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Are the Astros Already Among the MLB’s Elite?

Last week, the hot stove truly heated up for the first time, and there was one team responsible for a good
chunk of the action: the Houston Astros. The Astros are coming off a slightly disappointing season, one in
which they won 84 games but fell short of the postseason. While this was a far better result than the win totals
Houston was putting together just a few years ago, it was a disheartening step back from their surprise playoff
run of 2015.

By the looks of it, general manager Jeff Lunhow and Co have no intention of seeing that happen again. In one
night, Houston moved to address two of their most glaring weaknesses. With former backstop Jason Castro on
the free agent market, Luhnow acquired Brian McCann from the Yankees, McCann having been deposed by
Gary Sanchez. Just hours later, it was announced the Astros had signed Josh Reddick to fill a hole in their
corner outfield.

Neither move came cheap. The Yankees are kicking in $11 million of the $34 million owed McCann over the
next two years, but the Astros did have to part with a pair of strong armed pitching prospects, most notable
among them Albert Abreu, a hard-throwing right-hander with a plus curveball. Reddick required a four year
guarantee worth $52 million, a figure that might cause some sticker-shock, but one that in reality just
represents the going-rate for serviceable players these days.

These transactions were just the opening salvos of what will most likely be a typically frenetic offseason
(heaven forbid a work stoppage). But even though the winter has only just begun, after this pair of moves, it’s
hard not to ask: have the Astros already joined the game’s elite?

Both of Houston’s additions appear modest on paper, so such a line of thinking might feel overeager. McCann
had a solid season at the plate last year, running a 103 wRC+, but he is still a 33 year old catcher with his best
days behind him. Reddick is younger, entering his age-30 season, but is coming off a nightmare end of the
season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Are a pair of merely decent players really enough to help push Houston over the top? At first glance, they
actually might be. For starters, a quick look at (very early) projections paints a fairly rosy picture for Houston.
There is still plenty of time between now and the 2017 season and tons of uncertainty with regards to each
team’s roster, but that being said, the Astros already rank 3rd in MLB by FanGraphs’ projected fWAR after just
a pair of offseason additions.

Now, some observers that saw Houston as a merely adequate team in 2016 may be skeptical of the idea that
McCann and Reddick were all that were needed to vault the Astros among the AL’s elite. But even if neither
player is elite, both fit very snugly on the Astros’ roster. Both Reddick and McCann project to fill spots that
might otherwise have been occupied by replacement level players.

Prior to the acquisition of McCann, Houston was projected to let Evan Gattis slide into full-time catching duties.
Gattis, a right-handed power bat that is probably best suited for designated hitter, is not as strong a defensive
catcher as McCann, who has a declining arm but still impressive framing skills. Plus, McCann and Gattis fit
perfectly as a platoon behind the plate. McCann owns a career 117 wRC+ versus right-handed pitchers, while
Gattis mashed to a 133 wRC+ against southpaws in 2016.

With Colby Rasmus likely to depart after a trying 2016, the Astros had no dependable options in left field. No
one will mistake Reddick for a superstar after his struggles in the second half, but he did total a very solid 9.6
rWAR across 2014-2016. FanGraphs currently projects him for a strong .267/.334/.452 line and 2.4 fWAR,
which would represent a huge upgrade on the just -0.3 fWAR they received from left field in 2016.

McCann and Reddick both look like measured, calculated strikes that provide clear improvements for Houston,
but the Astros’ roster projects as well as it does in large part because of the talent that was already on hand.

The Astros’ core of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer is as good as any outside
of Chicago and Boston. Houston simply didn’t need to make huge upgrades, not with a number of superstars
or potential superstars dotting the roster.

Plus, the additions of McCann and Reddick only add about $24 million worth of commitments to Houston’s
2017 ledger. After years of spending well under budget, the Astros are well-equipped to invest even further this
offseason. Even after the Reddick signing, Baseball-Reference still has the Astros projected for a payroll south
of $100 million. Given Houston’s status as a fairly large market, the Astros certainly have plenty more room to
spend as they see fit.

The Astros simply look like a team that was already pretty good that added a pair of solid players at positions
of need. Their center field and back of the rotation situations still appear sketchy, but Houston has the capital to
address those needs further. There’s no need to declare offseason winners and losers in November, but one
thing is certain: after just a few weeks of the hot stove, things are looking bright in Houston.

Main Photo:

Jake Devin fell in love with the game of baseball as a child, watching the Yankees of the late nineties and early aughts dominate the league. The Yankees don't dominate anymore, but Jake's passion for the game is as strong as ever, with exciting new ways to view and analyze the game popping up seemingly all the time. Jake recently graduated from Binghamton University where he completed a degree in mathematics and economics, as well as a four-year track and field career.

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