With Spring Training literally only two days away, the Astros have a few options on how they can improve the roster right before pitchers & catchers report to West Palm Beach. For the first time in many years, the Astros will have a total team payroll over the $100 million mark, as Jim Crane and the rest of the Astros ownership group has shown a commitment to winning through the amount of investment placed in this 2017 team.
However, if the Astros truly want to go "all in" for 2017, there's still an option on the free agent market that can drastically improve the club with limited time remaining until the club breaks for camp.
Travis Wood, a 30 year-old left-handed pitcher, was a member of the 2016 World Series championship team, the Chicago Cubs, and has not yet found a home this offseason. The Cubs recently made an offer to Wood less than a day ago, but he has multiple suitors around the league as well.
The Astros certainly could use a left-handed pitcher to come out of the bullpen, as currently their only option is Tony Sipp. While he had a successful 2015 season and was instrumental in the Astros postseason run, he took a major step back in 2016. Even in 2015, the Astros gave Sipp some help when they acquired veteran southpaw Oliver Perez, who mastered the "lefty specialist" role for the club in his short two-month stint.
Although Wood was mainly a starter for the Cubs from 2010 to 2014, he has shifted his role to a bullpen pitcher as the Cubs acquired more pitching to anchor their staff with Lester, Arrieta, and company. In his bullpen role, Wood pitched very well for the Cubs, totaling 61.0 innings over the course of the season.
In those 61.0 innings, Wood finished with a 2.95 ERA, 47 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.13, and only 24 walks. His WAR on the season finished at 0.5, which may not seem like much to most viewers reading this article. However, when you compare this number to the -0.4 (a negative number!) WAR that Sipp totaled in 2016, this is a vast improvement.
Gaining almost one whole win out of your left-handed specialist is a major gain for a club that considers itself to be a contender, but the issue is how much would the two sides value this added WAR in contract negotiations. In his last two years under contract with the Cubs, Wood earned a total of $11,861,000 and is probably looking for more in the free agent market going into 2017.
This might be the concern for Jeff Luhnow and the rest of the Astros front office, as they just committed to a 3-year deal with Sipp last offseason that totaled $18 million. Giving a total of $12 million or potentially more per year to two players used in the same role is a lot of money to pool into one small, yet important, aspect of your team.
The Astros are hoping that Tolliver can help out the major league club this season, but he has never pitched a single inning in the major leagues before. If Sipp turns it around this season and returns closer to his 2015 numbers, this left-handed bullpen problem may not even be an issue come October. However, this is one risky bet to make in the bullpen for a team that has high aspirations.
If the Astros want to provide themselves some insurance out of that role, then Travis Wood should be their guy.