Astros should trade for outfield depth

The trade deadline is nigh…

Wait hold on. I just want to say before I start that it is very difficult to write a baseball article while there is childen’s Italian-sounding bible songs playing in the background. For real, y’all. Admire my commitment to soldier on.

The trade deadline is nigh, and the Astros have already addressed a need at the backup catcher position by adding Martin Maldonado from the Angels and also shored up the bullpen by acquiring reliever Ryan Pressly last night from the Twins.

But what else should they do to maximize their chances at winning a second consecutive World Series?  Besides getting Carlos Correa back healthy, I mean.

Starting pitching?  It’s deep.  God forbid, an injury requires some juggling, but with Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh already in the pen ready to step in, this isn’t a pressing need.

Infield? No problem. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are top 20 players in all of MLB.  So is Carlos Correa when healthy. Yuli Gurriel continues to defy my theory that players who don’t draw walks cannot be successful, about which I am pleased to be wrong. Marwin Gonzalez, while struggling, is yet a useful bench player.

Catching? Solved as it can be.

Relief pitching? I think it’s fine; the pen is deep and there are some live arms in the minors that could make an impact in October, including Top 10 pitching prospect Forrest Whitley and some extremely underrated guys by the names of Rogelio Armenteros and Josh James, among others.

The outfield is where I could see the Astros adding some caulking to their walls. Twos pots are set with George Springer and Josh Reddick. But past that, there are only question marks.

Uberprospect Kyle Tucker has been humiliated during the first fourteen games of his career. Sure, he can turn it around — he certainly has the ability, and it is worth noting that his BABIP of .200 suggests that his .154/.233/.231 line…ok it’s bad, never mind. Regardless, the Astros would be foolish to have Tucker’s name written into the playoff lineup using indelible ink. There is an 63.4% chance that he should return to Triple A to work on those things that Major League pitching is challenging him with.

Derek Fisher has had a rotten start to his career, but is also very talented. Not a safe route for the Astros to tab him either.  No other outfielder in the system is realistically ready for The Show.

Tony Kemp is proving himself to be fully capable of handling the bat in The Show, hitting .290/.390/.412 in 51 games this year.  Astros fans should be fully behind this guy, excited to see if he can continue his success and also happy for somebody who should be a fan favorite. It would be no problem to have his name listed as the Left Field starter for the rest of the season.

But this still leaves a void in depth. Jake Marisnick, batting .192/.236/.359 with a 42% stirkeout rate in 71 games, seems to have deservedly lost the trust of the management staff.  He’s not a safe choice anymore.

And so that brings us to the trade deadline.  With a couple of days left, the Astros should be investigating the availability of the players below. All of these outfielders provide good outfield defense and a solid bat (read: better than Marisnick’s).  All are on bad teams and are well into their arbitration years, and so should be available.

Kevin Pillar, Toronto Blue Jays

Pillar is a stellar defensive outfielder who has hit .261/.299/.393 for his career. Though he has served as Toronto’s starting center fielder for the last four seasons, he profiles better as a backup due to his inability to draw walks. He has some power, hitting 16 home runs last season, and some speed, nabbing 15 bases. He has at least two more arbitration seasons after 2018, so the Astros would be looking to acquire a long-term quality bench outfielder if they acquired Pillar, which would signal the end of Marisnick’s career with Houston.

Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays

Kiermaier is actually under contract through 2023, so this is an unlikely addition for Houston unless they A) didn’t mind parting with a couple really solid prospects, B) do not think they can retain George Springer long-term, and C) think Kiermaier can stay healthy, which he hasn’t done since 2015.

Unlike Marisnick and Pillar, Kiermaier has been an average- to above-average offensive player during his career.  2017 looked like a breakout year in which he batted .276/.338/.450, for a 112 wRC+.

But most importantly, Kiermaier is often considered the very best outfielder in major league baseball. His defensive prowess harkens back to the glory days of Andruw Jones.

This trade probably won’t happen. But maybe it should.

Leonys Martin, Detroit Tigers

Martin is another starter who should probably be a reserve. He is similar to Pillar in a lot of ways, but is only on a 1-year Free Agent contract, meaning he would be a cheaper acquisition if the Astros wanted to add a fourth outfielder.

In many ways, Martin would be ideal, in that he brings “plus” defense, some home run power, some foot speed, and a competent if unimpressive bat.

Cameron Maybin, Miami Marlins

Last season, Maybin was added via waivers by the Astros and subsequently bench outfielded his way to a World Series ring. Why not go for round two? He is a decent defender, though not as good as those listed above or Marisnick, but he has a steady-eddie bat with a bit of power, and he is dangerous once on the bases. Like Martin, he is on a one-year contract with a club that is going absolutely nowhere, and should be easily attainable to shore up the outfield cracks.

Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

For some reason, despite almost a decade of being awful, the Reds have been reluctant to trade away any decent or even average-ish players. So this would be a big surprise.

Hamilton would be a good addition for the Astros because although his bat stinks, it stinks less than Marisnicks’.  But Hamilton’s center field defense eclipses Jakes as well as everybody above him on this list save for Kiermaier. And few, if any, players in Major League Baseball are as big of a threat to steal a base; Hamilton is a devastating base-runner. He has a year of arbitration left, and if the Reds weren’t incompetently run, they would realize that he will never have higher trade value than he does in July 2018.

Delino DeShields, Jr, Texas Rangers

DeShields fits the same mold as all of those listed above – unspectacular but not terrible bat, great speed, good defense.  The difference is that DeShields is a very patient hitter, and though his bat does not do much damage, his career 10% walk rate means that he has some added value as a pesky pinch hitter.

DeShields isn’t a star by any means, but he has the most team control left of anybody on this list, and he plays for the Astros’ rival up in the D (hehehe). That means the Rangers would be looking for useful prospects. Giving useful prospects to one’s rival is always painful, but DeShields would actually be a good fit with the Astros now and for the next couple seasons.

Unless Dallas Keuchel force chokes him in the showers or something.

Travis Jankowski, San Diego Padres

Blah blah good defense, blah blah great speed, blah blah bat.

Like DeShields, Jankowski’s ability to take a walk and burn on the basepaths is the major reason why he is on this list. He has similar team control left as DeShields, but an even less potent bat (although still better than Marisnick…)

Conclusion

If I’m a betting man, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Astros trade for Martin or Maybin, as these seem the easiest to acquire. But the Astros don’t just have an outfield depth problem now, they have one over the next couple of years also, and so if the price is right, perhaps they can find a creative way to pry away one of these other fellows without selling the farm.

The Astros lack of outfield depth and their best outfield prospects’ slow development represents a risk to the club’s 2018 playoff plans. Thus, acquiring a fourth outfielder who can add defensive and base-running value without being as big of a drain on the lineup as the Astros’ current options are seems like a smart move.