At Astros Fan Fest 2015, the local bloggers who cover the Houston Astros were invited to a bloggers round table. We were given 30 minutes each with Astros President Reid Ryan, GM Jeff Luhnow, and new manager A.J. Hinch. During Jeff Luhnow’s interview, he gave a guideline for signing a premium free agent next offseason.
Jeff Luhnow told us not to expect much more movement with exception of a few non-roster invitees and possible trade talk. The question was whether the Astros would allocate the money they had on the table for Max Scherzer for a free agent in the 2016 offseason. While Luhnow hinted that they may not quite be ready to go for the high dollar free agents, a couple of factors could change the Astros offseason plans in 2016.
Root Sports Providing the Astros a Financial Cushion
During the 2014 season, only an estimated 40% of Houston was able to watch the Astros games due to the Comcast Sportsnet Houston fiasco. However, the Rockets and Astros were finally work out a deal for Root Sports. Now with more people able to watch the Astros play baseball, more businesses will want to advertise on the station. The Astros will have the extra revenue from these advertisements from Root Sports to help pay the Astros’ bills.
Luhnow said that the “TV deal helped us feel more comfortable going after free agents.” The Astros did attempt to go after some names this offseason, but fell short, not because of the money issues. It was rumored that the Astros outbid the Yankees for Andrew Miller, but Miller choose to go play in the Bronx anyway.
Luhnow said that the Astros are “getting close to the point where we seriously consider the premium free agents. We’ve signed some good free agents, but our interest in Andrew Miller shows that we are almost ready.” The Astros are almost ready to really spend the money on real a contender, but only if a couple of conditions are met.
Free Agent Criteria that Luhnow Will Look For
The Astros were indeed in on Max Scherzer, but he chose to go join the Nationals instead. While they were in on Scherzer, don’t expect them to go after someone like James Shields for more than a one or two year deal. Scherzer is actually the perfect player that matches Luhnow’s criteria. “We’re not to the 100-million plus class of free agents yet, that player is scary, a decision that we are not going to wade into without a lot of thought and consideration,” Luhnow said.
Let’s look at the criteria for possible free agents in the 2016 offseason.
1) Quality Player
As most teams probably value with a long-term contract, they’d better be worth it. Luhnow said that the first thing he looks at is the “quality of the player.” While this should be a given, it’s hard to predict performance 6 years from now on those type players. Most long-term contracts should not be based off a career year, but instead based of a “proven track record of performance.” Most long-term contracts are usually signed to help now, sacrificing the future years or possible unproductive years in the deal.
2) Young Player
Players the Astros are after will be young players. Not prospects, but players that are “young enough where we know what we will get,” but will probably have a ceiling on the age of potential free agent signings at less than 30-year old players. They will be looking at the players who made their major league debuts early, and become free agents sooner. Luhnow said that “we can predict what skills will decline at what age. So that we won’t have buyer’s regret later in the contract.”
3) Length of Contract
As Luhnow mentioned earlier, the length of the contract will be something that the Astros might balk on. Depending on the quality of the player and the age of the player, these factors will give the Astros a value for that specific free agent target. “If you can get a player to sign a 7-year deal, and they are worth that every year of the contract is great and rare.”
“If you can get a player to sign a 7-year deal, and they are worth that every year of the contract is great and rare.”-Luhnow
Luhnow mentioned how the Angels knew that Albert Pujols would probably not be worth it towards the end of the contract, but Matt Holiday is still hitting in the later years of the contract he received. Houston fans might still feel a little hesitant of the long-term contract with the experience of Carlos Lee who regressed towards the end of his 6-year $100 million contract.
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Most players will not be worth the contract towards the end, and general managers will have to do their due diligence to make sure they know as much as they can about the player. The Astros must have been sold on Max Scherzer, to have offered a rumored contract to him. Will the Nationals “have years sacrificed later in the back half of the contract, to have Scherzer now? Only time will tell.
Other Factors that will Influence Signing a Premium Free-Agent
Jeff Luhnow on when the Astros will pursue big name free agents, “we are not that far away, if we’re successful this year, and people start coming back out to the ballpark. When we feel like revenue is trending to the spot where we feel comfortable with the risk.” In other words, if attendance and number of games won increases in 2015, the Astros might be willing to spend more on a quality free agent.
Jeff Luhnow said the Astros are “slowly moving from lower class to middle class, and will eventually be in the top ten of payroll like a city this size should have.” But they are not in the place as of right now to compete with the “rich” teams of baseball, but with some luck in 2015, this may change for good.
2016 Possible Free Agents
Rick Porcello – 26 years old
Mat Latos – 27 years old
Jordan Zimmermann – 28 years old
Johnny Cueto – 28 years old
David Price – 29 years old
Doug Fister – 30 years old
Jeff Samardzija – 30 years old
While the last two might not fit the criteria, they could still be productive in Houston. The biggest impact pitcher the Astros could sign is Zimmermann, who is still young enough to sign a potential 7-year deal.
Jason Heyward – 25 years old
Justin Upton – 27 years old
Chris Davis – 28 years old
Ian Desmond – 29 years old
Yoenis Cespedes – 29 years old
While I would love to see Justin Upton in an Astros uniform, Chris Davis might make sense for the Astros if Jon Singleton is not who we think he should be.
Let’s support the Astros in 2015; it might earn you an ace pitcher in 2016. See you at Minute Maid Park!