Astros: Offseason Thoughts on Lineup Acquisitions

Offense was a priority for the Astros this offseason as they looked to replace several of their own players who entered free agency.

One year ago, Jason Castro, Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and Carlos Gomez were expected to be key contributors to a playoff-contending Astros team. Well, let’s just say that expectations were not met.

This led to this offseason where Houston had some interesting choices to make for their roster. While Gomez was cut in-season last year, Castro, Rasmus, and Valbuena all became free agents this winter.

And just like that, general manager Jeff Luhnow had some holes to fill in the lineup. The outfield in particular needed a slight overhaul. Outside of George Springer (124 wRC+), not one Houston outfielder eclipsed the 100 wRC+ mark. That was simply not productive.

In response, the team ownership opened up the pocket book to make this hope a reality.

This led to the team spending money on outfielders Josh Reddick, Nori Aoki, and part-time outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran. All three had a wRC+ that exceeded 100 in 2016. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Adding quality bats in Reddick and Beltran was imperative for a lineup that at times seem to be thin outside of Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. And with Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel expected to be major league contributors from Day One, these lineup additions makes this unit arguably one of the best in the game. In fact, Fangraphs projects that Houston’s offense (4.90 RS/G) is second only to the Boston Red Sox (4.98 RS/G) in runs scored per game this upcoming season.

The acquisition of Aoki won’t shock the world for many people in terms of his bat. But he brings another wrinkle to the Astros offense through his ability to get on-base (.349 OBP in 2016). He will also be a solid backup for the outfield and grants the Astros management another point of roster flexibility.

As we all know, the Astros had a quandary of sorts at catcher this offseason. The long-time starter, Castro, had his usual season of strong defense, but so-so offense (88 wRC+). His backup, Evan Gattis, mashed his way into more playing time as a catcher.

Gattis, 2016 position splits

As a catcher: .295/.345/.647, 19 HR, .353 ISO, 163 wRC+ in 190 at-bats

As a designated hitter: .219/.299/.413, 13 HR, .194 ISO, 89 wRC+ in 247 at-bats

It became apparent towards the end of the season that Gattis was more likely than not in Houston’s future plans. Castro’s future on the other hand was much murkier. And in turn, the team felt the need to acquire Brian McCann from the New York Yankees. For the first time in recent memory, Houston should have an above-average offensive catcher each game next season.

Arguably the most disappointing development of the offseason in terms of the lineup for Houston was the inability to sign Edwin Encarnacion. The veteran slugger of course signed a (very) reasonable deal with the Cleveland Indians. And while Encarnacion wasn’t exactly the perfect fit in terms of position, his bat would’ve made a difference in the Astros lineup.

Early Offseason Lineup Grade: A-

Overall, the Astros added an adjusted $46 million in payroll just for 2017 by acquiring McCann, Reddick, Beltran, and Aoki. However, the lineup most likely improved with each of the acquisitions. For a team that needed some moderate improvement in offense, this was an encouraging response. Sure, Houston may have missed out on some notable names that could’ve pushed the team clearly over the top. But you can’t be too upset with the changes that they did make.

**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Salary Information courtesy of Spotrac**

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