Farewell Jake Odorizzi. So long Jose Siri. Au revoir minor-leaguers Chayce McDermott, Enmanuel Valdez, and Wilyer Abreu. Some of you will be missed. As for Trey Mancini, Christian Vazquez, Will Smith and minor-leaguer Jayden Murray…. welcome to Houston. All the new Astros look very handsome in their uniforms, but did the team actually bolster its Major League roster as the team barrels towards another October run? Depends on what the team is setting itself up for.
Make no mistake: These moves weren’t about the Astros separating themselves from the Seattle Mariners, who gave up an awful lot to get pitcher Luis Castillo from the Cinncinati Reds, on top of a few other moves. On July 31, FanGraphs had Houston’s chances of winning the AL West at 99.9 percent, meaning that the stats and analysis site simulated the remainder of the season 20,000 times and the Astros won the division during more than 19,980 of those simulations. Three days later it’s now…. 99.9 percent. The division is all but won, barring a collapse of historic proportions. So how did the Astros shore it up? Let’s take a look at what the statistics say.
Trey Mancini comes to Houston from the Baltimore Orioles, where he’d so far spent his entire career after being drafted by the team in 2013. His is a fantastic story, including Mancini missing the entire 2020 season while beating Stage 3 colon cancer. In his four full seasons between 2017-2021, Mancini hit .270/.332/.468, good enough for an .800 OPS and a 114 OPS+ (meaning he’s 14 percent better offensively than the rest of the league) and he was coming off a 35-homer season and a career year before his cancer battle.
Mancini’s value to Houston however is in the number of positions he can play—and the Astros certainly value versatility on the field. In just 92 games for Baltimore this season, Mancini has played 1B, LF, RF, and DH, with 51 of those starts came at DH and just 13 games being played in the outfield. Given that Michael Brantley hasn’t played since June 26, and doesn’t look like he’s anywhere close to returning, Mancini’s versatility means that he can fill that role and help manager Dusty Baker shuffle players around in Brantley’s absence.
Mancini’s ability at First Base—with zero fielding errors in 228 chances during his 29 games at the position—also provides cover for Yuli Gurriel. Houston currently sits 27th in MLB at First Base, with -0.4 WAR from the position this season so far. Only Detroit, Boston, and Pittsburgh are getting less valuable play at the position than Houston. Gurriel, the reigning AL batting champ, is also having a rough go of it in 2022, hitting just .243/.293/.393—a massive drop of 150 points in his OPS from 2021. A lot of that can be chalked up to a rough start from Gurriel, who slumped for the first 25 games of the season but is hitting .260/.313/.421 during his last 70 outings, with 27 of his 66 hits going for extra-bases. Mancini is coming to Houston hitting .268/.347/.404.
Mancini will earn the pro-rated amount of his $7.5 million salary in 2022—a cost of about $3 million for the Astros—and carries a mutual option for 2023 at $10 million, or a $250,000 buyout. It’s a low-cost/high-reward strategy for the Astros, who may be betting on a rejuvenated Mancini when he gets to play in the postseason for the first time in his career.
To meet his new teammates, catcher Christian Vazquez just had to walk down the hall to the Astros locker room, as he was in town with the Red Sox the day he was traded. Vasquez will bring immediate value at catcher, a position of much need for Houston. Overall, Houston catchers Martin Maldonado, Jason Castro and Korey Lee have been the worst with the bat of any catchers in baseball, and it’s not particularly close. As a unit they’re hitting .160/.229/.297. It’s worth noting that since July 1, Martin Maldonado is hitting .257/.316/.529 and is now just a few homers shy from his career-high of 14, but overall he’s still only hitting .175/.240/.342 this season.
Given that Jason Castro is out for possibly the rest of his career, and call-up Korey Lee has managed just to go for .160/.192/.240 in sporadic playing time over the last month, Vazquez gives the Astros some pop as well as capable defense behind the plate. Vazquez comes to Houston hitting .282/.327/.432 with just 51 strikeouts in 318 plate appearances. The Astros will pay the remainder of his $7 million salary for 2022 (about $2.5 million) before he hits free agency this coming offseason.
It was surprising to see the Astros offload starting right-hander Jake Odorizzi for what amounts to a volatile reliever in Atlanta’s Will Smith. Odorizzi was in the middle of a solid season in which he has posted a 3.75 ERA to go with a 1.150 WHIP, his career-best. He’s also coming off one of a great start, throwing seven innings of two-hit, shutout baseball against Seattle.
However, Odorizzi also holds a $6.5 million player option for 2023, and is just 40 innings away from triggering a $500,000 bonus, and 50 innings away from trigging another $1 million bonus. Given the apparent readiness of prospecct Hunter Brown, who currently has a 2.58 ERA to go with 106 strikeouts in 80.1 innings for Triple-A Sugar Land, maybe the Astros were content to let Odorizzi pick-up his option somewhere else. With this move, the Astros can clear room for the soon-to-return Lance McCullers, Jr. and save a 2023 roster spot for Brown.
Meanwhile, you might bitterly remember Smith recording the last out of the 2021 World Series. In 2021, he led the National League with 60 games finished, but 2022 has been a bit of an up-and-down year. Smith is 0-1 this season with a 4.38 ERA/1.51 WHIP—both much worse than his career averages. His command has been spotty at best—walking 5.1 batters per nine innings, for instance. He’ll also be the lone lefty in the Astros’ bullpen, and lefties are hitting him at a .222/.288/.407 clip. Granted, lefties are hitting the rest of the Astros’ bullpen at a .204/.274/.326 rate, but the Astros only have to pay the remainder of his $13 million salary this season (about $4.6 million), and there’s a $13 million team option for 2023 against only a $1 million buyout.
Essentially the Astros added versatility and pop in Trey Mancini, catching help with Christian Vazquez, and a bullpen arm in Will Smith for a net total of about $8 million, once you factor in the Odorizzi contract. No one is terribly concerned with owner Jim Crane spending his billions of dollars, but the Astros added to the big league roster without a crippling cost in prospects, or payroll.
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