At the present moment, anytime you mention the Houston Astros, it’s tinged with this “bah, eff them” affect. Or is that just me?
Anyway, unrelated to the sign-stealing scandal or the cultural problems in that organization, the Astros come up this morning because of this article from Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney at The Athletic.
Broadly, it’s a read about how the Cubs can approach change this offseason, set against the specific backdrop of a possible Willson Contreras trade. It’s worth your time for that broad perspective, and that’s not really what I’m focusing on here. So check it out.
Instead, for now, the bit I wanted to mention was this very specific inclusion, which sticks out in a huge way: “[T]he Astros went into this offseason with an interest in Willson Contreras, according to a source familiar with the team’s thinking, and they have a need for a frontline catcher.”
It’s true that the Astros don’t have much in the way of catching talent at the big league level, with a Garrett Stubbs/Dustin Garneau platoon currently shaping up until and unless the Astros bring back Martin Maldonado. On an absolutely loaded roster, catcher is clearly the one spot they could stand to add another impact player.
So the Astros reportedly came into the offseason wanting Contreras, and the catching market has only thinned to almost nothing since then. Presumably, their interest remains.
It is extremely easy to imagine the Astros putting together the kind of overwhelming package necessary to get the Cubs interested in making a move, but it’s also extremely easy to imagine them being reluctant for at least a couple reasons.
Consider that their top prospect – arguably the guy you’d most want to see the Cubs target in a deal like this – is Forrest Whitley, a potential ace who could emerge in the big leagues as soon as the second half of 2020. For an Astros club that is losing Gerrit Cole and has a rotation fronted by a couple guys who turn 37 next year, I can’t see them moving Whitley right now for a catcher, even an impact guy like Contreras.
For another thing, with the threat of significant sanctions coming from MLB thanks to the sign-stealing shenanigans, the Astros might even be a little more protective of their prospects than usual. They gave up a good bit at the deadline this past year, and now they might face a couple years without early-round draft picks.
If you can get past that stuff, though, sure, there is still plenty of talent in the farm system and at the big league level to intrigue the Cubs, especially in potential young, impact starting pitching (and Kyle Tucker). And sure, you can also talk yourself into now being the time when the Astros will be MOST aggressive to add a guy like Contreras, since they have such an incredible core together for the next two to three years.
Also, given Contreras’s excellent right-handed bat, he’s a good match for that ballpark, and a good option for an American League lineup that could periodically give him a break behind the plate but not lose his bat in the lineup. Again, I totally get the Astros’ interest.
Maybe there actually is a sufficient fit here that the Astros would be a good trade partner? A plausible one, at least?
It’s interesting, to be sure, that this article, and this particular note, comes out on the very day the Brewers are set to acquire the second-best catching option on the trade market, as reported by Sharma and Mooney’s Athletic colleague Ken Rosenthal. I thought it worth teeing up.
Even if it kinda makes me sad to think about the real possibility of trading Contreras, and why it could make sense.