At this point in the offseason, there are a surprising number of free agents remaining. Many of them are former Astros players in Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Tony Sipp, and Martin Maldonado. We already ruled out Evan Gattis last week.
As many parents know, sometimes when their children struggle to find a job, they come back home. With spring training beginning within a week, maybe panic mode will set in for these players. While players complain about how long spring training is, it is necessary to get up to game speed before opening day.
Signing Wade Miley was a signal from the Astros that they are moving on from Keuchel. Scott Boras, Keuchel’s agent, apparently won’t budge on their high demands for the former Cy Young award winner.
This is becoming the new reality for the free agent market, as we saw last year when Boras ran a spring training camp for free agents. Teams are not as willing to throw around years and money like they used to. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are exhibit A, but their situation is unique. They are each waiting for the other’s decision.
Going back to the Astros threesome, excluding Keuchel, there is not much room on the roster. The only one that could be easily swapped out is Maldonado, as Max Stassi is still relatively unproven. Most Astros fans would put up a “do not want” gif when asked about Maldonado, due to his defensive woes in the playoffs.
Maldonado is a great defensive catcher and can show some offense from time to time. And as Chandler Rome mentioned on Talking Stros, the passed balls weren’t entirely Maldonado’s fault. After adding Robinson Chirinos, the Astros would have to put Stassi on waivers to send him to Triple-A before the season started. Maybe want to see what Stassi can do this spring before deciding whether to bring Maldonado back.
After a bounce-back season in 2018, it’s surprising to see Sipp still available. He would be a cheap/short-term option for the Astros. However, his Jekyll and Hyde performance level has teams wondering what they will get from him. Besides, the days of the situational lefty may be over as baseball tries to make a three hitter minimum for a reliever. Cionel Perez or Framber Valdez could get the job done more cheaply.
Then comes the million-dollar question: why is Gonzalez still out there? Gonzalez can play everywhere around the diamond except for pitcher and catcher. He gives managers the rare ability to carry an extra outfielder and infielder in one player. He’s a switch hitter with success in the playoffs, but once again Boras is not backing down. As one of the last remaining Astros from the start of the process, could he want to come home?
Putting aside the money and years it would take to sign Gonzalez, the question remains: whose spot would he take on the roster? The Astros like to carry 13 pitchers, which is why Gonzalez was valuable as a 2-in-1 player. If that is the plan, the positional players are tentatively locked with the following:
- Yuli Gurriel
- Tyler White
- Jose Altuve
- Carlos Correa
- Alex Bregman
- Aledmys Diaz
- Josh Reddick
- George Springer
- Michael Brantley
- Jake Marisnick or Tony Kemp
That already means there isn’t roster space for both Kemp and Marisnick, and Kyle Tucker has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. Gurriel is set to take on more of a utility role in 2019, with Diaz getting most at-bats as the DH. (They still call it the designated hitter, right? Hard to know after the recent change of the DL to “injured list.”)
If the Astros do carry 13 hitters, it would be to get Tucker some playing time. To re-sign Gonzalez, they would have to try to trade Reddick or White. Reddick would be tricky to trade with two years and $26 million left to pay. The 31-year-old Reddick is a streaky player, but he is a decent left-handed hitter. White is still under team control until 2023, but most teams won’t value him like the Astros do.
I would be surprised if Gonzalez returned to Houston, but maybe he wants to stay with this group of players. Maybe he could want to finish what they started last year and test free agency again after another year. Everyone in Houston wants him back, but as the current roster sits, there is no room for him. Unless the Astros get creative, there is no room for any of these players.
Salary information from Baseball Reference