#2 Willy Adames
Willy Adames isn't exactly an under the radar player, but this falls under the category of under the radar because it's been talked about by exactly nobody. Is Adames in Houston next year unlikely? Yes.
But does it make sense? Hmmm, let's see.
Jeremy Peña is coming off of a woefully disappointing 2023 season. He followed up his breakout playoff showing in 2022 with exactly zero power. Peña went homerless for the last three months of the season, and while his discipline at the plate did improve, he remained little more than a singles generator that rarely walked.
With Martín Maldonado's bat mercifully no longer in the lineup two out of every three days, there is a case to be made for Peña sticking in the lineup as there would no longer be two liabilites (three if you account for José Abreu's injury most of the season).
But what if they can't afford to withstand more offensive ineptitude from Peña? While Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve were big losses do to injury, the Astros were actually one of the healthiest lineups in the MLB last season with regards to games missed and duration of total IL stints. If the injury bug hits them harder, can they accept another non-threat?
What if Chas McCormick regresses? What if José Abreu at age 37 replicates his age-36 campaign, or worse? Can Yainer Diaz withstand the workload of being the everyday catcher, or do his numbers fall back?
There are some questions to answer in the Astros lineup. And now with Brandon Woodruff out for the year in the final year of his contract, Corbin Burnes on an expiring deal, and Craig Counsell managing the Cubs, the Brewers have questions to answer as well.
Could Houston work out a deal around Adames and Peña? Adames for his career has a .757 OPS and 107 OPS+. He finished 2023 in the 82nd percentile in both walk rate and barrel percentage, and the 69th percentile in xwOBA. In comparison, Peña finished in the 30th percentile in walk rate, 19th percentile in xwOBA, and 10th percentile in barrel rate. Adames hit 24 home runs to Peña's 10.
Adames would give the Astros more of a threat at the bottom of the order, but he also is one of the only shortstops that can rival Peña defensively. Adames was worth 8 DRS last year while finishing with 16 outs above average. He'd be a seamless fit up the middle in Houston.
Adames only has two years of team control and is more fitting of the Astros contention timeline. Peña is under contract through 2028, so he likely has more value in a trade. The Astros could likely get a reliever or prospect in the deal as well to help replenish their depleted system.
It would be bold and incredibly unexpected to sell on a second-year player with an ALCS and World Series MVP under his belt, but it's the type of outside the box move that could push the Astros back over the top in 2024.