I'm back in Houston for a week, recharging my batteries before I go back for another semester o' stats at NAU. It's good to be home for a while; I could get used to this weather, and there's always football games on.
But enough small talk...it's time for a Free Agent Update!
I'd like to talk about all the great free-agent deals out there, but I'm going to try and be more realistic and only talk about players that would actually fill in holes the Astros might have. In other words, no Mark McLemore or Mark Grudzielanek, even though both (of course) are waaaay better than Jose Vizcaino.
Eh? Don't we already have Berkman, Biggio, Jason Lane, Palmeiro, Willy Taveras, and maybe even Beltran?
Yes, yes we do. But go down that list again: Berkman - probably out 'til May. Biggio - should never be allowed to play outfield again. Jason Lane - should start every game. This is the year where we find out what he's made of. Ok, one down - Jason Lane, 2005 Astros outfielder. Orlando Palmeiro - I think he can do better than he did last year, and he still put up a .344 OBP. He'll be fine - as a 4th or 5th OF. Willy Taveras - NO. Give him a year at AAA. Keep him away. Beltran - if you've read this blog in the past few weeks or so, you know my thoughts on Beltran. I read today that the Mets REALLY, REALLY want him, to the tune of 8 years / 120-140 million. Okaaaay....so he's gone.
Thus if the season started today, our OF might be Biggio - Palmeiro - Lane, which is absolutely unacceptable and should never be spoken of again. I can stomach one of Biggio / Palmeiro starting if I must (at least until Berkman gets back), but not two. So I think we need another OF. My picks:
Ben Grieve. I know, I always pick this guy. But he's slow, bad defensively, and the A's traded him for some crap a few years ago, and they know what they're doing, so why bother?
402, 386, 358, 359 372, 353, 371, 361. Those are Big Ben's on-base percentages per year, and you might notice that they've NEVER been below 350. Which is damn good. And surprisingly he has a higher career Range Factor than league average. And he's 28 years old. I don't expect him to be great, but look at those OBP's! Sign him. Please?
That's about it for outfielders. Ok, there's Brian Jordan (old, can't hit righties), Jeromy Burnitz (Coors effect), Magglio Ordonez (injury risk, expensive), and Juan Gonzalez (injuries), but I don't like them. So sign Grieve to 1 year / 1.2 million or 2 year / 2 million (he made 700K last year) and you've got a 3rd/4th OF on the cheap.
I talked about this yesterday, and basically narrowed it down to Derek Lowe or Odalis Perez. Well, I'm looking at a huge list of free agents still out there, and I stand by yesterday's statement. You want Esteban Loaiza, Pat Hentgen, or Omar Daal? Me neither.
Derek Lowe. The Good? You might have seen Game 7 of the ALCS or Game 4 of the World Series. The Bad? Everything else in 2004. The guy's trends are TERRIBLE. See Andy's post from a few weeks back. Suffice to say that his ERA is rising faster than Google's stock. He doesn't really strike guys out, he walks too many...
...but he doesn't give up many HR's. And we SHOULD have an improved infield defense (especially if Chris Burke, a shortstop in college, starts at 2B). But I think that Biggio will still get a bulk of the playing time, and Lowe is a Scott Boras client. I say pass.
Odalis Perez. He's young (27), left-handed, and here's his line from last year:
196.3 IP 180 H 44 BB 128 K 26 HR 3.25 ERA.
Not bad, huh? Well, there's just one problem...and that's his numbers away from Dodger Stadium, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball:
106.2 IP 103 H 20 BB 61 K 14 HR 3.21 ERA.
What the?? Well, sometimes stats will surprise you, and it looks to me like Odalis Perez can pitch just fine away from Dodger Stadium. Also, oddly, Perez gave up a 801 OPS to left-handed hitters and only a 680 OPS to right-handed hitters last year, which would be fine in the NL Central, a division with very few great left-handed hitters (more on this later.)
I've read that the Nationals have offered Odalis Perez 3 years / 18 million. I think we can - and should - beat that offer. How does 3 years / 21 million sound, Mr. Perez? I think Odalis Perez will be a huge bargain for whoever signs him, particularly with guys like Kris Benson and Eric Milton getting huge contracts. Perez gives up his share of HR's, but he's got great control, he's young enough that he could improve, and people will be scared off by his only-7 wins last year.
I think he's made a great 3rd starter, and I'd be willing to go as high as 4 years / 32 million for him.
There are still quite a few solid bullpen free agents out there, but first, let's look at what we have:
Brad Lidge. He = pretty good. 157 K's? Get outta here.
Chad Qualls. I put a space between these two for a reason - I don't consider Qualls a great set-up guy yet. He was good last year - 3.55 ERA, 24 K in 33 IP - but I don't think he's that good yet.
Dan Wheeler. I don't know where those playoffs numbers came from, but I like it. Wheeler was great for the Astros last year (2.51 ERA in 14.3 IP) and was actually pretty good for the Mets in 2003 (3.71 ERA in 51.0 IP), and he's only 26, and he's cheap. He'll be fine...in the middle of the bullpen.
Chad Harville - I think the upside alone makes him worth it. He throws the crap out of the ball, and he's got a nasty slider when it's on, he just walks too many guys (27 in 55.2 IP last year) If he can cut down on the walks, he could be excellent, and he'll be cheap.
Those 4 should be locks, in my opinion. We'll have to have a 6th starter / middle relief guy (hopefully whoever is 2nd best after the Redding / Hernandez / Duckworth / Munro / Astacio Spring Training Challenge. If I had to choose, I'd go for Hernandez in this role, because he's left-handed, Duckworth sucks, Munro is boring, Astacio needs another year at AAA, and I think Redding will be the 5th starter).
So that leaves one (or two, I can't remember spots) that might be open. I know, I left out the all-powerful Mike Gallo, but that's for a reason...there aren't any good left-handed hitters in the NL Central!
Well, maybe a few, but check it out:
Ken Griffey Jr.
Ok, that's a few more than I thought, but it's still not that many. The only guys on that list that I would go out of my way to make sure a LH pitcher is facing them would be Edmonds and Dunn. The point is, we don't have to have a LH reliever. Believe me, you don't want to see the list of RH hitters in the NL Central. Wait, you do?
Ok, sometimes you have a plan, and it doesn't work out. With the exception of the top two guys on that list, those hitters don't scare me that much. I had thought that there weren't many good LH hitters in the NL Central, and I was wrong. Sorry. So we need one (or two) LH relievers. Let's assume we put Carlos Hernandez in the 6th starters / middle relief position. So that's one lefty. Should we go with Gallo again? I present an alternative:
Chris Hammond. He's 38, and he was pretty bad until 2002, but Leo Mazzone worked his mumbo jumbo, and since then he's had 0.95 (!!!!!), 2.86, and 2.68 as his ERA's, and he's always had at least 53.7 IP. His numbers against LH batters over the last 3 years:
252 AB 62 H 4 HR 14 BB 49 K 626 OPS allowed. That's pretty good. A lot better than Gallo. He made 2.4 million last year, so he won't come cheap, but how about 1/2.5 or 2/4 for the big guy?
That leaves (maybe) one spot. Even though there are fewer incredible RH batters in the NL Central than I thought, it would still be nice to have a guy that specializes against them.
Meet Steve Reed and Jeff Nelson.
Reed is 39 and had a 3.68 ERA last year. What are you smoking? 1) He kills righties and 2) He pitchers in Coors Field
He's allowed a 636 OPS to righties the last 3 years. That's good. He made 600K. How about 1 year / 750K, Steve?
Nelson's 'only' 38, and he's allowed a 635 OPS to righties the last 3 years (a mighty one point less than Reed). But he made 1.8 million, and he didn't pitch in Coors. (Arlington is pretty close, though.)
So sign Steve Reed (or Antonio Osuna or Paul Shuey, who I didn't talk about but are pretty good, although more generally good than a specialist like Reed, and we already have 'generally good' guys in Qualls, Wheeler, and Harville.)
This post ran a little long. But the most important things are - we need another OF and we REALLY NEED ODALIS PEREZ. SIGN ODALIS PEREZ!!! That's it for now.