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HOUSTON ASTROS
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Signed OF-L Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal worth $8 million. [1/20]

If you read our Evan Gattis trade analysis, follow the Astros, or struggle with a strikeout fetish, then you know Houston is favored to lead the American League in Ks for a fourth consecutive season. Rasmus' arrival only increases that likelihood.

Not that signing Rasmus to a one-year deal is a poor play. He's 28 years old and a year removed from a very good offensive effort. Heck, for all the talk about his disappointing 2014, he still finished the season as a better-than-average hitter; you wouldn't know it, though, because more attention is paid to his polarizing defense, platoon-worthy splits, and revolting haircut. All noteworthy blemishes, of course, but the biggest of them might be how well he fits into an increasingly all-or-nothing lineup.

Last season Rasmus struck out in a third of his plate appearances. The results were okay, as noted above, and that's generally enough to conclude "whatever works works." But how many low-contact types can a team play before the dynamic changes? If there is a threshold, the Astros have to be nearing it. Take a look at the following table, which shows what PECOTA unofficially thinks of Houston's projected Opening Day lineup:

PECOTA on the Astros' Lineup

Player

Position

Projected SO%

Projected ISO

Jason Castro

C

24%

.143

Jonathan Singleton

1B

31%

.173

Jose Altuve

2B

11%

.106

Luis Valbuena*

3B

20%

.143

Jed Lowrie

SS

16%

.145

Evan Gattis

LF

22%

.231

Colby Rasmus**

CF

27%

.190

George Springer

RF

32%

.220

Chris Carter

DH

31%

.225

*Cubs projection

**Blue Jays projection

You can quibble here and there; maybe Springer plays center, or Singleton is banished to Triple-A, or whatever. The nine above have a median strikeout rate of 24 percent and a median ISO of .173, and no matter how you arrange the pieces, the Astros are banking on their increased power (.141 ISO last season) offsetting the increase in strikeouts (23.8 percent). Even with strikeouts piling up across the league more so than in the past, is Houston's extreme approach tenable?

The answer is maybe. Logically, there would seem to be a ceiling on such a team's offensive potential. Between the strikeouts and pop-ups—a pesky byproduct of getting underneath the ball too often—the Astros are going to have some irritating sequences with men on base (even if they come instead of double plays). Still, similar teams have succeeded in the past. The 2008 Marlins, for instance, finished fifth in the NL in scoring; a more recent example, the 2010 Diamondbacks, finished eighth.

Obviously the Astros need to be better than an average offense, given their presumed defensive woes, and there are going to be no-hit bids made against them (not to mention the potential for a 20-K game on a day where Yu Darvish or Felix Hernandez is feeling it). But even if Houston settles around average run-scoring levels, that would be a marked improvement for a group that finished second-to-last in the AL last season. Rasmus ought to aid the effort. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

Colby Rasmus

Houston is a pretty ideal landing spot for Rasmus, a guy who risked losing a ton of potential value were he to land in a poor environment for his fantasy skill set, which is almost entirely dependent upon over-the-fence production. Luckily he winds up in a park every bit as advantageous to left-handed power as Rogers Centre. Despite some nice strides in raising his walk rate against southpaws last season he remains a significant platoon liability, but the good news here is that a numbers-oriented front office like Houston is that much more likely to limit his exposure to those matchups. The power and concurrent counting stats were worth $10 in AL-only value last year despite just 376 plate appearances and a hideous batting average, so the potential as a cheap power source to round out a roster should be clear enough. The HR/FB crept a little north of what he’s typically produced in 2014, but any regression to that rate could be balanced pretty easily by a fully healthy season and a bump up to the 450 plate appearance range. A similar projection of around $10 in returned value next season seems appropriate, and there’s potential here for some modest surplus value if he’s drafted at the right price and deployed correctly by Houston next summer.

Jon Singleton

The addition of Rasmus gives Houston the flexibility to push Gattis primarily back into the 1B/DH mix rather than following through on initial threats to have him log mostly time in left. Based on initial comments from Jeff Luhnow, Singleton now might just be on the outside looking in at a roster spot this spring. Given how poorly he performed last year it might not be the worst thing for his overall 2015 fantasy value if he gets his feet back under him in the minors before returning to the big club mid-season. Still, the lost major-league at-bats would nonetheless dent his ability to accumulate counting stats and build composite rotisserie value, and this move jeopardizes what little draft-day value Singleton previously held as an upside CI play on draft day. —Wilson Karaman

TEXAS RANGERS
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Acquired C-S Carlos Corporan from the Astros in exchange for RHP Akeem Bostick. [1/21]

Sound the alarms, cover the plants, and bring the animals in—we have an intra-divisional trade to recap. Corporan is the right-sized bean to get traded within the division in January, which is to say a relatively small one. He's a quality defender who grades well as a receiver and goalie, but don't dismiss him as a mitt-only backup; he's hit .237/.297/.383 over the past three seasons, including a .253 True Average against lefties, so he offers greater punch than the Jose Molinas of the world. The Rangers shouldn't bench Robinson Chirinos to get Corporan more burn or anything, but with Corporan around they should feel more comfortable resting Chirinos than they did last season. —R.J. Anderson

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Signed UTL-L Kelly Johnson to a minor-league deal. [1/21]

With his tour of the AL East completed last September, Johnson returns to his original organization just in time to celebrate the passing of a decade since his big-league debut. Johnson at his best is a useful player whose finest attributes are his defensive versatility, on-base skills, and above-average power. How he fits into the Braves' plans is unclear, but there should be enough left in his tank to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. Should Johnson perform as he did in 2013 (and at times in 2014), he ought to finish the season on a contender's bench. —R.J. Anderson

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Muboshgu
1/22
Is it just me, or does a 2nd rounder from 2013 seem like a steep price to pay for a backup catcher?
AmericanMagpie
1/22
Given the need to have a high quality receiver, especially someone with such great framing history, I think the Rangers are in a Win-Now mode. God knows where a 19yo pitcher will wind up and how long it will take him to make an impact.

One thing that playing fantasy has beaten into my head is that teams looking mid-long term will always overvalue a potentially great prospect and are more willing to trade a MLB player who they don't really have a spot for; while teams looking short-term are usually willing to sacrifice a high risk player for a low risk guy with solid return.

I love this trade because we really need someone who can catch well and isn't a terrible hitter. Plus he looks semi agile, something we've been lacking in our catchers for a while. (Bengie's triple when he hit for the cycle is still one of my favorite moments in Rangers history)
Tarakas
1/22
On the Astros: May, many years ago in a computer sim league I slyly built a team around what was then an undervalued asset--lower average power hitters who walked and struck out a fair amount.

Maybe it was simply a flaw in the sim, but the team did not do well offensively. They players hit like they were supposed to, but their run scoring was not good. The main problem seemed to be advancing runners. With a guy on second and 1-out, for example, neither a strikeout nor a walk or very useful in scoring the runner. My impression was that at some point, a team can go too far in this direction.

If I had the time, I'd run this with a modern sim and test this.
justinkelley
1/24
You should play Hardball Dynasty at Whatifsports.com