Astros lighting up the hot stove league

In baseball, the term hot stove league refers to the baseball offseason. It conjures images of a time back in the day, when baseball was then the nation’s #1 sport. Fans would gather around a hot stove talking baseball in the offseason. Today, the term has been updated to the time, in the offseason when moves are made and free agents are signed. No team has been more active in the 2016 hot stove league than your Houston Astros.

The Astros just missed the playoffs in 2016 and clearly that is an unacceptable proposition to Astros upper management. No team has been more active wheeling and dealing this offseason than the Astros. The beauty is, to date, they haven’t had to give up any of their top young minor league talent.

In 2016, the Astros lacked consistent play behind the plate, both offensively and defensively. They also had sketchy offensive production past the top three hitters in the lineup. In addition, they also saw their starting pitching performance diminish.

The Astros addressed their glaring need at catcher by acquiring Brian McCann from the New York Yankees. They gave up minor league right-handed pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.

McCann, 32, batted .242 (104×429) with 20 homers, 13 doubles, 58 RBI and 54 walks in 130 games in 2016. He appeared in 92 games behind the plate, and three at first base. Over the course of his 12-year career, McCann has been named to seven All-Star teams and has won six Silver Slugger Awards.  He spent his first nine seasons with the Braves (2005-13).

“We entered the offseason with the acquisition of a catcher as a primary focus,” said GM Jeff Luhnow. “Brian McCann is a great fit for the Astros as he is not only a good defensive catcher, he is also a left-handed hitter with proven run producing ability.  His experience and his ability to impact his teammates will be a significant benefit to our team.”

Next, the Astros improved their outfield and added another left-handed bat by signing Josh Reddick.

Reddick, 29, set career highs in batting average (.281) and on-base percentage (.345) over 115 games with Oakland (68 games) and the Dodgers (47 games) in 2016. He agreed to terms on a four-year, $52 million contract.

“He’s a perfect fit for our team,” Luhnow said. “A Gold Glove-caliber outfielder with a terrific arm. We’re going to have a formidable outfield.”

For Reddick, choosing the Astros was an easy decision.

“It wasn’t that tough. These guys came aggressive and made it known early that they wanted me,” Reddick said. “They made the decision pretty easy. I get to stay in the same division. I feel very comfortable being in this division. I know how things work. I know the pitching staffs, I know the hitters. This will make it an easy transition for me.”

The Astros are hoping to add a front line starting pitcher, but in the meantime they reached terms with right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton. The 6-foot-5, 33-year-old has posted a 3.97 ERA (283ER/641.2IP) in 111 starts since his breakout 2011 season with the Pirates, when he won 10 games.

Morton made four starts with the Phillies last year in April before suffering a torn left hamstring on April 23 that ended his season. He is considered one of the top ground ball pitchers in the MLB. Morton figures to compete as a 5th starter.

Finally, the move that has the baseball world buzzing is the team signing slugger Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $16 million contract with a full no-trade clause.  Beltran, 39, figures to split time between outfield and designated hitter for the Astros like he did last year for the Yankees and Rangers, a season in which he was an All-Star for the ninth time. The veteran slugger hit .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs in 151 games with New York and Texas,

Is Luhnow done wheeling and dealing this offseason? I wouldn’t bet on it. If there is a deal available for a big-time starting pitcher, expect the Astros to not be bashful. The stove is awfully hot.