Trade: Astros acquire catcher Hank Conger from Los Angeles Angels
For clubs with limited payroll flexibility like the Houston Astros, acquiring the pieces needed to get better on a year-to-year basis sometimes takes a little bit creativity. Jeff Luhnow and company did just that on Tuesday when they swung their first trade of the offseason.
According to an official press release from the team, the Astros acquired catcher Hank Conger from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for prospects Nick Tropeano and catcher Carlos Perez.
Call to the Pen
In Conger, the Astros pick up a soon-to-be 27-year-old catcher with power potential. Splitting time over the last two seasons with Chris Iannetta, Conger has slashed .235/.301/.364 with 11 home runs and 46 RBI in 515 plate appearances since 2013. However, it should also be noted that Conger also struck out 113 times, while walking just 39 over the last two seasons.
Statistically speaking, Conger’s bat has shown much more potential at the Minor League level, where he’s hit .297/.359/.467 with 62 home runs and 322 RBI over his 504 games. Additionally, his K/BB ratio is much better in the minors having struck out 310 times versus 183 walks.
That said, the value of Conger isn’t measured in his untapped potential at the plate. Rather it is measured in his value his value behind the plate. According to Statcorner.com, Conger ranked 4th in all of baseball this past season with a runs above average ranking of 21.3 and accounted for 152 extra strikes called per Baseball Prospectus. Coincidentally, future teammate Jason Castro was 10th in baseball with 122.5 extra strikes, but more on him later.
The cost to acquire Conger was a bit steep, as the Astros gave up the team’s 18th-ranked prospect in Nick Tropeano, a right-hander who made four starts for Astros in 2014. In 21.2 innings of work, Tropeano posted a 4.57 ERA with 13 strike-outs and 9 walks. The 23-year-old also made 23 appearances (20 starts) at Triple-A Oklahoma City, posting a 9-5 record with 3.03 ERA and a 3.64 K/BB ratio.
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With Brad Peacock out for the opening of the season, Tropeano appeared to be the likely recipient of some additional starts in April. However, those plans are now changed.
Along with Tropeano, the Astros also sent Triple-A catcher Carlos Perez to Anaheim. The 24-year-old is a career .277/.359/.393 hitter in the minors.
While the move lands another solid backstop to the team, it also leaves the Astros with some questions about what to do with its current crop of catchers. With Jason Castro and Max Stassi already in the fold, Conger seems to be a bit of a redundancy. While it could mean that Castro and Conger split time behind the plate, with Castro possibly getting additional at bats at DH, there could be something else at work here.
Could Jason Castro be on the trade block?
It would be hard to argue that any other Astros player outside of Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve has more trade value than does Jason Castro. Moving Castro would allow the Astros to flip a position that has low quantity on this winter’s market and get high value, helping to address the other glaring holes in the infield and rotation. No, Conger isn’t going to fill the offensive shoes of Castro, but he does provide an alternative should Houston want to travel the trade route.