The Astros had themselves a busy Thursday, picking up Brian McCann from the Yankees, and then signing Josh Reddick out of free agency. This is not intended as an overreaction to that. There’s no such thing as a team being “put over the top,” and the Astros haven’t been dramatically altered by adding a decent corner outfielder and a veteran catcher whose contract was partially paid down. The reality is that an awful lot was already in place. It’s just worth talking about what’s being constructed, instead of me focusing specifically on Reddick. The smaller story is that the Astros signed Reddick for four years and $52 million. The bigger story is that the Astros are entering the league’s upper class.
Reddick does, of course, make the Astros better. This isn’t something to be dismissed, and there’s a reason the Astros gave a guarantee of half of a hundred million dollars. Reddick’s usual right-field position is occupied by George Springer, but there’s flexibility here. Reddick could play left. Springer could play center. The whole lot of them could mix and match. Springer could even conceivably be dealt. Now, I wouldn’t bet on that. The Astros just have a lot of pieces to play with.
Reddick isn’t an elite everyday player, and he’s going to turn 30 at the start of spring training. I’m guessing he signed so quickly because the Astros were willing to go to four years, which seems like it could be an over-extension. Reddick isn’t great now, and he has a history of getting hurt and missing time. He’s statistically declined in the outfield, and, because it can’t not be noted, to this point he’s been historically unclutch. He has a lot of trouble hitting lefties! With the Dodgers, he was nearly a platoon player. He had a horrible August.
That was a very negative paragraph. Now, the Astros wanted to improve their left-handed hitting. Reddick checks that box. The Astros wanted to improve the clubhouse presence of veteran leadership. Reddick checks that box. Over the last three years, he’s been worth 2.9 WAR per 600 plate appearances, tying him with Chris Davis and David Peralta. Steamer has him projected to be worth 2.4 WAR in 600 plate appearances, basically tying him with Kole Calhoun and Adam Jones. As Colby Rasmus showed, and as Carlos Gomez showed, there’s no such thing as a veteran guarantee, but Reddick ought to be all right. This is the going rate for a roughly average player.
The Astros, on Thursday, picked up a roughly average outfielder. Just before that, they picked up a roughly average catcher/DH. Unsexy moves, the both of them, but they’re both roster improvements. They both improve the Astros’ hitting from the left side, and they’re both considered reliable veterans for a clubhouse that hasn’t had many of those. There’s no way for us to quantify any clubhouse effects. We can try to quantify the quantifiable.
So then! Here is our projected standings page. The eternal caveat is that nothing on that page is ever perfect, but, there are the Astros, presently projected for baseball’s third-best record. They’re also presently projected for baseball’s third-highest team WAR. Not a big fan of our numbers? That’s no problem. Consider this tweet, from NEIFI Analytics:
With the additions of McCann, Reddick, and Morton, the Astros are now projecting at 95.50 wins in 2017.
— NEIFI Analytics (@NEIFIco) November 17, 2016
It doesn’t matter the numbers you use — any numbers worth a damn are going to love the 2017 Astros. I know that the 2016 Astros somewhat underachieved, and I know that projections do miss, every single season. But the Astros are already getting stronger. They’ve built up some enviable depth. The Rangers this offseason might take a step back. The Mariners don’t have much flexibility to improve. The A’s are doing whatever it is the A’s are ever doing. The Angels have a competitive roster, but it could all come undone in the blink of an eye.
The Astros are set up to win the AL West, and from there, who knows? Also, they don’t have a one-year window. Also, it’s November 17. If the Astros, as built, have a weakness, it’s reliability in the rotation. There are injury questions surrounding most of their starters. They might be able to get through the season as they are, but they also have the pieces to make a splash. Is Yulieski Gurriel going to play first base? Is he not? What of the young first basemen? What of other players who might be blocked? I’m not going to speculate on who the Astros might target, but they can aim about as high as anyone. The roster could take it, and the roster could justify it. The Astros can be ultra-aggressive.
If you want to see the Astros’ organizational cycle in one easy plot, check out nine years of Opening Day payrolls (projecting next year’s based on what they have today):
There’s the Astros winding down, and there’s the Astros building up. Let’s just focus on the second part.
The Astros are going to spend at least four times more than they did at their nadir. At that point, the product was humiliating, and they got a lot of crap for it. Some of it was deserved. Yet ever since bottoming out, the Astros have built every season, and now they’re back, clear of the $100-million mark. They can presumably afford to spend even more. Maybe that goes toward a better starting pitcher. The Cubs just demonstrated the legitimacy of tanking. They won the World Series four years after their low point. This’ll be four years after Houston’s 51-111 low point. These things can move quickly, even if it sometimes feels like they’re taking forever.
Here are the Houston Astros — not good because of Brian McCann, and not good because of Josh Reddick, but just good, already good, good enough for adding McCann and Reddick to make sense in the first place. They should fill holes in the lineup and holes in the clubhouse, and that leaves precious few holes for the Astros to worry about. They won’t be the only team in baseball that looks good in March, and depending on what happens on the pitching side, they could still very much stumble. But on paper, the Astros are there with the class of the American League. It’s where they always said they’d be.