- Colin Moran suffered a concussion and a facial fracture after a fouling a ball into his left eye last July, and it is quite possible that the injury changed the course of the young infielder’s career. Moran was dealt to the Pirates last month as part of the Gerrit Cole trade, and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow tells Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Moran might still be an Astro today had he gotten a longer chance to perform last summer, rather than being sidelined just two games into a midseason call-up. “I think he would have hit .300, I think he would have hit for power,” Luhnow said. “We might not have traded him because we might have wanted to figure out a way to keep him on our club.” Interestingly, it’s also possible to speculate that a healthy and productive Moran would’ve been traded from Houston much sooner, as Moran was reportedly involved in the Astros’ talks with the Orioles about Zach Britton at the July trade deadline (though an injured Houston pitching prospect was the primary reason the Britton deal was scuttled).
Right-hander Collin McHugh won his arbitration hearing against the Astros, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (on Twitter). He’ll earn the $5MM salary that he filed as opposed to the $4.55MM sum that was submitted by the team (as can be seen in MLBTR’s 2018 Arbitration Tracker). McHugh, a client of Moye Sports Associates, receives a $1.15MM raise on last year’s $3.85MM salary after an injury-shortened 2017 campaign.
The 30-year-old McHugh may have lost his rotation spot when the Astros acquired Gerrit Cole earlier this winter, but he’ll still work as a starter this spring. If each of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Cole, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton remain healthy, then McHugh could open the year as a well-compensated long reliever/spot starter. He’d also be the team’s first line of defense in the event of an injury to one of the top five starters.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that McHugh opens the season in a rotation other than Houston’s. McHugh has seen his name pop up in trade rumors in recent weeks as clubs like the Orioles, Twins and Brewers continue to hunt for rotation upgrades before Opening Day.
McHugh missed much of the 2017 season on the disabled list but worked to a 3.55 ERA with 8.8 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 1/3 innings when he was healthy enough to take the field. Since being acquired by the Astros, he’s logged a solid 3.70 ERA with 8.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 and a 43 percent ground-ball rate through 606 1/3 innings (102 starts).
There have yet to be any extension negotiations between the Astros and Dallas Keuchel, the ace left-hander told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart and other reporters today. If a long-term deal is struck between the two sides, Keuchel said that it would have to happen by Opening Day — like most players, Keuchel doesn’t want to create a potential distraction for himself and his team by having talks drag into the season.
Keuchel and the Astros did work out a $13.2MM salary for 2018, avoiding arbitration in the southpaw’s final year of arb eligibility. He’ll hit free agency next winter going into his age-31 season and has already lined up some new representation, hiring the Boras Corporation last December. While some high-profile Scott Boras clients (i.e. Stephen Strasburg, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gonzalez) have worked out major long-term extensions to stay with their teams, Boras generally advises his clients to test the open market, so it remains to be seen if a deal could be struck to keep Keuchel in Houston. The lack of negotiations to this point shouldn’t be seen as a major red flag, as most teams usually wait until later in the spring to fully delve into extension talks with pending free agents.
After winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, Keuchel battled some injuries in both 2016 and 2017, posting a 3.79 ERA, 2.83 K/BB rate, 7.7 K/9 and a league-best 61.2% grounder rate over 313 2/3 IP in those two seasons. That 3.79 ERA generally matched his ERA predictors in 2016-17, with the big swing in actual ERA (4.55 ERA in 2016, 2.90 ERA in 2017) likely due to a healthy difference in BABIP (.304 in 2016, .256 in 2017), which naturally has a big impact on a pitcher with so reliant on inducing ground balls. His home run rate has steadily risen in each of the last three seasons, though Keuchel’s hard-hit ball rate also dropped back to his career average after a spike in 2016.
The Astros’ trades for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole created some speculation that the team was guarding itself against Keuchel’s possible departure, bolstering the rotation with two front-of-the-rotation arms that are under contract through at least the 2019 season. Talks between Keuchel and the Astros, as well as any other negotiations between teams and impending free agents, will be particularly interesting to monitor this spring in the wake of this offseason’s unusual lack of free agent activity. It could be that players are more open to extensions if they’re worried about being stuck without teams next winter, particularly since next year’s market will several huge stars (such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or Josh Donaldson) sure to soak up many of the available dollars.
Astros right-hander Chris Devenski has changed his representation and is now a client of MVP Sports Group, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reports on Twitter. The switch for the 27-year-old Devenski comes on the cusp of his final pre-arbitration season.
Since making his debut in 2016, Devenski has been an incredible bargain for the Astros, having established himself as one of the game’s premier relievers. Across 110 appearances, including five starts, Devenski has racked up 189 innings of 2.38 ERA ball and posted 9.71 K/9 against 2.19 BB/9. Only one reliever, Brad Hand of the Padres, totaled more frames from the bullpen than Devenski’s 164 1/3 from 2016-17. He also ranked fifth among relievers in ERA (2.41), ninth in K/BB ratio (4.82) and 18th in infield fly rate (14 percent) during that span, thanks to a lethal fastball-slider-changeup combination.
While Devenski isn’t a closer, which could tamp down his value in arbitration, his penchant for effectively eating innings and amassing holds will help his cause when he first goes through the process next year (barring an extension, of course). He’s coming off a year in which he tied for 11th in holds (24), which helped the Astros run away with the AL West en route to their first World Series title.
The Orioles have inquired about the availability of Astros right-hander Collin McHugh, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com hears. Although McHugh could be the odd man out of a loaded Houston rotation this year, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported earlier this week that the reigning champions aren’t in a rush to trade him. Nevertheless, with multiple holes in their rotation and a reported unwillingness to spend big to address their staff, it makes sense that the Orioles are interested in McHugh. After all, the 30-year-old has been a quality starter with the Astros since 2014 and is under arbitration control at affordable prices through 2019. He’ll earn in the neighborhood of $5MM this season.
- The small-market Twins aggressively went after Darvish this winter, even meeting with him in Texas at some point, per Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. Their offer to Darvish was for at least five years and $100MM, according to Heyman (Twitter link). The Twins’ courtship of Darvish went for naught, though, perhaps thanks to their dislike for opt-out clauses and a wariness toward giving him a sixth year, writes Berardino, who adds that they could now look to top available starter Jake Arrieta. On the trade front, Rays righties Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi remain on Minnesota’s radar, relays Berardino, though he suggests the Twins would have to give up too much for the former. Meanwhile, Rosenthal reports that there’s a belief among rival executives the Twins could still add a starter via both free agency and the trade market. Along with Odorizzi, he lists free agent Alex Cobb and Astros righty Collin McHugh as hurlers who have drawn Minnesota’s interest.
Count the reigning World Series champion Astros among the most serious suitors for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Houston and Miami have discussed the backstop, according to SiriusXM’s Craig Mish, who adds that the Marlins have requested high-end outfield prospect Kyle Tucker in return. The Astros haven’t ruled out dealing Tucker, Mish reports (Twitter link).
Realmuto would be the second major trade acquisition of the winter for the Astros, who previously dipped into their pool of young talent to pick up right-hander Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. Despite that move, the Astros’ farm system remains in the majors’ top 10, according to Baseball America, which regards the 21-year-old Tucker as their second-best prospect and the majors’ 15th-ranked farmhand. MLB.com (No. 8) FanGraphs (No. 10), Baseball Prospectus (No. 20) and ESPN’s Keith Law (No. 21) also think highly of the lefty-swinging Tucker, who ascended to the Double-A level in 2017 and slashed .265/.325/.512 across 318 plate appearances.
Should the Marlins land Tucker, he’d become arguably the premier prospect in a system that has climbed from dead last to 19th in Baseball America’s rankings since the beginning of the offseason. Of course, the Marlins’ improved farm is the result of an aggressive major league teardown that has come during a payroll-slashing campaign by new owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. The Marlins have already dealt star outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, not to mention second baseman Dee Gordon, leaving Realmuto as the face of a team that seems unlikely to contend in the near future.
The 26-year-old Realmuto, sensing Miami is more likely to compete for the No. 1 pick than a playoff berth in 2018, has made it known he’d like to follow Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna and Gordon out the door. Given that he wants to play for a contender, going to Houston would surely satisfy Realmuto, and it would give the club a potential long-term solution behind the plate. While the Astros got solid production from catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis in 2017, the two 30-somethings could become free agents next winter. Moreover, Gattis will primarily occupy the DH spot this year, leaving the unproven, out-of-options Max Stassi as the Astros’ projected No. 2 catcher.
Unlike Stassi, Realmuto has done plenty to establish himself in the majors. He truly broke out in 2016 and has since accounted for 7.2 fWAR, trailing only the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez in that category among catchers. Most of Realmuto’s value has come from his bat, as the righty-swinger combined for a quality .290/.337/.440 line across 1,124 plate appearances from 2016-17.
While there have been questions about Realmuto’s defense (his reviews as a pitch framer have been mixed), both his bat and long-term affordability combine to make him extremely valuable, which has led to offseason interest from contenders such as the Astros and Nationals. Realmuto is set to play his first of three potential arbitration-eligible seasons in 2018, during which he’ll make a relatively modest $2.9MM.
Starters Jake Odorizzi of the Rays and Collin McHugh of the Astros continue to draw trade interest, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic writes, though he adds that neither is evidently close to being dealt.
With all the top free agent starters still unsigned, some teams are surely still waiting to see whether they can land a bigger fish before turning to these sturdy hurlers. Still, both are certainly accomplished enough to believe that they could be targeted as more than mere fallback options.
Odorizzi has not even yet turned 28 but already has compiled 705 1/3 innings of 3.83 ERA pitching in his career. On the other hand, he’s coming off of a homer-prone season in which he surrendered a personal-high 4.14 earned runs per nine. McHugh, 30, posted strong results last year after a somewhat tepid 2016 effort, but only after missing a major chunk of the season due to injury. He ended up posting a 3.55 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 63 1/3 frames over a dozen starts.
Importantly, both Odorizzi and McHugh are still playing out their final two seasons of arbitration eligibility, making for a favorable financial situation. Their 2018 salaries remain unresolved, but neither will break the bank. As MLBTR’s 2018 MLB Arbitration Tracker shows, the former will play for somewhere at or between $6.3MM and $6.05MM while the latter will land in the range of $5MM and $4.55MM. In both cases, there’s no commitment for 2019; potential acquirers will no doubt value the chance to pick up what’s effectively a floating-price option for an added campaign.
All things considered, it seems clear that there’s excess value in the rights to each player. Just how much — and how much it’ll fetch on the trade market — is an open question. As Rosenthal notes, both teams are looking for something in return in dangling these established starters.
At the same time, of course, the Rays and ’Stros have reasons to move the players in question, largely due to the presence of other pitchers. In that regard, their availability has long been evident. Tampa Bay has long been said to be looking for ways to trim payroll and reallocate some resources; Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote a few days ago that a trade is almost inevitable to take place at some point. In Houston’s case, the club simply doesn’t have an open rotation spot after dealing for Gerrit Cole earlier in the offseason.
Rosenthal pegs the Orioles as a team with interest in Odorizzi and perhaps also McHugh. That’s not surprising, as Baltimore continues to hunt for multiple starters. The Twins have long been tied to Odorizzi, and Rosenthal suggests that remains the case. Previously, too, the Nationals have been connected to Odorizzi.
It’s not difficult to imagine quite a few other organizations having interest in both of these starters, particularly when one considers what it might cost to acquire free agents such as Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and Andrew Cashner. Certainly, the ongoing availability of Odorizzi and McHugh could continue to weigh down interest in those open-market options to some extent.
There are other plausible trade candidates that could factor in the overall picture, it’s worth bearing in mind. Beyond top targets such as Odorizzi’s teammate, Chris Archer, organizations looking for solid but affordable rotation pieces could try to acquire hurlers such as Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks, Dan Straily of the Marlins, or Danny Salazar of the Indians.
11:15:am: The Astros have announced the signing.
8:48am: The Astros have agreed to a two-year, $24MM contract with outfielder George Springer, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Springer, a Super Two player who was in his second trip through the arbitration process, will earn $12MM in each year of the deal. Springer is represented by the Legacy Agency.
Springer and the Astros had yet to resolve their arbitration case and were scheduled to head to a hearing this month. He’d filed for a $10.5MM salary, while Houston had countered with a figure of $8.5MM (as shown in MLBTR’s 2018 Arbitration Tracker). Instead, the two-year pact will buy out Springer’s second and third years of arbitration eligibility, though he’ll have one remaining year of arbitration left upon completion of this deal given the aforementioned Super Two status.
The 28-year-old Springer is coming off the finest season of his big league career to date, having posted a sensational .283/.367/.522 batting line with 34 homers and 29 doubles through 629 plate appearances. Springer logged a career-high 643 innings in center field this past season and graded well there per both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, although those two metrics, which are usually bullish on his corner-outfield work, didn’t regard his defense in right field very favorably in 2017. (With Josh Reddick, Derek Fisher and Marwin Gonzalez all in the mix for corner outfield time in 2018, Springer figures to once again spend more time in center field than in right field this coming season.)
Overall, Springer was a driving force not only behind the Astros’ romp of the American League West but the team’s first World Series championship in franchise history. Springer went 7-for-17 with a homer, two doubles and two walks in 19 ALDS plate appearances, and after an ice-cold ALCS showing against the Yankees, he laid waste to Dodgers pitching in the World Series en route to MVP honors. Springer belted five homers in seven games and hit .379/.471/1.000 through 34 PAs in the Fall Classic.
Now that Springer has agreed to a two-year deal and Ken Giles has won his arbitration hearing, the Astros’ lone remaining arbitration case if that of Collin McHugh. The right-hander filed for a $5MM salary for the upcoming season, while the Astros countered with a $4.55MM sum.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Reliever Ken Giles has won his arbitration case against the Astros, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports tweets. The Astros filed at $4.2MM, but Giles will take home the $4.6MM that he and his agent filed for instead. That salary falls $400K shy of the $5MM projected by MLBTR’s Matt Swartz, and represents a raise of about $4MM in his first trip through the arbitration process.
Though a bad taste may still linger in the mouths of Astros fans due to Giles’ poor postseason performance (11.74 ERA with 5 walks and 3 homers allowed in 7 2/3 innings), the fact remains that Houston’s 27-year-old closer has posted some eye-popping numbers across his first four seasons in the big leagues. Among qualifying relief pitchers, the right-hander ranks 7th in xFIP, 10th in K/9, 13th in ERA, and 16th in Win Probability Added since the start of the 2014 campaign. His 65 saves probably figured into his arbitration win as well.
Giles was drafted by the Phillies back in 2011. The righty made his big-league debut on June 12th of 2014, allowing a home run to the first major-league hitter he faced but striking out the next in a game the Phillies would eventually win over the Padres. Following the 2015 season, the Astros acquired him (along with shortstop Jonathan Arauz) in a trade that brought back former number one overall pick Mark Appel, Vince Velasquez and three others. Since coming to Houston, Giles has struck out nearly 13 batters per nine innings thanks in part to a fastball that’s averaged a whopping 98.3 MPH during that time.