The Houston Astros Free Agency Primer

Photo by Icon SMI

As most baseball fans know, free agency officially began on Sunday (11/7). That in of itself is unique. Usually, the waiting period after the World Series is a few weeks. On the one hand, it’s hard to catch your breath when free agency starts five days after the end of the World Series. On the other hand, it will make the general manager meetings and owner’s meetings that much more entertaining. As a blogger, I preferred the mental break, but off we go on this great adventure.

The first thing most people do is determine whether there are any trends coming from the playoffs and World Series. The Giants were pitching rich while the Rangers were hitting rich. Still, both teams were largely built from within. The Rangers core of hitters came from either their farm system or key trades. Vladimir Guerrero was the notable exception and he was rendered ineffective during the World Series (as were most of the Rangers hitters). Barry Zito is the only notable free agent from the Giants pitching staff and he was in witness protection during the playoffs.

So, before we look at what is available we must look at the Astros regulars. The club finished 15th in the National League in runs scored and the same or worse in all of the major categories. I’m sure most people would want to begin there so that is where we will begin. That being said, we will look at four major categories and offense is only one of those. We will also look at base-running (closely related to offense), fielding bible, and age. Looking at all of them will give us some idea.

We should start with some good news. Most of the players here are either in their prime or are still growing. In fact, Carlos Lee is the only regular in his mid-thirties and the Astros are looking to deal him this winter. In particular, the Astros can expect growth out of Jason Castro and Brett Wallace. The other good news exists in the outfield when three out of the four regular outfielders are plus defenders. Put Carlos Lee at first base (or trade him) and add in another plus defender and you have the makings of a great defensive outfield.

There is another area of interest as I left out the fifth outfielder and sixth infielder. There will be a competition this spring for those positions, so there is no sense in listing any players now. So, the outfield appears to be in good shape. Now, we get to the bad news. The infield (including the catchers) are horrible offensively and in terms of fielding and base-running.

The question from the Astros perspective is whether it is worth it to spend major money for a left fielder (should Lee move to first or be traded) or whether to spend at catcher, shortstop, or even second base. There are options there for the having. The Marlins are looking to deal Dan Uggla and he would fit nicely in the lineup, but he also has struggled with the glove. Victor Martinez is available as a free agent catcher, but he has had injury trouble and a spotty history as a defensive catcher. Naturally, most people would focus on Carl Crawford in left field, but his offense would not necessarily add what the Astros need.

So, in terms of offense, the Astros are better off letting it ride with what they have. They do have openings in the infield and outfield for their bench. Maybe a better option in left field would allow them to move Lee to first. Maybe another middle infield/third base player would give them some insurance on Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella. Either way, free agency isn’t going to make the difference between fifth place and first place.

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