The Astros are one of the top teams that could change the most in free agency this offseason. With mainstays like Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Brian McCann, and Evan Gattis all potentially leaving in free agency this winter, there are a lot of decisions to make in Houston. Some offers will be made to try and retain one or more of these players, but it’s looking like most will no longer be in an Astros uniform next year.
With catchers Martin Maldonado, McCann and Gattis (who, granted, only spent a pair of games behind the plate this season) all probably departing, catching is one of Houston’s biggest needs over the next few months. Right now they’re left with Max Stassi, who played 82 games at catcher in 2018 and is under team control through 2022. He hit just .226/.316/.394 with 8 home runs though, so the team would be smart to go for a top catching option in the short term and keep Stassi as a reliable backup if possible (he posted a 26% caught stealing rate this year).
Here are just a few options, some who have already been connected to Houston and some not, who the Astros should be checking on right now.
Multiple teams are in on J.T. Realmuto this offseason, and the Marlins are certainly listening to offers for one of their last big trade chips. Realmuto doesn’t want to be in Miami and the Astros have already been linked to him. The Marlins will most likely opt for a team outside of their division if they have a choice so right now the Astros are giving them an out on that front ... if they offer what the Marlins are asking.
Which is where we reach a sticking point. Miami is reportedly asking a lot for Realmuto and they have 10 or more teams inquiring about him so can keep that asking price high at this point. In a landscape of few true star catchers, is Houston willing to part with one or more of their top prospects to get Realmuto? It would probably be smart to do so, as Realmuto improved on his 2017 season both offensively and defensively, and they can afford to give up a few prospects as MLB Pipeline has their system ranked ninth in the league.
Grandal obviously did not have a good postseason. A pretty atrocious offseason by any standard, actually. But he had a good year and did not accept the qualifying offer extended by the Dodgers so he can test the free agency market and see whether his season will overshadow his postseason performance.
He hit .241/.349/.466 with 24 home runs in 140 games this year with a 28% caught stealing mark and .994 fielding percentage at catcher, all more or less on par with his prior season. That’s worthy of a contract of some sort, even if his postseason foibles limit it to only two or three seasons. The Astros are almost certainly banking on making it back to the postseason so they’ll have to reckon with his performance in that arena but with the scarcity of truly reliable catchers that’s a risk they wouldn’t be wrong in taking.
Pérez hit just .235/.274/.439 with the Royals in 2018 (down from 2017) but notched 27 home runs (the same as the season prior) in 129 games for Kansas City (also identical to the year before). With a 48% caught stealing, more than 20 points higher than 2017, and only 4 passed balls his defense would be a major asset for Houston. That’s also with multiple injury problems at the front end and last stretch of the season.
He’s under team control for the next three seasons at just $36 million total, a steal for a 28-year old catcher with his numbers in this market. What remains to be seen is what exactly the Royals would want for someone as good as Pérez. They are firmly in a rebuilding stage and aren’t going to give him up for nothing. He had thumb surgery at the end of the season though, and although he’s supposed to be fully back by Spring Training that could alter the trade market for him ever so slightly.
Ramos is on the older side at 31 and has had his fair share of injury issues, the latest a pulled hamstring this season. Yet, he’s a two-time All-Star who hit .306/.358/.487 with 15 home runs in 111 games between the Rays and Phillies this year and his stats haven’t started trending downward yet. Currently a free agent, he’s probably available for less than Grandal’s cost in years and dollars and may be a better option than giving up prospects for Realmuto’s remaining years under team control. Plus, Ramos is an accomplished veteran who can guide Stassi as he grows in the position.
With the Astros’ pitching dominance and young superstars giving them an upper hand for the next season or two and not much beyond that for sure, committing to Ramos for multiple years and more than $30 million or so is risky if injuries befall him again. But the upside fits their plans and timeline right now and is worth the possibility they could lose him for an extended stretch.
Everything I said about Ramos could apply here as well. Suzuki is 35 and posted just a 19% caught stealing in 2018 but he also made 93 starts at catcher for the Braves. He did hit .271/.332/.444 though, so if the Astros decide to commit to Stassi longterm but bring someone in for a few years to guide him as his offense hopefully improves and he grows into a full time starter, Suzuki would make a great choi— what’s that? He just signed a two-year deal with the Nationals similar to what I was about to outline here? Never mind then!