Sunday, December 26, 2004

I am split. I can't decide if I like Beltran or not.

The boy in me wants us to sign him at any cost. Did you see the playoffs? Did you see him hit eight homers in 12 games? Did you see him make that AMAZING diving catch against the Cardinals? Beltran is the best player the Astros have EVER seen, and we'd be the dumbest team in HISTORY not to sign him when we have the chance.

But the cynic in me is skeptical. Yeah, he had a great postseason... I'll give him that. But his numbers aren't that great. Career OBP? .353. Career slugging? .490. Just... not... the Baseball God everyone's made him out to be.

And so, the omnipresent baseball conundrum: statistics versus intangibles. The long run versus the typical day. A game played on paper versus a game played on a diamond. Moneyball versus our National Pasttime.

A part of me hates Moneyball. A part of me hates Billy Beane and the way he treats his managers and coaches and scouts and PLAYERS like dirt. Like he's the only one who knows how to win at baseball. Like they are the insignificant pawns to protect him, the almighty King.

Rememer Miguel Tejada, circa 2002? The utterly indescribable spectacle that he alone put on in the Summer of '02, winning game after game on walk-off hits? The stunning, spine-tingling stupefaction you felt when you saw him raise his hands to the sky in pure ecstasy and jump atop the mob of bobbing Athletics as they celebrated their 18th.. no, 19th... no, TWENTIETH!!!! WIN!!!! IN A ROW!!!!

Well, old Billy Beane didn't give a shit. Not about the streak. Not about Miguel Tejada. Not about how his team won games so long as they DID. Tejada he calls "Mr. Swing-at-Everything." Which he does. Billy Beane hates Tejada because he can't draw walks. Because he doesn't "fit in" to Oakland's "system." Of course, he can drive in the most RBI in the American League with Baltimore.

The point I'm getting at is this: Baseball is not a numbers game. As much as you want to think it's ALL about statistics... as much as you try to break the game down into segments of information and data... as much as you convince yourself that pitchers and batters and defenders are all just the representation of pre-ordained percentages of consequence... as much as you think you have the game all figured out to the slightest infinitesimal decimal... you are wrong.

Go to a game. Buy a hot dog. I don't care, watch it on t.v. You will see something you have never seen before. You will see something no one could have predicted or rationalized or even imagined. Most importantly, you will not see numbers running around on the field, turning an impossible double-play or picking off a man at first or narrowly avoiding a tag at home. These are something numbers cannot predict.

Playoffs, as we all know, leave statistics in the dust. Adam Kennedy CAN hit three homers in a game to win the win the ALCS. Ramon Hernandez CAN drop down a bunt to win a game (Do you think Billy Beane even watched that one?). Brandon Backe CAN pitch one-hit ball for eight innings against St. Louis. But the playoffs are just a microchosm for the regular season. These games happen ALL THE TIME. One hundred and sixty-two of them by each team. And no matter what the statistcis say, circumstance will always prevail. The Devil Rays CAN win 100 games. Impossible is nothing.

Rant over.
I like Derek Lowe fact, I take partial credit for suggesting him as an option to Andy. The real key behind his signing would be the fact that we have a much-improved infield defense. In particular, if we sign Lowe, once Berkman comes back, perhaps we could always start Burke (over Biggio, if he switches back) at 2nd. It's kind of similar to what the Red Sox had planned to do last year - start Pokey Reese at 2nd rather than Bellhorn when Lowe pitches, because he is such an extreme ground ball pitcher.

Some other random thoughts: The Phillies currently have Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Placido Polanco for 2B and SS. Think we could take one of them of their hands? Bucholz for Utley?

The more I think about it, the more a Lamb-for-Cruz trade would rock. We'd be buying low and selling high; Lamb had by far his best year ever, and Cruz has a Gold Glove and a career 790 OPS or so. Maybe he'd benefit from playing by his dad. He's a local guy...I would really like this move. If we don't get Beltran, we'll need a CF, and I can't see how we can do much better than Jose Cruz. Sure, he'd probably bat .250, but he'd draw 75-100 walks, smack 30 HR's, steal 15 bases, play solid defense, a be a fine #2 hitter. We must do this trade.

I'll be watching Adam Everett closely this season. If he can't improve on a .320 OBP, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he should probably be a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner. I don't exactly know who we could get to replace him; Burke is our only really good middle infield prospect (although I like Brooks Conrad, too), so we might think about making a trade.

After Lowe, there's not much else out there in terms of free agent pitchers. I say we give Redding or Duckworth or Carlos Hernandez one last chance to prove themselves. They've all shown potential - Redding was very good in 2003, Duckworth was awesome his rookie year with the Phils, and I vividly remember Carlos Hernandez dominating in his few starts when he first came up. So pit them against each other, see who comes out on top, and cross your fingers.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Sorry, boys. Jose Lima signed with the team that witnessed his rebirth in 2003, the Royals. Oh well. Not like I really wanted him back anyway. Some folks over on AstrosDaily have been saying we'd be crazy NOT to sign him, and that's a bunch of bull. He's a fly ball pitcher and still gives up a lot of homers, so he'd clearly not be a good fit with us.

But you know who would? DEREK LOWE. I posted about him earlier, half jokingly. But if we don't sign Beltran (and by association, Clemens) we'd need to somehow acquire an above-average starting pitcher to even think about contending. Of course, we'd need a centerfielder as well, and a Lamb-for-Cruz deal would rock, regardless of Beltran's status.

Lowe would be a great fit. He's an extreme sinkerball pitcher, which would translate well with our stadium and defense. Of course we'd have to sign the right Derek Lowe. The 21-game-winner-including-a-no-hitter Derek Lowe. The win-all-three-deciding-games-of-each-playoff-series Derek Lowe. Not what came in between. Here are his stats for the past three years. Take a deep breath.

2002: 2.58/ 0.97/ .211/ 219.2/ 166/ 48/ 127/ 63/ 12
2003: 4.47/ 1.42/ .272/ 203.1/ 216/ 72/ 110/ 101/ 17
2004: 5.42/ 1.61/ .299/ 182.2/ 224/ 71/ 105/ 110/ 15

Yes, it looks bad. Yes, it might seem stupid to spend $8 million this guy. But the past two years are not as bad as they seem. Here's some good news: He's only given up 32 homers in those two years. Jamie Moyer gave up FORTY-FOUR just last year! Milton gave up 43! Colon and Darrell May served up 38 apiece. Maddux and Morris each coughed up 35. Buerhle and Vazquez both gave up 33. And our boy Lima served up 33. In Chavez Ravine! Now that is scary. Oswalt, by the way, led the Astros with 17. Yeah.

But back to Lowe. Obviously, he sucked it up big time in '03 and '04. But some of that could be attributed to that blister problem. Remember when he kept bleeding all over his pant leg but refused to be taken out? I think that blister may have taken something off of his rotation or something. Either that, or hitters started being able to read his fastball. My boy Cranston tells me Lowe's fastball (though only 91 or 92 mph) has got the most movement on it than any other pitcher he's seen. It's true.

Remember how he came in to save Game Five of the 2003 ALDS against Oakland? And struck out lefty pinch-hitters Adam Melhuse and Terrence Long BOTH LOOKING with the bases loaded? How those fastballs started sailing right at their hips? And how both hitters turned away, thinking they might get hit? And how the fastballs tailed back right over the inside edge of the plate? And how Lowe pounded his fist on his crotch in the general vicinity of the Oakland dugout? I do.

His career numbers aren't bad. A 3.88 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. Twice as many Ks and BBs. Only 80 homers in 1090 IP. I think all he needs is a change of scenery and some blister-repellent. Sign him up.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Ok ok ok. Today Drayton McLane refuted the rumor of a 6-year, $96 million offer to Beltran.

"We acknowleged that we made an offer, but in no way did we disclose [the numbers]," McLane said. "That [published] offer is a rather large offer. And it was not our offer. I don't know where that came from, but it is way beyond what our offers are."

Well this sure changes things. I still don't know how I feel about the offer, if indeed it was made. It's quite a chunk of change for one player -- $16 million would be a fifth of our estimated $80 million payroll.

But at some point we need to make a splash this offseason. Showing the door to Kent and Miller wure didn't do anything to raise fan interest. Losing out on Beltran and Clemens would doom us for sure.

So here's my final analysis of our important moves so far this offseason:

Oct. 28: Exercised option on Biggio ($3 million). I think this is fine. Can you imagine the uproar if we let him go? I heard this was a main reason why Hunsicker left. But Biggio still can be an above average lead-off man. Besides, if Varitek can get 4 years, $40 million, Biggio deserves $3 million.

Oct. 28: Declined option on Kent. Very good move. Yes, Kent was a superb player for the Astros. He obviously wasn't anything near his 2000 MVP season, but who expected him to? With Burke and Biggio as possible second-baggers, we couldn't afford Kent. He was a great player, but not worth $8 or even $7 million at this point in his career.

Nov. 2: Gerry Hunsicker resigns, Tim Pupura named GM. Hmmm. As mentioned above, I heard the Hun left in part because Biggio's option was picked up. I wonder why Gerry was so adamant against keeping Biggio? Purpura hasn't been so great so far... Just check out what he's done for us so far. Maybe there's a big ole Beltran signing on the way.

Dec. 3: Jose Vizcaino re-signed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract with $500K in incentives. Buh'oh. Jack calls it PVS: Proven Veteran Syndrome. We've already gone over this. But here are my thoughts, quite briefly: Viz is terrible. He should not be a Major Leaguer. I hate him.

Dec. 8: Orlando Palmeiro re-signed to a one-year, $800K contract. This signing isn't as bad as Vizcaino. Palmeiro isn't nearly so bad a player as Vizcaino and he's getting a lot less. Get this: his career Slugging is lower than his career OBP. Weird.

Dec. 8: Offered arbitration to Beltran and Clemens. Denied arbitration to Kent, Miceli and Oliver. These were all no-brainers except for Kent. Clemens since accepted, so he'll either play for us or play for nobody. Beltran did not accept, as everyone knew he would. The best thing the Astros have done so far this offseason is RELEASING MICELI!!! YEAH!!!!

Dec. 21: Tendered contracts to Berkman, Lamb, Duckworth, Munro, Oswalt and Redding. Did not tender contract to Miller. Sooo confusing. If MIller accepted a incentive-based contract from Boston, why didn't we offer him one? I DON'T GET IT. Miller is a GREAT pitcher. If he ain't hurt, he can dominate. He won 45 games from 2001-03. And we let him go. Hmm. I hate to say it, but I HOPE the doctors found something wrong with his shoulder. Just so that we didn't do such a stupid move.

And here we are. I hope I see Beltran's name on here soon.
The Astros made a significant offer to Beltran Wednesday. Rumors from the Chronicle have our offer at 6 years for $96 million. McLane, Purpura and Tal Smith all met with the big boy in the Astros spring training facility at Kissimmee, Fla., where we showed him a video clip of his highlights and the fans going crazy, etc. McLane also reaffirmed our commitment to winning and our integrity toward keeping our veteran players.

This is all fine and dandy. But I worry that these things are not exactly what matters to Beltran. He has voiced his opinion many times that he wants to compete. Meaning that if he signs with the Astros, he doesn't want to be the only one there. Meaning that the Astros need to make mutli-year deals to Berkman and Oswalt. Of course, the Astros probably haven't spoken to those guys once this offseason because they're so worried about getting Beltran. And round and round we go.

As far as the offer goes, I think it might be a bit too much already, and I am worried that we might go even higher. I hope we don't. $16 million a year is a damn lot, and it really inhibits our felxibility for the next six years. Hell, that's a fifth of our payroll! Factor in Bagwell's and Pettitte's backloaded salaries for 2005 and 2006, and we might be stuck. Think about it. We'll have no room for nice deals for Berkman and Oswalt if three players are taking up half our payroll already.

So here's the deal. I think signing Beltran for 6 years, $96 million would be a good deal. Beltran is probably worth the money. He can do everything. The little things -- defense and baserunning in particular -- augment his ability at the plate. Equally important is the fact that he's injury-free. Plus he's coming up on the best years of his career. Plus I think the market in all likelihood will soon open up again. And big free agents will resume signing A-Rod and Manny-like deals.

Besides, after letting Kent and Miller walk (even though I do not dislike either decision), the Astros have got to do something to raise the energy back to where it was last year. Beltran will provide us with all the crowd support we need. And if we get Clemens out of it, all the better.

Maybe the Astros can sign Oswalt and Berkman to back-loaded contracts. Let them have only 3 or 4 million until Bagwell and Pettitte are done. Then give them the big bucks. We cannot give up on them for the sake of Beltran.

Sixteen days until Jan. 8.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

...and Wade Miller signs with the Red Sox for a guaranteed 1.5 million, plus up to 3 million more in incentives. This is scary for two reasons: it's a great deal for the Red Sox, and it's almost EXACTLY what Andy predicted we should do with Miller - sign him to a 1 year deal with plenty of incentives, kinda similar to what Nomar did with the Cubs. To be fair, the Astros couldn't offer Miller less in arbitration than what he made last year (3.4 million, I think), but we could have made him a similar offer after releasing him. Why didn't we? I don't know. This offseason has been pretty depressing - our two 'moves' have been to re-sign Viz and Orlando Palmeiro for a total of 1.5 million, and it seems like everything has been focused on signing Beltran. Berkman? Oswalt? Anyone else? Nope, take a back seat to Carlos Beltran, who (while being a great player), is likely to be overpaid by the Yankees, especially now that they didn't get Randy.

I say let Beltran sign with the Yankees for 8 years / 120 million, sign Berkman and Oswalt to 4 or 5 year deals for around 40 or 50 million each, get a cheap OF (Jose Cruz, Dustan Mohr) to fill in for Berkman, trade Lamb for either aforementioned OFer or relief help, and....well, that leaves our rotation. As of right now, it's Oswalt / Pettitte / Backe. Other options? I really don't know. Andy, what do you think?

Yeah. Good question. Here's the deal: if we don't sign Beltran, we gotta have a backup plan. Of course, if we do lose Beltran, we might not even compete in 2005. But if we do not sign Beltran, we will have plenty of money to spend. I hope that we put this money to good use. We don't need a huge signing like Magglio or Delgado or whatever. I hope we put that toward Berkman and Oswalt. They SOOO GOOD.

I agree with Jack that we need to sign an OF -- preferably a centerfielder -- if we don't sign the big fella. Someone like Cruz would be sweet. Burnitz would cost more and is older and slower.

Anyway, the point is, I hope the front office isn't relying on Beltran. I think the worst thing would be to wait until Jan. 7, then make a mistake by paying $17 a year to the guy. I mean as good as he appears to be, he ain't worth it all. He ain't worth signing away the future (i.e. Oswalt and Berkman)

Now as far as the rotation goes, I have no idea. Here are the ONLY free agents out there: Millwood, Nomo, Loaiza, Lima, Lowe, Odalis Perez, Steve Sparks, Shane Reynolds, Omar Daal, Pedro Astacio. That don;t look to good. So, uh.... we might see a little too much of Duckworth and Redding next year. Which is not a good thing.

Whatever. Let's go play poker.
So we non-tendered Wade Miller, meaning he will not be an Astros in 2005. The Blue Jays, Rangers and Reds are apparently interested, although I'm sure many more team sare as well.

I'm sure 90 percent of Astros fans are shocked and appalled. They're thinking to themselves, "Now we only have Roy and Andy in the rotation, we'll probably lose Beltran and Clemens, and we'll lose 100 games in 2005." Actually, those things could very well all be correct.

But letting Miler go was not so bad a move as everyone around Houston makes it out to be. Wade made $3.4 million last year, so regardless of his injury status, arbitration would have given him at least $5 million.

I maintain that the Astros doctors saw something wrong with his arm. His recent MRI and physicals probably showed that his frayed rotator cuff hadn't improved since June, when he last pitched. The Astros probably didn;t feel confident in his ability to stay healthy, and that's fine.

I hope we at least tried to negotiate a multi-year deal with incentives up the wazoo. But I guess it just didn't work out. Don;t get me wrong... I'm not hoping he gets hurt for another team. But if he pitches 200+ innings with a 3.50 ERA, we're gonna look like chumps.

OK. Jack will tell you more about this. Flagstaff is cool.


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Miller time. Do we offer him arbitration? Do we sign him to a mutli-year deal? Do we non-tender him? So many possibilities... so little time. We have by 11 p.m. Monday to offer arbitration to Miller — along with Oswalt, Berkman, Munro, Redding, Duckworth and Lamb.

And when he's on, he can dominate like Oswalt, man. That sinker just bites and no one can even get their bat near his ball. He's a workhorse, too. He won 14 games per year from 2001-03, so he knows how to win.

But his arm has had a long history of arm problems. He's been able to pitch through them for the most part (which is not necessarily a good thing). He shut down for the season on June 15 this year due to a frayed rotator cuff, and he hasn't thrown since. He didn't undergo surgery since nothing was torn, but he won't throw until January.

According to team reports, his arm look very good. His MRIs and physical exams look "promising," according to the Chronicle. But as Jack will tell you, pitchers with injuries will continue to have injuries. Generally, those without injuries will continue to pitch pain-free.

I wonder what kind of contract he'd receive if he went to arbitration. He got $3.4 million last year, and $525,000 the year before that. So despite , he probably receive upwards of $4 million. That's no chump change.

Murphy tells us that if we sign Miller, he'll fall apart. But the minute we trad ehim or let him go, he will win 20 games for another team. So, what do you do?

I don't know. Ideally, we could work out an incentive-laden contract with him. Offer him milllions if he reaches 200 IP. But start at a base salary of only $1.5 or $2 million. That's what Miller's worth. If he pitches 200 pain-free innings, he commands $5 or $6 million. If he shuts it down in June again, he ain't worth squat. I like Miller; he's a fierce competitor and a great pitcher. I hope he wants to remain an Astro and Houston wants to keep him.

Friday, December 17, 2004

We've all heard the rumors around Randy Johnson. In the proposed three-team trade, the Yankees would get Randy, the Diamondbacks would get Shawn Green, Brad Penny and Yhency Brazoban and the Dodgers would get Javier Vazquez and prospects Dioner Navarro and Eric Duncan. Here's why it won't happen:

First of all, the deal is contingent on Green waiving his no-trade clause. No way he does this. Even though everyone in La La Landhates him because he can't stop sucking, the Dodgers are a better team. He won't be willing to go to the god-awful D-backs.

Secondly, the Yanks are the only team here that would benefit. Yes, the D-backs would get very good players in Penny and Green. But — oh yeah — they lose one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Dodgers would give up these very good players for a very mediocre player. Vazquez is anything but a dependable pitcher. He's clearly not an upgrade over Penny. So why would the Dodgers do this trade?

According to Jayson Stark, the Dodgers banked on resigning Beltré, which makes sense because they would lose an important power hitter in Green in this trade. Now there's no way in hell the Dodgers do this.

Unfortunately, this trade would be good for the Astros. The Yankees appear to me a tad more tightly-wound this season. I heard rumors that the Yankees (i.e. Steinbrenner) were lying about how much dough they were raking in with their t.v. contract. So they might be a little more frugal than normal. And if they did acquire Randy, they'd no doubt have to pay all of his $17 million salary. That would definitely bind their wallets, along with the signings of Pavano and Wright, and give us the edge in the Beltran sweepstakes. But that's cool.

Hey, check this out. I wanted to look at two rebuilding teams, the Diamondbacks and the Mariners. Both are coming off horrific seasons in which they half-expected to contend. Then injuries and sucking caught up to them, and they lost 210 games between them. Ouch. Now both are trying to bring back their fan base with big free-agent signings and the promise of an exciting season in 2005.

First, Jack's new hometown team, the Diamondbacks. Ah, those lovable, scrappy kids. They play the game the way it was meant to be played and give 110% heart and so on. Of course, they have to play all those kids because they gave up half their starting lineup this time last year for one bum shoulder. Yeah, that deal really panned out.

But not to worry, they just brought back the crown jewel of that trade. That's right. Craig Counsell is back. And by gummit, he's waving that bat even higher than ever. Unfortunately he's one of EIGHT infielders (Cintron, Clayton, Gil, Hairston, Hillenbrand, Kata, Tracy) who share two things in common: they have nowhere to play and they suck.

And it looks as though they replaced Sexson's bum shoulder with another in Mr. Troy Glaus. Ah, and even though they're trying as hard as they can to get rid of Randy, they won't let Russ Ortiz slip away. Ugh. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 2005 Diamondbacks:

Luis Terrero? - CF
Cintron / Clayton - SS
Glaus - 3B
Gonzo - LF
Hillenbrand - 1B
Hammock - C
Josh Kroeger? - RF
Hairston / Kata / Counsell - 2B

Doof. Fugly. Pug Fugly. Wait a second... what's that I hear? A Diamondbacks executive in the distance? I can... I can barely make it out... I think he's saying the Diamondbacks are close to acquiring a power-hitting outfielder. Unless it's Manny or Sosa, I don't think a Kevin Mench or a Craig Wilson is gonna put them over the top. That lineup... well, it's just not a good lineup.

Their rotation doesn't get much better:
Randy (probably gone)
Russ Ortiz (probably sucks)
Brandon Webb (might not suck)
Edgar Gonzalez (definitely sucks)
Casey Fossum (A&M alum! But he sucks left-handed)
If / when Randy leaves, bring in Gracie!

The 2005 Diamonbacks might very well be worse than the 2004 Diamondbacks. And they'll have the overrated, underacheiving Glaus and Ortiz for years to come. Good thing I don't live in Arizona.

Let's move north, where it looks like the Mariners might actually contend next season. I initially thought their free-agent singings were as bad as the D-backs. Beltre and Sexson are obviously a better pair than Glaus and Ortiz. But Sexson's shoulder might blow out on him at any time, and Beltre just might not produce. I can see him getting frustrated within a month because his homerun totals are down. Then he starts pressing, like he did for six years with the Dodgers. It could get ugly. Or he could dominate. You just never know. Check out their lineup:

Ichiro RF
Winn CF
Sexson 1B
Beltre 3B
Boone 2B
Ibañez LF
Reed / Jacobsen DH
Olivo / Wilson C
Jose Lopez SS

That's pretty solid. Boone is capable of big things (see 2001), and both Ibañez and Winn can put up OBPs near .350. I know baseball stat lovers like to dismiss Ichiro as an overrated player. Sure, he doesn't take as many walks as your prototypical leadoff hitter. But as my buddy Ryan says, who needs to take walks when you hit .370?

Mariners Rotation:
Some other guy

Yikes. Didn't these guys all win 10 games before the All-Star break two years ago? Now it just looks BAD. But if Moyer pitches like he did when he was 45, he can be solid. Lucky for the Mariners, the A's have started their decline. Tim Hudson's departure marks in my mind the end of an era in Oakland. Sure they have Mulder, Zito, Harden and my boy Kirk Saarloos. But I don't see them staying atop the baseball world without Hudson. He's just sooo good. The Angels will still take the West, but the Mariners will be with them til the end. One more pitcher (a Matt Clement or Derek Lowe type) and they might just take it.

Ok. Til next time. Ta ta.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Clemens won't sign unless Beltran signs. Beltran won't sign unless Berkman and Oswalt signs. And Ausmus ain't going anywhere. One thing's for certain: the next month will be critical for the next few years of the franchise.

Is it too early to start discussing long-term deals with Oswalt and Berkman? Berkman said in the paper recently that he's a little pissed that management hasn't contacted him at all this offseason. That's understandable.

I still think that Berkman and Oswalt are the key to the Astros' succes in the next few years. Oswalt is amazing, and no longer an injury concern. And no offense to Beltran, but Berkman is the better slugger. Their career stats:

Berkman: 2683 AB, .303, .416, .563 (.980!), 156 HR, 535 RBI
Beltran: 3467 AB, .284, .353, .490 (.844), 146 HR, 569 RBI

Notice I didn't say Berkman is the better baseball player. Beltran can win games with his defense and his baserunning abilities. Berkman eats jelly donuts.

But the fact of the matter is this: If we focus on Beltran too much, we may piss the heck out of Berkman regardless of whether or not we land Beltran. I don't know. I just want them to be together... forever...

Enough reality. Let's dream for a second. DISCLAIMER: None of these players will be an Astro in 2005. I'm not saying we could or even should sign these players. Just think. Open your mind. There is no spoon.

Derek Lowe. If Rocket doesn't sign, our pitching staff is going to be a wee bit shaky in 2005. We'll have Oswalt and Backe for sure (and don't try to tell me Backe has to fight to earn his spot... eight innings of one-hit ball against THE CARDINALS is proof enough for me). Then we got Pettitte and Miller, but those guys are anything but dependable. The last line of defense is the old Redding/Hernandez/Duckworth quagmire, and I don't want to touch any of those guys. Lowe is a sinkerball pitcher, and our infield (i.e. Everett) will help him out. If he does sign, let's hope it's the 2002, 21-win, no-hitter Derek Lowe. Or the 2004 win-all-three-deciding-games-in-the-playoffs Derek Lowe. Not what happened in-between. Downside: two words. Scott Boras.

Moises Alou. Yeah!!! Why not? And don't tell me, "Because he's 38 and wants a two-year deal and he can barely bend his knees in that weird stance anymore and if he ever tries to catch a fly ball, his body will shatter into a million pieces like that cup in The Usual Suspects." Just don't. You'd be wasting your breath. I already know. Oh yeah, he pisses on his hands. I've tried this. No luck.

A.J. Pierzynski. Career averages: .294, .336, .438. Ausmus' last four years average in Houston: .240, .305, .330. Not much to say here. Actually, Pierzynski isn't the greatest. Apparently he had more HBPs than unintentional walks last year. For the second year in a row. Wowee wow wow. Then again, anything looks good next to the horror that is Brad Ausmus. It's like putting some small, innocent puppy next to Barstool. That puppy... well, it just doesn't make the cut. Not against Barstool.

Jose Cruz Junior. The Cruzes are reunited! Cruz would fill Berkman's void for the first month or so. And once everyone sees his .350 OBP, we might have a Lane-Cruz platoon going when the fat man returns. I've heard speculation that we're offering Lamb for Cruz. I'd be in favor of this. Enough babying for Ensberg. Someone needs to slap him upside his nerdy little face and say, "No more pussy-footin' around, little boy! Time to do the nasty!" Well, you get my jist. Get ridda Lamb while he's got some value. Make the D-Rays pick up a million of Cruz's $4 million paycheck, and we got ourselves a deal. May we never see Orlando Palmeiro again.

Jeremy Burnitz. An alternative should Steiny wake up one day and find like $200 million in his jeans pocket. But in case you forgot where he played last year, allow me to remind you: the moon. His home and away stats:

Moon: .322, .386, .670 (1.057)
Not Moon: .244, .327, .488 (.775)

You know who's better than that? Mr. Twenty-eight-year-old-on-Dec.-22 Jason Lane. Happy b-day slash Christmas buddy. I wonder what was on his wish list this year. Maybe, 400 ABs??? Anyone???

Brad Fullmer. He creamed the ball in Anaheim (.888 OPS in 2002 and 2003), but always gets hurt. I say he'd be a perfect fit for us! By the time his knee falls off, Berkman will be ready to go! Yay!

Orlando Hernandez. Do it. Let's continue our rotation of old Yankee pitchers. While we're at it, let's nab David Cone.

Steve Kline. I'm serious about this one. He'd probably command a two-year deal, but he'd be worth it. Besides, what was our one weakness this October? Dan Miceli. Oh man. Still gives me nightmares. But now that he's off folding orgami, we got room for this guy. Bring him over.

Jim Mecir. I hear his hand is deformed. Cool. I've always wanted a screwball pitcher on my team.

Jeff Nelson. Again, bullpen help. Plus, he looks EXACTLY like Jeff Kent. Just tell him to say things like, "Well, sir, I'm thinkin' ma truck needs a scrub," and you'll never know the difference.

Oh yeah, and there's also Delgado, Clement, Drew, Millwood, Nomo, Magglio and JOSE LIMA! We must! Casa Ole! Fresh Today!

Friday, December 10, 2004

A lot of important stuff indeed. First, a few reaction to some of your summaries, Andy...

I agree with you about Jeff Kent - he's a good player, but probably not worth 17 million over the next two years. The key here is that we have options - either Lane or Burke is now almost guaranteed plenty of playing time. The Astros are in a unique situation in that we're in between rebuilding and contending. Part of me wants to go for it all while we still have Biggio and Bagwell, and if you do that, you might keep Kent. But at the same time, you have to look towards the future at some point.

The only thing that concerns me is that Beltran has reportedly requested that the Astros re-sigm Berkman, Oswalt, Everett (?), and Kent if they want him to sign. But then again, not signing Kent allows us to offer more money to Beltran. I've read that we've offered him 6/81, which I think is absolutely reasonable, but I think it'll take more. Maybe 7/100?

Taking Pettitte and Clemens at once: Pettitte is not an elite pitcher, but we absolutely need him healthy. We really don't have any great minor league options and the free agent market is pretty awful. Best case: Oswalt Pettitte Miller Clemens Backe. More likely: Oswalt Pettitte Miller Backe Hernandez/Duckworth/Redding. I think Clemens is done, and I don't think he 'owes' anyone another year.

On to your free-agent signings:

Troy Glaus to the D-Backs, 4 years, 45 million. Ridiculously bad. The D-Backs have Hillenbrand and Tracy at 1st and 3rd, respectively, and both are decent, so why risk 45 million on an oft-injured player that can only play 1st or 3rd. He might be worth it if he's healthy, but this is not what the D-Backs need.

Brad Radke to the Twins (two years, $18 million). Third best pitcher in the AL right here. Schilling, Pedro, Santana, Hudson. Which two of those guys is Radke better than? I could probably throw in Mulder and Halladay for guys I'd rather have next year. Not to say that Radke is bad, (he's constantly underrated), but I don't know about 9 mil / year.

Check out sometime to see ZIPS (basically a formula that predicts performance based on age, comparables, etc.) predictions for Astros next year.

Of particular note:


Chris Burke: 284 / 352 / 401, 10 HR, 52 BB, 25 SB. I like. If he does this well (or even fairly close to this) I'll be really happy we let Kent go.

Morgan Ensberg: 279 / 356 / 437, 14 HR, 48 BB. Apparently ZIPS thinks 2003 wasn't a total fluke for Ensberg. This includes Lamb getting plenty of AB's also. I've come around to thinking we should still go for a semi-platoon of Ensberg and Lamb, with the odd one out getting plenty of PH AB's.

Mike Lamb: 277 / 355 / 446, 11 HR, 37 BB. Good thing they can't predict defense - Lamb is still pretty bad defensively. I wouldn't want him playing 3rd when Pettitte, a lefty ground-ball pitcher, is going. But he can still rake, especially against fastball pitchers. You can't throw a fastball past this guy.

Lance Berkman, 306 / 436 / 551, 31 HR, 124 BB. Mmmmmmmmmmm. Get well soon.

Craig Biggio, 245 / 310 / 384, 14 HR, 40 BB. Yikes!! Is that prediction is anywhere close to what Biggio does, we should probably let him be Super Utility Man and let Burke and Lane play.

Jason Lane, 280 / 345 / 470, 12 HR, 32 BB. Let him play. He has a weird looking swing, bats righty despite throwing lefty...I don't care. Let him play.

Oh, quick note: Mike Coolbaugh, my 3rd baseman of the future? He's 33. Oops. Still had a big year, though.

Carlos Beltran (if signed): 278 / 373 / 527, 34 HR, 89 BB, 38 SB. An even 900 OPS, good power, good defense, the best stolen base percentage ever, and (maybe most importantly) no injury concerns at all.

Pitching next time. Long story short:
They don't think Brandon Backe is as good as he looked.
They like Ezequiel Astacio (25 year old prospect.)
Oh Lidge. Oh behbeh.
They like Munro????

More to come later.

Lots of important stuff Thursday. Let's get right to it.

JEFF KENT signed a two-year, $17 million deal with the Dodgers. I can't really tell you how I feel about this deal. Tell you the truth, I can't really tell you how I feel about Jeff Kent right now. I mean, the guy has hit the most homers of any second baseman ever. And the three-run, game-winning, walk-off blast he hit off Isringhausen in Game Five in the NLCS was quite possibly the greatest experience of my life as an Astro fan.

But he's 37. Which means he will decline, probably very rapidly. And even though his numbers with us (roughly .295 / .350 / .520) were very very good, I don't think we should have signed him. Chris Burke looks a decent enough player, but I'm hoping that we move Bidge back to second. I'm sure his defense would be adequate, and that way Lane finally gets his chance.

But back to Kent: I heard from that negotiations broke down when we refused to offer him a no-trade clause. Apparently we were offering a one-year, $7 million deal with an option for a second year at the same price. That seems quite reasonable. The Dodgers' $17 million for two is risky and steep. But they're getting a quality player. I'll miss him.

ANDY PETTITTE threw Thursday for the first time since his surgery in August to repair a tear in his flexor tendon. "I feel good," he said. "Right now, it's just like baby steps. [There was] no pain. More than anything I feel like my shoulder is just a little cranky because I haven't thrown in so long. It's encouraging. I've had problems with my elbow the last nine years off and on. I'm just excited that I'm feeling good."

We all knew Pettitte was a risky sign last year. But with Williams, Wright, Ortiz and Morris all signed and Clemens far from a sure thing, quality free-agent pitchers are becoming a scarcity. Pettitte's elbow must be 100 percent in 2005 for the Astros to compete.

ROGER CLEMENS said Thursday: "If I had to decide today, I'd say I'm not playing. But I'm not saying that. My wife and family want me to wait until after I take a vacation before I make a decision. I'm not ready to say yes or not about my future. I know which way I'm leaning, but I want to get away on vacation a while and see how I feel after that."

I personally feel like Rocket owes us another year. He had the ball in his hand for Game Seven of the NLCS, but blew it on back-to-back pitches: an rbi-double by Pujols and a two-run homer by Rolen. Ouch. I'm surprised he didn't come out and take the blame (a la Kerry Wood after the 2003 NLCS). But then again, he did have a phenonemal year, and yet another Cy Young. Anything, not much new here. But my money's on Rocket starting Game One 2005.

Now then, there have been about a gazillion free-agent signings already, and the Winter Meetings haven't even started yet! That's a great part of baseball: it's exciting even in the off-season. I went and ranked some of the bigger signings thus far. Here's the skinny:

The GOOD (signings):

Troy Glaus to the D-Backs (four years, $45 million). He'll be worth it if he stays healthy.

Jermaine Dye to the White Sox (two years, $10 million). I like it. Dye really fell off in the second half last year, but if he can produce like he did in 2001 with the Royals, Kenny Williams will be a genius.

Brad Radke to the Twins (two years, $18 million). Third best pitcher in the AL right here.

Nomar to the Cubs (one year, $8 million). The contract is heavily-incentive based and has an option for another year. Cubs will be damn good again next year.

Todd Walker to the Cubs (one year, $2.5 million). Walker is a good player, defense be damned. Cubs are going to be real good again next year. That infield!

Woody Williams to the Padres (one year, $3.5 million). I was hoping we'd sign him for about this much money, but we got beat to the punch. Woody is 38, but has shown that he can still play. Plus, the contract is very incentive-based.

Julio Franco to the Braves (one year, $1 million). These are the types of players who deserve $1 million. NOT Jose Vizcaino.

Matt Morris to the Cardinals (one year, $2.5 million). That's damn good! Remember 2001, when Morris won 22 games? He's still got it in him; he's only 30. Bengie Molina and Bob Wickman are making more next year.

Cal Eldred to the Cardinals (one year, $600K). I only mention this one because it illustates how great the Cardinals are about not overpaying for quality talent. Eldred took a pay cut after posting a 3.76 ERA last year. Damn good!

John Mabry (one year, $725K). See above. Damn the Cardinals are good.

Matt Mantei (one year, $750K). BoSox can do it too. Good signing here. Mantei has potential to beast like he did a few years ago.


Armando Benitez to the Giants (three years, $21.5 million). I guess this guy is okay. He had a pretty good year last year. I'm just not high on overpaying for top-notch relievers. I am super-pumped for three more years of BRAD LIDGE!!!!

Troy Percival to the Tigers (two years, $12 million). See above. Again, Percy is probably going to help the Tigers, but they could have spend equal money on somebody (Kent?) that would help them much more. Apparently the Tigers want to contend this year.

Jaret Wright to the Yankees (three years, $21 million). I don't know if he can get it done without Mazzone. Wright has a history of being a headcase. He might wig out in New York.

Al Leiter to the Marlins (one year, $8 million). He's 39. Sure, he had a decent year last year, but old, lefty control specialists seem to get lit up toward the end of their careers (Glavine, Moyer)

Jon Leiber to the Phillies (three years, $21 million). Leiber was solid last year, but I don't know about $7 million. That might be too much. We'll see though.

Damian Miller (three years, $8.5 million). Miller's a decent catch, but for for $3 million a year. And certainly not for three years!


Tony Womack (two years, $4 million). Um..... what? The Yankees may not have noticed, but Miguel Cairo was not half bad last year. Womack is bad and will get worse.

Henry Blanco to the Cubs (two years, $2.7 million). This rivals our Brad Ausmus deal, because Blanco rivals Ausmus' ineptitude at the plate. What were they thinking?

Vinny Castilla to the Nationals (two years, $6.2 million). He's 37. And he posted a sub-.300 OBP away from Coors Field last year. Watch out.

Christian Guzman to the Nationals (four years, $16.8 million). Ugh. Washington will get tired of this guy after four months. They got him for four years. He can't steal anymore, and his numbers have been in a steady decline the past few years. Why?!?

Omar Vizquel to the Giants (three years, $12.25 million). Sure, he's a great fielder, and amazingly has revitalized his hitting. But c'mon. He's 37. The Giants will be in pain from this signing. And soon.

Paul Wilson to the Reds (two years, $8.2 million). The Reds are in trouble if that's the best they can do.

Rheal Cormier to the Phillies (two years, $5.25 million). What?!? Who gives more than $1 million to a set-up man? Nonsense right here.

Dustin Hermanson to the White Sox (two years, $5.5 million). WHAT?!? This guy is worse than Cormier! Did anyone actually see his stats last year? Pathetic.

OK, That's it for tonight. Hope you had a good time. I know I did. Tomorrow: What I Absolutely Hate About Billy Beane

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Yes, yes we did. I think one reason Vizcaino inspires adoration in so many Astros fans is the fact that he doesn't seem to make many glaring errors. He doesn't strike out much, instead preferring to hit weak ground balls to 2nd on the first pitch. He doesn't make many mistakes in the field when he can get to the ball, although he's not fast and has little range. And, of course, he'll never lose the luster from the Game 1 winning hit in the Subway Series a few years back.

And I think people don't like change. Why sign a younger, better player or give Chris Burke a chance when you can wallow in the filth that is Vizcaino? At least you know what you're getting. You don't risk disappointment.

Ok, enough. The bright side is that we let Jeff Kent go, apparently, clearing the way for either Chris Burke or (I think) Biggio slides back to 2nd (hey, Bidge, time to change positions again!) and Jason Lane finally gets a shot at a major league job. Burke becomes heir apparent to Bidge.

I don't mind the Orlando Palmeiro signing too much. He's still good defensively, puts up a decent OBP, and of course has no power to speak of. There are plenty of guys I'd rather have (Grieve, Hollandsworth, etc.) as a 4th OF, but you could do worse. I think.

In other news, Twins sign Radke (18 mil / 2 yrs, too much I think) Yankees sign Wright and Womack (HAHAHA) and Nomar and Todd Walker sign with the Cubs (8 mil + possible incentives and 2.5 mil). Great signs by the Cubs. I've gotta tip my cap to Jim Hendry - he's made some great moves the last few years. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Barrett, Matt Clement...well done, sir. If Nomar has a late 90's kinda year he'll be worth every penny and then some, and the Cubs will probably win the division.

I'm still curious to see what we do with the bullpen and if we don't win the Beltran sweepstakes. Guess I'll wait and see.
The All-Free Agent Team:

C: Varitek
1B: Delgado
2B: Kent
3B: Beltre
SS: Renteria
OF: Beltran, Magglio, Drew
Bench: Sexson, Finley, Hidalgo, Alou, Glaus
P: Pedro, Clemens, Pavano, Clement, Wright
Pen: Lowe, Morris, Ortiz, Williams, Millwood, Ugey
Closer: JOSE LIMA!

(I wanted to use Percival and Nomar, but they’ve already signed. Hidalgo can be the backup utility infielder, right?)

P.S. If the Cards can sign John "No-gloves-but-still-cranks-the-hell-out-of-the-ball" Mabry to a $750,000 deal, WHY ARE WE SIGNING VIZCAINO AND PALMEIRO TO THESE CRAZY DEALS???? And why does everyone on AstrosDaily love Vizcaino? I'll admit he's cute and snuggly like a teddy bear, but he plays like one too! He is rubbish. We basically just took a million dollars, wiped our ass with it, lit it on fire, flushed it down the toilet and then punched ourselves in the nuts. Gah.