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July 3, 2013

Painting the Black

The Astros Who May Be Moving

by R.J. Anderson

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The Assets

(Listed in descending order of expected impact)

Bud Norris

Position: SP

Age as of Deadline: 28

Bats/Throws: R/R

Half of Salary: $1.50 million

Contract Status: Two more years of team control

Stats: 17 GS, 102 IP, 3.35 ERA, 2.22 SO/BB

PECOTA Projection: 15 GS, 90 IP, 4.65 ERA, 2.24 SO/BB

Ideal Role: No. 4 starter

Norris is a big-bodied right-hander who works from a high three-quarters release point and looks as though he absorbs innings. In reality, the 28-year-old is searching for his first 200-inning season thanks to command and platoon issues. Norris' command is average at best, and too often his fastball finds the meaty part of the zone. He gets the job done against right-handed hitters with his fastball-slider combination, though he struggles against lefties since his slider—the best pitch in his arsenal—is minimized in favor of a changeup.

Despite his flaws, teams will pursue Norris for a few reasons. He's a serviceable starter with another two years of team control remaining. Additionally, Norris' case is a good illustration of how good and bad teams differ in cost-to-production analysis: the Astros have no reason to pay a no. 4 starter more than they have to, while competitive clubs would rather pay him than overpay a free-agent arm. Factor in Norris' age—he's still young enough for Houston to milk the upside cow in marketing him—and don't be surprised if a number of teams are tied to him in the coming weeks.

Jose Veras

Position: RP

Age as of Deadline: 32

Bats/Throws: R/R

Half of Salary: $1 million

Contract Status: Club option for next season at $3.25 million

Stats: 35 G, 35 IP, 3.60 ERA, 2.71 SO/BB

PECOTA Projection: 34 IP, 3.85 ERA, 2.00 SO/BB

Ideal Role: Middle reliever

Known for bouts of wildness in the past, Veras is posting a career-best walk rate. Part of it stems from working the ninth inning, which presumably limits the number of intentional walks he's asked to issue. That sounds like an odd explanation but Veras entered the season with 6 percent of his career free passes coming intentionally. Strip away the intentional walks from his other seasons and he would've finished with fewer than four walks per nine innings in two other seasons. All this is trivial, of course. What matters is if Veras' new control is legitimate and here to stay.

Usually these gains come from sweeping mechanical changes, but it's hard to find a dramatic alteration with Veras. His delivery is still laborious enough that he hops sideways after delivering the pitch. Yet some pertinent indicators—like a career-high strike rate—suggest he's doing something better than before. Veras works with a mid-90s fastball and finishes at-bats with a high-70s breaking ball. Even with a half-season of closing under his belt Veras profiles better as a middle reliever. The Astros could hold on to Veras and exercise his club option were they to receive subpar offers, but if a team buys into his new walk rate and ability to close out games then they may have no choice.

Lucas Harrell

Position: SP

Age as of Deadline: 28

Bats/Throws: S/R

Half of Salary: $0.250 million

Contract Status: Four more years of team control

Stats: 18 GS, 100 IP, 4.59 ERA, 1.36 SO/BB

PECOTA Projection: 14 GS, 84 IP, 4.69 ERA, 1.34 SO/BB

Ideal Role: No. 5 starter

Harrell may not share a home with Norris but he's in the same neighborhood. Both are cheap back-of-the-rotation starters with years of team control remaining. The differences are in performance and upside, areas where Norris owns a distinct advantage. Harrell won't qualify for arbitration until after the 2014 season, however, which gives the Astros the chance of holding on to him for another year without paying more for him than they may want. Whichever way they decide to go just know that Harrell throws four pitches—sinker, changeup, cutter, and a curve—and generates a nice rate of groundballs with them. He's not exciting but he's usually not depressing, either.

Wesley Wright

Position: RP

Age as of Deadline: 28

Bats/Throws: R/L

Half of Salary: $0.502 million

Contract Status: Two more years of team control

Stats: 37 G, 28.2 IP, 4.40 ERA, 3.00 SO/BB

PECOTA Projection: 32 IP, 4.41 ERA, 1.93 SO/BB

Ideal Role: Situational reliever

Wright is a little lefty whose sinker tops out in the low 90s. But his raw statistics belie his utility when properly deployed. Since the start of the 2011 season Wright has faced nearly 40 percent right-handed batters despite an .844 OPS against them, as opposed to the .556 OPS he posted versus lefties. The Astros have no reason to micromanage his outings like a contender would, and so he's faced 60 percent righties this season. If Houston were to move Wright don't be surprised if his raw numbers exceed the projection.

Carlos Pena

Position: 1B

Age as of Deadline: 35

Bats/Throws: L/L

Half of Salary: $1.45 million

Contract Status: Free agent at season's end

Stats: 292 PA, .221/.333/.378

PECOTA Projection: 238 PA, .212/.340/.421

Ideal Role: Pinch-hitter

Pena's days as a regular are behind him, and there's reason to be skeptical about him as anything more than a mistake hitter. Diminished bat speed has left Pena in the awkward state of producing little in the way of power to go along with one of the worst batting averages in the league. He still walks and he's tried a few tricks to regain some of his past luster—namely altering his mechanics here and there—but going forward he's a pinch hitter or not on a roster. It's possible the Astros keep Pena, who's known for his upbeat attitude, around to help Bo Porter manage the clubhouse.

Ronny Cedeno

Position: SS/2B

Age as of Deadline: 30

Bats/Throws: R/R

Half of Salary: $0.575 million

Contract Status: Free agent at season's end

Stats: 133 PA, .242/.281/.333

PECOTA Projection: 203 PA, .233/.282/.342

Ideal Role: Utility infielder

Cedeno's surprising offensive output from 2012 hasn't carried over to 2013, leaving him to hit like the guy who was run out of Chicago and Seattle. Still, Cedeno can play both middle-infield positions, and that kind of talent comes in handy off the bench. Realistically, Cedeno isn't bringing much, if anything back to Houston. As a result the Astros may choose to keep him and benefit from whatever he brings to the table as a seasoned veteran.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Houston Astros,  Trade Deadline

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