The Astros welcomed a new owner, hired a new GM and agreed to switch leagues this past offseason.
Major League Signings
- Chris Snyder, C: one year, $850K.
- Jack Cust, OF: one year, $600K. Since released.
- Total spend: $1.45MM.
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Acquired RP Kevin Chapman and a player to be named later for OF Jason Bourgeois and C Humberto Quintero.
- Acquired SS Jed Lowrie and SP Kyle Weiland for RP Mark Melancon.
- Claimed OF Fernando Martinez from the Mets.
- Claimed UT Brian Bixler from the Nationals.
- Claimed C Craig Tatum from the Orioles. Later claimed by Diamondbacks.
Draft Picks Gained or Lost
- Obtained 41st overall selection for losing Barmes.
Drayton McLane and Ed Wade have moved on and before long the Astros will be an American League team. The first offseason under owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow was full of off-field change, and the team itself will also have a new look after the GM's offseason trades.
Luhnow, the Cardinals' longtime VP of scouting and player development, dealt Major Leaguers for prospects in his first offseason as Houston's GM. He also hired analytically-minded baseball people such as Sig Mejdal and Mike Fast to help the club improve its decision making.
In the short-term, the Astros project as one the worst teams in baseball. No National League club allowed more runs a year ago, and the Astros outscored just three of their NL rivals. It's hard to imagine significant improvements given the current roster.
Luhnow's turned Mark Melancon into a shortstop (Jed Lowrie) and a starting pitcher (Kyle Weiland) in his first major trade as a GM. The Astros obtained more upside in the Melancon deal, and it could pay off as soon as 2012. Lowrie has shown promise at the plate over the years and Weiland progressed steadily through the minors before struggling at the MLB level in a 2011 cameo. He's not considered a top prospect, but may contribute at the back of Houston's rotation.
The Astros moved Brett Myers to the bullpen, where he'll close again. Myers had been a dependable fixture in Houston's rotation, so it was surprising to see him move to the bullpen where he'll pitch in 60 innings, rather than 200. While it's important for the Astros to see what Jordan Lyles and Weiland can do at the Major League level, opportunities would no doubt have emerged even if Myers had started. Perhaps the Astros know something we don't or believe Myers will have more trade value out of the bullpen.
It will remain hard to assess the trade that sent Jason Bourgeois and Humberto Quintero for Kevin Chapman until we learn the identity of the player to be named later heading to Houston. While Chapman's strikeout rates are intriguing, he appears to be a marginal prospect, so Astros fans are hoping for more. Luhnow told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart that the player to be named will be a "key component" of the trade.
The Astros exercised remarkable caution this offseason. They didn't sign any extensions or agree to terms with any free agents who cost more than $1MM; Chris Snyder's $850K deal represented the Astros' biggest expenditure of the offseason. Splashy free agent signings may have generated buzz and goodwill, but they weren't a priority for an Astros team that lost 106 games last year. Better to save up for this year's first overall draft pick.
Luhnow claimed Fernando Martinez off of waivers, and the Astros will try and extract some value from the former Mets prospect this season. The 23-year-old doesn't have to become an impact MLB player to justify the claim. It makes sense for a team such as Houston to make 40-man roster space for a once-promising player who may become a useful fourth outfielder in time.
The Astros' most recent offseason wasn't about increasing the team's 2012 win total. Few will be surprised if the Astros lose 100 games again this year — it would actually represent a six game improvement over last year's team. But new leadership is in place and the Astros select first overall this June, so there's increased optimism that the Astros can draft and develop enough talent to contend for the postseason once again.