What’s the Houston Astros’ Next Move?
By Jason Burke
Yesterday the Houston Astros signed Jed Lowrie to a three-year deal, with an option for a fourth year. After signing Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek last week to help shore up their league-worst bullpen, the Astros are making strides towards being competitive in 2015. Yet, there is one move that has yet to take place that all fans have been waiting on for weeks now: the trading of Jason Castro, or one of the other catchers.
Castro’s name has been heavily speculated in the rumor mill because he would bring the most return back to Houston. Now, with Lowrie signed, the Astros also have an abundance of shortstop talent, which could also be on the move. There is a chance, however, that both Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar could stay in Houston, and Matt Dominguez could be shopped instead, with Lowrie trying his hand at third base.
Before we get into trade scenarios, let’s explain why Lowrie to third makes sense. Dominguez had a dreadful 2014 campaign, batting just .215, but there is some upside potential with the young third baseman, and that potential could be a good selling point in potential negotiations. There is also the fact that Carlos Correa will likely be ready to take over shortstop in Houston around opening day of 2016, which means that Lowrie wouldn’t have a position. Jose Altuve has second base locked down, and the only other viable option for him would be third.
Call to the Pen
While Colin Moran is projected to be ready in the same time frame as Correa, Moran is ranked as the #64 prospect in baseball, while Correa holds down the #2 spot. Allowing Moran to get his feet wet without throwing him into full-time starting duty is a plausible course of action. Slotting him behind a veteran for a year could do the team some good. Correa on the other hand will likely take over the shortstop position upon arrival.
The Astros can play this one of a couple ways. The first would be trading one of their shortstops, and perhaps Carlos Corporan to the Mets. New York already has Travis d’Arnaud as their main backstop, so someone in more of a backup role makes sense. Whether this package (let’s say Villar and Corporan) would be enough to land Jon Niese or Dillon Gee is the question. New York is reportedly shopping one of their more veteran pitchers in order to acquire a shortstop according to Marc Craig of NewsDay.
An intriguing option would be to contact the Giants about their third base needs. Dominguez may not be exactly what they’re looking for, but he is a better option than what they have in-house. Also, the Giants have reportedly shopped 1B/LF Brandon Belt in the past, seemingly to create an opening for when Buster Posey moves from behind the plate. If the Houston Astros are looking for an upgrade, Belt could provide the answer, if he can stay healthy. His 2014 season got off to a hot start, before continued time on the disabled list derailed what looked to be his breakout season.
Comparing the two player’s 162-game averages, they’re pretty similar, with Dominguez hitting .233 with 19 home runs and 69 rbi, and Belt averaging .243 with 17 home runs and 65 rbi. Personally, I’d rather stick with Jake Marisnick as the main option in left, but this is an option to consider.
The Oakland A’s are another potential trade partner, due to their need for a shortstop and their abundance of starting pitching. While the A’s just traded for Marcus Semien to take over shortstop duties, he could easily slide over to second, giving them a needed upgrade at the position. The Astros could also dangle Dominguez to Oakland, with Brett Lawrie also able to play second, and keeping Semien at short. There are lots of intriguing return candidates in a potential trade with Oakland, but most of them are unproven.
The one option that could provide the most return, also comes with the biggest risk. Starter A.J. Griffin had Tommy John surgery last season, but assuming a full recovery (should be back before the all-star break) he could be a very solid middle of the rotation starter for years to come. In 2012, Griffin burst onto the scene to the tune of a 7-1 record and a 3.06 ERA in 15 starts. 2013 was a little rougher for Griffin, with a 14-10 record and a 3.82 ERA, along with 36 home runs allowed. He is signed through 2018, as is Dominguez.
These are just a few options to consider. The intriguing aspect is whether Jeff Luhnow will couple a catcher with another player, or will he unload each player in a separate deal, if at all?