It's easy to forget now but the Houston Astros were one of the most trendy picks to advance to the World Series back in Spring Training. The thought process made sense. Houston is a young team that was coming off an 86 win season in 2015, which resulted in a division series loss to the eventual champion Kansas City Royals. However, instead of taking that leap to the World Series Houston saw it's pitching staff fall apart. Reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel saw his ERA rise from 2.48 a season ago to 4.55 this year. The team ERA as a whole rose from 3.59 in 2015 to 4.07 in 2016. Ultimately the Astros regressed by two wins and fell short of postseason play.
Now just a week into the offseason they have been one of the most aggressive teams in talking to agents and general managers for star players. Houston, with just two players signed after 2017, has the payroll flexibility to make a big free agent splash. They also have the farm system to pull off a blockbuster trade. So far they have already been linked toMiguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. Any of these guys would add a lot to the impressive core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Alex Bregman.
Cabrera would obviously be the crown jewel here, but in order to acquire him Houston would have to trade Bregman plus a handful of upper level prospects. The Tigers have mentioned a desire to shed contracts and get younger this offseason, and Miggy has seven years and $220 million left on his current deal. Still it seems likely Detroit holds off and keeps their future Hall of Fame first baseman. Rarely are teams able to figure out the right compensation in both prospects and salary in these sorts of mega deals. Plus the Tigers don't have to trade him unless they're absolutely blown away by an offer.
Encarnacion could be a good fit since his services wouldn't require giving up any prospects. He fills a hole at first base and has averaged 38 homers per season over the last five years. In 2016 he hit 42 to go along with 127 RBI and a .263/.357/.529 triple slash line. The problem is, as the top free agent bat on the market, Edwin is going to command a lot of money. The Blue Jays and Red Sox figure to be heavily involved, which could cause the contract to get out of Houston's price range. Even with a ton of flexibility the Astros are unlikely to shell out a giant contract. Their win now roster could be a factor in ownership deciding to go for it, but it's unlikely.
That brings us to McCann and Beltran. Of these four guys McCann is the one I see most likely ending up in Houston. Thanks to Gary Sanchez the Yankees no longer have a need for the 32-year-old McCann. With a reasonable two years and $34 million (plus a vesting 2019 option) left on his deal it's the sort of contract the Astros could easily take on. McCann could split catcher and DH duties with Evan Gattis and would provide a lefty power bat to a mostly right handed lineup. Surprisingly McCann has hit at least 20 homers in nine straight seasons, and in ten of his last 11.
Beltran would be an interesting fit as a veteran switch hitter. It's incredible how much interest there is in the 39-year-old DH as he's also been linked to the Rangers and Red Sox. Beltran hit 29 homers last year and is a proven postseason hitter, which is a big factor for contending teams. The one worry with Beltran is that he cooled off significantly in the second half following his trade to Texas. His slugging percentage fell nearly 100 points from .546 in New York to .451 with the Rangers. While most teams would prefer to give him a one year deal the demand may require a team to give him two. Although it was 12 years ago Beltran has a good history playing for the Astros. In just 90 games for them back in 2004 he hit 23 homers and stole 28 bases following a mid season trade from the Royals.
While any of these guys would be a big get for the Astros it won't make them a championship contender unless they also upgrade the pitching. Keuchel isn't as bad as he showed in 2016, but he's also not as good as he was in his award winning 2015. The free agent market for starting pitching is one of the worst in recent memory so Houston will have to get creative either in a trade or by signing some high upside reclamation projects. The good news is so far management is being aggressive in trying to upgrade the roster. Their young core of position players is too good to not do everything possible to get back to the playoffs.