The defending World Series champions head into the offseason without many holes on the roster, but first base is a notable exception. The Astros got just a .235/.285/.371 showing from the bat-first position this past season, and they’ve seen both Yuli Gurriel and Trey Mancini hit the open market.
With J.J. Matijevic and Yainer Díaz standing as the primary in-house options at the start of the offseason, the Astros are virtually certain to add first base help in some capacity. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reports Houston has set its sights on Anthony Rizzo as its top free agent target at the position. Rosenthal writes they’ve also expressed some interest in José Abreu and Gurriel as potential fallbacks.
Rizzo is back on the free agent market for the second straight offseason, although he’s facing a key decision in the first few days this time around. The Yankees tagged the left-handed hitter with a qualifying offer last week, just days after Rizzo declined a $16MM player option. Rizzo and his representatives at Sports One Athlete Management have until tomorrow at 4:00 pm EST to decide whether to accept that $19.65MM offer from New York or to turn it down — presumably in search of a multi-year pact.
Of course, the Yankees are among the most direct competitors to the Astros atop the American League. Houston and New York were top two in the Junior Circuit in regular season record and met in the AL Championship Series this year. The Astros handily controlled the Yankees in the postseason, but Rosenthal suggests the opportunity to poach a key bat from New York would be an added bonus for Houston as they try to remain atop the perch.
Doing so would require forfeiting a draft choice, as Rizzo would have to reject the Yankees’ QO to sign with Houston. The Astros neither paid the luxury tax nor received revenue sharing payments this year, so they’d be stripped of their second-highest pick in the 2023 draft and $500K in international signing bonus space to sign a qualified free agent. The Yankees would receive a compensatory pick if Rizzo signed elsewhere, but that selection would only come after the fourth round since New York did surpass the CBT threshold this year.
It seems far likelier the Yankees would prefer to see Rizzo stick around for another season than to collect that modest compensation, although it remains to be seen whether the first baseman’s camp will feel he could top the terms of the qualifying offer. Rizzo signed a two-year, $32MM guarantee (with the aforementioned opt-out capability) last winter coming off a .248/.344/.440 showing. He had a more impressive .224/.338/.480 line this year, matching a career-high with 32 home runs. It’d be understandable if Rizzo were looking to beat last winter’s deal building off a better platform season, but he’s now 33 years old and would require teams forfeiting a draft choice to sign him this time around — or, in the Yankees’ case, relinquishing the chance at a compensatory pick were they to bring him back.
Aside from Rizzo, the top free agent first basemen available are Abreu and Josh Bell. Neither player was eligible for a qualifying offer this winter, but each could prove more costly than Rizzo. Even after a down second half, Bell looks likely to land a three or four-year deal heading into his age-30 season off a .266/.362/.422 showing between the Nationals and Padres. Abreu is soon to be 36 and will be limited to shorter-term offers, but he hit .304/.378/.446 with the White Sox and could land the largest per-year salary of anyone in the first base class.
Gurriel and Mancini are among the lower-tier options, with the former having been a career-long member of the organization. Gurriel was the AL batting champion as recently as 2021, but he mustered only a .242/.288/.360 regular season showing this year before an excellent 12-game run in the playoffs. Mancini looks less likely to be back after struggling with the Astros following a deadline trade from the Orioles. Houston could also look to the trade market if they come up empty in free agency. They reportedly were in contact with the Rays about Ji-Man Choi before he was dealt to Pittsburgh, while Rhys Hoskins, Rowdy Tellez and Joey Meneses are among speculative trade candidates.
Hanging over all the Astros’ early offseason interest is a lack of front office clarity. After the team parted ways with general manager James Click last week, the team is without a presently stable baseball operations hierarchy. Owner Jim Crane is known to have taken an active role in the team’s decision-making, while Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported over the weekend that assistant GM Andrew Ball and senior director of baseball strategy Bill Firkus were handling day-to-day operations.