As contenders shop for free agents from the adult dinner table, the Astros choose to hang out at the kids table and spend their money frugally. With the bargain free agent signings of Jack Cust, Chris Snyder, and Zach Duke along with the wavier wire pick up of Fernando Martinez, the Astros are trying to plug holes on the cheap. Could the Astros spend a few more dollars to acquire a better player? Probably. but as most have pointed out, it wouldn’t make much sense. So Jeff Luhnow will continue to see what bargains can be had and with other clubs needing to free up roster spots, the waiver wire offers them intriguing possibilities that might just do the trick.
With a flurry of free agent activity this past week, the waiver wire has been flooded with interesting names that could benefit the Astros. The rules associated with the DFA process are beneficial to teams that lose 106 games. Being able to choose first among all MLB teams can be quite the advantage to a rebuilding club when going through players designated for assignment. Now, the types of players that are put on waivers can vary, sometimes a veteran who is struggling may find a way onto the wire. In those cases, the player normally carries a noticeable salary and often goes through unclaimed. I wouldn’t look for the Astros to even consider picking up that type of player, they just did that very thing with veterans Angel Sanchez and Craig Tatum.
With all the free agent activity this week, teams have to make space on their 40 man roster and with most rosters already at maximum capacity, someone needs to go. Unlike the example above, this week has seen actual prospects much like Fernando Martinez, who the Astros claimed a few weeks back, being DFA. This tends to happen when clubs realize a spot for these young players will not open up and rather move on with other younger prospects. This won’t happen with top prospects but often occurs with players who have seen quite a bit of time in the minors and are close to free agency. These are the type of players the Astros will target and hope that all they needed was a position and a chance.
One of the young promising players that Jeff Luhnow should target in the next few days is Adrian Cardenas. The 24 year old has spent 5 years in the Phillies and A’s farm systems and was part of the Joe Blanton deal. With Oakland signing Johnny Gomes, they had to make a choice and decided with Jemilie Weeks at 2nd, Cardenas’ primary position, it was time to move on. Still, it was a bit surprising given his ability to play multiple positions around the diamond and impressive minor league stats. He is able to get on base and has a career average of .303. As I noted in my previous entry, Luhnow is focusing on OBP and Cardenas fits that very mold. Cardenas will be a popular option for a few teams yet the A’s hope he slips through the cracks, although that seems doubtful. The Astros could play him at multiple positions and might be an everyday option at 3rd base.
Another victim of the free agent madness this week was Kevin Whelan. The Yankees made the Kuroda signing official and in conjunction DFA Whelan to make room. Whelan had a cup of coffee with the Yanks last season after spending six seasons in New York’s system. Whelan is a reliever and last season, pitching in AAA, was used as a closer. Kevin posted an impressive so/9 ratio of 9.3, a 2.75 ERA, and 23 saves in 45 appearances. Whelan doesn’t have the arsenal of pitches to be one of their better prospects. in part because the Yankees have a deep farm system, but he’s done as much as possible at the minor league level. If the Astros claim Whelan, he could be a candidate for a bullpen spot out of spring training, given them another power arm to go with Carpenter, Abreu and Rodriguez.
The third recently designated player that peaked my interest was Russ Canzler. When the Rays signed Jeff Keppinger this past week, Russ Canzler was the odd man out. Much like Cardenas and, to a lesser extent, Whelan, it was a bit of a shocker. Canzler has been in the minors seven years, so he was running out of time but the last two seasons he had produced at an impressive clip. Spending six years in the Cubs system and last year with Tampa, it certainly appears Russ is looking for a spot to play. Canzler has played a number of different positions, which tells me he isn’t good enough defensively to find one spot. He might be an ideal fit at 3rd but his defense there has been questionable at best. He has also played 1st and the OF. Given his bat, he’s certainly worth a look. The 25 year old strikes out quite a bit but can draw a walk, has power and can hit for average. The fact that he gets on base, like Cardenas, but with a bit more pop, could make him quite interesting for Luhnow. That said, given his defensive limitations, that might put him slightly below Cardenas in the pecking order. Another factor to consider is that he could be a viable option at DH next season when the club moves to the AL, that may be his eventual major league position.
There are certain parallels I can draw from all three of these gentleman like age and that their clubs desire to go with veterans in a win-now mode rather than give these guys a shot. That won’t be the case with the Astros. They need these kind of players to create competition and fill holes on the squad. Personally, I’m intrigued by Canzler the most because of his bat, on base ability and age. Cardenas is also intriguing because I can see him playing as an everyday stop-gap at 3rd or even 2nd, if Altuve struggles. They may all just be AAAA players who never make it in the big leagues but with the Rays and Yanks in win now mode, their decisions are understandable. With Oakland, they had players blocking Cardenas which means he just needed a chance and, the like the other two, could get it in Houston.