Astros owner Jim Crane gave some interesting comments today regarding his organization’s remaining plans for the winter and the state of the market at large, as MLB.com’s Alyson Footer of MLB.com reports on Twitter. It’s tough to tell the degree of interest, but Crane certainly seemed to indicate that the organization has some realistic inclination to bring back one or more of its recent players who remain available on the open market.
“We’ve got a couple guys that were here last year that are a possibility to be back here [this] year,” said Crane. “We hope that happens.” He went on to specifically cite southpaw Dallas Keuchel and utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, both of whom are among the most-accomplished players who have yet to find new teams. Calling both Keuchel and Gonzalez “great players and great for the franchise,” Crane suggested there was at least a chance still of a reunion. “Maybe something will work out there,” he said, “who knows?”
It’s certainly arguable that both of those outgoing free agents still make sense on the roster. Between Keuchel and Charlie Morton, the Astros saw a lot of innings walk out the door. While there are options on hand to fill them, pursuit of another starter has long seemed sensible. It’s a bit of a tougher match with Gonzalez, particularly now that the Houston front office has acquired a potential replacement piece in Aledmys Diaz, but perhaps he’d still be of interest at the right price.
The club also bid adieu to several other veterans this winter, a few of whom have already signed elsewhere (including Morton). Backstop Martin Maldonado, southpaw reliever Tony Sipp, and DH Evan Gattis, however, all remain available after wrapping up their contracts with the ’Stros. Among them, Sipp seems to represent the most sensible roster fit, though there’s no reason to think at this point that he’s a particular target.
However things shake out on Keuchel and Gonzalez, Crane’s comments didn’t admit of much of an opening for the team to pursue free agent market’s two biggest stars — or much of an appetite for any true blockbuster contracts in the future. Stating that the market is “a little bottled up” due to the ongoing presence of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Crane went on to offer some revealing thoughts on the state of the hot stove economy and his own organization’s theoretical leanings.
“I think that teams are very focused on value,” said Crane of the business-wide approach to free agency. “I don’t know that you’ll see many more ten-year deals in this business anymore because the analytics are so good and a lot of those deals never work.”
The notion of value as an overriding concern — increasingly treated as something of an actuarial assessment of risk — is hardly a novel concept. But it’s interesting to see an owner not only come forward with that viewpoint, but to characterize it as an industry-wide phenomenon and acknowledge a particular practical ramification of such an approach.
Beyond those somewhat eyebrow-raising aspects of Crane’s comment, it’s also an interesting point to consider. It’s certainly possible to imagine decade-long deals that make sense, particularly for especially youthful players, even if it’s to be expected that the bulk of the on-field performance contributions will be reaped in such a contract’s earlier seasons. Beyond that, nobody really needed analytics to tell them of the concerns with guaranteeing so much money for so many years to one necessarily aging, potentially injured player. After all, the teams that have done so in the past did not tack on years and dollars because they preferred to; they simply did what it took to get the player in an open bidding situation.
Such elite players remain highly prized, of course, but the still-deepening analytical revolution — which has both recognized and helped usher in an influx of cheaply-acquired, increasingly well-prepared, league-minimum-earning players along with a youthened aging curve — has pointed to cheaper ways to maximize roster output while highlighting the financial risks of clogging future payrolls. The resulting reductions in demand have made it increasingly difficult for free agents to squeeze extra guaranteed seasons from clubs.
It’ll be interesting to see how things transpire this winter, with a pair of obvious candidates for extremely lengthy deals still waiting to sign them. While the Astros evidently will not be dabbling in such corners of the market, they’ll still be working to improve the roster in other ways — perhaps even by looking at the second tier of remaining free agents, which includes Keuchel, Gonzales, and others. “Every day we’re looking at opportunities,” says Crane.