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Signed OF-L Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52 million contract. [11/17]
Signed RHP Charlie Morton to a two-year, $14 million contract. [11/16]
The Astros have gotten roughly two wins a year from catcher Jason Castro over the last three years. They can expect about the same from McCann over the next two. The cost of that production will be higher—which, with Castro hitting free agency, was inevitable. After accounting for the money the Yankees threw in to get this deal done, Houston will pay McCann $23 million through 2018, which is twice what Castro cost from 2014-16. It could have been much worse, though. McCann had one poor defensive season in New York, in 2015, but he’s generally (and fairly) regarded as a great backstop. He’s also an above-average hitter for the position, at least for the moment.
Risk abounds. McCann’s TAv over the last three years were .258, .270, and .256, down from the solid .280s numbers he produced throughout his Braves career. That coincided with him being used more judiciously (he had the platoon advantage in 70 percent of his plate appearances as a Brave, 76 percent as a Yankee). At 32, McCann could be entering an irreversible and sharp decline. That wouldn’t be radical, for a catcher with his mileage. On the other hand, McCann also hit lefties better than righties during his Bronx tenure, so maybe something about the division or the ballpark he called home simply never matched up with him, and he’ll manage to sustain some offensive success.
Despite the danger, though, this move makes sense for Houston. It’s certainly preferable to spending considerably more, either to retain Castro, to muddle through with Matt Wieters’ defensive shortcomings and poor long-term prognosis, or to bet on Wilson Ramos having supernatural healing powers. To realize the financial savings, Jeff Luhnow had to surrender two hard-throwing and promising pitching prospects, but this is why one amasses tremendous minor-league pitching depth: to turn it into things one really needs, at just the right time. The Astros’ lineup had a good enough top four or five in 2016, but not a strong enough bottom half. McCann helps address that, in a way no other available catcher could reliably have done. The cost is real, but far from excessive. —Matthew Trueblood
The fit here is not perfect. Reddick seems to push Nori Aoki to the bench, but Aoki’s on-base skills seemed like a needed salve for an OBP-challenged Houston lineup. Reddick rakes against right-handed pitchers, but struggles enormously against southpaws. In that way, he helps balance an Astros lineup that leaned right and struggled against right-handers last year. Again, though, it’s Aoki he’s pushing to the bench, and Aoki, too, hit righties well in 2016. Teoscar Hernandez makes a very nice platoon partner for Reddick. It’s just that, with Aoki already in house, it seems strange to sign a player with any need of a platoon partner for four years and a healthy salary.
That’s not to say Reddick can’t more than earn this contract. He can. He adds power and platoon balance to the middle of the batting order. He could play some DH, when one of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis are hurt, or when both are healthy but there’s a righty on the mound for the opponent and starting Gattis causes A.J. Hinch’s stomach to turn. For that matter, Aoki could DH, and Reddick could take his formerly Gold Glove to left field and add some defensive value. He’s a good athlete, albeit an injury-prone one. He won’t clog the bases. He can do a lot of things well, and his price tag is a bit light, given his sheer talent.
There’s plenty to like for Houston, here. It’s not easy to see how this will work out, but that’s only because there are so many ways it could. Maybe a huge trade involving George Springer will erase all of these questions before spring. If not, though, Reddick bolsters a collection of position players that already looks much deeper and more well-rounded than it did last season. —Matthew Trueblood
For a pitcher who’s never made 30 starts or been worth more than 2.2 WARP, Morton is a little more notable than you might expect. It’s not hard to figure out why: he’s always had interesting stuff. His two-seam fastball had good run. At his best, he was an extreme groundball guy. He famously (essentially) learned and copied Roy Halladay’s delivery. He’s never been especially good, because he’s never been able to both miss bats and stay close enough to the zone to at least induce some bad chases, while also staying off the DL for a significant period.
This contract isn’t even a bet on him suddenly staying healthy, not really. It belongs to a growing genre of free-agent starter signings that break out of the old molds we have for such moves, because they aren’t predicated on the notion of the signer spending all season in a team’s rotation. Increasingly, teams are counting on injuries and calamitous under-performance to take care of logjams, and trying to stockpile enough pitching depth to make it through 162 games and a month of playoff baseball. That takes more than five starters.
Thus, in this market, spending $7 million a year on Morton–who threw harder than ever last season, before getting hurt, and had his curveball spinning faster and breaking more sharply than ever, and looked like he might finally be able to mix strikeouts and command–makes plenty of sense. He might make a dozen starts. He might make fewer. If the Astros get even a handful of good starts at this price, though, they’ve recouped their investment. —Matthew Trueblood
An extremely durable backstop, McCann has logged at least 100 games played every year dating back to 2006. This trade virtually ensures that he will retain catcher eligibility for at least a few more years. From a fantasy perspective, McCann’s trademark pull-power is well suited for the cozy dimensions down the right field line at Minute Maid Park. For more than a decade, he’s been a remarkably consistent slugger, eclipsing the 20-home run plateau 10 times in the past 12 seasons. Since 2005, no other full-time catcher has accomplished that feat more than four times. Granted, he offers little to no value in the other four major categories, most notably batting average and stolen bases, but he still finished as a top-five catcher in AL-only leagues last season. McCann may have ceded his perch atop the fantasy catcher rankings years ago, but he remains a viable mixed-league option entering 2017. —George Bissell
With home run totals surging, Reddick has bucked the league-wide trend, choosing instead to trade power for contact in recent years. He struck out just 56 times in 439 plate appearances between the Athletics and Dodgers, resulting in a career-best .281 average and .345 on-base percentage. His abysmal numbers against left-handed pitching (.155/.212/.155 in 104 plate appearances last season) will almost certainly limit him to the strong side of platoon role in Houston.
At just 30 years old, there is still plenty of time to reclaim the halcyon days of 30-plus bombs back in 2012. The necessary ingredients–a rapidly ascending batting average fueled by contact rate gain, and double-digit stolen base potential–that would enable Reddick to blossom into a five-category impact fantasy contributor are all in place. Perhaps a move from the cavernous ballparks in Oakland and Los Angeles to an environment more conducive to power production is all it will take to make this recipe work. —George Bissell
The 33-year-old sinker specialist made just four starts before a torn hamstring ended his 2016 campaign. The early returns–most notably a 3.53 DRA with 9.9 strikeouts per nine and a 66 percent groundball rate–during Morton’s brief stint in Philadelphia were encouraging and make him worth monitoring in spring training as a potential back-end fantasy rotation option. The key variable to pay attention to will be the average velocity on his sinker, which ticked up substantially from 92 mph during his final year in Pittsburgh to 95 mph last year. If those velocity gains hold, Morton could be a nice pickup for savvy owners paying attention to the details. –George Bissell
|NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired RHP Albert Abreu and RHP Jorge Guzman from New York Yankees in exchange for C-L Brian McCann and cash. [11/17]
Abreu is a visceral prospect with a dream starter's frame, a wide and loud arsenal, and enough risk to make the whole package an interesting exercise in player valuation. He’s a big boy with wide, broad shoulders and a tapered waist. Everything about his frame screams projection, as you can visualize where the strength and muscles can grow. Abreu mixes in four pitches consistently and shows a splitter on occasion. The fastball is the headliner in the package, as it can reach into the upper 90s and he pitches downhill with the offering. His fastball has hard run and he can hold his velocity deep into games.
He shows two breaking balls as well–a curveball that can be an absolute monster and a slider that has the potential to get outs at the major-league level. Abreu’s two changeups show different action. His feel for the changeup is still in the early stages of development, but the offering shows fade and tumble, giving the promise that it could miss bats. His splitter shows hard downward action, but his feel for the pitch is similarly raw. The risk is real here, however, as his fastball command is underdeveloped.
Abreu’s ability to command his secondary pitches is slightly ahead of his fastball command, but he can lose feel for his curve as well and miss down with the offering. Abreu can lose his mechanics, which throws the whole command profile out of whack, as evidenced by his 12.8 percent walk rate at Low A Quad Cities this year. Abreu has a ton of promise and risk. At peak he could be a mid-rotation stalwart who pitches above that when he holds his mechanics. —Mauricio Rubio
Velocity readings above 100 miles per hour are increasingly common these days but it's still a bit surprising when you hear a pitcher who repeatedly touches those lofty heights. Guzman throws 102 and he used that velocity effectively in 2016, striking out 54 batters in 40 rookie-ball innings. The rub? Much like Abreu, his mechanics get out of whack, which negatively impacts his command. His feel for his secondary offerings will also have to improve. Guzman is a lotto arm. —Mauricio Rubio
The 23-year-old may have failed to win the AL Rookie of the Year award, but the fact that the Yankees front office traded a high-priced veteran, and vastly superior defensive catcher, to hand him an uncontested everyday role is a greater reflection of his immense talent. There are simply zero questions about Sanchez’s offensive abilities. By cementing his status as their permanent fixture behind the plate, New York has solidified his long-term future as an elite fantasy catcher. This is as good as it gets. —George Bissell
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