The Astros had a fair number of players depart this offseason, but fortunately the quantity was higher than the quality for the most part. Perhaps the biggest of the names who left was left-handed starter Scott Kazmir, who started 13 games for the Astros after being acquired from the Oakland Athletics mid-season. Unfortunately for the Astros, Kazmir was markedly poorer than he was with Oakland in 2015, posting an ERA of 4.17 with Houston against 2.38 in Oakland. Kazmir inked a three-year, $48 million dollar (with an opt-out after 2016) deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December, making him more expensive than the Astros could afford. Kazmir would’ve been a good asset to have in a predominantly right-handed Houston pitching staff, but the addition of Fister minimizes the loss to the rotation.
The Astros also parted ways with first baseman Chris Carter, who appeared in 422 games with the club from 2013-2015, slugging 90 home runs (including 37 in 2014) but hitting .218 in 1,404 PAs. Carter’s spot will likely be filled by former top prospect Jon Singleton, who impressed at the Triple-A level in 2015, hitting .254/.359/.505 with 25 homers in 448 PAs with the Fresno Grizzlies. While Carter was fairly popular with the fans for his towering home runs and likeable personality, his poor on-base skills and even poorer defense will not be missed, and Singleton’s second full-time stint in the major leagues (he appeared in 95 games for the Astros in 2014, hitting .168 in 362 PAs) should be more productive and exciting than his first.
Houston made room on the major league roster and added farm system depth with the trades of infielders Jonathan Villar and Jed Lowrie as well. Both players performed solidly in backup roles in 2015, but were deemed too valuable to keep on the bench in 2016 and flipped for Sneed and McCurry respectively. Backup catcher Hank Conger and relievers Chad Qualls and Joe Thatcher were let go through free agency in the offseason as well. Conger was a serviceable backup in his only year with the club, but with Triple-A catcher Max Stassi ready to move up to the majors, he was a redundant asset. Qualls and Thatcher were relatively mediocre in 2015, and both took up roster spots that didn’t need money spent on their re-signing.
The biggest move of the Astros offseason, the Ken Giles trade, came at a pretty steep cost in terms of numbers for the club. The biggest pieces moved in the deal were former first-overall pick Mark Appel and major leaguer Vincent Velasquez. Appel was taken #1 overall in the 2013 draft out of Stanford University, the second of three consecutive first overall picks by the club (in 2012 they took 2015 Rookie of the Year winner Carlos Correa, in 2014 they took California high-school pitcher Brady Aiken who famously did not sign with the club). However, since the beginning of his professional career, Appel has struggles mightily, posting 5.12 ERA over three seasons, including a 4.37 in 131.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. Appel still possesses some of the raw tools that make him a desirable prospect, but some are calling into question his ceiling as a player, projecting him to be a back-end starter or potentially a reliever instead of the ace some had once thought him to be. Velasquez’s MLB numbers from 2015 won’t turn any heads, but he flashed the potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation arm in the future with good strikeout numbers. The other three pieces of the deal, Brett Oberholtzer, Thomas Eshelman, and Harold Arauz all had lackluster 2015 seasons and likely don’t have the potential to be future impact players like Appel and Velasquez do. Overall, the Astros did well not to give up too much talent in acquiring a proven, dominant reliever.