The Houston Astros have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately.
As if the seven-game loss at the hands of the Washington Nationals in World Series were not crushing enough, the Astros are totally enveloped in a sign-stealing scandal that threatens the integrity of the sport.
Not to mention, they have their hands full in free agency this winter.
A plethora of teams are set to pursue right-handed ace Gerrit Cole, who is most likely on his way out of Houston. The Astros already had potential needs in the rotation with Cole in tow, and those needs are amplified should he sign with another club.
Their is some work to do with respect to the other half of the battery, as well. Catchers Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado are both free agents, meaning that the Astros need to find a new backstop.
Similarly, bullpen stalwarts Will Harris and Joe Smith hit the open market, and–given manager A.J. Hinch’s circle of trust in the playoffs-their potential departures could make for another headache.
Trash can noises aside (jokes!), here are three ideal targets for the Houston Astros in free agency.
3. Cole Hamels
Hamels might make the most sense in terms of starting pitchers. He has stated that he could be willing to accept a one-year deal for a contender, and his recent stint with the Chicago Cubs is indicative that he can still pitch at a high level.
The San Diego, CA native, who turns 36 in December, compiled a 3.30 ERA and 9.0 K/9 in 39 starts with the Cubs. He has reestablished his changeup as an out pitch, as opposing hitters posted a .170 average against the off-speed last season, according to Baseball Savant. He has also grown more comfortable throwing the cutter, which he can run in against right-handers.
Say what you will about recent developments, but Houston’s staff did a tremendous job in recalibrating guys like Cole and Justin Verlander and making them perennial Cy Young candidates. Could they possibly find that same kind of magic with Hamels?
Not to mention, the Astros do not really have any left-handers that they could insert into the rotation, at the moment. Hamels would give them a steady, veteran presence from that side of the bump.
2. Drew Pomeranz
Speaking of left-handers, remember when Houston went the whole World Series without a single lefty in the bullpen? I wonder why Adam Eaton had such a good series….
Anyway, Pomeranz might be an ideal pickup for the Astros, particularly because he also has upside as a potential spot starter or long reliever.
Pomeranz had an atrocious time with the San Francisco Giants, but he was utterly dominant upon moving to the Milwaukee Brewers at the July trade deadline. Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and 15.4 K/9 in 26 1/3 innings of work. He also threw a pair of scoreless innings against the Nationals in the NL Wild Card game.
As has already been stated, the Astros need more lefties. The new rules prohibiting bullpen “specialists” might have a bit of an impact on Pomeranz’s value, he actually overpowered opposing right-handed hitters upon joining the Brewers.
Pomeranz faced 66 righties over the course of the last two months, and those hitters combined to post a woeful .253 wOBA and nearly a 44 percent strikeout rate against him.
The Astros need more of a veteran flavor in the bullpen as they wait for the likes of Josh James to finally realize his full potential. Pomeranz could be the perfect fit because of his profile and upside.
1. Yasmani Grandal
Of course, only one thing could make Houston’s staff that much more dangerous outside of adding more arm talent: adding one of the best framers in baseball.
Grandal is not only one of the best defensive catchers in the game, but he also has immense value as a switch-hitter that has surpassed the .800 OPS mark in each of the last two seasons. In fact, Grandal set career highs in OPS (.848) and home runs (28) last season while smashing his old high in walks (109).
Obviously, the Astros cannot afford to watch both of their catchers walk away without signing a backstop of their own. Grandal would be the perfect complement to the rest of their lineup as a power hitter that can also log a ton of innings behind the dish.
Grandal’s market is likely to be flooded with contenders and up-and-comers such as the Reds, but the Astros should jump on him, particularly if it becomes clear that they cannot re-sign Cole.