It’s no secret Jeff Luhnow and his Houston Astros front office have been wheeling and dealing this offseason, giving us bloggers plenty of exciting material to choose from during yet another sad, baseball-less winter. It’s truly been a whirlwind, but lost in this huge cloud of Hot Stove dust is what I see as a contingency plan for a potential bust: Jon Singleton.
Put on your tin foil hats, folks. I’ve got empirical evidence that the Illuminati are sick and tired of opposing managers penciling in Houston Astros first basemen as automatic outs, and that Jeff Luhnow is nothing but a marionette in their plans.
When Luhnow traded for Evan Gattis last week, he became the fifth “catcher” on the 40-man roster before Carlos Corporan was shipped up I-45 to some other AL West, Texas-based team. But you didn’t really hear any rumblings about Gattis possibly replacing Jason Castro behind the dish. Brian McTaggart reported that he’d be used primarily as a left fielder, but that he’d also see some time behind the plate or at first base. Coincidence? I think not.
“If you want to know the outcome of a game before the game has even started, you need to control each side.” – David Icke, conspiracy theorist
On Monday, Luhnow was out dealing again, acquiring Luis Valbuena (and Dan Straily) from the Chicago Cubs for Dexter Fowler. Point the tips of your hats north because this one may require your imagination.
Valbuena is primarily a third baseman, but he’s had a cup of tea at second and short during his career. Who’s to say that if Marwin Gonzalez or Matt Dominguez flourish this season (unlikely but possible), A.J. Hinch wouldn’t try him at first? That’s really not all that uncommon for versatile corner infielders, just ask Geoff Blum.
Let’s recap: the Houston Astros now have two new players who can play first in Gattis and Valbuena (presumably). Chris Carter can also put a glove on every now and then if need be. So where does that leave Jon Singleton?
Despite a disappointing 2014, first base still feels like it’s Singleton’s job to lose. They’ve got him locked up until 2019 at the latest, after all. Luhnow took a huge leap of faith when he signed a power hitting first baseman who’d never played a Major League game, and even though that leap wasn’t rewarded in 2014, there’s still a chance that Singleton can pull an Anthony Rizzo, cut down on his strikeout numbers and become one of the best pure power hitters in the game.
But the Illuminati and Luhnow had to ask themselves, what if he doesn’t? Look, even though Gattis may be a serviceable leftfielder when he’s got a 315-foot porch behind him, he still has to play 81 games away from Houston. (Although I guess he’ll get a break when the team travels to Boston). Would Hinch really want to take a bat out of Gattis’ hands in favor of Robbie Grossman or Jake Marisnick in a roomy park like Kauffman Stadium? Or would he rather slide him into the first base slot and let an inconsistent Singleton take a seat?
And if enough strings are pulled to turn Dominguez or Gonzalez into viable third base options before Colin Moran‘s arrival, why wouldn’t Hinch slide a more reliable bat in Valbuena over to first in favor of Singleton?
Aug 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena (24) hits an RBI single against the New York Mets during the sixth inning of a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t get me wrong, I’m confident that Singleton can turn it around. He’s got a lot of raw power and incredible bat speed, but he was clearly pressing last season, turning into too much of a one-dimensional hitter. If the Illuminati didn’t think he could hit, they wouldn’t have thrown him that five-year contract, even if it is incredibly team-friendly.
But sometimes the numbers don’t crunch. The Houston Astros may have a Director of Decision Sciences, but that doesn’t mean they get everything right. (Who saw that J.D. Martinez coming?) As embarrassing as it might be for Luhnow, maybe some more time in the minors would do Singleton some good. Maybe Preston Tucker is really the heir-apparent at first.
Regardless of the long term solution, it’s clear that the Houston Astros are no longer in “win-later” mode, so they no longer have the patience to wait around and let Singleton eat Major League at-bats if he continues to struggle in 2015.
Luhnow clearly acknowledged that this winter, and, guiding hand of the Illuminati at his back or not, gave the organization a back door.
What do y’all think? Is Singleton the man for the job short term, long term, or neither?