The Thanksgiving week has been a quiet one around Astrostown but there will soon be news as the Winter Meetings heat up next week in San Diego, CA, including the Rule 5 draft. The Astros did ink free agent catcher Dustin Garneau to a one-year contract. The 32-year-old split time between the Angels and Athletics last year, batting .244 but is likely getting, at best, a backup role.
(c) Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle
Just before this was marked for posting, Houston swung a deal with the New York Mets, sending outfielder Jake Marisnick for two minor leaguers - lefty reliever Blake Taylor who compiled a 2.16 ERA last year across three minor league levels and Venezuelan teenaged outfielder Kenedy Corona who played last year in the Dominican league and was promoted to A-ball. While Taylor may have a chance to stick if he impresses this spring, Corona is likely years away for contending for a spot in the majors.
Marisnick, acquired in 2014 from Miami along with Francis Martes and Colin Moran for Jarred Cosart and Enrique "Kike" Hernandez, batted .233 with 10 homers last season while playing exceptional outfield defense. He was among nine Astros receiving arbitration offers last week.
Houston also non-tendered pitcher Aaron Sanchez, who was acquired from the Blue Jays at the trade deadline and started a no-hit game in August before being shelved due to surgery on his right shoulder. A Scott Boras client, Sanchez would have likely cost several million in salary and been unable to give the team a complete season so, with the luxury tax cap looming this off-season, the decision was made to cut Sanchez loose, making him a free agent.
Other arbitration-eligible players were tendered offers and one, reliever Joe Biagini, has already agreed to terms. The 29-year-old righthander didn't have much negotiating power. He came over from Toronto in the same trade as Sanchez and was 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in 13 appearances for Houston before being demoted to Round Rock. He also did not make any of the postseason rosters.
The other seven cases, outfielder George Springer, infielders Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz as well as pitchers Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock, Roberto Osuna and Chris Devenski, will be negotiated this winter with final figures filed in mid-January should no agreement be reached.
Springer may get a raise to above the $20 million mark in his final year of eligibility (remember the Astros ignored pleas to call him up sooner during the 2014 season resulting in this extra arbitration year). He and Correa may possibly become trade pieces as the Astros shop for pitchers and catchers. Moves like Sanchez and Marisnick may provide some cushion but a few bold moves may be needed to stay under the luxury tax cap.
Speaking of which, while there were reports this week that Mets righthander Zack Wheeler was prepared to sign with the Phillies, later reports were that the Astros were still in the hunt. Meanwhile, the Rangers, with far greater spending flexibility and a new stadium to fill, bowed out of the bidding (incidentally, the Rangers unveiled new uniforms this week that include a baby-blue home alternate uniform in case they want to be confused with the Royals).
Wheeler has been an admitted target of the Astros, even though he will cost in excess of $100 million to sign and will cost Houston a compensation draft pick. After Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, the Houston rotation is currently made up of wishes and prayers such as McCullers, Jose Urquidy, Francis Martes, Framber Valdez and top prospect Forrest Whitley.
As players are signed or acquired in trade, it has been the modus operandi of the Astros to lay low and then sign players after New Year's Day where they can save some money. However, more teams are adopting the Astros' methods and times have changed. The Astros are no longer trying to compete. They are trying to dominate - which carries a higher pricetag.
This may be an offseason of major changes although there is also the cloud of institutional discipline hanging over the team's head. Some claim players won't want to play for a "tainted" ballclub but I don't believe it. You don't see NFL players refusing to play for the Patriots. They want to go some place where they can augment their salaries with playoff money and live the excitement of a pennant run.
The venom seen on the internet against the Astros is tangible but, as one writer pointed out "Yankee fans complaining about the 2017 ALCS would do well here to remember that they lost four games in Houston mostly because New York scored a total of three runs there." No amount of sign-stealing could defeat the Yankee offense.
- Bob Hulsey