Spring Training is all the rage for the Houston Astros right now.
And while we should anxiously look forward to the 2016 season, we should take the time to re-evaluate how the offseason influenced this year’s Houston Astros squad. That means taking a look at players retained, departed, and acquired.
So to kick off this three-part series, we will dive into the notable players retained from last season’s playoff squad.
Notable Players Retained:
OF Colby Rasmus; signed for 1-year, $15.8 million
LHP Tony Sipp; signed for 3-years, $18.0 million
The Astros managed to retain two important players from last season’s playoff team: outfielder Colby Rasmus and lefty reliever Tony Sipp. Rasmus is back, somewhat unexpectedly I may add, on a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer. His return to Houston was a surprise due to the fact that before Rasmus not one player has ever accepted the qualifying offer. Of course, there were a few more players who ended accepting their QO’s later on this offseason, but Rasmus is distinguished as the first. From a payroll perspective, it is difficult to tell if his QO prevented the Astros from spending differently in free agency than they actually did. Names like Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, and David Price will surely be tossed around as names that the Astros could have been in on if they had full financial flexibility. Oh well, we may never know for sure, but it isn’t like retaining Rasmus was necessarily a bad thing either.
Rasmus’ return solidifies one of the better outfields in the American Leauge in 2016. Between him, Carlos Gomez, George Springer, and Jake Marisnick, the Astros arguably have four at least average, even above average, outfielders on the 25-man roster. And the former Cardinal and Blue Jay also brings back his powerful bat, and while not great, it is definitely a serviceable one. He will continue to be a fine option for manager A.J. Hinch to pencil in the latter half of the lineup during most games. And if Rasmus can come close to replicating his 115 wRC+ and 2.8 WAR, then the Astros will have to be pleased. Yes, spending $15.8 million on one player like Rasmus in a lone season you probably could do better, but you could also do much worse.
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Sipp’s return to the Astros was also much-needed for the overall health of the club. In fact, one can argue that he was the Astros most valuable reliever last season considering that he does well against both lefties and right-handers. Yes, I am talking about a non-closer being the MVP of the bullpen. After all he did manage to finish the season with a .265 wOBA allowed to all hitters he faced, no matter which side of the plate.
At first glance the contract that Sipp signed seems a bit steep for a non-closer, but not for a pitcher that posted an ERA/FIP split of 1.99/2.93 last season. And when you examine the current market for quality relievers you will quickly find that his contract was more on the reasonable side. I also argue that a closer is overrated in general; I actually prefer to use the term “ace reliever”. And Sipp at times last season fit the bill of an “ace reliever”. And just think that two years ago Sipp was toiling away in the minor leagues till Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow decided to sign him after the San Diego Padres released the left-hander. Needless to say, that signing has gone down as one of Luhnow’s best moves since arriving in Houston.
Overall, the Astros didn’t have many notable free agents of their own to worry about this offseason; that is just one of the perks of having a young, cost controlled ball club in place. But the few that were proved crucial to the team’s performance last year. So it became apparent that the team would have to spend some money to retain key pieces of the 2015 playoff team, which they did. Let’s just see if the investment pays off again in 2016.
**Statistics and salary figures provided by Fangraphs**