Major league contracts are a curious business. The Houston Astros have agreed to one year contracts with two different players, each will make $424,000 in 2011.
The first: 3B Chris Johnson. In Johnson’s rookie 2010 campaign, he put up an OPS+ of 123 and a line of .308/.337/.481. He led all rookies in BA who had at least 300 at-bats. His 11 homeruns and 52 RBI were a lone bright spot for last seasons’ Astros. Johnson has established himself as a building block for Houston and will enter 2011 as the Astros starting 3B.
The second: Catcher J.R. Towles. Towles has seen at-bats in the majors each of the past 4 seasons compiling a .189/.273/.327 line and an OPS+ of 59 in 281 total at-bats. Heading into the 2008 season, Towles was ranked the 53rd best prospect in all of baseball by scouting experts Baseball America. He followed that up with a .304/.370/.500 effort at Triple-A Round Rock. In 2009 he hit .276/.386/.455 at the same level. In 2010, Towles spent an injury-plagued 26 year old season between Houston, Double-A Corpus Christi, and the bench. With the emergence of former Houston top-prospect Jason Castro, Towles role in the organization is in question to say the least. Castro will open 2011 as Houston’s starting catcher and Humberto Quintero signed a one-year, one-million dollar deal to serve as his backup. Towles will most likely enter the season at Triple-A in an attempt to get his career back on track. 2011 will be his 27-year old season so the time to prove himself as a long-term option in Houston is starting to run out.
Both of these signings are good deals. Johnson is being underpaid relative to his 2010 season but we’ll have to wait and see if he hits the oft-experienced ‘sophomore slump’. And at less than half a million dollars, Towles could be a good flier and if nothing else, should be able to serve as a major league backup catcher. After all, Quintero has hit just .232/.271/.322 in his 8-season big league career.