Houston Astros Rumors

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

Texas Notes: Banister, Lewis, Astros Targets

The Rangers overcame the first hurdle of their offseason when they signed manager Jeff Banister earlier this week. Speaking of hurdles (and bad puns), the erstwhile Pirates bench coach is drawing frequent comparisons to recent colleague Clint Hurdle. Shortstop Elvis Andrus sees a similar passion for the game, reports Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. Another Rangers insider speaking with Bill Madden of the New York Daily News said, ““(The Rangers) have long had a love crush on Hurdle…and, in Banister, they felt like they were getting the closest thing to him.”

  • We learned earlier today that the Rangers have expressed interest in re-signing right-handed pitcher Colby Lewis. In a separate article for the Dallas Morning News, Fraley writes that the next step for the Rangers is to re-open communications with Lewis’ agent Alan Nero. Said Daniels, “We haven’t been able to spend much time on that. We can get back to that now.”
  • The Astros are thought to raise payroll by as much as $20MM next season and starting pitching could be a target, writes Chris Perry of The Crawfish Boxes. Perry focuses his attention on the shape of the market rather than picking a specific target. The top end of the free agent market – Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields – aren’t good fits, but anyone below the first tier could be in play. My own opinion: innings eaters like Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, and Kevin Correia could make sense. Keep in mind, the Astros department of decision sciences identified Collin McHugh prior to the season, so they could have other stealthy names in mind.

West Notes: Daniels, Lewis, Astros, Padres

The Rangers would like to finish an extension with president of baseball operations and GM Jon Daniels by the start of spring training, ESPN Dallas’ Calvin Watkins writes. Daniels is entering the last year of a four-year deal. His contract had been on the back burner as the Rangers looked for a new manager, but with Jeff Banister now in the fold, the Rangers should have more time. “We’ve been consumed for the last month on this, so [Daniels' extension] will fall in place,” says team co-chairman Ray Davis. Daniels’ teams have played in two World Series and had four 90-plus-win seasons since he was hired in 2005. Here are more notes from the West divisions.

  • The Rangers are interested in retaining pitcher Colby Lewis, and Daniels says he’s talked to Lewis’ agent, Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest tweets. The Rangers are the only team allowed to negotiate with Lewis until five days after the World Series. The impending free agent pitched 170 1/3 innings in 2014, and his 7.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 indicated he was somewhat better than his 5.18 ERA suggested.
  • The Astros have announced new manager A.J. Hinch’s 2015 coaching staff, as noted by Mark Berman of FOX 26 (on Twitter). Former Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens will take the same role with the Astros. Rich Dauer, previously the manager of the Double-A San Antonio Missions in the Padres organization, will be Houston’s first base coach. The team also officially announced that Gary Pettis will be their third base coach and Trey Hillman their bench coach.
  • The Padres announced a variety of changes in their player development area Friday, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Randy Smith, who had been vice president for player development, will become a senior advisor for baseball operations, and will focus on scouting. The team will not retain field coordinator Randy Johnson (not the former star pitcher), hitting coordinator Sean Berry or outfield and baserunning coordinator Glen Barker. The Padres could consider Rangers field coordinator Jayce Tingler for their farm director position, Lin notes.

West Notes: Dodgers, Tracy, Rasmus, Hillman

After years of spending to acquire elite players, the Dodgers finally wised up and spent to acquire an elite GM, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Andrew Friedman has turned down previous interest from the Angels and Astros, but he finally took an opportunity to step onto a bigger stage. His transition to L.A. won’t be like Theo Epstein’s transition to Chicago, however, Rosenthal notes, as people will expect Friedman and the Dodgers to win immediately and to win each year. Friedman will look to hire a GM, and Rosenthal wonders about former Nationals assistant GM Bryan Minniti, who resigned from that post last week. Major League sources tell Rosenthal that Friedman interviewed Minniti for a position with the Rays five or six years ago, so there’s clearly some interest there, and Minniti also has ties to president Stan Kasten.

Here’s more on the Dodgers and from the game’s Western divisions…

  • Minniti’s name also surfaces in a piece from Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles, as Saxon runs down some potential GM candidates for Friedman and the Dodgers. Saxon suggests one in-house candidate — director of analytics Alex Tamin — and four external names in addition: Yankees AGM Billy Eppler, Athletics AGM David Forst, Athletics AGM Dan Feinstein and Red Sox AGM Mike Hazen. In his full article, Saxon goes into much further detail about his reasoning behind suggesting each as a candidate.
  • The D’Backs are still working to round out their coaching staff, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, with only pitching coach Mike Harkey, first base coach Dave McKay and bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. guaranteed to return. Interestingly, Piecoro writes that the Snakes offered Jim Tracy their bench coach job after he was a finalist in their managerial search, but the former Rockies skipper refused. “The bench coach job is not what he wants to do,” said chief baseball officer Tony La Russa.
  • Cory Rasmus could be stretched into a full-time starter for the Angels in 2015 after a strong string of spot starts late in the season, writes MLB.com’s Matthew DeFranks. Rasmus says he’s yet to discuss the possibility with the team but expects it to come up over the winter and will prepare himself to be ready to throw as much as the team wishes. The Halos are short on rotation depth following Tyler Skaggs‘ Tommy John surgery and a late knee injury to Garrett Richards that will likely keep him on the shelf for the early portion of the 2015 campaign.
  • Former Royals manager Trey Hillman, who has been working as a special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, will be named the Astros‘ new bench coach, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich. In addition to his work in the Kansas City dugout and the Yankees’ front office, Hillman has 12 years of minor league managerial experience and five years of experience managing in Japan.

Quick Hits: Towers, Zimmermann, A-Rod

Kevin Towers considered another front office job with the Diamondbacks after being fired as the team’s general manager, but Towers told AZCentral.com’s Zach Buchanan that he chose to leave rather than possibly make things awkward for new GM Dave Stewart and his staff.  “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to be that elephant in the room when they’re making roster decisions or maybe letting people go,” Towers said. “‘I know K.T. likes him…’ I didn’t want them to have to worry about that.”  Towers said he’s spoken to a few teams and thinks he’ll be in a new job before the year is out, also hinting he likely wouldn’t return to one of his other ex-clubs (the Padres, Yankees and Pirates).

As we enjoy two LCS games today, here’s some news from around baseball…

  • With offense dropping around the game and a number of top-tier pitchers available in trades or free agency this offseason and next, this year’s free agent aces may find their markets slightly diminished, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (ESPN Insider subscription required).
  • Also from Olney’s piece, he reports that rival officials feel Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will test the free agent market when he is eligible after the 2015 season.  Zimmermann’s long-term status in Washington will be one of the biggest questions facing the Nats this winter.
  • Alex Rodriguez “is the most expensive mystery in baseball history,” Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes.  The Yankees currently have no idea if A-Rod will be able to handle third base on a regular basis, provide first base depth, hit well enough to earn DH at-bats or be healthy enough to play whatsoever.  This makes the team’s winter planning rather difficult, as just releasing Rodriguez would mean the Yankees have no way of recovering any of the $61MM remaining on his contract via insurance payments.
  • First baseman Dan Johnson is looking to add to his skillset by learning the knuckleball, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes.  “Why not have something else in the bag? Give yourself every chance,” Johnson said. “I’m not 24 anymore. I want to help out as much as possible and still be relevant in this game.”  Johnson, best known for his dramatic Game 162 homer for the Rays in 2011, recently elected to become a free agent after the Blue Jays outrighted him off their 40-man roster.
  • MLB.com’s Corey Brock profiles Dan Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native who rose from a teenage internship (mostly handling Mark McGwire’s fan mail) with the Cardinals to becoming the club’s scouting director.
  • The Astros are next up for Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel in his rankings of each team’s top prospects and their overall farm system depth.

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.