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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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Christian Walker
Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants / Jason O. Watson/GettyImages

1) Christian Walker

The Arizona Diamondbacks' Christian Walker is the upgrade the Astros need at first base next season. He may not carry the household name recognition of Abreu or Bell, but neither did trade acquisitions like Morton, Pressly and to some extent even Cole before becoming an Astro.

Walker is a match-made in heaven for Houston. They would have him under team control for two seasons (same length as Abreu is projected to receive), with his estimated salary amount coming out to $7.5 million in arbitration. Walker would save Houston 10-13 million a year to spend elsewhere on key pieces.

But we know the Astros aren't the Athletics and Jim Crane has shown a willingness to spend money, so what does bringing in Walker accomplish beyond balancing the budget?

Walker's Baseball Savant page is the stuff dreams are made of: he finished 2022 in the 92nd percentile in both xwOBA and xSLG, 82nd in barrel rate and chase rate, 76th in walk rate and 72nd in hard hit rate. He'd slot perfectly into the lineup as a consistent quality at-bat, but also one with a propensity for doing damage.

In his 160 games played this season, Walker slugged 37 home runs, which would project to 41 in Minute Maid Park.

Since coming to the big leagues, Walker has played two full seasons: 2019 & 2022 (battled injury in 2021 and 2020 was the shortened season). In both those seasons, Walker has recorded an .OPS over .800, 29+ home runs and 25+ doubles in a lineup affording him very little protection.

His chase-rate indicates a well above-average eye, so slotting him into Houston's lineup with the protection afforded by bats like Altuve, Bregman, Alvarez, Tucker and Peña, it's a safe bet that his numbers would look even better.

Even more appealing than Walker's success and remaining untapped potential at the plate is his defense. No better defensive first baseman exists in the game. In both his full seasons, he has finished 98th and 99th percentile in outs above average. He finished this season with 17 defensive runs saved, tied for 10th best across all positions, and just won the Gold Glove at first base.

His combination of power and elite glove work amounted to a 5.1 bWAR for Walker this year, which would tie Altuve for fourth on the team.

The Astros do have a somewhat shallow farm system, but if Walker can be had for the right price (the Diamondbacks were open to moving him at the deadline) he is the Astros best option to play first base next year.

Walker would bring a fearsome bat in the heart of the order and is the only candidate that is a clear-cut defensive upgrade over Yuli Gurriel.

The GM Committee needs to get on the line with Arizona for the first time since the Greinke deal in 2019. If the Astros can land Walker, well, start mapping off a parade route downtown again. 2023 will be a monster year in the H.

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