The Houston Astros placed first baseman Jon Singleton on outright waivers over the weekend, removing him from the 40-man roster just a few years after giving him an unprecedented five-year extension with three additional team option years before he ever stepped to the plate in the big leagues.
The big first baseman is expected to clear waivers by the end of Tuesday, and will stay in the Houston farm system if he does. The speculation is the Astros were hoping to sneak him through waivers by making the move on the day 40-man rosters were due, but taking him off the roster seems to show they have at least some doubt he's in their long term plans.
Singleton is a former top prospect who made the Baseball American Top 100 four years in a row before graduating from prospect status. His power has long been admired, but he's limited defensively even for a first baseman and he's struggled to make contact and hit for average in even some of the most hitter-friendly leagues in the minors.
He's only seen action in the majors in parts of two seasons, hitting -- if you can call it that -- .171/.290/.331 with 14 home runs in 420 career plate appearances. He's put up a better line of .263/.376/.460 in eight minor league seasons, but hit just .202/.337/.390 in 501 plate appearances for Triple-A Fresno this year.
Singleton will carry that contract he signed even if he clears waivers, but it shouldn't be treated as an albatross. He'll make $2 million in each of the next two seasons before reaching a $2.5 million club option in 2019, $5 million club option in 2020 and $13 million club option in 2021. All three of the buyouts are also manageable ($500,000 in 2019, $250,000 in 2020 and 2021).
If the Brewers are interested in another reclamation project (either by placing a waiver claim or making a trade later in the winter), Singleton might be an interesting one while also serving as the replacement for a player he's frequently compared to -- Chris Carter.
Carter is about three inches taller and right-handed, but also struggled to get his big league career going after being a highly-touted prospect. Like Singleton, he struggled to get his power to translate in-game, hitting just .214/.310/.425 with 19 home runs in his first 384 plate appearances with Oakland. He was eventually traded to the deep-in-rebuilding Astros and given a chance to play every day, and ended up hitting 90 home runs in three seasons there.
This isn't the first time we've pondered the addition of Singleton at BCB, and they're still in the position to give someone like him an extended opportunity. Carter performed admirably for the Brewers in 2016, but as we've also discussed, an estimated $8 million arbitration case complicates the relationship a bit, and Singleton could provide similar skills for less money while also being locked into a very team-friendly deal if they can resurrect him. Even if they can't, he'd be on the roster at minimal cost for two years before the team could cut him loose for relative pennies.
But that contract could also prove tricky when putting together a trade offer. Singleton hasn't produced since signing it, but his raw talent and age -- he'll only be 25 next year -- makes it a potentially extremely valuable contract for the Astros to hang onto. Even though they're taking him off the roster, parts of that front office are likely still hoping he shows something in the first couple months at Triple-A to warrant bringing him back to the 40-man, even if it’s as a DH with A.J. Reed now in the majors.
The Astros aren't dumb, but could also get creative. After adding Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Charlie Morton, they're rumored to still be looking for more pitching. Including Singleton as part of a deal involving, say, Junior Guerra could make some sense for both sides provided a little something is added on both sides.
Statistics courtesy FanGraphs and Baseball Reference