Mandatory Credit: Photo by Julia Nikhinson/AP/Shutterstock (13489154ba) New York Yankees Anthony Rizzo connects for an RBI base hit against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning of Game 4 of an American League Championship baseball series, in New York ALCS Astros Yankees Baseball, New York, United States – 23 Oct 2022
The Astros have won their second World Series in six years, but Jim Crane will not settle for that. Crane wants more, as evident by the severing ties with general manager James Click. The Astros are looking to win back-to-back World Series but may have to do so without Justin Verlander. Crane knows the Astros won last year on the strength of their starting pitching and bullpen, along with timely hitting. There were too many holes in the lineup at first base, centerfield, left field, and catcher in 2022. The goals for 2023 should be clear to have more consistency up and down the lineup.
We saw Chas McCormick finally take over centerfield during the playoffs after watching the Jake Meyers experience. Unless the Astros can add a big-time centerfielder, one would guess it’s McCormick’s job to lose in spring training. We all know that Dusty Baker loves what Martin Maldonado offers as a catcher, so unless they get a Wilson Contreras, I don’t see an upgrade coming at catcher. Yordan Alvarez is about to be handed the keys to play left field daily. This does open a hole at designated hitter, but one thing at a time. Where can the Astros get the most bang for their buck?
Sign a Free Agent First Baseman
Yuli Gurriel had one of his worst regular seasons as a pro, with a .242 batting average, .647 OPS, and an OPS+ of 84, which is 16 points below the average major leaguer. While Gurriel was always a good defender, especially scooping the ball, his offense took a step back after winning the battle title in 2021. Guriel did turn it on in the playoffs batting .347 with 17 hits and two homers. Gurriel was a big piece of the Astros winning the World Series, but he is now a free agent the Astros are considering bringing back.
At 38 years old, how much are the Astros willing to bet that Gurriel’s 2022 regular season was a fluke? Will he hit as he did in the postseason for an entire season? Should the Astros consider bringing in someone else to play first base?
I have been saying on the Locked On Astros podcast for about a week that Anthony Rizzo should be the Astros’ primary target at first base. This idea was later confirmed by Ken Rosenthal when he wrote that Rizzo is Houston’s top target. With all due respect Ken, you’re stating the obvious. Let’s look at why.
Rizzo is coming off a season with the New York Yankees, where he batted .224 with 32 homers and 75 RBI. While the batting average is not pretty, his OPS was .817, and his OPS+ was 131. For his career, Rizzo strikes out at a 14.7% clip, which went up to 18.4% in 2022, with him looking to hit the home run ball in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium. In terms of barrel percentage, he is considered a good hitter after reaching 10.2% in 2022. He typically, throughout his career, has been a good contact hitter with low strikeouts—the type of hitter the Astros usually like.
Rizzo also plays solid defense. It’s not flashy but gets the job most of the time, only committing five errors at first base last season. He is a four-time gold glove winner, as well as a platinum glove winner in 2016. The big key is that he bats lefthanded and can give the Astros everything they need. Alvarez and Kyle Tucker are the only lefties in the lineup unless the Astros bring Michael Brantley back. Adding another lefty would give Baker some creative ways to balance the lineup and set the batting order.
Plus, they would be stealing him from the Yankees, which is a win in itself. But Rizzo would add so much to the Astros lineup. Rizzo is 16th of all active players with a career 0.366 on-base percentage.
Rizzo is 33 years old, five years younger than Gurriel, but still far from young by baseball standards. He also has had health concerns with back issues in the past but did look good in the playoffs. His market value, per Spotrac, is $21.4 million AAV, so you may have to give him $22 million for three years to sign him away from the Yankees. At the same time, you could probably re-sign Gurriel for $8-9 AAV. Because the Yankees placed a qualifying offer on Rizzo, the team that signs him will have to give up a draft pick and international pool money. So, if the Astros signed him, they would lose their second-best draft pick in the 2023 MLB draft and $500,000 in international pool money, while resigning Gurriel would cost you neither of those things and save in the area of $12-$14 million for 2023 while likely not requiring a multi-year deal.
The old thinking of Astros baseball is that they would not sacrifice the picks and pool money for any free agent. However, if they keep that mindset, they will miss out on some impact players. Plus, who knows what Crane is thinking at the moment? If he is eyeing another championship, and the guy he believes he needs is Rizzo, he will use whatever resources are required.
Why not re-sign Gurriel or sign Josh Bell or Jose Abreu? Rizzo is the mix of everything the Astros need. No, you don’t sign a player to prevent him from signing with another team. But, Rizzio, added to the foundation already laid in Houston, could be the piece to lead them to their next championship. If Crane has set his eyes on Rizzo, he will do his best to get his guy. Will he be in Astros uniform by spring training? If the Astros are smart, he will be.
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