Jurickson Profar should be the next player Houston signs
The Astros 40-man roster currently sits at 38. They currently have a projected $20 million to work with before exceeding the tax threshold. They could try to make another splash in free agency with that space. Or in Houston fashion, they could choose to roll with what they have and make a couple of under the radar signings to complete their roster.
Either way, with Aledmys Diaz employed elsewhere, the Astros are in the market for a utility player. Earlier today we made the case for Houston bringing back Yuli Gurriel. The first baseman is as beloved a player as any in this era. Much of the case stems from his signs of life in the playoffs and seeing what his bat can still do when he is given routine rest.
But if we have learned anything during this era of Astros' baseball, it's that great teams win championships, not sentimental ones. It is time for Houston to say goodbye to La Piña.
Outside of first base, he's a net negative defender. Gurriel hasn't played anywhere but first base with any semebelance of consistency since 2019. He made 42 starts at 3B that year and was worth -3 defensive runs saved. Are we to believe he's become better defensively at the hot corner three years older and having not taken reps there in three seasons?
What Yuli did as an Astro will not soon be forgotten. But their utility player for 2023 and beyond should be former division rival Jurickson Profar.
Profar can play shortstop, second base and the outfield. Over his eight big league seasons, he's made 304 starts in the outfield (256 in left), 218 at second base (his worst defensive position by far), 104 at shortstop and 89 at third base.
He's a very solid left fielder, good for 10 career defensive runs saved (two last season). He played almost exclusively in the outfield last season, but could make a spot start in the infield in the case of injury or if David Hensley regresses.
His defensive runs saved totals are especially ghastly at second base (-29 defensive run saved across eight seasons), but he'd only play there in a pinch. Besides, utility players aren't gold glovers at every spot. We all love Marwin Gonzalez for what he brought to Houston, but in just 2017 alone, a world series winning season, he combined for -8 defensive runs saved at first base, third base and shortstop.
At the end of the day, Profar can play a good outfield and a serviceable infield if need be. More than his defensive value, he brings an above-average bat, something Houston has been consistently lacking at the utility spot since Marwin in 2017 (until Diaz' 2019 season was cut short by injury, he was putting up terrific numbers).
In 630 games dating back to 2018, Profar is hitting .241 with a .730 OPS. Last season alone he recorded a 111 OPS+, meaning he was 11% better than the average big league hitter. For the sake of comparison, Diaz finished with a 95 OPS+, Yuli posted an 84 OPS+ and Mauricio Dubon posted an especially unsightly 60 OPS+, making him 40% below league average.
Houston needs consistency from their platoon man. Profar would supply that.
His approach at the plate also fits perfectly in Houston. Profar finished 2022 in the 86th percentile in whiff rate, 85th percentile in walk rate, 84th in strikeout rate and 79th in chase rate. He showed some other metrics that could leave him expecting a slight regression from his 2022 stats, but his high-contact rate, pass the baton offensive approach would slot perfectly into this lineup.
A regular starting lineup of Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Jose Abreu, Jeremy Peña, Chas McCormick and Martín Maldonado will strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers and managers. Being able to spell off-days for the regulars with David Hensley and Profar would be a total game-changer from the at-bats that went to Diaz and Dubon last season.
Houston has two roster spots left to fill. One should be given to Jurickson Profar.