In 2013, the Astros didn’t get much offensive production from their outfielders. According to Fangraphs, Houston fly-catchers tallied a dismal .672 OPS for the season. Only the Minnesota Twins outfielders proved similarly otiose. But those numbers are a bit misleading as the site includes Chris Carter and his .770 OPS in its calculations. As we know, Carter spent most of his playing time at either 1B or DH.
Any way you slice it, the production simply wasn’t there. Going into the offseason, the outfield has to be an area of concern for Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow. If the club is indeed committed to raising payroll, the outfield is one area that should definitely be addressed.
The way I see it, only one Astros outfielder has a secure hold on an everyday job heading into the 2014 season — even though he has yet to play a game in the majors. The George Springer era is finally upon us. Houston’s first round pick in the 2011 draft should be patrolling centerfield when the Astros open the season in The Bronx on April 1st. Who will be joining the 24-year old rookie in the outfield is anybody’s guess.
So, what sort of Free Agent outfielders might the Astros be able to afford? Probably not the likes of Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or even Curtis Granderson. But hopefully we can do better than Rick Ankiel and Trevor Crowe.
Corey Hart (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)
One name that keeps popping up in Astros chat rooms is Corey Hart. But Houston fans may over-value Hart due to the fact that he has owned the Astros to the tune of a .326/.381/.614 slash line in 96 games. Still, his career line of .276/.334/.491 would be a tremendous improvement over what Astros outfielders produced last year. But is he still an outfielder?
Hart missed all of the 2013 season due to knee problems. Surgery to both knees in the span of the last nine months will probably limit his ability to play the outfield. In 2012 Hart spent only 53 of his 149 games in the outfield. Corey turns 32 in March and could be more interested in signing with a team that needs a first-baseman.
Hart’s 2012 numbers were directly in line with his career stats. So, there is no indication that he is in decline. His recent injury history should lower both the dollar amount and the length of a potential contract. I would think the Astros will want to take him into consideration.
Another perennial Astro-killer that is on the Free Agent market this winter is Houston native Chris Young. Coming off a disappointing season with Oakland, his first in the American League, the Bellaire High School product has hired new representation. Young could be an interesting pickup for the Astros. He can play all three outfield positions and could also be available at a discount after a down season.
David Murphy (Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports)
Another hometown product the Astros may want to pursue is former Ranger David Murphy. The 32-year old is also coming off a disappointing season and could fit into the Astros budget. A left-handed hitter, Murphy has a career slash line of .275/.337/.441. Murphy was a first round pick by the Red Sox back in 2003. Last season he hit .220/.282/.374 and made $5.775 million.
In the category of bigger risk and potentially bigger reward stands 6′ 5″, 245 pound Mike Morse. After a breakout season in 2011 and a slight regression in 2012, “The Beast” was traded twice during the calendar year of 2013. His price might be a little higher but so could his slugging percentage. A myriad of injuries limited Morse to 88 games last season and trying to play through the pain probably affected his production. Morse, who made $6.75 million, hit .215/.270/.381 with 13 homers in 2013.
These Free Agents fit the mold of the type of player I think the Astros may try to sign this winter. What do you think?