Who might the Houston Astros target?
The Houston Astros entered the 2020-21 offseason with a long list of needs. The Astros do have a larger payroll than the Rays, general manager James Click’s old team, but he recently announced that the organization would gravitate from “aggressive” to “opportunistic.” The second year GM also mentioned the club could possibly use an unexperienced pitcher in the closing role.
The budget has thinned for Houston, and while closer Brad Hand signed on Sunday, the Astros will have to make do with the money they are willing to spend. Here are five players that are within the Astros price range:
Outfielder: Jake Marisnick
There haven’t been any rumors for the former New York Mets center fielder making his way down I-45 and back into Houston this offseason, but it makes sense. Marisnick was never a longtime starter for the Astros, but his speed and defensive abilities made him a reliable late-game defensive replacement, pinch runner, and fourth outfielder when needed. He has struggled at the plate in recent years, but in his last season with the Astros in 2019, he was edging close to his career high numbers in 2017. Marisnick didn’t play much in 2020 while battling hamstring injuries. It is a two-sided road if you believe Miles Straw is better, but Marisnick has been around longer and has slightly better numbers at the plate. I have explored the Marisnick return before and could be had on a cheap contract.
Outfielder: Kevin Pillar
Pillar is another outfielder who has not garnered much chatter this offseason, but as a defense-first outfielder, the Astros could consider a short-term deal. It sounds fitting to take the former center fielder from the team that signed away your franchise outfielder. While being a man of acrobatic catches, the right-hander has found recent pop in his swing. While splitting 54 games between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, Pillar slashed .288/.336/.462 with six home runs and 26 RBI. Pillar is an interesting case; he doesn’t strike out much or walk enough to be a leadoff hitter for Houston. 2020 was Pillar’s first offensive season that was above average, which could lead to him asking for more money in recent years, but the case of it being a small sample size still stands. He’s never made more than $4.5M a year, and while the Astros aren’t looking to drop a bag of cash on a player, they could spend in the market of $4-6 million on a short-term deal.
Outfielder: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley Jr. has been in Astros talks since it became obvious Springer wasn’t going to return. It turned from fan speculation to actual rumors. The dust has settled though, and the Astros might not be in the right budget to sign the one time All-Star. JBJ had a resurgence in his 2020 campaign and mirrored his All-Star numbers of 2016, and while being the best candidate to play centerfield for Houston, the chances of it happening are dwindling away. The Red Sox have not ruled out re-signing JBJ, and among the teams now reported in on him, the Colorado Rockies look to be his best fit. JBJ is looking to sign his first big contract, and in recent days, Click has made it known the Astros aren’t willing to do that. The reason JBJ made this list is because he is the best candidate to play center field for the Astros and could possibly make the same amount as Michael Brantley. The former Gold Glove winner would add that Springer-like defense to center, along with a left-handed bat to diverse the lineup. Bradley Jr. is the best candidate, and while being in a bizarre market this offseason, the Astros could possibly have to spend the rest of their expected money and stray away from adding an experienced closer to their bullpen.
Starting pitcher: Chris Archer
Archer hasn’t been his dominant self in the past three seasons, but injuries and a trade have paused his advancement. The right-hander might not reach his All-Star form like he once had, and a minor-league deal could be in his future. Archer has been a speculation to sign with the Astros, but like many other players, there haven’t been reports to back the cause. As a pitcher with never a low ERA, the right-hander relied on strikeouts and longevity for success. Archer has led MLB in starts twice while also leading MLB in losses once. Pitching coach Brent Strom has been known to rejuvenate careers, and with a fully healthy Archer, the Astros could use him for experienced rotational depth. In 2020, he struggled through 23 starts with a career high ERA of 5.19. Archer might not look dominant on paper like he once was, but as much as you want to rely on prospects, the Astros still need one more veteran possibility to start. Archer has the ability to be that guy at 32 years old.
Closer: Alex Colome
The Astros are still in need of a veteran closer to round out their bullpen, but the recent signing of Hand to the Washington Nationals could be a sign that a possible closer to the Astros might not happen. Click has spoken about the possibility of using a non-closer to be the ninth inning man, and while Ryan Pressly has the most experience at the role, the Astros could look to a younger arm down the road. Colome is still on the market, and in the last few days, he switched agents possibly hinting toward wanting a new contract sooner than later. The former Chicago White Sox closer had an ERA sub 1.00 in 2020 while fanning 16 batters through 22.1 innings. The Astros need a relief pitcher with a high strikeout rate, but those names have left the market. Colome gets outs by contact and made $10.5 million in 2020. Hand’s contract of $10.5 million shows that teams drastically missed out on his $10 million waiver earlier this offseason while also hinting toward the range of money that Colome could make. The Astros are in the right mindset to not offer the right-hander this kind of money, but if they were to, it comes with a loss of adding another piece such as an outfielder.
JBJ and Colome seem out of reach for Houston, and as the talks settle, we could see them steer to the smaller contract-players listed above. The Astros entered the offseason needing outfield help, catching depth, and rotation/relief help, and of these, they met the needs of catching depth, two-thirds of the outfield and an anchor for the bullpen. Houston did increase their chances of contention while saving payroll for contract extensions of players like Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr.