Let's talk about the Astros bench.
I'm going to assume we pull off a trade for a CF, whether it's Winn, Cruz, Cameron, or whomever. I'll also assume that Berkman misses the first month of the season. If there is any silver lining to Lance's injury, it's that we could play Biggio / mystery CF / Lane in the OF until Berkman comes back and we could give Chris Burke some solid playing time at 2B. The other alternative would be to keep Biggio at 2B and start Palmeiro in RF. So you're essentially choosing between Chris Burke (tons of potential, good speed, good defense) vs. Orlando Palmeiro (9 HR in 1909 career AB's). PLEASE go with Burke. Then when Berkman comes back, we go Lane / CF / Berkman, and move Biggio back to 2B. I would really like it if Burke still got the starts when Pettitte is pitching, because he is a groundball pitcher and Burke is superior defensively to Biggio.
That way Burke could get maybe 20 starts (Berkman out) + 25 starts (after Berkman comes back, when Pettitte pitches) = 45 starts = 200 AB's, minimum. We need to see what he can do.
Ok, so once Berkman gets back, here's our bench, as I see it:
Orlando Palmeiro, OF
Willy Taveras, OF
Mike Lamb, CI
Jose Vizcaino, MI
Chris Burke, MI
Raul Chavez, C
One thing stands out at me when I look at that bench: No right-handed power. At all. None. The only possible source of RH power woud be Chris Burke, and he didn't show much power before 2004.
This is a big problem. Why? Well, pinch hitters are pretty important to the Astros. Why is that? Because 7-8-9. Everett, Ausmus, pitcher. That's 3 lineup spots that may well put up 700 OPS or below. We need some big bats off the bench. Lamb will certainly be our first PH option, then probably Palmeiro / Viz, and then....?? Taveras is better suited to be a LIDR (late inning defensive replacement) and pinch runner, and Raul Chavez ain't exactly great with the bat.
I'm not exactly sure what we can do here. My first choice would be to give Taveras a year in AAA and sign a cheap, 1 year deal with an OF that could provide some power from the right side (ideally, one that just crushes lefties). Palmeiro would be a fine LIDR, and Burke would make a great pinch-runner. So who's out there?
Brian Jordan, career, vs. LHP: .318 / .372 / .556 (928 OPS). He also is an excellent fielder for his career.
I'll never forgive him for the Walt Weiss playoff game against the Astros, where I think he went 5-for-5 with 4 RBI or some crap. And he can't hit righties at all anymore. And he was pretty terrible in '04. But the 3 years before that he put up OPS+'s of 110, 119, and 113 (100 is league average), and he'd be cheap. He only made 1.25 million last year, and he was terrible; I think a 1 year / 800K deal would be well worth it. Oh, and one last note about "there aren't any good LHP in the NL Central." Mark Mulder might have something to say about that now. Anyway, a lefty-crusher and solid fielder. It might be worth it.
Some of the recent news in baseball statistical circles has a pitcher's groundball-to-flyball ratio as being incredibly stable. If you read this blog regularly, I often cite the fact that a pitcher doesn't have too much control over batting average allowed. But one stat a pitcher does have control over is his GB / FB ratio. With that in mind, let's look at our starting rotation and their ratios: (Remember, a ratio over 1 means he allows more ground balls, and a ratio under 1 means more fly balls.) The first ratio is that pitcher's GB / FB ration in '04; the 2nd, their career ratio.
Roy Oswalt 1.19 / 1.33
Andy Pettitte 1.88 / 1.74
Roger Clemens* 1.47 / 1.45
Brandon Backe 1.04 / 0.92
Pete Munro 1.68 / 1.75
Tim Redding 1.13 / 1.11
Brandon Duckworth 1.02 / 1.03
Carlos Hernandez 0.80 / 1.08
Notice that the difference is never that great (Hernandez's is the largest, at 0.28, in a small sample size.) Why might these numbers matter? Well, for one, our infield defense might be improved from last year, thanks to Adam Everett staying healthy and Jeff Kent moving on from 2B (though Biggio will probably not be any better). And our OF defense should be better than the 1st half last year (Biggio in CF) but worse than the 2nd half (Beltran in CF). Anyway, see why I like starting Burke at 2nd when Pettitte is pitching? We don't need Biggio's 39 year old legs creaking around there when an extreme groundballer like Pettitte is going. Everyone else is pretty mild, although if Pete Munro (gulp) is our 4th or 5th starter, I wouldn't mind starting Burke there also. Oh, and I imagine Brandon Backe is hoping we don't sign Jeromy Burnitz.
One last thing: there are actually still a few decent relievers still out there. Curtis Leskanic, Steve Reed, and Paul Shuey are all solid; Shuey, in particular, might make a good set-up man to Lidge:
Mike Burns (who I forgot last time but TORE UP Double-A in '04)
Man, I wish we had signed Chris Hammond. Oh well. What does it say about Mike Gallo if we're considering 106-year-old John Franco?
I'm checking for news about a CF pretty often these days. Hopefully we trade Redding and Bruntlett for Randy Winn soon, so I can relax.
You could do worse. How Lane, Ensberg, and Everett do in '05 will be huge.