By November 30th of this year, teams will have to determine whether or not to tender a contract offer to their arbitration-eligible players. If they do not offer a contract, the players become free agents.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com has compiled an excellent list of possible non-tender candidates. Of course, these are just his guesses, so there’s nothing official about this list, but it’s an interesting place to look for possible Astros pickups.
I’ve identified six guys from this list who might be reasonable targets for the Astros to fill immediate needs, should they be non-tendered, plus three others who address less-significant needs.
1. Daric Barton – In parts of six seasons, Barton has put together a slash line of 240/364/370. He’s not a prototypical slugging first baseman – he’s hit just 27 home runs in 1,901 plate appearances – but he doesn’t strike out a lot (16.6% career, though he spiked at 23.5% in 2012), and he makes contact. Barton looked great in 2010 – he had 10 home runs, had a walk rate of 16.0%, a .131 ISO, .360 wOBA, 126 wRC+, and 5.0 fWAR – all career highs. Since then, his power numbers have plummeted as his strikeout rate has spiked (from 1.08 BB/K in 2010 to 0.69 in 2012. ) His slash line in 2010: 273/393/405. In 2012: 204/338/292. If he can regain any of his pre-2011 form at the plate, he’d make a nice addition to the lineup.
2. George Kottaras – Kottaras is sort of a mystery to me. This is a guy who’s never really been able to receive a lot of playing time – edged out by Derek Norris in Oakland during their march to the postseason in 2012, for example. But he’s also a guy with a .205 ISO last year, .207 in 2011. He also topped .330 wOBA in each of those years. The Astros, in their search for a backup to Jason Castro, might be well-served to kick the tires on Kottaras. He’s never had negative fWAR, despite not exactly being a defensive stalwart. He’s got a career slugging percentage of .412, and he gets on base at a .320 clip. Bill James’ projections for 2013 – optimistic even by BIS standards – are 240/345/435 with 357 plate appearances (considering he’s never topped 250 in a season, that’s a bit puzzling, obviously.) But Kottaras is certainly a guy who could back up Castro, maybe even play some DH, and provide a left-handed bat with some pop off the bench. Well worth a look.
3. Casey McGehee – McGehee has worked his way through half of the NL Central – since 2008, he’s played for the Cubs, Brewers, and Pirates, as well as 59 plate appearances for the Yankees in 2012. In his first full season in Milwaukee (2010), he had 23 home runs and 104 RBI in 670 plate appearances. He’s a guy who’s never walked much (7.7% over his career), but has a reasonable strikeout rate of 17.2% in that time. He plays both corner infield positions, and even has 180.2 innings at 2B in his major league career, though his defense isn’t exactly his strength. He puts up good power numbers (career .414 SLG), and could be a candidate for a DH who can spell the starters at first or third.
4. Mark Reynolds – Everyone knows the score with Reynolds. He’s a guy who puts up prodigious power numbers (.240 career ISO), and prodigious strikeout numbers – only 5 times in Major League history has a player struck out 200 or more times in a season. Reynolds has done it three of those 5 times (2008-10). Still, even in a year where he’s considered a non-tender candidate, Reynolds put up an a decent .335 wOBA. In fact, he cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 29.6%. And though he clubbed “just” 23 home runs, do bear in mind that that’s still more than any Astro was able to hit. You have to expect Reynolds to hit in the 230 range next year, with 30+ home runs. Certainly a solid choice for DH.
5. Gaby Sanchez – Sanchez had 19 home runs in both 2010 and 2011, with a career slash line of 269/346/440, but struggled to a 202/250/306 line in 196 plate appearances with Miami in 2012. The Marlins optioned him to the minors in early July and traded him to the Pirates on July 31. He fared much better in Pittsburgh, going 241/323/397 in 130 plate appearances. If Dierkes is correct and Sanchez is in fact non-tendered, I’d be both surprised and delighted, as I happen to think he’s a no-brainer for the Astros. Prior to 2012, Sanchez hadn’t posted a wOBA lower than .342 (though it’s interesting to note that it has become progressively lower in every single season of his career). He plays a decent first base, but could just as easily slot in as a DH.
6. Andres Torres – Torres is a guy who’s seen great heights and great depths. He bounced back and forth between the majors and minors in the Detroit and Texas systems before landing in San Francisco in 2009. In that season, he put together a .374 wOBA season, going 270/343/533 in 170 plate appearances. The following season, he flashed a great glove and swung an equally-great bat, compiling 6.9 fWAR. From there, it’s been largely downhill. 2011 and 2012 were struggles for Torres, even as his strikeout rate has fallen and his walk rate has increased. His ISO fell to .107, his wOBA to .297. He still managed to put up 1.7 fWAR for the Mets in 2012, partially due to his plus defense and baserunning (13 SB), but he still failed to light the world on fire. If the Mets do end up non-tendering him (which I’m not so sure they will,) he’d be an interesting guy to take a look at – he plays all three outfield positions, shows power, steals bases, and hits from both sides of the plate.
And now, for something completely different…
7. Jesus Flores – Somewhere near the bottom of Jeff Luhnow’s offseason shopping list is finding a backup for Jason Castro. There are a few ideas on how this could be done – signing a top-line free agent like Mike Napoli is one way in which it could be done. Signing someone like George Kotteras (above) is another. A third would be to take a look at a guy like Jesus Flores. Flores presents an interesting case because there’s nothing spectacular about him. His career 241/289/375 line describes him pretty well – a guy who’s competent at baseball, but who doesn’t do anything beyond the ordinary. His fielding is reasonable, but not stellar. He’s just 28 years old and he’s served as more-or-less a backup in Washington for the last 6 seasons. In short, he won’t put any pressure on Castro, but would serve as a competent backup. He might not aid much in the growing-up process, like a Rod Barajas type might, but he’s also not completely lost at the plate, on the chance that Castro ends up missing part of the season due to injury.
8. Ben Francisco – If it doesn’t seem that long ago since Ben Francisco was a Houston Astro, that’s because it’s not. After receiving Francisco as part of the ten-player A.J. Happ trade with the Blue Jays, he played just 31 games with Houston before they flipped him to the Tampa Bay Rays for a player to be named later (any minute now). Well, what if Francisco ended up back at Houston at the same time as the PTBNL in his own trade? How incredible and amazing and awful and insane would that be!? The answer, of course, is “very.” Still, I like Francisco’s profile. He plays both corner outfield spots, and every year until 2011, he posted a wOBA over .330. It’s been falling ever since, but I still can’t help wondering if he might make a valuable bench piece.
9. Brendan Ryan – I can hear you all right now. “But… Brendan Ryan is a shortstop! If the Astros don’t need anything, it’s a shortstop!” Hear me out on this. Jed Lowrie, easily the centerpiece of the Houston Astros offense, plays shortstop. He’s actually better at third base, but for now he plays shortstop. With me so far? Okay, good. Now. Jed Lowrie has never put together more than 387 plate appearances in a single season. Why not, you ask? Well, because Jed Lowrie has a tendency to get injured, often in freakish and unfortunate ways. Now imagine, if you will, a scenario in which the very best offensive player on the team (Lowrie) was put in a position (designated hitter) where he would be less-susceptible to freakish and unfortunate injuries. The truth is, Lowrie is not a particularly good defender. He’s got a 1.7 UZR/150 at shortstop; 6.4 at second base; 5.5 at third base. Brendan Ryan, on the other hand, has a 12.2 UZR/150 as a shortstop. He’s not going to blow anyone away offensively. He has a career 244/306/327 line, and went just 194/277/278 in Seattle in 2012. In addition to that, he just had surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, which is particularly unfortunate because that is the elbow with which he happens to throw a baseball. But seeing his name on the non-tender list got my head a-spinning… imagine putting our best offensive player at DH, eliminating his propensity toward freakish injuries, and taking his defensive liabilities off the field at the same time? You have to admit, it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had.
Rob Johnson (SDP). Most backup catchers hit fairly lightly, it’s true, so the Padres probably aren’t too upset at his complete lack of production, but it’s pretty rare that a Major League Baseball player has an AVG, OBP, and SLG under 250. If Johnson’s slugging falls five points, that’s exactly what he’ll be. Beyond that, he’s lost 0.2 wins defensively. Not a good combination.
Dioner Navarro (LAD). Johnson’s neighbor to the north, Navarro isn’t putting up much better numbers – especially considering he’s had two seasons with an OPS+ of 100 or better, and his 94 OPS+ in his previous stint in Los Angeles (2005). If he continues on his current pace, he will post his third consecutive negative-WAR season since his All-Star year, 2008. Unlike Johnson, however, Navarro has a positive dWAR, so at least there’s that.
Aubrey Huff (SFG). Those of you who remember watching Huff struggle in Houston in 2006, only to turn around and have a couple of strong seasons in Baltimore, already know that he is an often-frustrating player to watch. Imagine, then, Giants fans – who saw Huff post 5 Wins Above Replacement last year, only to put together a -1.3 bWAR so far this season. He’s done it by slugging worse than he ever has in his career, but the real damage has been done on defense, where he’s lost 1.2 wins.
Lyle Overbay (PIT). When the Pirates signed Overbay to a $5-million deal this offseason, they likely weren’t expecting the .230/.306/.356 line he’s put together so far this year, or the seven errors he’s accumulated at the halfway point of the season.
Jorge Cantu (SDP). Even with an offensive decline in 2010, Cantu looked like a solid offseason pickup for the Padres, who was expected to platoon at first base with Brad Hawpe and backup Chase Headley at third for the Friars. But after watching him stumble to a .194/.232/.285 line through 155 plate appearances, the Padres requested release waivers for him on June 21.
Bill Hall (HOU/SFG). Arguably the Astros’ biggest offseason acquisition, Hall’s tenure with the team only lasted 46 games, during which he hit just .224/.272/.340 before he was released from the worst team in baseball. The Giants, no doubt thinking that Hall deserved another chance after the 104 OPS+ he put up in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox. It’s still only 12 games into his San Francisco career, but he’s already lost almost half (0.4) of the Wins he lost in almost four times as many games in Houston.
Dan Uggla (ATL). Uggla is a two-time All-Star, and finished third in the ROY voting in 2006. Last season, he won a Silver Slugger award and finished in the top twenty in MVP voting. This season, he’s hitting just .175/.241/.330 while remaining the butcher in the field he’s been his entire career.
Wilson Valdez (PHI). Certainly, starting Valdez at second base thirty-one times wasn’t Plan A for the Phillies, but it hasn’t exactly hurt in their quest to be the best team in baseball, despite the 0.6 wins he’s lost for them, mostly on the defensive side of the ball.
Casey McGehee (MIL). After two consecutive seasons with an OPS+ well over 100, McGehee looked to be one of the rising stars in Milwaukee, but he’s struggled so far this season, posting just a .221/.272/.305 line, and is on pace to hit just half as many home runs as he did in 2009, his career low (16) – far off of the 23 he hit last season.
Chris Johnson (HOU). Johnson hasn’t exactly hit poorly this season, though he hasn’t hit particularly well, either. He’s well off of the pace he set his rookie season, dropping 65 points in batting average; 53 points in on-base percentage; and 88 points in slugging percentage. But he’s third among NL third basemen in errors, which has helped him lose an amazing 1.6 wins on defense alone.
Jose Lopez (COL/FLA). Another former All-Star, Lopez struggled mightily at the plate in his first season for Colorado – so much so (.208/.233/.288) that the Rockies released him. Enter the Marlins, who picked him up after his release. It took just twelve games, during which he performed even worse (.103/.161/.138) for them than he did for Colorado, before Florida decided to designate Lopez for assignment.
Yuniesky Betancourt (MIL). Sure, the right side of the Brewers’ infield are starting the All-Star game for the National League, but between Betancourt and McGehee, the other half of the infield holds down the fort in the All-Bergen team.
Edgar Renteria (CIN). 1996 ROY runner-up, 5-time All-Star, two-time MVP top twenty candidate, two-time Gold Glove winner, 3-time Silver Slugger. But his tenure in Cincinnati has been less than stellar. Just 1 home run through 150 plate appearances, a .315 OBP, and a .282 SLG is far off of his pace.
Raul Ibanez (PHI). Prior to 2011, Ibanez had posted 10 straight seasons with an OPS+, so the 84 he’s put together so far this year is pretty surprising. In fact, it’s his lowest since 2000, the last year of his first stint in Seattle. He’s on pace to lose as many wins this year defensively as last (1.2,) but is also on pace to drop his oWAR by 2.5.
Tyler Colvin (CHC). Colvin was a pleasant surprise last year in Chicago, so they can be forgiven for thinking that he would continue to grow and flourish. But he’s dropped more than 400 points in OPS this season, which hasn’t offset his improved defense. He’s currently on pace to hit one-fifth as many home runs this year as he did last year. The upside is that Colvin is just 25 this year, and has plenty of time to return to form.
Ryan Spilborghs (COL). Spilborghs has quietly put together a nice career in Colorado, including three seasons with an OPS+ over 100. He’s well off the pace this season this year, however, down in almost every offensive category and losing almost as many wins (.04) defensively as offensively (0.5).
Willie Bloomquist (ARI). What’s always amazing to me isn’t that Willie Bloomquist continues to struggle as a Major League player, but rather that he continues to get chances. The 85 OPS+ he posted last year (split between Cincinnati and Kansas City) was the highest of his career; he has a career .652 OPS; and he’s had a negative dWAR in almost every professional season in which he’s played.
Mark Kotsay (MIL). The 35-year-old Kotsay is down over a hundred points from his career OPS this season, and after posting his worst statistical season of his career in 2010, he’s brought it down even farther this year.
Willie Harris (NYM). Harris has traditionally hit fairly lightly, but this year he’s not hitting too poorly. Unfortunately, his defense has declined in recent years. He had -0.2 dWAR in 2009, -0.3 in 2010, and -0.4 so far this year.
Jerry Sands (LAD). Just 23 years old, Sands has been pressed into service this year for the Dodgers, largely because of a number of injuries they’ve faced. Sands has been a superstar in the minors, however, belting 35 home runs last year between Great Lakes and Chattanooga. He’s a bright star on Los Angeles’ horizon, but his Major League season in 2011 has been far less than stellar.
Eric Patterson (SDP). Patterson hit just .214 in 2010 between Oakland and Boston, but apparently the Padres saw enough potential in him to make him the Player To Be Named Later in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Through 103 plate appearances, he was hitting just .180/.272/.292, and was designated for assignment on June 9 before he could do any more damage.
Up next: AL Pitchers.