the rebuilding efforts.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (Service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

  • Matt Albers, RHP: $3MM club option with a $200K buyout

Free Agents

Houston’s offseason began while the season was still underway, to some degree, as the team fired Porter and began the search for a new manager. A.J. Hinch — a statistically inclined 40-year-old with previous experience as a big league skipper and front office exec — was selected for the job and seems to be a good fit with the team’s unorthodox philosophies. As for the payroll, that figure almost doubled from 2013 to 2014, though it still sat at just $50MM to open the year. Nonetheless, owner Jim Crane told the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich that payroll could go up by another $20MM and noted that Luhnow could look to “add some cornerstones” as long as it makes baseball sense. That’ll be addressed in more depth later, but first, a quick look back at the season that was.

Lost in many of the negative narratives surrounding the 2014 Astros was the fact that the team took a large step in the right direction in terms of results. The team made a 19-game improvement over its 2013 performance, and the much-hyped future began to emerge on the field. George Springer debuted and hit .231/.336/.468 with 20 homers in just 345 plate appearances, although his season was cut short by an injured quadriceps muscle. Unheralded hurlers Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh stepped out of obscurity and into the spotlight not only as reliable arms, but as potential front-line options. Each was worth more than three wins above replacement, per Fangraphs, and more than four WAR according to Baseball-Reference. The only player in baseball who hit more home runs than Carter was Nelson Cruz. Mike Foltynewicz and his 100 mph fastball made a bullpen cameo at season’s end, though the team hopes that his future is alongside Keuchel and McHugh in the rotation. And of course, Altuve hit .341/.377/.453 and captured his first batting title. The second baseman led all of Major League Baseball with 225 hits and swiped 56 bases — tops in the AL — in addition to his excellent work at the plate.

One much-ballyhooed name that didn’t contribute this season, however, was Singleton. His contract extension was widely considered a loss for the player and a steal for the Astros seemingly before the ink dried, but five months later, it’s hard to blame him for taking his first fortune. Singleton batted just .168/.285/.335 with a 37 percent strikeout rate, and while he may be Houston’s first baseman of the future, I’d imagine he’ll have to earn a roster spot next year. Carter can assume the first base duties if Singleton is ticketed for Triple-A to open the year.

Houston may feel set at catcher with Castro, even if he didn’t live up to the high standard he set with an elite 2013 campaign. The Stanford product hit .222/.286/.366 with 14 homers — numbers that, while unspectacular, aren’t vastly inferior to the .244/.309/.376 that MLB catchers averaged in 2014. The outfield, too, figures to be more or less locked in with Springer in right, Fowler in center and a combination of Jake Marisnick (acquired in July’s Jarred Cosart trade) and Robbie Grossman. Top prospect Domingo Santana is another option.

One player they could make an exception for would be Yasmany Tomas. Last offseason, Houston made serious runs at both Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka, falling a few million shy with their bid for Abreu and reportedly bidding over $100MM for Tanaka. Both were seen as more certain investments than Tomas, so it’s possible that Houston won’t be as interested this time around. However, one can also envision a scenario in which the team steadfastly refuses to miss out on a third international superstar and goes the extra mile for Tomas, especially if they’re convinced of his star potential. He could certainly qualify as one of the aforementioned “cornerstones,” and it does seem likely that the Astros will be involved. Were they to sign Tomas, Santana and Grossman could become trade chips, while Marisnick and Springer rounded out the long-term outfield mix. Of course, that’s all highly speculative.

Where else can Houston look to upgrade? The left side of the infield is a prime spot for Luhnow to target. Opening Day starters Matt Dominguez and Jonathan Villar flopped, as the former hit just .215/.256/.330 and the latter was every bit as feeble before eventually being demoted to the minors. Houston might not have to wait long until the future at each position arrives, however, as a pair of Top 6 draft picks from 2012-13 are looming. The Astros selected Carlos Correa — ranked as the game’s No. 3 prospect midseason by Baseball America and ESPN, and ranked second by MLB.com — with the first overall pick in 2012, and he dominated Class-A Advanced before a fractured fibula ended his season. Colin Moran, the UNC third baseman selected sixth overall by Miami in 2013, was acquired alongside Marisnick and hit .304/.350/.411 with Houston’s Double-A affiliate in 29 games at a young age for that level (21).

With Moran and Correa not terribly far off, stopgaps are an attractive and logical concept for the Astros. Houston could be a nice low-pressure environment for someone like Stephen Drew to attempt to rebuild his value on a one-year deal. He’d provide sound defense even if his bat didn’t fully recover despite a full Spring Training, and if he performed well, he would of course be a logical trade chip. The same could be said of Alberto Callaspo, who entered 2014 as a lifetime .273/.335/.381 hitter with a solid defensive reputation but batted just .223/.290/.290 this year. Neither option is elite, but both are bounceback candidates that could be had at relatively inexpensive levels. If Houston wants to look more long-term at third base for a potential mainstay, they could try to make the highest bid on a multi-year deal for Chase Headley, whom Tim Dierkes profiled earlier today.

As far as the rotation is concerned, Houston has a pair of potential stalwarts, as previously noted, in addition to the veteran Feldman as a solid rotation cog. Mark Appel‘s Class-A struggles were highly publicized, but rumors of his demise as a prospect looked to have been greatly exaggerated as soon as he reached Double-A. In 39 frames at that level, he posted a solid 3.69 ERA with a strong 38-to-13 K/BB ratio. He may not be a factor next year, but he’s firmly in the organization’s plans, along with Foltynewicz, Keuchel and McHugh. One-year, upside plays such as Brett Anderson, Brandon Morrow, Justin Masterson and Gavin Floyd all make some degree of sense. If the team wants to expand its search to include multi-year candidates, it may have to go the route it did with Feldman in 2013-14 — offer an extra year at a solid annual rate in order to secure the deal. (I speculated in my recent free agent profile on Brandon McCarthy that some clubs may go that route with him, for example.)

The bullpen presents perhaps the most glaring weakness on the team, and Luhnow has indicated that it will be a priority. Rolling the dice on Albers would be a $2.8MM gamble coming off some serious health issues, so I’d expect him to be bought out for $200K. After that decision, the remaining options aren’t inspiring. Beyond Qualls, Sipp and perhaps Josh Fields, there was little continuity and little reason to expect significantly better performance from the arms that were present. The team did claim Sam Deduno from the Twins in late August, so perhaps the plan is for him to serve as a swingman. Still there appears to be room for at least two veteran upgrades.

Throwing a lot of money at David Robertson doesn’t seem like something the club is likely to do, but there’s some upside to rolling the dice on a former closer who struggled a bit in 2014, such as Sergio Romo. Another avenue perhaps worth exploring would be to sign a setup man with a strong track record such as Luke Gregerson and promise him the ninth inning as a means of enticement. Some buy-low, late-inning options could include Andrew Bailey, Jason Motte and Luke Hochevar, though Houston may want more certainty after being burned by Crain in 2014. I like Jason Grilli, Casey Janssen and Burke Badenhop as fits for the Astros as well.

We’ve learned in past years that it’s tough to rule out the Astros trading anyone — just ask Cosart — and they do have some players that seem like candidates this coming winter. Fowler has just one year remaining before free agency and is projected to earn a fairly hefty $9MM. Castro could be an attractive trade chip for rival clubs given the paper-thin free agent market for catchers. Houston does have an in-house alternative at catcher in the form of the cost-controlled Max Stassi, who a year ago was their No. 12 prospect (per Baseball America) and ranked 19th among Astros farmhands on MLB.com’s midseason Top 20 list. The team reportedly shopped Carter this past July, although that was before he batted .253/.336/.526 with 16 homers in his final 52 contests. That impressive showing, especially given the difficulty of finding offense in today’s game, may have swayed their thinking. Then again, they may think that success unrepeatable and look to sell at peak value.

The Astros are staunchly unafraid of being nontraditional, and right or wrong, that often renders them as little more than a punchline in many circles. However, the team has an impressive farm system that is slowly crossing the threshold to the Major League roster, and it’s easy to envision a group that resembles a contender in the not-too-distant future. That time almost certainly won’t be 2015, however, unless the ‘Stros catch a large number of breaks. A few well-calculated stopgaps could help bridge the gap to the next wave of talent — Correa, Moran, Appel, Foltynewicz, Santana, Josh Hader and others — and potentially lead to a further influx of talent into the Houston pipeline. A veteran “cornerstone,” as Crane alluded to, isn’t out of the question, but aside from a run at a young talent like Tomas, it’s difficult to envision the Astros playing at the top of the free agent market.

Astros Payroll Could Rise By $20MM

Astros owner Jim Crane says that the club’s payroll could increase by about $20MM next year, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. Increased payroll availability does not mean that the team will use that cash, Crane cautioned, though he sounded willing to spend if it makes baseball sense.

“I think somewhere around [$20MM],” said Crane. “We’re not going to spend it to spend it. We’re going to try to spend it effectively and you know if we need to stretch a little, we’ll stretch a little. If there’s not a good reason to do that, we won’t do that. But you know we’ll continue to move up.”

Houston started 2014 with about $50MM in payroll on the books, meaning that the team could move into the $70MM range next year. The club has less than $18MM guaranteed heading into the offseason, but will need to pay arbitration raises to several players, including Dexter Fowler, Jason Castro, and Chris Carter.

Crane added that the club’s television rights fee situation will have a major role in setting future spending. “A couple of years ago we only got paid half of our rights fees,” he explained. “This year we didn’t get paid anything and this year hopefully we go back and get something paid for our coverage and it’ll have a big impact on what we’ll be able to spend on the team.” Specifically, Crane indicated that a nine-figure budget could be in the cards depending upon how the TV situation shakes out.

In terms of where that money might be allocated, Crane said that GM Jeff Luhnow would look to “add some more cornerstones.” As the team continues to work to add talent to its developing young core, Crane indicated that it might be expected to sign two or three major league free agents this year.

Richards, Shoemaker, Castro, Furbush, And Morrison Change Agencies

Relativity Sports has added an even handful of new clients, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports (Twitter links). In addition to Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker of the Angels, Relativity has taken on Jason Castro of the Astros along with Charlie Furbush and Logan Morrison of the Mariners as clients. Each of those players had been with Octagon, but it appears that they followed agent Fred Wray to his new agency.

Among this group of players, only Shoemaker has yet to reach arbitration eligibility. He and fellow breakout Angels starter Richards (who will be entering his first arb year as a Super Two) could well become extension candidates if they maintain their form. Meanwhile, Castro could be a somewhat difficult-to-peg arbitration case, as he looks to improve on his $2.45MM salary after a rough year.

Morrison, too, could require some effort from his new firm. He managed to bridge a large gap in filing figures last year, settling on a $1.75MM deal. But Morrison’s future remains unclear after putting up a solid, if unspectacular, .262/.315/.420 slash over 365 plate appearances. He could be ready to go through another (relatively) high-stakes round of arbitration negotiations, find himself dealt to a new club, or even be set loose to find a new club on the open market.

Be sure to check out MLBTR’s Agency Database for the most up-to-date information on player representation.

Carlos Correa, Tyler Chatwood Change Agencies

Top Astros prospect Carlos Correa — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft — has changed representation and is now a client of Greg Genske and the Legacy Agency, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). In other agency news, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation’s MLB Daily Dish tweets that Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood has switched agents as well and is now a client of agent Bob Garber. He had previously been with MVP Sports.

A report from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick earlier this week indicated that Correa was leaving his previous agents at KMG and seeking new representation, having talked with Legacy, the Boras Corporation, MVP and Excel Sports. The Puerto Rican shortstop ranked second on the midseason edition of MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list, and he ranked third on the same lists from Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider subscription required).

Correa, who recently turned 20 years old, was in the midst of an outstanding season with Houston’s Class-A Advanced affiliate this season despite being nearly four years younger than the league’s average age at 19 before breaking his fibula while sliding. He batted .325/.416/.510 with six homers and 20 steals in 293 plate appearances before his injury. In his scouting report, Law noted that Correa has improved at every stop on both sides of the game, giving him a chance to stick at shortstop defensively. Both his power and plate discipline progressed faster than even some optimistic scouts had expected, Law adds.

Chatwood, 24, had a breakout season with the Rockies in 2013, posting a 3.15 ERA with 5.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 58.5 percent ground-ball rate in 111 1/3 innings. However, he tossed just 24 innings in 2014 before his season would come to an end with an injury that would eventually require Tommy John surgery. Chatwood underwent his operation on July 19, so it’s possible that he could return to the Rockies late in the 2015 campaign. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason. As Cotillo notes in a second tweet, Chatwood had previously left the Boras Corporation for MVP back in January.

Both of these changes are now reflected in MLBTR’s Agency Database, which contains agent information on more than 2,000 Major League and Minor League players. If you see any errors or omissions within the database, please let us know via email: mlbtrdatabase@gmail.com.

Agency Notes: A.J. Pollock, Carlos Correa

As always, you can find information on player representation in MLBTR’s Agency Database. Here’s the latest on notable agency changes:

  • Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock has changed representatives, moving to Brian Peters of the Legacy Sports Group, according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Pollock had been represented by Icon Sports Management. The 26-year-old dealt with some injuries this year, but that did not detract much from the sparkling .302/.353/.498 line, with 7 home runs and 14 stolen bases, that he put up in 287 plate appearances. With sparkling defense in center factored in, Pollock was worth a rather remarkable 3.9 rWAR and 3.3 fWAR in that stretch. Though he is not arb-eligible until after the 2015 season, Pollock certainly looks like an extension candidate.
  • Top Astros prospect Carlos Correa is shopping around for a new agent, leading to a major chase to add him as a client, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter links). Among the contenders are such familiar outfits as the Legacy Agency, the Boras Agency, Excel Sports Management, and Dan Lozano. The shortstop, who just turned 20, is currently represented by Kinzer Management Group. Correa had his season cut short by a broken leg, but nevertheless saw his star continue to rise with a .325/.416/.510 campaign at High-A. He also swiped 20 bags and contributed six long balls. The first overall pick in the 2012 draft, Correa currently rates as the second-best prospect in all of baseball in the eyes of MLB.com.