Law: Astros upgrade to wide receiver and first, sending prospects to Boston, Baltimore
Houston made two trades on Monday to fix its roster at the edges, addressing two of its biggest offensive holes, at receiver and first base, adding two modest names that represent significant improvements.
The Astros haven’t gotten any production from Martín Maldonado in the past two seasons; since the beginning of 2021, it has reached 0.172/0.260/0.316, putting its total value during this period below the replacement level. He’s 35 and could be done, so it only made sense for the Astros to go for Christian Vázquez, a solid defensive receiver who mostly hits empty batting averages, but that’s enough to earn him 1.8 WAR this season. Outside of a shaky 2019, when he hit 23 homers, he never hit 10 homers in a season; his total of eight this year is his second best in a single season. He doesn’t make hard contact – he just does a lot to compensate. It’s a huge upgrade, even for a two month rental.
Boston gets two prospects in return, but the better of the two, by far, is outfielder Wilyer Abreu, who was No. 19 on my Astros roster at the start of the season. He has an unorthodox swing and rolls his front leg almost completely through contact, with great bat speed and much improved contact over the past two years after a swing adjustment during the pandemic. It hits 0.249/0.399/0.459 for Double-A Corpus Christi, with a walk rate of 19% and a strikeout rate of 26%, and it has consistently had high line lead rates even in 2019. It is more powerful than the power of the game. but could probably shift to more speed, especially if he can stay more closed by contact. Abreu is a more right fielder with at least a 70 arm, so even if he settles at 15-20 homers a year but with plenty of walks and doubles, he could be a solid regular.
The second player Boston has picked up, Enmanuel Valdez, has 21 homers this year between Double A and Triple A, with a .606 hitting percentage on the season, but he widens the area too easily and finishes his stride very closed, which makes it unlikely. he can transfer this production to the majors. He has no clear position, having played everywhere except receiver or pitcher. He’s a guy with ups and downs. Abreu alone makes the trade worthwhile for Boston as Vázquez heads to free agency after the season. The Red Sox have Kevin Plawecki to handle the job for the rest of the season, but need to find someone to handle the full-time job in 2023.
The Astros, Rays and Orioles traded a three-team trade that sent Baltimore fan favorite Trey Mancini to the Astros, Houston’s Jose Siri to the Rays and three prospects (in total) from both teams to Baltimore. Mancini didn’t repeat his peak production in 2019, losing 2020 while battling cancer and struggling offensively in 2021 before bouncing back somewhat this season with 2 WARs and a 114 wRC+. He hits the ball harder this year than last and could still regain some of his post-cancer treatment, although the Astros only have him for the rest of this season. He can help cover Yuli Gurriel’s stray bat, as the 38-year-old improved to 39 wRC+ from 98 last year. Like Maldonado, he could well be made a regular.
Siri is a 70-year-old defender at center who has a history of mediocre to lousy plate discipline dating back nearly a decade in pro ball. This season he’s hitting .238 – no, wait, that’s his on-base percentage. He walked nine times in 147 plate appearances with 48 strikeouts, nearly one in three strikeouts. Last year in Triple A he had a 31% strikeout rate and didn’t walk much. That’s who he’s always been, dating back to when he was a Reds prospect before the pandemic. Maybe the Rays can fix that to make his elite defense playable, but I doubt it.
The Orioles get three pitching prospects for Mancini, none of them top-notch but a solid two-month return from the first baseman. Right-hander Chayce McDermott (from Houston) has an average-to-above-average starting delivery and two pitches, but doesn’t have a real third pitch to get left-handers out and has walked 43 guys in 72 innings (13.3% ) in High A. Right-hander Jayden Murray (Tampa Bay) can show above-average fastball and more slider, throwing both for strikes, but hasn’t missed as many bats as he has should with these throws. He has a change, but it’s a distant third throw, and therefore he doesn’t take out southpaws either.
Right-hander Seth Johnson (Tampa Bay) is the most interesting of the three pitchers, a converted infielder who was up to 98 mph in his first year pitching for Belmont, after which the Rays took him with the pick #40 in 2019. He was 92-95 mph when I saw him in May, with two breaking balls and a barely used change, showing poor fastball control but a hard curveball in the 80s that was promising. Unfortunately, he hit the injured list about a week after I saw him, and the Rays recently announced he needed Tommy John surgery, so he probably won’t be playing a season game again. regular before 2024. I love the Orioles’ trades for pitching depth in their system because their farm has been hitting heavy since Mike Elias’ first draft as GM and they still lean heavily at bats during the draft.
(Photo by Garrett Whitlock and Christian Vázquez: David Butler II/USA Today)