With the World Series over, the 2019 baseball year got underway. The first step is to allow players with expiring contracts to leave in free agency. Initially, there were six - pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Tony Sipp, designated hitter Evan Gattis, catcher Martin Maldonado and infielder Marwin Gonzalez. Catcher Brian McCann's club option was declined so he became the seventh. Reliever Will Harris may also depart as the Astros have declined their club option for next season but Harris is still deciding on his player option.
Morton: Retirement option?
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With two catchers gone, the Astros signed Seattle reserve Chris Herrmann, a man who had an important footnote for the Astros last season. The Tomball native, who will turn 31 later this month, hit an extra-inning home run that eliminated Oakland and gave the Astros, who were watching in a Toronto hotel, their second AL West division title. Herrmann batted .237 in 36 games for the Mariners.
Keuchel received a qualifying offer of $17.9 million to put off free agency and re-sign with Houston on a one-year contract. The former Cy Young winner is likely to earn that much on the free agent market so it makes sense to offer him the deal and be able to benefit either with him staying or the Astros gaining a likely June 2019 draft pick in compensation if he signs elsewhere.
On Sunday, Keuchel won his fourth Gold Glove Award in five years, the only Astro to win the fielding hardware this season.
Some expressed surprise that Morton and Gonzalez were not made qualifying offers. While the Astros still want both players, it's likely they can be re-signed for less than the expected qualifying offer. Maldonado is the fourth one who could be brought back but the claiming of Herrmann could be a sign that the Astros will roll the dice on Max Stassi as the starting backstop next year. AAA prospect Garrett Stubbs is another option but he will need to be brought onto the 40-man roster before the Rule V draft in December.
Morton was injured a good part of the final months of the season leading some to question if he would be able to justify an expensive contract, despite 2018 being the best year of his career. Meanwhile, Gonzalez fell off from his fantastic 2017 season to somewhat ordinary numbers. I expect Gonzalez to sign somewhere around $10-12 million per year which is a steep price for one who has no regular position on the Astros.
This is the time of year for awards to be handed out for gold gloves, silver sluggers and the like but I will be out of the country beginning this Saturday and cannot respond to them. Watch the Astrowire where Darrell will be able to keep you updated on those topics and more.
- Bob Hulsey