The Astros are expected to be busy this winter. MLB Trade Rumors recently listed two top free agents they believe will be playing in Houston in 2021.
The Houston Astros are expected to be busy this winter. They might have to replace free agents George Springer and Michael Brantley. They need a closer after waiving Roberto Osuna. And they have a need for additional help in the middle innings.
It could prove difficult to address all those needs in an offseason where teams are dealing with financial constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some teams have been informing agents that they do not have their budgets for the 2021 season, though it is unclear if the Astros are one of them.
It sets up an interesting winter for general manager James Click in his first full offseason with the Astros. He has already signed Yuli Gurriel to a one-year extension and exercised Brooks Raley’s $2 million club option. Now, his attention turns to addressing his roster on the trade and free-agent markets.
MLB Trade Rumors recently released their annual top 50 free agent predictions for the 2020-’21 offseason. Their projected contracts have historically been relatively accurate, though this offseason could be more difficult to predict than usual. Still, they had the Astros signing two of the top free agents on the market while losing George Springer (five years, $125 million to White Sox) and Michael Brantley (two years, $28 million to Braves).
Let’s take a look at who they had the Astros adding.
Jackie Bradley Jr. (two years, $16 million)
Bradley Jr. makes a lot of sense as a cheaper alternative to George Springer and is someone our own Kenny Van Doren recently speculated could be a logical fit. Bradley is an elite defensive outfielder with an emerging offensive game after slashing .283/.364/.450 with seven home runs and 22 RBI this season.
Statcast ranked Bradley’s defense in the 99th percentile for Outs Above Average in 2020 and his defense would figure to translate well to Minute Maid Park. He recently voiced displeasure on Twitter for not being among the Gold Glove finalists after tying Luis Robert with 7 OAA, highest among MLB center fielders, saying: “I just don’t understand, and I have yet to have anyone from any analytics department, explain to me how they “calculate” the “numbers” or better yet how you can physically improve them as a player.”
At 30 years old, Bradley can be creative with the contract he signs. Analytics view him as a player who will age gracefully, so he could be a candidate for a 3+ year deal or look to sign a lucrative one-year deal with the hope that next offseason will be much more lucrative for players. Still, if the Astros are in fact interested in Bradley, they will likely have a lot of competition. MLB Trade Rumors listed the Diamondbacks, Cubs and Phillies as other possibilities. Another team that rival executives have connected to Bradley is the Giants, who could use an elite defender in the spacious Oracle Park outfield.
Brad Hand (two years, $14 million)
Hand being placed on outright waivers by the Cleveland Indians was the first major surprise of the offseason. It was equally surprising that he and his one-year, $10 million contract went unclaimed. Now, Hand is subject to the free agent market and likely to garner quite a bit of interest from teams looking for bullpen help. Spoiler: That is most teams.
Hand, 30, has been the seventh most valuable reliever in baseball since 2017. He has proven equally effective against right-handed (.174 average against) as left-handed pitching (.124 average against). His 2.05 ERA and 33.7 K% this season indicate that he is still performing at a high level. And he has proven to be one of the most durable players in baseball, missing little-to-no time because of injury.
Even then, Hand is not expected to land a lucrative deal. The industry expectation is that Liam Hendriks will be the only free-agent reliever to truly cash in, with the remainder being lumped together in a buyer’s market. It could help other teams – especially the Astros – land a solid bullpen piece or two at a fraction of what it would previously cost. And if that piece is Brad Hand, the Astros’ bullpen would be in very good shape in ’21 and going forward.