Astros: CTH writers give thoughts on Houston’s free agency

Jackie Bradley Jr. (19) after hitting an 2 RBI home run during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros in game four of the 2018 ALCS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Jackie Bradley Jr. (19) after hitting an 2 RBI home run during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros in game four of the 2018 ALCS playoff baseball series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

Your Climbing Tal’s Hill writers give their thoughts on who we *want* the Astros to sign and who we think they *should* sign:

Dan Shedd:

Who I want the Astros to sign:  If the Astros want a “Springer” type player whose bat matches his outfield skills, I would go after Jackie Bradley Jr. His stats from last year were .283 BA, seven home runs and 22 RBIs during the shortened 60-game season due to COVID-19. In his eight years with the Red Sox, his batting average was .239 with 98 home runs and 376 RBI. His defensive skills are great and Astros fans would appreciate what he brings to the field every day. Watch a short highlight video on YouTube and you’ll instantly be impressed.

Who I think the Astros should sign: The Astros should bring back Jake Marisnick from the Mets. I was sad to see him go because I thought he was a solid backup to George Springer and others. In 2020, Marisnick hit .333 with two home runs and five RBI. While his stats and defensive skills are not appealing as JBJ’s, Marisnick has one advantage in that his salary will not be what JBJ or other players will command.

Matt Kunkel:

Who I want the Astros to sign:  Marcell Ozuna. I want the Astros to go all-in to try to take back the title in 2021. Assuming the Astros can’t retain both George Springer and Michael Brantley, I think they go get another big bat that can breathe new life into this lineup. I was initially thinking DJ LeMahieu would be the guy, but he’s a career infielder and Houston is stacked there so that doesn’t seem very likely.

So, let’s take my Christmas Wishlist to the outfield.  I’m guessing that the Astros sign Michael Brantley and, if George Springer moves on, the Astros could replace him with Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna is an offensive juggernaut – he was on pace to hit over 50 home runs in a 162-game season and was in the 95th percentile or above in Exit Velocity, Hard Hit Rate, and Barrel Rate (**mouth drooling**). Put simply, Ozuna rakes in big hit after big hit. He also is a righty pull hitter, and nothing looks more appealing to a power righty than those Crawford boxes.

Ozuna is a subpar defender and does not play centerfield. If the Astros had Ozuna, Brantley and Tucker as the three outfielders, they’d be a bottom-tier defensive group. But, if the Astros score eight runs a game and mash homers left and right, who needs a great defense? Those three players, plus Yordan Alvarez, would make the best offensive outfield/DH combination in all of baseball. Plus, I’d love to watch an Ozuna vs Alvarez vs Bregman season-long Home Run Derby.

Also Want to Sign: Brad Hand, James Paxton, James McCann… is Mike Trout available?

Who I think the Astros should sign: Jackie Bradley Jr.

Okay, time to get more realistic. I believe the Astros will keep one of Michael Brantley or George Springer, and I’m thinking more and more that it’ll be Michael Brantley. Springer, like Ozuna and LeMahieu, will probably chase a big check that’ll be out of Houston’s price range.  This would leave the Astros without a starting center fielder and leadoff man in the top of their lineup. I’m fascinated by the idea of bringing in Kevin Pillar as a steady center fielder with some bottom-of-the-lineup pop, but the former Red Sox player they should sign his Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley Jr. would be a great consolation prize for not retaining George Springer. He’s a former All-Star, former Gold Glove winner and most importantly is only 31 years old. Despite how good George Springer is defensively, signing Jackie Bradley Jr. would be an upgrade at that position. Various defensive metrics (via Statcast) have Bradley Jr. in the 96 percentile in most defensive metrics, and it has some amazing highlight reel catches on YouTube that ought to get you excited.

His offense would be the steep drop-off from Springer. Bradley is only a career .239 hitter and has had five 100 strikeout seasons. But he hit a career best .283 last year with a OPS was north of .800, so there’s a potential that he’s made some improvements with his plate approach. And for a guy who is projected to hit eighth or ninth in the lineup, I think you take that. You still wouldn’t have a leadoff guy, but I’m sure Dusty Baker can plug Altuve or Bregman into that spot.

Also Should Sign: Kevin Pillar, Brad Hand or Kirby Yates, Charlie Morton (duh), Robby Ray

Andrew Gleinser:

Who I want the Astros to sign: Kirby Yates.

Kirby Yates was one of baseball’s best relievers in 2018 and 2019, leading the majors in saves in 2019 and getting into the top-10 in Cy Young Award voting. Injuries derailed his 2020 season, but if the elbow surgery he underwent is as minor as it seems, it looks like he’ll be ready to go for next season.

The Astros let Roberto Osuna go, and Ryan Pressly didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence as the closer in 2020. Coming off an injury-plagued season, Yates would likely sign for a modest one-year deal, especially in what’s expected to be a depressed relief pitching market. Houston needs a new closer, and a healthy Yates could prove to be a tremendous bargain.

Who I think the Astros should sign: Jackie Bradley, Jr

This isn’t something any Astros fan wants to hear, but George Springer is as good as gone. As much as I love the guy, I would be highly surprised to see him re-sign with this team. He’ll get big money from some team on the east coast and he’ll get away from the stigma of the sign stealing scandal.

The Astros have Myles Straw on the roster, but he hasn’t shown enough at the plate to earn the everyday center field job. Next to Springer, the best center fielder on the free agent market is Jackie Bradley Jr. He’s more of a bottom-of-the-order bat, but his glove is a plus, and there aren’t many free agents who can adequately patrol center field while being serviceable at the plate. MLB Trade Rumors predicted him to sign a two-year, $16 million deal with Houston, and I’d take that in a heartbeat.

Kenny Van Doren:

Who I want the Astros to sign: Brad Hand

The Houston Astros’ bullpen struggled in 2020 mostly due to a young rookie staff. One reliever on the market is Brad Hand, who was phenomenal this season with the Cleveland Indians. He appeared in 23 games and closed 21 of them, ranking best in the American League. As baseball’s save leader, the left-hander posted a 2.05 ERA. The Astros have been a heavy right-handed staff the last five years, but bringing in a lefty closer would help provide a different look.

Hand will be on the radar of many teams this offseason, and with the contracts fluctuating downward, the Astros could sneak a two-year deal with the 30-year-old. The Astros are in need of a replacement for Roberto Osuna, and I do not think that replacement is Ryan Pressly. The Astros future could be Enoli Paredes in the 7th, Pressly in the 8th and Hand in the 9th.

Who I think the Astros should sign: Jackie Bradley Jr.

I have written multiple times that Jackie Bradley Jr. would be the best replacement for George Springer in center field, and I’m sticking with it. JBJ has been known for his great skills in the field for 5+ years, but in the short 2020 season, we saw an old bat catch heat again, hitting .283/.364/.450 at the plate.

The Astros need to replace the numbers of Springer. They need .265/.359/.540 in different parts of the lineup, but for the future leadoff hitter. JBJ meets the OBP requirements. He adds another left-handed bat to Dusty Baker’s lineup. And he had a 1.000 fielding percentage in 2020, so the replacement in the field isn’t an issue. JBJ is the perfect replacement, but he will be looking for a big check.

Robert Murray:

Who I want the Astros to sign:  Chris Archer

Archer is not the big name free agent that most fans desire. He is 32 years old and did not pitch in 2020 after undergoing surgery to relieve symptoms of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. But immediately following the surgery the Pirates projected Archer to return to full competition in 2021. Now, Archer is a free agent and someone teams could view as a reclamation project after an up-and-down tenure with the Pirates.

Enter Brent Strom. The Astros’ pitching coach has a reputation for getting the most out of his pitchers and Archer could be another career he helps get back on track. I believe Archer, if he can stay healthy, has a chance to be another one of those players. If the Astros can sign him on a cheap one-year deal, they should pull the trigger.

Who I think the Astros should sign: Brad Hand.

I agree with Kenny. I think Hand makes a ton of sense for the Astros, especially since they’re in need of a dependable option in the late innings with Roberto Osuna no longer in town. In a deep free agent class, the Astros might be able to sign Hand to a relatively cheap deal. If they’re able to secure Hand, their bullpen figures to be much better in 2021.