Ranking the top five moves the Astros made in the 2016 calendar year
2016 proved to be an up-and-down season for the Houston Astros. They had a terrible April, then caught fire, then cooled off again before ultimately missing the playoffs. Despite doing little at the trade deadline, GM Jeff Luhnow made some big moves before the year was up. Here are the top five moves from 2016.
5. Astros sign OF Josh Reddick to four-year, $52 million deal
November 17 was a big day for the Astros, as news broke of two moves on this list. The team made its biggest free agent signing since Carlos Lee by adding Reddick to an outfield that desperately needed help.
In addition to being an outfielder and a plus defender, Reddick is a left-handed hitter, adding balance to a righty-heavy lineup. He can hit anywhere manager A.J. Hinch wants him to and will offer a solid bat to deepen the batting order.
The main question with Reddick is whether he will be a full-time player or simply part of an expensive platoon. He has a career slash line of .218/.280/.360 against left-handed pitching. Those numbers plummeted to .155/.212/.155 in 2016. His numbers against righties (.322/.386/.485) were better.
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Also, a question is how much power he will provide. He hit 32 homers in 2012 but hasn’t hit more than 20 in a season since. He hit just ten last year, though playing half of his games at Minute Maid Park as opposed to Oakland’s Coliseum should help.
4. Astros acquire C Brian McCann from Yankees
With Jason Castro hitting free agency after the 2016 season, the Astros needed another catcher to pair with Evan Gattis. This time they went the trade route, and they did it on the same day the news broke of the Reddick signing.
Luhnow acquired McCann for minor league pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. He’s expected to get the majority of the playing time at catcher and should get some DH at-bats as well. He may not hit for a high batting average, but he’s hit at least 18 homers in 11 consecutive seasons.
McCann also provides solid defense and a badly needed veteran presence in the clubhouse. Plus, like Reddick, he’s a left-handed hitter. This will be the perfect complement to the righthanded-hitting Gattis.
Perhaps the best part of the deal is the Astros didn’t break the bank. McCann is under contract for two seasons with a third-year option. The two pitchers included in the trade are talented but far from the majors, and thus quite unproven. The deal may work out for the Yankees in the long run, but it will surely benefit the Astros over the next few years.
3. Astros sign OF/DH Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal
Christmas came early in December for Luhnow as news broke of the former Astro’s return to Houston. Almost instantly, the Astros were talked about as one of the top three teams in the AL.
Beltran’s deal is significant for a few reasons. First, it’s only a one-year deal, minimizing the risk for the Astros. Beltran will turn 40 this year, so a drop off in production is certainly a possibility.
Second, he’s a switch-hitter who still swings a potent bat, so he can hit anywhere in the lineup and provide production. He’ll likely get most of his at-bats at DH but can also start some games in left field, giving Hinch options.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is his veteran presence. Beltran has been an excellent hitter for a long time and will be a great example to the younger players of how to play the game right. Plus, he’s still chasing that elusive World Series ring, so the fire is undoubtedly still there.
2. Astros release OF Carlos Gomez
When one of the team’s biggest moves of the year was a subtraction rather than an addition, you know the situation was bad. Thus was, unfortunately, the case with Gomez.
As recently as 2014, Gomez seemed like a sure bet for 20-plus homers, 30-plus steals, and Gold Glove-caliber defense. That was what Luhnow hoped he was getting when he traded four minor leaguers for Gomez and Mike Fiers in July 2015.
Instead, Luhnow got a dud. Fiers has been what the Astros had hoped, but Gomez was downright awful. Post-trade in 2015, Gomez slashed .242/.288/.383 with just four homers. 2016 was even worse, as he posted a .210/.272/.322 line with five homers and 100 strikeouts in 323 plate appearances.
The Astros officially released Gomez on Aug. 18, and he signed with none other than the Texas Rangers two days later. Adding insult to injury, he rebounded to the tune of a .284/.362/.543 line down the stretch, helping the Rangers to the postseason. They rewarded him with a new contract in December.
Though the trade was clearly a loss for the Astros, it was helpful for Luhnow to admit it and wash his hands of Gomez finally. This move gave Jake Marisnick more playing time down the stretch and allowed the Astros to close the book on a bad deal.
1. Astros sign IF Yulieski Gurriel to five-year, $47.5 million deal
There may be players on this list who provide a greater on-field impact than Gurriel will. The jury is still out somewhat on the Cuban defector. The reason this move is No. 1 is not just for the move itself, but for what the move meant.
When news broke of the signing in July, it signaled a change in how the club operates. Though they had traded for Gomez and Scott Kazmir in 2015, this was the first major free agent expenditure for the club since Jim Crane bought the team. If nothing else, it showed the Astros were serious about winning and were willing to throw some money around to do it.
It helped that when Gurriel arrived in the big leagues in August, he showed he could play. The 32-year-old slashed .262/.292/.385 over 137 plate appearances in his first taste of MLB action. With a full offseason to prepare, he can certainly improve on those numbers in 2017.
It’s possible Reddick, McCann and Beltran produce more than Gurriel does, but that would not lessen the magnitude of this deal. It opened the gates, so to speak, for what was to come. Of course, the Astros could get 20-plus homers and solid defense from Gurriel in 2017, making him entirely worth the price tag.
***Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com***