MLB 2012: 10 Free Agents Houston Astros Should Pursue Prior to Move to AL
The Houston Astros are in one of the most dismal funks in professional sports. This is a team that went to the World Series just seven seasons ago, people. Time flies, and that should show just how quick it can be for a franchise to tank.
They've lost franchise players Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn for prospects the past two seasons, and while that future certainly excites the Astros' faithful, it won't do much to win games this year in the always-tough NL Central, or in 2013, when they'll enter the AL West.
Houston's even trading lower-tier talent for prospects, although their most recent trade is said to net them a big return in the form of a player-to-be-named later.
Since the 'Stros will be moving to the American League to start the 2013 season, they'll need to keep adding pieces if they want to contend in a division that hosts powerhouses like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.
Here's 10 free agents Houston should pursue before they take the DH-plunge into the AL West.
SP Daisuke Matsuzaka
The Astros' Silver Boot rival landed a huge foreign player in Japan's Yu Darvish. A franchise searching for a little bit of buzz and excitement, they could target Dice-K at a substantially lower price than the one he signed for in Boston upon coming over.
If you're Houston, why not? Matsuzaka won't be back in Boston as it is right now, and if he regains the form he had in 2008 (18-3, 2.90 ERA) he'd be worth the low-risk, high performance-based deal a team like Houston could offer.
CF Marlon Byrd
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"The Byrd Man" is a guy that also provides versatility in the outfield. Houston feels they are set in centerfield with Jordan Schafer, but why not provide a little bit of competition in the form of Byrd?
Another guy familiar with the AL West—and the rest of the league in fact—Byrd is a consummate professional that plays good defense and will put together productive seasons at the dish.
If nothing else, having a solid fourth outfielder with gobs of experience and potential influence could be beneficial for depth and injury purposes.
RP David Aardsma
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Aardsma saved 69 games over two seasons for a bad Seattle Mariners team. He's also the only closer in the history of MLB to save more than 30 games for a team that lost 100+ games. With experience facing AL West talent and in those ballparks, the intangibles are there for his return to the division.
With Brett Myers assuming the closer's role, it's likely he's auditioning for another team come trade time. If the Astros can get some real value for a team looking to bolster their bullpen at the deadline, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Myers got the hook for a prospect or two.
In Aardsma, they'd get a local guy who set career and single-season save records at Rice University. He isn't primed to get many chances to close in New York at the moment, and if the Yankees choose to go in another direction with his club option in 2013, this is a guy that GM Jeff Luhnow should target right off the bat.
C Mike Napoli
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Napoli has turned into quite the catcher for the Texas Rangers. Thought of as a defensive liability and spot-guy with Mike Scioscia for the Angels, the Rangers nabbed him from Toronto before he ever suited up for the Blue Jays in a trade for closer Frank Fransisco.
But in just one season, he single-handedly dispelled those thoughts, and left his critics in the dust. The guy would have been the World Series MVP had the Rangers managed to win the crown.
Since Texas has a myriad of free agents to lock up over the next few seasons, (Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Neftali Feliz, just to name a few) Napoli might be one of the guys the Rangers part ways with.
He'll likely carry a hefty price tag, but he's never played in a division other than the AL West, and his expertise in knowledge of both the Angels and Rangers' franchises could be beneficial to pitchers and hitters alike.
IF Ty Wigginton
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Wigginton, the ultimate utility man and former Astro, has a team option with the Philadelphia Phillies with a $500K buyout. It's unlikely they use it on a guy that can back up so many positions, but I've seen stranger things happen.
That versatility could prove to be attractive for a team like the Astros, who have young players at virtually every position except first base. The nostalgia factor for bringing Wigginton back into the fold can't be ignored either, but I'd say that's less of a factor for management or new ownership.
Regardless, building a franchise with quality pieces like Wigginton is a solid blueprint for any franchise. His brand of utility leads others around him to be better, and even if he imparted that wisdom for only a short time again in Houston, I think it would be worth it.
SP Scott Feldman
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Feldman can be a quality starter in MLB. He showed that in 2009, when he won 17 games with the Rangers.
But with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz expected to anchor the rotation for years to come, Feldman has been relegated to long-man duty and spot-starting. Throw in a $9.25 million salary with a $600K buyout and Feldman, like Napoli, might be the casualty of having too many players that need to get paid.
Another guy that's familiar with the AL West, the ballparks and what it takes to win in this division, Feldman and Wandy Rodriguez would be the veteran leadership for young pitchers while also having the ability to win games in 2013.
1B Adam LaRoche
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LaRoche has a $10 million team option for 2013, but it comes with a $1 million buyout. With big money invested in Jayson Werth and injury-prone slugger Michael Morse showing the ability to save his body at first base, that buyout seems like a no-brainer.
A no-brainer for the Astros would be looking into acquiring his services at a reasonable rate. Since 2005, LaRoche has hit more than 20 home runs and driven in more than 80 RBIs each season, last year's injury-ridden campaign aside.
"Mr. Consistent" should be floated around as one his potential nicknames. LaRoche could come in, mentor some of the younger talent, and bridge the gap in an attempt to avoid becoming irrelevant in the AL West. At the right price, LaRoche could be a great candidate to replace Carlos Lee.
1B/DH Carlos Lee
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Speaking of El Caballo, who better to re-sign than the aging current first baseman? Yes, he's trending towards becoming an obligation in the field, but at the plate, he can still do it, hitting 18 home runs and driving in 94 runs last year.
Here's an interesting idea: Lee would be a great DH for the Astros in the AL. Much like Vladimir Guerrero has done the past couple of seasons in Texas and Baltimore, Lee could prove to an AL team that his bat is valuable in that kind of capacity.
Having spent the past six years a member of the Houston organization, one would like to think Lee and management would show some mutual loyalty. The title Lee sought after signing in 2006 hasn't materialized, but Lee knows his uncertain future could land him with a new team before 2013 begins.
The Astros could have something to say about that.
1B James Loney
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On to the big fish. Houston native James Loney could be the gem of the entire free-agent class for the Astros. He's one of the more underrated players at his position, and it just so happens there's an opening for him to come in and start, and potentially be the face of the franchise starting in 2013.
With Matt Kemp, Andre Either and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw as the foundation of the franchise, would the Los Angeles Dodgers let their first baseman wander off in the early stages of free agency?
If they do, this is a guy the Astros should chomp at the bit to get a chance to talk to. Coming home to Houston, playing in the AL and being the face of a franchise desperately looking for one would have to appeal to Loney—not to mention a potential monster contract to take him into his prime.
I said it once, so I'll say it again. Houston, if you are listening, James Loney needs to be wearing Astros colors (whatever they may be going forward) in 2013.
CF/LF Josh Hamilton
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The former MVP's struggles are well documented. He's also not getting any younger, and his injury struggles are almost as prevalent as his ones with alcohol.
But when he's healthy and focused, he's a heckuva baseball player. Hamilton is one of those rare five-tool players scouts salivate over. That's why the Tampa Bay Rays took him first overall. On an unrelated note, can anyone imagine an outfield with a healthy Rocco Baldelli, Hamilton and Carl Crawford? Story for another day, I suppose.
As it is, Hamilton is also on record as stating fairness in the Rangers' pursuit of his services this offseason. Those comments were prefaced by a press conference that included the phrase, "I don't feel like I owe the Rangers."
With Schafer in center, Hamilton could also play left, something the Rangers are currently maintaining in an effort to preserve his body for the long haul.
The ultimate coup for the Astros would be stealing Hamilton away from their new AL West rival. He would want a big contract and comes with questions ranging from injuries to accountability, but when you have a chance to go after one of the best in baseball, you do it. No questions asked.