Pursuit of relief help to ramp up at Winter Meetings
Astros motivated to bring in top-notch reliever
HOUSTON -- The Astros' pursuit of relief pitching figures to be front and center next week when general manager Jeff Luhnow and the rest of the baseball world converge on Nashville, Tenn., for the annual Winter Meetings.
The club is still pursuing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, as it did at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, while making calls for relievers like Andrew Miller of the Yankees, Ken Giles of the Phillies and Brad Boxberger of the Rays, among others. If there's a coveted relief pitcher on the market, you can bet the Astros have interest.
The Astros would still like to add some rotation depth, though they're not in the market for any of the big names. The only place the Astros could add some offense is the corner-infield spots, but the team has enough internal options at first base and third base that it doesn't feel there's a pressing need to bring in a corner infielder.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 10 a.m. CT and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. CT.
Relief pitching: The bullpen was very good last year. Of course, the bullpen's struggles in September and in the playoffs left a sour taste in everyone's mouth, and it's fair to say the club needs to add some quality arms to go along with the core of Luke Gregerson, Will Harris and Pat Neshek. Lefty Tony Sipp is a free agent, and there's mutual interest in a reunion, but at what price? The Astros would love to add a fireball closer to the mix (Chapman) and slide Gregerson into an eighth-inning role, but adding a quality setup man and keeping Gregerson at closer is an acceptable outcome as well.
Starting pitching: The current figuration of the rotation is solid with American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel at the top, 19-game winner Collin McHugh in the second slot and youngster Lance McCullers Jr. establishing himself in 2015. Beyond that, there's a lot of depth with guys like Scott Feldman, Mike Fiers, Brad Peacock, Asher Wojciechowski, Vincent Velasquez and Mark Appel. Still, adding another pitcher to compete in that mix -- think Mike Leake -- is a goal.
Who they can trade if necessary
Jake Marisnick: The speedy Marisnick is the Astros' best defensive outfielder, but they will be paying Colby Rasmus $15.8 million next year to start in the outfield with Carlos Gomez and George Springer. Marisnick has tools and serves value, but he could be moved as part of a deal.
Velasquez: One of the promising young arms in the organization, Velasquez did quite well in his big league debut last season and could compete for a spot in the rotation with his power fastball. Some believe he will wind up being a reliever. He would certainly draw some interest from teams as a potential trade piece.
Michael Feliz: You can't teach power, and Feliz has one of the hardest fastballs in the system. That could make him a viable trading chip. The Astros would hate to give him up, but you have to give value to get value, and they have enough pitching depth to trade one of their young arms. And Luhnow hasn't been shy about trading young pitching (Jordan Lyles, Jarred Cosart and Nick Tropeano).
Jon Singleton: Signed to a five-year, $10 million contract prior to making his Major League debut in the middle of the 2014 season, the slugger has yet to show the same output at the big league level as he has while crushing Triple-A pitching the last two years. Despite the money, he might not have a future in Houston.
Preston Tucker: Like Marisnick, the return of Rasmus for 2016 makes Tucker expendable. He's a reliable left-handed bat with some solid power, but he's limited defensively and might be better suited in a platoon role for a club needing a left-handed bat.
Several of the team's top prospects, as ranked by MLB.com, could play a role on the club next year. That includes Appel (No. 2), A.J. Reed (No. 5), Feliz (No. 6) and even pitcher Joe Musgrove (No. 9), the team's 2015 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Three of the top four prospects -- shortstop Alex Bregman (No. 1) and outfielders Daz Cameron (No. 3) and Kyle Tucker (No. 4) -- were drafted in June and need more time.
Rule 5 Draft
The Astros have been very active in the Rule 5 Draft the last few years, which tends to happen when you have the first pick for three years in a row. They'll pick much lower this year and will have to be opportunistic to pluck a player from another team, but it's not a necessity. At this point, they'll be more concerned about not losing any players from their deep Minor League system.
Big contracts they might unload
There aren't many big contracts on the books for 2016. Feldman is entering the final year of a three-year, $30 million deal, but his salary ($8 million in '16) and recent injury don't leave much of a market for him. Singleton will be in the third year of his deal, but the money isn't huge.
The payroll continues to be on the rise and could tickle $100 million with a free-agent signing or two. Rasmus is nearly doubling his salary to $15.8 million, making him easily the highest-paid player on the club. The club still has six arbitration cases to settle, including first-timers Keuchel and Evan Gattis, who are due huge raises. Owner Jim Crane said all along he would spend money as the team started to contend, and he's held true to that plan.