Houston Astros – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-05-30T02:52:54Z https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/feed/atom WordPress Steve Adams <![CDATA[Latest On Teams’ Plans For Minor League Pay]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=198078 2020-05-29T20:35:45Z 2020-05-29T20:14:47Z 3:14pm: The Astros will also pay their minor leaguers through August, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The Red Sox will do the same, Julian McWilliams and Alex Speier of the Boston Globe write. The Reds will pay theirs through Sept. 7, the end of the scheduled minor league season, per C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic.

2:16pm: As teams throughout the league make sweeping releases at the minor league level, neither the Twins nor the Royals plan on cutting any players, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter links). The Twins and Royals will also commit to paying all of their minor league player the current $400 weekly stipend through Aug. 31 — the would-be end of the minor league season — while providing full benefits. The Twins are also committing to front-office and baseball ops staff through at least the end of June, Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com tweets.

To this point, no other clubs in the league have made such a commitment. The Marlins, Padres and Mariners all agreed to pay their minor leaguers through season’s end, although none of that bunch is known to be entirely avoiding minor league releases. Seattle, in fact, reportedly cut 50 minor league players this week already. The volume of players being released around the league is jarring — the D-backs cut a reported 64 players — although it should be noted that many of the releases would’ve come at the end of Spring Training under normal circumstances anyhow.

That doesn’t detract from the gesture made by the Twins or Royals, of course. It’s a stark contrast to an organization such as the Athletics, who informed minor league players earlier this week that they’ll no longer be paid after May 31. As MLB.com’s Jim Callis observes (on Twitter), the decision made by the Twins and Royals could quite likely prove beneficial in recruiting undrafted players who are selecting among teams while capped at a $20K signing bonus this summer.

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Did The Mets Rob The Astros?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197871 2020-05-27T04:05:03Z 2020-05-27T01:03:26Z Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has come under fire at times since the team hired the former agent after the 2018 season, but BVW has nonetheless had his high points atop their front office. One of his best decisions in New York came in January 2019, when he acquired a player who’s now among the Mets’ most valuable hitters in a trade with the Astros.

Sixteen months ago, Van Wagenen and then-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow worked out a swap that sent infielder/outfielder J.D. Davis and INF Cody Bohanek to the Mets for the trio of second baseman Luis Santana, outfielder Ross Adolph and catcher Scott Manea. Nobody from that quintet looked like a high-end asset at the time, and Davis was the only member of the group with major league experience.

Davis, a third-round pick of the Astros in 2014, hit a miserable .194/.260/.321 in 181 plate appearances in their uniform from ’17-18. However, Davis did have his way with Triple-A pitchers, against whom he slashed .335/.400/.589 with 22 home runs in 450 trips to the plate.

Davis’ success at the highest level of the minors impressed the Mets, who now look as if they acquired a terrific hitter at a low price. Davis got his first extensive look in the majors last season, his age-26 campaign, and ran with it.

Across 453 PA, Davis batted a strong .307/.369/.527 (136 wRC+) with 22 home runs in his Mets debut. The righty swinger showed no vulnerability against either same-handed or southpaw pitchers in the process, and his Statcast numbers don’t suggest his success was fluky. On the contrary, Davis finished in the league’s 80th percentile or better in barrels, exit velocity, expected slugging percentage, hard-hit rate, expected weighted on-base average and expected batting average. His xwOBA (.383) outdid an already impressive real-life mark of .373 and ranked 21st in the league, placing him among a slew of big names.

As great as Davis’ offense was last season, defensive woes tamped down his value. He lined up at third and in left field, where he combined for minus-20 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-6.3 Ultimate Zone Rating. Still, thanks to his offensive breakout, the overall package was worth an above-average 2.4 fWAR. That’s especially good for someone who looked like a lottery ticket when the Mets got him, and for someone who made a minimum salary in 2019. Davis won’t be eligible to reach free agency until after 2024, which means he could be an important piece of New York’s offense for several more years (perhaps especially if the NL adds a DH).

Unlike Davis, Bohanek hasn’t shown a ton of potential so far, and the 24-year-old turned in fairly nondescript numbers at the High-A level last season. The Astros don’t seem as if they’ll miss him, but what about their return? Here’s how it has panned out through one season…

  • Luis Santana: The Mets’ 19th overall prospect at MLB.com when the trade occurred, Santana’s now the outlet’s 22nd-ranked Astros farmhand. The 20-year-old hit just two homers last season, batting .267/.339/.352 in 186 Low-A attempts and .228/.333/.263 in 66 PA at the Double-A level.
  • Ross Adolph: The 23-year-old outfielder combined for a .228/.357/.366 line with seven homers in 460 PA between Single-A and High-A ball last season. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel recently wrote for FanGraphs that he could amount to a role player in MLB.
  • Scott Manea: The 24-year-old offered a .235/.347/.387 line with 12 HRs and 389 PA at the High-A level last season. He’s not regarded as a notable prospect.

This looks like anything but a can’t-miss package for the Astros, though it’s still way too early to throw dirt on the careers of anyone they picked up. The Mets, meanwhile, can’t be anything but thrilled with what they’ve gotten from Davis.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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George Miller <![CDATA[The Rangers’ New-Look Rotation Has Big-Time Upside]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197703 2020-05-24T01:15:02Z 2020-05-23T21:47:02Z Historically, pitching has not been a strength of the Texas Rangers. The franchise has consistently found itself sorely lacking true aces; outside of Nolan Ryan, there aren’t really any iconic pitchers that come to mind when you think of the Rangers. Kenny Rogers, anyone?

That trend held true once again last year, with the Rangers posting an overall 5.09 ERA that ranked seventh-worst in baseball. That said, Lance Lynn and Mike Minor anchored the top of the rotation admirably, each garnering Cy Young consideration and holding the staff intact during the hot Texas summer.

But when the 2020 season boots up, Lynn and Minor will have some help, and starting pitching may indeed be a strength for this year’s iteration of the team. GM Jon Daniels and company made a concerted effort in the winter to acquire starting pitchers—and they did so at relatively little cost, meaning that a bit of short-term ambition likely won’t impeach on the franchise’s future plans.

Corey Kluber is the big-name addition, and the two-time Cy Young winner should do plenty to bolster the Rangers’ staff. Even so, the team didn’t mortgage the future to bring him aboard: Kluber is only guaranteed a contract for this year, with a vesting option that could keep him in Texas through 2021. Coming off a season in which he could pitch in just seven games, he was acquired in exchange for Delino DeShields and Emmanuel Clase, a move that was widely praised at the time and looks even worse for Cleveland in light of Clase’s PED suspension.

But the smaller-scale signings of Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, while not deserving of the same attention as the acquisition of a decade-defining pitcher like Kluber, could together have just as great an impact on the Rangers’ success as Kluber. In the offseason, Lyles signed on with a two-year, $16MM deal, while Gibson earned himself a three-year contract worth $28MM. Together, they’ll make $19MM in 2020, just a hair more than Kluber’s salary.

Lyles has been around forever, it seems, breaking in as a young arm with the Astros and Rockies, but it took until his age-28 season for him to put it all together as a starter. After a slow start with the Pirates earned him a trade to Milwaukee, he put up career-best numbers, striking out 146 batters in 141 innings, an unprecedented rate for Lyles.

How come? The simple version is that Lyles began relying less and less on his sinker, a staple in his repertoire throughout the early stages of his career. His sinker usage dropped to a minuscule 1.7% last year while he threw four-seam fastballs 50.2% of the time, more than he ever had before. The curveball also became a more important weapon in his pitch mix.

That isn’t too unlike the formula that Lance Lynn rode to his career-best 2019 season. Just like Lyles, Lynn’s sinker usage hit a career low last year, replaced almost entirely by four-seam fastballs—largely in the upper part of the strike zone. This isn’t unique to the Rangers—the Astros’ unparalleled pitching brilliance hinges on this philosophy—and it’s a trend that has redefined the way we look at pitching in MLB.

It’s an approach that worked for the Rangers last year, Lynn’s first in Texas, and perhaps Daniels is confident that his staff can use it to produce similar results with Lyles and Gibson this year. Sure enough, the sinker has been Gibson’s most-used pitch through his first five years as a big-leaguer. Sound familiar? Granted, Gibson’s four-seamer hasn’t been a great pitch for him, but throwing fewer sinkers could in turn lead to a jump in his slider usage, a high-spin pitch that may be a hidden gem.

Still, pitching at the MLB level is not as simple as flipping a switch and saying, “sinker bad, four-seam good.” That approach can’t be uniformly applied to every pitcher in baseball with the same results; there’s a reason careers have been forged around the sinker. And yet, the proliferation of the high fastball in MLB lends credence to its value, and the Rangers may have pursued the likes of Gibson and Lyles with that style in mind.

But that’s only half the battle; the burden then falls on the coaching staff and players themselves to accept and implement adjustments. It’s why we still play the games when there’s such a wealth of knowledge out there. So we’ll anxiously await the 2020 season to see whether the on-field results look as good as the ideas that underpin them.

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Altuve & Bregman Dominate Astros’ Long-Term Payroll]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197669 2020-05-23T03:15:02Z 2020-05-23T02:13:54Z 2020 salary terms are set to be hammered out in the coming days. But what about what’s owed to players beyond that point? The near-term economic picture remains questionable at best. That’ll make teams all the more cautious with guaranteed future salaries.

Every organization has some amount of future cash committed to players, all of it done before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. There are several different ways to look at salaries; for instance, for purposes of calculating the luxury tax, the average annual value is the touchstone, with up-front bonuses spread over the life of the deal. For this exercise, we’ll focus on actual cash outlays that still have yet to be paid.

We’ll run through every team, with a big assist from the Cot’s Baseball Contracts database. Next up is the Astros:

(click to expand/view detail list)

Astros Total Future Cash Obligation: $254.79MM

*includes buyouts of club options

*excludes remaining obligation to Zack Greinke retained by Diamondbacks

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Latest On MLB Teams’ Plans For Employees]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197595 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z A variety of MLB teams have already revealed plans for the year for non-player employees. Some have instituted furloughs and/or pay cuts while others have committed to carry employees through the fall. Still other teams are taking things on a month-to-month basis, with several revealing their latest plans in recent days.

At least three teams have decided to continue paying employees in full through at least the end of June. The Cardinals are one such team, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Twitter. The Twins are also in that camp, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com tweets. And the White Sox are adjusting work hours but not take-home pay, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Elsewhere in the central divisions, there were some cuts. The Cubs are keeping their full slate of employees at full-time capacity, but are instituting some salary reductions, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com reported on Twitter. And though the Pirates will not draw down their baseball operations staff, they will reduce pay in that arena while furloughing some business employees, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Out west, the Giants will retain their entire full-time staff but will be trimming pay for those earning over $75K, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Part-timers have been furloughed.

The Astros have committed to maintaining full pay and benefits for full-time employees, but only through June 5th, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. Whether some action could occur beyond that point remains to be seen. The Orioles are also still in flux, but the organization appears to be leaning towards keeping staff as usual through June, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic (via Twitter).

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Zack Greinke’s Great Hot Stove Adventure]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197496 2020-05-20T15:02:13Z 2020-05-20T15:02:13Z Every player that reaches the majors has a hot-stove tale to tell. They’re drafted or signed into the pro ranks to start out. Quite a few are traded or move via free agency even before reaching the bigs. You have to be selected or signed onto a 40-man roster before you can put on a uniform in a MLB contest. And then there’s the inevitable moment when it all goes away … whether through retirement at the end of a lengthy career or, in many cases, a trip into DFA limbo.

All of these stories are etched on the pages of MLBTR. Some are more interesting than others. A few of these transactional career arcs touch upon many major elements of the hot stove league — the front office game that shapes the underlying sport that we watch on TV.

The transactional saga of Zack Greinke, the venerable right-hander whose latest stop is the Houston Astros, is certainly among the most notable in recent memory …

Professional Entry

  • The Royals took Greinke, an unusually polished high-school hurler, with the sixth overall pick of 2002 draft.

Prospect Status

  • Greinke quickly emerged as one of the game’s top prospects.
  • Baseball America rated Greinke 54th overall ahead of the 2003 season and 14th overall in advance of 2004.

Early Career

  • At just 20 years of age, Greinke turned in in 24 starts of 3.97 ERA ball in his debut season of 2004. But he struggled badly in his sophomore season.
  • Greinke battled mental health issues and was ultimately diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder. At the time, his outlook as a professional baseball player was of secondary concern. SI.com’s John Donovan wrote: “Greinke’s tortured story is, on the one end, a sad one, but on this side there is hope that it may yet turn out well.”

Extension

  • Greinke reemerged in 2007, then turned in a breakout 2008 season.
  • The Royals signed Greinke to a four-year, $38MM extension in advance of the 2009 season, adding two years of team control. He won the American League Cy Young Award in the ensuing campaign.

2010 Blockbuster

  • The Royals decided to entertain trade offers on Greinke, by then regarded as one of the game’s best pitchers, in the 2010-11 offseason. Greinke later indicated his desire to be traded.
  • A monumental set of Winter Meetings trade talks ensued. Royals Review has exhaustively documented the contemporaneous rumor mill. Greinke reportedly indicated he would exercise his no-trade rights to block a deal to the Nationals.
  • The Brewers eventually acquired Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt, and $2MM from the Royals for Lorenzo CainAlcides EscobarJeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Royals with a 3.82 ERA in 1,108 innings over seven seasons.

2012 Trade Deadline Swap

  • Greinke continued to perform well in Milwaukee, but the Brewers stumbled.
  • In July of 2012, the Angeles acquired Greinke for Jean SeguraAriel Pena and John Hellweg.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Brewers with a 3.67 ERA in 294 2/3 innings over two seasons.

2012-13 Free Agency

  • Greinke entered the market as the top player available and drew interest from numerous big-market teams.
  • During the Winter Meetings, the Dodgers signed Greinke to a six-year, $147MM contract.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Angels with a 3.53 ERA in 89 1/3 innings over one season.

2015-16 Free Agency

  • Greinke opted out of his contract after a 2015 season in which he led the National League with a 1.66 ERA.
  • Expectations were that he would re-sign with the Dodgers, but the Diamondbacks suddenly entered the market with a massive offer.
  • The Diamondbacks signed Greinke to a six-year, $206.5MM contract, setting a new record for average annual value ($34.42MM).
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Dodgers with a 2.30 ERA in 602 2/3 innings over three seasons.

2019 Trade Deadline Swap

  • After a rough initial season in Arizona, Greinke continued to produce excellent results even as he entered his mid-thirties.
  • In a last-minute agreement consummated just before the trade deadline, the Astros acquired Greinke for Corbin MartinJ.B. BukauskasSeth Beer, and Joshua Rojas.
  • Greinke ended his tenure with the Diamondbacks with a 3.40 ERA in 714 2/3 innings over four seasons.

Future

  • Greinke’s contract runs through 2021. The Astros took on $53MM of the remaining salary obligations.
  • With the Astros, Greinke has a 3.02 ERA in 62 2/3 innings over one season.
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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[From Released To Elite]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197466 2020-05-20T01:33:01Z 2020-05-20T01:33:01Z J.D. Martinez did not start his major league career in auspicious fashion, but as a 20th-round pick in 2009, it’s remarkable that the outfielder even made his way to the bigs. Houston took Martinez in the draft, and though he was highly productive in the organization’s system through 2011, he was unable to transfer that success to the bigs from the get-go. Martinez amassed 975 plate appearances as an Astro from 2011-13, but he hit a subpar .251/.300/.387 with 24 home runs during that time. Houston gave up on Martinez after that.

On March 22, 2014, the Astros said goodbye to Martinez, releasing him a half-decade after drafting him. However, Martinez has been on a rampage since then. Thanks to the help of hitting coaches Craig Wallenbrock and Robert Van Scoyoc, Martinez has turned into one of the best offensive players in baseball over the past several years.

The Tigers signed Martinez to a minor league contract in March 2014, and it proved to be a brilliant move for the club. Martinez became a star that year, in which he posted a line of .300/.361/.551 (145 wRC+) in 1,886 plate appearances. But Detroit, not expecting to be able to sign the soon-to-be free agent before 2018, traded him to Arizona in July 2017 in a deal that netted them infield prospects Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King.

Unfortunately for Detroit, no one from the Lugo-Alcantara-King trio has given the team any value at the major league level thus far, and nobody from the that group is among MLB.com’s top 30 prospects for the Tigers right now. The D-backs probably don’t have any regrets, then, even though Martinez didn’t last long in their uniform. Over 257 PA in the desert, Martinez batted an incredible .302/.366/.741 (170 wRC+) with 29 homers, helping lead Arizona to a wild-card berth. The Diamondbacks got past that round against the Rockies, but they couldn’t overcome the Dodgers in the NLDS. That proved to be the end of the line for Martinez as part of the club.

After a drawn-out trip to free agency in the ensuing winter, the Red Sox signed Martinez to a five-year, $110MM guarantee in late February of 2018. There’s a narrative that players decline once they get a large payday, but that’s not the case for Martinez. Since he signed with Boston, Martinez has gone to a pair of All-Star Games, helped the Red Sox to a World Series championship (2018) and batted .317/.392/.593 (154 wRC+) with 79 homers in 1,306 PA. It’s obvious at this point that Martinez, now 32 years old, is among the premier hitters in baseball. Not bad for someone whom a team once gave up on in exchange for nothing.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Which 15 Players Should The Astros Protect In An Expansion Draft?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197425 2020-05-19T21:01:23Z 2020-05-19T23:30:07Z In a few weeks, we’ll be running a two-team mock expansion draft here at MLBTR.  Currently, we’re creating 15-player protected lists for each of the existing 30 teams.  You can catch up on the rules for player eligibility here.

So far, we’ve done the TwinsRoyalsTigersIndiansWhite SoxRaysYankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles.  The Astros are next.

We’ll start by removing free agents George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel, and Brad Peacock from consideration.  Next, we’ll lock in Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, and Jose Altuve due to their no-trade clauses.  We’ll also protect Forrest Whitley, as he’s a Baseball America Top 100 prospect with a 2020 ETA.  I’m also going to protect Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, and Kyle Tucker.  So we’ll take up ten spots with this group:

Zack Greinke
Justin Verlander
Jose Altuve
Alex Bregman
Yordan Alvarez
Carlos Correa
Roberto Osuna
Ryan Pressly
Kyle Tucker
Forrest Whitley

That leaves five spots remaining for these 20 players:

Bryan Abreu
Rogelio Armenteros
Joe Biagini
Chris Devenski
Aledmys Diaz
Dustin Garneau
Josh James
Martin Maldonado
Francis Martes
Jack Mayfield
Lance McCullers Jr.
Cionel Perez
Austin Pruitt
Joe Smith
Cy Sneed
Myles Straw
Garrett Stubbs
Abraham Toro
Jose Urquidy
Framber Valdez

With that, we turn it over to the MLBTR readership! In the poll below (direct link here), select exactly five players you think the Astros should protect in our upcoming mock expansion draft. Click here to view the results.

Create your own user feedback survey

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Alex Bregman Seeking New Representation]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197438 2020-05-19T20:16:00Z 2020-05-19T20:00:55Z 3:00pm: Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle points out that Bregman’s departure from Klutch coincides with last week’s announcement that Uninterrupted, a film production company co-founded by fellow Klutch client LeBron James, is creating a documentary exploring the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017. Bleacher Report’s Tyler Conway has more on the forthcoming docuseries.

12:56pm: Star Astros third baseman Alex Bregman is seeking new representation, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter). Once a change is made, it’ll be reflected in MLBTR’s Agency Database.

This is an interesting move for a variety of reasons (no, not related to trashcan-banging schemes). For one thing, while player movement between agencies is hardly unusual, it’s rare that we see reporting of a “free agent” in search of a new rep.

Bregman is not just any ballplayer, either. The 26-year-old has just kept improving and was undeniably one of the best in the sport in 2019.

Other teams won’t have a chance to lure the Houston stalwart for some time. Bregman is under contract through 2024 under the deal worked out by his now-former agent, Brodie Scoffield, which covered five seasons (beginning in 2020) and guaranteed $100MM. At the time of the pact, Scoffield had recently left the Legacy Agency to form his own outfit, Tidal Sports Group. He brought Bregman and other major clients with him. Legacy was later acquired by GSE Worldwide.

Bregman was the crown jewel of the client list when hoops powerhouse Klutch Sports bought Tidal earlier this year, although there’s been a good bit of turmoil surrounding that firm in recent weeks. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted recently that an arbitrator ruled Klutch/Scoffield will be required to split agent fees 50-50 with GSE for not only Bregman but other clients including Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman and Keston Hiura over the next five years.

The role that said arbitration hearing played in Bregman’s departure from the firm isn’t known at this time. Regardless, he’s sure to be pursued widely by virtually every agency in the game. Even though he’s currently signed through 2024, Bregman will still be up for a new contract in advance of the 2025 campaign — his age-31 season. And so long as he maintains his all-around excellence, the Astros may eventually hold some degree of interest in hammering out another long-term deal to retain him into his mid-30s.

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Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[The Astros Made A Precedent-Setting $10MM Investment…That Didn’t Pay Off]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197264 2020-05-19T14:23:27Z 2020-05-17T01:05:03Z It isn’t any secret young and controllable star talent is just about the most valued commodity in baseball, and over the last three offseasons, we’ve seen four instances of clubs looking to gain even more potential control (and score a future payroll bargain in the process) by extending players before they have made their Major League debuts.

Scott Kingery inked a six-year, $24MM deal with the Phillies in March 2018 that also contains three club option years, meaning that Kingery’s contact could ultimately become a nine-year, $65MM pact.  The White Sox inked both Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert to six-year deals (with two club option years) over the last two offseasons, with Jimenez signing receiving $43MM and Robert $50MM in guaranteed money.  The Mariners also got in on the action with first base prospect Evan White last November, signing White to a six-year deal worth $24MM in guaranteed money and up to $31.5MM more over three seasons’ worth of club options.

The logic for the teams is simple.  An early-career extension eliminates any of the service-time manipulation we so often see with top prospects, and thus the Phillies, White Sox, and Mariners were or will be able to get the players into their lineups as soon as possible.  The clubs were willing to bet that their youngsters would provide immediate dividends at the MLB level, and thus would become more expensive as they entered their arbitration years, so these extensions lock in cost certainty over those arb years and also give the teams control over 2-3 free agent seasons.  Those free agent years could become extraordinarily valuable if, as hoped, these players develop into star big leaguers — we’ve already seen quality production from Jimenez and Kingery in 2019.

From the perspective of the four players, there is also sound reasoning in signing these extensions so early in their professional careers.  The quartet has guaranteed financial security for themselves and their families before even seeing so much as a big league pitch…or, in White’s case, even a Triple-A pitch.  (In Robert’s case, this is actually his second big payday, as Chicago gave him a $26MM bonus as an international amateur in 2017.)  No matter how confident a prospect may be in their ability, the transition to the majors is always something of an unknown.  There’s always the risk of a fluke injury scuttling a promising career, or perhaps a player — like so many star minor leaguers in the past — simply doesn’t produce against MLB competition.

It’s also fair to assume that, before putting pen to paper on their extensions, Kingery, Jimenez, White, and Robert all considered the case of Jon Singleton.  The former Astros first baseman was the first non-international player to sign an extension before the start of his Major League career, agreeing to a five-year, $10MM deal with Houston back in June 2014.  Singleton’s deal contained three club option years that added up to $20MM if were all exercised, plus another $5MM more in potential bonuses.

All in all, it could have been a $35.5MM contract over eight seasons had Singleton lived up to his potential.  Unfortunately for both Singleton and the Astros, that promise didn’t develop into a reality.  After hitting .171/.290/.331 over 420 plate appearances in 2014-15, Singleton never played in the big leagues again, and didn’t play any affiliated ball in 2018-19 before signing with a Mexican League team this past April.

Singleton was an eighth-round pick for the Phillies in the 2009 draft, and he came to Houston as part of the trade package in the deal that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia at the 2011 trade deadline.  As one of the early building blocks of the Astros’ total rebuild process, Singleton picked up where he left off in the Phils’ farm system, beating up on minor league pitching and quickly becoming a staple of top-100 prospect lists.  His stock was never higher than during the lead-up to the 2013 season, as Baseball Prospectus ranked Singleton as the 25th-best prospect in the sport, and MLB.com and Baseball America weren’t far behind in slotting Singleton 27th.

In both 2012 and 2013, however, Singleton tested positive for marijuana, and he served a 50-game suspension during the 2013 season.  Marijuana addiction was an ongoing problem for Singleton, as he spoke openly in 2014 about his efforts to break his addiction, including a month-long stay in a rehab facility in 2013.  As it happened, Singleton’s issues continued to plague his career, leading to a 100-game suspension prior to the 2018 season after the first baseman failed a test for a drug of abuse for the third time in his pro career.  Houston released Singleton in May 2018.

Needless to say, these off-the-field problems provide an important detail in looking back at Singleton’s decision to accept the Astros’ offer.  Signing the first “pre-career” extension made Singleton a notable figure in baseball transaction history, and it also opened him up to some rare public criticism from his peers.  Such veterans as Mark Mulder and Bud Norris were open in their displeasure with Singleton’s deal (and, more specifically, the advice given to Singleton by agent Matt Sosnick), arguing that the Houston prospect had shortchanged his future earning potential.  As Mulder put it in a tweet, he questioned if Singleton “doesn’t believe in himself to be great.”

Almost six years after the fact, of course, Singleton made the right choice.  Shortly after his extension was announced, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd wrote a detailed piece about the wisdom of Singleton’s decision in the context of several other top first base prospects and comparable players, noting how relatively few of those players ended up topping Singleton’s $10MM guarantee, and many of those who did top the $10MM figure had the benefit of some actual Major League success.  Plus, there was also the additional element of Singleton’s drug issues — coming off two suspensions and a lackluster 2013 season in the minors, one can certainly understand why Singleton was attracted by the security of an eight-figure contract.

Looking at the extension from the Astros’ end, the Singleton extension can be chalked up as a definite miss.  Calling it a true “mistake,” however, is a stretch.  Considering the money Singleton surrendered due to his 2018 suspension, the Astros’ overall investment in the first baseman ended up being less than $9MM, which was a more than reasonable bet to make considering Singleton’s high prospect ceiling at the time.

The early-career extension was a key tactic of then-general manager Jeff Luhnow, as he navigated through all of the young players amassed in trades and draft picks during the Astros’ lean rebuilding years.  George Springer also received an extension offer before his MLB career even began, as Houston reportedly tabled a seven-year, $23MM deal in September 2013.  Matt Dominguez and Robbie Grossman also received extension offers either before or just after their big league careers got underway.

These other examples illustrate the pros and cons any young player must face in deciding on an extension.  In Springer’s case, he made the right call in turning down that extension, as he has already made more than $28MM in his career and had agreed to a $21MM salary for 2020 (though that number will now be reduced by an as-yet-determined amount due to the shortened 2020 season).  On the flip side, Dominguez and Grossman probably both would have been happy to have Singleton’s $10MM deal in hindsight — Dominguez hasn’t played in the majors since 2016, and Grossman has yet to hit the $10MM mark in career earnings despite racking up 675 appearances with the Astros, Twins, and A’s over the last seven seasons.

It could be telling that there was almost a four-year gap between Singleton’s contract and the next pre-career extension in Kingery, as teams may have been wary of making such a commitment given how Singleton underachieved.  Baseball’s transactions marketplace also underwent some significant changes between 2014 and 2018, with the stagnant free agent winters of 2017-18 and 2018-19 perhaps underscoring how free agency was no longer a guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the service time window for many players.

With four pre-career deals in three years, it stands to reason that we will see more of these contracts in the future — especially perhaps in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as financial security could become even more of a priority for players.  Much will depend on how Kingery, Jimenez, Robert, and White live up their deals, and whether or not Singleton will continue to be the lone cautionary tale for teams trying to score themselves a bargain on the extension front.

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Steve Adams <![CDATA[How The Athletics Acquired A Cornerstone From A Division Rival]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=197085 2020-05-14T03:50:03Z 2020-05-14T02:45:37Z Apparently the Astros didn’t know everything that was coming in 2017. Their Nov. 20 trade with the Athletics netted them right-hander Brandon Bailey … in exchange for budding outfield star Ramon Laureano.

Ramon Laureano | Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

At the time of the swap, it barely drew notice. It certainly didn’t seem like any sort of egregious misstep. Laureano had turned in a woeful .227/.298/.369 slash in Double-A that year. He connected on 11 home runs and swiped 24 bags, showing a bit of pop and some speed, but his walk rate was cut in half from its 2016 mark. Scouting reports praised his glovework, but the Astros apparently didn’t think his defense was as good as it’s proven to be. Former GM Jeff Luhnow admitted to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle last April that the Astros didn’t “quite [have] the defense rated as well as it’s played in the big leagues,” plainly calling the trade “one I’d love to have back.”

Laureano’s glove in 2019 didn’t play out quite as well as it did in 2018 — at least not in the estimation of most metrics. In just 385 innings in 2018, he logged +6 Defensive Runs Saved, a 3.7 Ultimate Zone Rating and +2 Outs Above Average. Those numbers dipped to +3, +0.7 and -5, respectively, in 1041 innings between center field and right field this past season. Even as his overall numbers might’ve taken a step back, Laureano showed off a cannon from both center and right. In 1426 innings at the MLB level, he’s racked up 17 assists — earning every bit of his “Laser Ramon” nickname.

As for his work at the plate, Laureano’s 2019 output matched his standout showing from his 2018 debut. Over the life of 481 plate appearances, he turned in a .288/.340/.521 batting line with 24 long balls and 13 stolen bases (in 15 attempts). That was good for a 126 wRC+ that lined up nicely with the 130 mark he posted as a rookie in 2018.

Overall, Laureano has appeared in 171 MLB games and taken 687 plate appearances — just over a full regular season’s worth of work. Between his outrageous arm, solid all-around defense, well-regarded baserunning ability and his strong work at the plate, he’s been worth 6.0 fWAR and 5.9 bWAR. That trade, considering the club control (through 2024) and low cost of acquisition, stands out as one of the best moves in recent memory for A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, GM David Forst and the rest of the Oakland staff.

Speaking of that cost of acquisition, it’s worth taking a look at what the Astros did get. The now-25-year-old Bailey is still a prospect of some note — albeit one that the ’Stros almost lost for nothing. Houston opted to leave Bailey unprotected in December’s Rule 5 Draft, and the Orioles (headed up by former Astros assistant GM Mike Elias) snagged him with the second overall pick. Baltimore since returned him, but that selection speaks to Bailey’s ability in and of itself.

Last year, the right-hander logged a 3.30 ERA in a pitcher-friendly Double-A setting, averaging an even 10 strikeouts against 3.98 walks per nine innings pitched. He’s not an elite prospect, but Eric Longenhagen ranked him 30th among Houston farmhands at FanGraphs this winter, labeling him as a potential reliever with a “robust” arsenal. Clearly though, even if Bailey meets or exceeds that ceiling, he has a long way to go before making the Laureano swap look like anything less than a heist.

So, why did Houston move Laureano in the first place? The trade took place just prior to the deadline to set 40-man rosters in advance of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, and the Astros weren’t set on adding Laureano after his aforementioned down year in Double-A. It’s a mistake that every club has made in some shape or form, and I’ll be the first to say that it’s not really fair to look back and make harsh judgments with the benefit of hindsight. That said, Astros decisionmakers have to cringe when they look back at the players they chose to preserve over Laureano.

The Astros themselves actually kept a 40-man roster spot open, which they used to select outfielder-turned-left-hander Anthony Gose from the Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft. Gose never pitched for Houston and wound up back with the Rangers. Preston Tucker was already on the 40-man roster but had posted a 102 wRC+ in Triple-A in 2017 without appearing in a big league game. He was designated for assignment less than a month after trading Laureano (clearing a roster spot for Hector Rondon). Houston also dedicated a 40-man roster spot to backup catcher Juan Centeno, whom they claimed off waivers a few days after trading Laureano.

As for players actually selected to the 40-man roster in protection from the Rule 5 Draft, Houston added lefty Cionel Perez and righty Dean Deetz. The former is still with the team but has yet to establish himself as a regular member of the pitching staff. The latter was hit with an 80-game PED suspension later that offseason and outrighted off the 40-man roster earlier this winter. He’s pitched 3 1/3 innings in the Majors.

Both Perez and Deetz were more highly regarded prospect at the time, and no one was labeling the Laureano deal any sort of heist or steal for the A’s. The purpose here isn’t to look back and say, “How could the Astros have possibly done this?!” but rather to give a tip of the cap to a savvy acquisition from the A’s that has not only greatly boosted their own long-term outlook but done so at the expense of a division powerhouse.

Oakland, after all, has Laureano penciled in as its center fielder for the next half decade and figures to reap enormous surplus value from his remaining pre-arb years and early arbitration seasons. For a low-payroll club, that’s all the more valuable. The Astros, meanwhile, are set to lose their entire outfield to free agency this winter. Vaunted prospect Kyle Tucker gives them one likely replacement, but it must be particularly difficult to see another would-be outfield cornerstone thriving with their closest competitor for AL West supremacy.

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Steve Adams <![CDATA[Astros Hope To Extend George Springer]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196756 2020-05-08T17:27:01Z 2020-05-08T14:05:12Z Whether a game is played in 2020 or not, George Springer is slated to become a free agent for the first time this coming winter. The Astros, however, hope to broker a long-term deal with their star outfielder, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. While he was overseeing the baseball ops department in between the firing of Jeff Luhnow and hiring of new GM James Click, owner Jim Crane “made it clear” to Springer’s representatives at Excel Sports Management that his club was interested in a long-term deal, Rome writes. Such talks aren’t permitted during the league’s transaction freeze, though the two sides can come back to the table once that freeze is lifted.

Crane made that desire clear not only in his words but also through his actions. As we noted at the time the two sides avoided arbitration, it’s uncommon these days for a team and player to agree on a one-year arrangement after arbitration numbers are filed. But Crane not only bucked the “file-and-trial” trend that permeates the game with regard to Springer — he inked the slugger at a $21MM rate that checked in north of the $20MM midpoint between Springer’s $22.5MM submission and the club’s $17.5MM figure.

Paired with Rome’s report on the situation, that seems like a clear show of good faith that the club hopes to keep Springer around for the long haul — keeping him in Houston alongside already-extended stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. Bregman’s five-year, $100MM extension and Altuve’s $151MM extension both run through the 2024 campaign.

Keeping Springer would be a critical move for the Astros, who currently stand to lose four of their nine 2019 everyday players to free agency this winter. Beyond Springer, each of Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel is slated to hit the open market. While top prospect Kyle Tucker should be ready to slot into one of those outfield vacancies and Abraham Toro could perhaps occupy first base, that still leaves the club with a pair of holes in the lineup.

The financial feasibility, of course, remains to be seen. Houston has $116MM on the books in 2021 — including $134MM in total luxury tax obligations. That’s not including what should be significant arbitration raises to Roberto Osuna (earning $10MM in 2020), Carlos Correa ($8MM in 2020) and Lance McCullers Jr. ($4.1MM in 2020) — plus smaller raises for Chris Devenski ($2MM in 2020), Aledmys Diaz ($2.6MM in 2020) and Joe Biagini ($1MM in 2020). The Astros barely spent in free agency this winter as the team seemingly eyed a 2021 dip under the luxury threshold, but there’s certainly room to pay Springer on a long-term deal and still successfully make that luxury maneuver next season.

Springer, 31 in September, landed third on MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings back in late February — trailing only Mookie Betts and J.T. Realmuto. Skeptics will surely question the legitimacy of his excellence at the plate in the wake of the team’s sign-stealing scandal — and it’s only fair to point out that Springer had one of his best seasons amid that trash-can scandal in 2017. But the slugger’s best season was actually in 2019, when he laid waste to opposing pitching with a .292/.383/.591 slash line (150 OPS+, 156 wRC+) and ripped 39 home runs in just 122 games/556 plate appearances.

It should also be emphasized that while Springer and his teammates surely benefited from that sign-stealing operation, his offensive ability has never been in doubt. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft and posted an OPS of .900 or better at each minor league level (plus in the Arizona Fall League) on his way to the big leagues. Springer posted a 129 wRC+ in three seasons prior to that nefarious 2017 campaign and, over the course of his MLB career, has been 31 percent better than the league average hitter per OPS+ and 33 percent better per wRC+. He also rates well defensively in both center field and right field.

A long-term deal for Springer would be likely be expected to cover at least five years under normal circumstances, although the loss of revenue presents some uncertainty as to what to expect with regard to contract negotiations — extensions and free agency alike — whenever transactions do resume.

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Steve Adams <![CDATA[Astros Facing Key Losses Post-2020 and Post-2021]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196711 2020-05-07T19:41:21Z 2020-05-07T19:40:42Z
  • The Astros are facing a potential exodus in the outfield this coming offseason, and Jake Kaplan of The Athletic notes in his latest mailbag column that they’re looking at a similar slate of departures post-2021, when Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. could all hit the open market. Houston will see George Springer, Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick hit the market after whatever type of 2020 season we get. Given their poorly regarded farm system — not to mention the loss of draft picks in 2020-21 — the ’Stros are faced with an increasingly precarious position. It’s of course possible that the Astros could yet work out some extensions with various members of that core, but it’s also eminently apparent that a fair bit of roster turnover can be expected in the next couple of years — with several high-profile names likely to depart.
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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[James Click On New Role As Astros' General Manager]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196694 2020-05-07T06:24:45Z 2020-05-07T06:24:45Z
  • Speaking of teams that have recently been embroiled in sign-stealing scandals … Astros general manager James Click succeeded Jeff Luhnow atop the front office in the offseason as a result of the prior regime’s transgressions. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle profiles Click, how he has adjusted to the job, how the rookie GM’s trying to work through the coronavirus and how he’s attempting to change the culture of a franchise in turmoil. As you’d expect, Click has stayed in touch with owner Jim Crane and new manager Dusty Baker during the pandemic. Regarding the Astros as a whole, Click said to Rome: “I have a better feel for the organization now. While it’s not ideal to do it remotely, it is certainly something that can be done. It’s hard to say how much more of a feel I have for the organization, but definitely more, and I’m hoping they also have a feel for me. We’re all still getting to know each other.”
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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[One Of Astros' Minor League Owners Passes Away Of Coronavirus ]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=196414 2020-05-02T04:24:31Z 2020-05-02T04:24:31Z
  • The Astros have also lost somebody to the coronavirus. Bill Gladstone, who owned Single-A affiliate the Tri-City ValleyCats passed away of the illness Thursday, according to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. “Bill was a class act with a great passion for the game,” the Astros said in a statement. “Our entire Astros family sends our heartfelt condolences to his son, Doug, his daughter, Susan and to the entire Gladstone family.”
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