Astros: Contingency Plan for the Outfield

It is no secret that the Astros are swinging for the fences this offseason. Only time will tell if the team whiffs on that goal or not.

Whether the Astros top contingency comes to pass in terms of offseason targets, it always pays to have a backup plan. In fact, a good backup plan is sometimes even more important than the original plan if something does goes awry.

Outfielders like Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Beltran, Adam Eaton, and Brett Gardner have been mentioned as possible fits for Houston. Of the four, Cespedes would probably be the best fit in almost every sense. Money will be the deciding factor with him. Beltran can be had for the right price. Eaton and Gardner are in play, but to acquire either would mean parting ways with prospects and/or taking on salary.

However, there are more options for the Astros to consider for their outfield.

One name that pops to mind is recent Toronto Blue Jay, Michael Saunders.

The outfielder, who beat out our own George Springer for an AL All-Star roster spot this past summer, could be an interesting addition. While he will strikeout (157 in 2016), he would provide a shot to the arm that the offense somewhat needs in the outfield. His 117 wRC+ would fit right into the Astros lineup that lacked production from two-third’s of the outfield.

On the other hand, Saunder’s defense in left field (-3 DRS in 2016) leaves enough pause for concern. And the fact that his breakout season was a tale of two halves.

1st half: .298/.372/.551, 146 wRC+, 20.5 wRAA, .377 BABIP
2nd half: .178/.282/.357, 69 wRC+, -7.1 wRAA, .221 BABIP

Saunder’s first half was at least partly driven by his high BABIP. While a .377 BABIP is quite attainable, it is relatively difficult to keep that up for an entire season. Not saying it isn’t possible, just not likely. But when he was on at the plate, the soon-to-be 30-year old was one of the better outfielders in terms of hitting.

His second half though illustrates what a low, and I mean low, BABIP can do to a player’s numbers.  And while that could be an outlier, or a blip on the radar, it still afford teams some leveraging power against Saunders. If the Astros do eventually move-in then you would have to think that would be part of any hypothetical negotiations.

The veteran outfielder is truly an interesting case to watch, regardless if the Astros make a play for him or not. When given a chance at regular playing time in the past, he has produced quality numbers. Don’t forget that he had 31 home runs with the Seattle Mariners between 2012-13. He has traditionally been roughly anywhere from a 1.5-2.0 WAR player. So there is some value there that could serve the Astros well.

Oh, did I mention that he wouldn’t have the draft pick compensation attached to him? Just saying, that is kind of important to the current edition of the Astros front office.

If Saunders and the Astros are truly a match, it shouldn’t take more than a three to four year contract of roughly between $12-15 million annually to net him. Of course, a viable question is whether Saunders will be worth that much in the coming years?

But he is coming of an All-Star season in which he played a key role in getting the Blue Jays back to the ALCS for the second consecutive year. The question now becomes how much does Houston value Saunders if certain events transpire this offseason?

**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**

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