Previewing the Best Candidates to Play 1B For the Houston Astros in 2023

World Series - Houston Astros v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Five
World Series - Houston Astros v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Five / Elsa/GettyImages
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Josh Bell
Championship Series - San Diego Padres v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Five / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

3) Josh Bell

The Astros were heavily linked to Josh Bell at the trade deadline, but instead landed Trey Mancini. Bell went to San Diego in addition to Juan Soto in a massive deal.

The free agent first-baseman makes a lot of sense for Houston. He's a switch-hitter that would bring additional balance to a lineup featuring only two lefties. The Astros are famous for working pitch counts and rarely striking out, so slotting a quality at-bat machine like Bell into the heart of the order seems like a dream. Bell finished the year in the 93rd percentile in walk-rate and 83rd percentile in k-rate.

Add in his Texas roots, and what's not to love?

Two factors should steer the Astros away from Bell:
1) He's a very erratic performer year-in and year-out.
2) He's a sub-par defender at first base.

At times, Josh Bell looks like a top-hitter on the planet. In 2019, Bell slugged 37 bombs and posted a .936 OPS in a Pirates lineup that didn't afford him much protection. He did the same in the first half of 2022 for the Nationals, hitting .301 with an .877 OPS. In his 53 games in San Diego, he hit only .192 with 3 big flies and a .587 OPS. In the 2020 Covid-year, Bell struggled like many others, hitting only .226 with a .669 OPS.

Is Bell a performer that puts up big-numbers on bad teams? Just streaky? After navigating cold October showings from Altuve, Mancini, Diaz, and for a large chunk of the postseason, Yordan Alvarez, can they afford to add another boom-or-bust bat?

His defensive woes should steer Houston elsewhere. Bell finished in only the 17th percentile in outs above average. For Bell's career, he's -21 OAA and -28 Defensive runs saved.

The Astros' infielders are not known for their arm strength, and first baseman are often asked to dig the ball out of the dirt, a role in which Gurriel excelled.

In signing Bell, the Astros would likely get an above-average bat, albeit one with a propensity for prolonged hot and cold streaks, and a well below-average defender. Too much risk subsists to make him the primary option.