Maybe Astros are Scherzer mystery team

Keith Law's review of the Evan Gattis trade wasn't kind to the Astros:

There's a good chance Atlanta walks out of this deal with an above-average starting pitcher and an everyday third baseman, which would be a heck of a return for a flawed player such as Gattis. The Astros get four years of control of Gattis, and if they choose to use him behind the plate on occasion, the acquisition might free them up to trade one of their many catchers ... but is this the kind of player the Astros should be trying to acquire right now? They're not contenders this year, probably not in 2016, and by 2017 Gattis will be turning 31 and past peak, which we've probably already seen. I have no objection to the Astros trading from their passel of prospects to add real major league talent, but they should be aiming higher than an OBP sinkhole who doesn't add value on defense.

I'm not quite as down on the trade as Keith. While Michael Foltynewicz has a monster fastball and a good curveball, his minor league numbers have always been mediocre: He's allowed nearly a hit an inning in his career and has just 478 strikeouts in 562.2 innings. He did fan 102 in 102.1 innings in Triple-A in 2014 but also posted a 5.08 ERA as he walked 4.6 batters per nine innings. I'm just speculating here, but I'm guessing the Astros' math guys are predicting that Foltynewicz never pans out as a quality starter. Still, as Keith pointed out, he's a highly regarded prospect who, along with third-base prospect Rio Ruiz, probably could have returned a better player than Gattis.

Here are two figures that help explain why the Astros made the trade:

Astros left fielders, 2014: .218/.286/.317

Astros first basemen, 2014: .168/.277/.307

That's not a misprint: Astros first basemen hit .168. The Astros ranked last in the majors in wOBA at both positions. Acquiring Gattis gives them flexibility: They can play Gattis in left field; they can DH Gattis and play Chris Carter at first base and let Robbie Grossman/Jake Marisnick/L.J. Hoes/Domingo Santana duke it out for left field; they can DH Gattis and play Carter in left field. It's all about flexibility. If Jon Singleton doesn't hit, he's not locked in at first base, and they have multiple options for left field.

Also, consider that the Astros were also last in the majors in wOBA at third base as Matt Dominguez didn't hit at all. They signed Jed Lowrie as a free agent, and everybody assumed it was to play shortstop, but I'm not so sure Lowrie doesn't end up at third base. The Astros were next to last in the American League in runs in 2014 but have reason to believe they'll see major offensive upgrades at three positions plus a full season from potential breakout star George Springer. They signed free-agent relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to help a bullpen that had the worst ERA in the majors.

Still, the Astros were 70-92 in 2014, so even improved offense at three or four positions and a better bullpen won't necessarily make them a playoff contender. But what the Astros have is money, and that could make them a potential mystery team to sign Max Scherzer. Or maybe they were the team that reportedly offered James Shields that $110 million contract (although he doesn't seem like a pitcher an organization as dependent on analytics as the Astros would spend $100 million on). According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Astros currently have the lowest projected payroll in the majors. They have no prohibitive long-term contracts, with $34 million in salary commitments for 2016 and just $19 million in 2017. So they have plenty of room in the budget to sign Scherzer.

Jim Bowden didn't list the Astros as a potential landing spot for Scherzer in his ESPN Insider column. Sure, it's a long shot, but Scott Boras clients usually take the most money, so if the Astros offer the most money, it's not a crazy scenario. If playing for a team with a good shot at winning the World Series in 2015 was a priority for Scherzer, wouldn't he have signed by now? The Tigers may be the favorite to re-sign Scherzer, and while they may be better than the Astros in 2015, which organization has the brighter future? You can't make a sound argument that the Astros will be stronger over the next seven years than the Tigers.

Plus, you throw out a rotation with Scherzer, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Scott Feldman and that looks like a playoff-caliber rotation if Keuchel and McHugh match their 2014 performances. Toss in a better offense, a better bullpen and prospects like Carlos Correa and Mark Appel soon to arrive, and the Astros aren't that far away. With Scherzer, the Astros could even dream about a 2015 playoff appearance.