NLDS, Game One: 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Oct. 5: Pettitte vs. Hudson.
Purpura announced our roster for the Divisional Series. It's mostly as expected, with Luke Scott winning the 25th spot over Charles Gipson and Zeke Astacio. I like the move; our bench is essentially devoid of power, and despite his poor season I think Scott provides us with some. Besides, Burke can handle Gipson's recent pinch running duties for the DS, since it appears Lamb will get all the starts against the Braves' righties. So here's how the roster shapes out:
C: Ausmus, Chavez
IF: Bagwell, Biggio, Bruntlett, Ensberg, Everett, Lamb, Viz
OF: Berkman, Burke, Lane, Palmeiro, Taveras, Scott
P: Backe, Clemens, Gallo, Lidge, Oswalt, Pettitte, Qualls, Springer, Wheeler, Rodriguez
All this talk about filling out rosters got me thinking about our roster for next year and what kind of off-season we'll have with our payroll. Essentially, it'll be the same core. In fact, everyone but Ausmus, Springer and a guy named Clemens are either signed to a contract or are still under club control.
Financially, we're in a mess: Our huge backloaded contracts with Bagwell and Pettitte kick in BIG TIME, and Oswalt and Berkman get their first taste of huge contract money. In fact, we owe $64 million to those five: Pettitte ($17.5 million), Bagwell ($17), Berkman ($14.5), Oswalt ($11) and Biggio ($4). That's already more than San Diego's payroll this year. Yikes. Add in substantial raises for Ensberg and Lidge, and smaller raises all the way around, and we might have to face an unfortunate fact:
We can't afford Clemens next year.
Not if he wants more than $10 million, anyway. The way I see it, we can barely afford to field a team without him. Here's who we have for 2006 (contracts are in parentheses; question marks are my attempts at arbitration deals):
C Quintero (0.3?)
1B Bagwell (17)
2B Biggio (4)
3B Ensberg (3?)
SS Everett (1?)
IF/OF Bruntlett (0.5?)
IF Lamb (1?)
LF Berkman (14.5)
CF Taveras (0.5?)
RF Lane (0.75?)
LF/2B Burke (0.5?)
OF Scott (0.5?)
SP Oswalt (11)
SP Pettitte (17.5)
SP Backe (1.5?)
SP Astacio (0.5?)
SP Wandy (0.5?)
RP Lidge (3?)
RP Burns (0.3?)
RP Qualls (0.5?)
RP Wheeler (0.5?)
RP Gallo (0.5?)
That's just under $80 million for 22 players. If Drayton wants to keep payroll around $85 million, we don't have much to work with this offseason. Hopefully Bagwell stays healthy. I've heard folks calling for his retirement (or at least a restructuring of his contract), but this is madness. The fact is the man can hit, and will be able to hit until he's sixty-four. He has been rehabbing his bum shoulder for months now, and he's optimistic about coming back to play first in 2006. I believe him. Going into this offseason, we need to find a catcher, a cheap fourth starter, a reliever, and maybe a cheap utility man.
I'd like to sign a better offensive shortstop to replace Everett, but there doesn't appear to be a good candidate. Furcal and Nomar won't fit into our budget, and Alex Gonzalez, Neifi Perez, Royce Clayton and Chris Woodward aren't exactly offensive upgrades. So we're stuck with Everett for '06. But my patience with his lack of offense is wearing thin.
Catcher: Humberto Quintero might be our catcher of the future, but not next year. Keep in mind, he's only 26, so he's still got potential. He'll make a good backup for '06 as he's groomed to play more often. I assume we'll drop Chavez. Ausmus's contract expires after this year, and he has said he wants to play for another year or two. A few months ago, I'd have said Hell No, but his second half was incredible... for him anyway (.275 / .373 / .365). In fact, his .350 OBP in 2005 was 7th best among major league catchers with 300 or more at-bats. Wow. There's no telling if he can keep that up as a 37-year-old in '06, but I think his defense and game-calling might make him worth a one-year, $1 million contract.
Ramon Hernandez and Mike Piazza are the premier free agents at catcher, but both will probably be out of our price range. (We both thought Houston native Jason LaRue was a free agent, but he is actually under Reds control through next year). Piazza no doubt will join an AL team to DH, and Hernandez will probably go for the big bucks. The Blue Jays, Angels, Mariners, Mets, D-Backs, Dodgers and Padres are in need of help at catcher, so we'll have competition for Hernandez. And while he is good, a .325 career OBP isn't worth $6 million a year, which is what he'll probably make. I'll take Ausmus for another year, then wait and see if Quintero pans out. If not, LaRue, Posada, Barajas, Javy and Pierzynski are available after 2006.
Starter: I really don't think we'll be able to afford Clemens, which is unfortunate and ridiculous, because at age 43 he was BY FAR the best pitcher in baseball. Absolutely astounding. But if we don't re-sign him, I don't think both Astacio and Wandy will be ready to start full-time. No, what we need is a cheap, short-term fill-in. Someone who can pitch 200 innings with a 4.00 or 4.50 ERA.
There are a few big names out there. Burnett, Weaver, Morris, Brown, Washburn and Millwood are all probably too expensive for us. Second-tier free agents include Rick Helling, Al Leiter, Brett Tomko, Hideo Nomo, Tony Armas Jr., and Jamie Moyer. Pedro Astacio and Scott Elarton both had success with Houston in the past; they're both free agents now... Paul Byrd is available, and he's just the type of pitcher we want. He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Angels, and posted a 3.74 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 204 innings. Great signing.
Utility man: Please let us do away with the reign of Jose Vizcaino. I personally like Eric Bruntlett as our main utiliy man. He can play short and second as well as centerfield, and is only 27. But I'd like to sign a decent back-up middle infielder with a little pop. Our bench (Lamb, Bruntlett, Burke, Scott, Quintero) isn't exactly murderer's row, and Bruntlett isn't ready to play everyday in case Everett gets hurt. I'm thinking of someone like Miguel Cairo, Ramon E. Martinez, Damion Easley or Damian Jackson. Unfortunately, these kinds of players usually make around $1 million, but it might be worth it if they can fill in admirably.
Reliever: Springer's a free agent. He'll be 37 in November, but he's pitched very well this year. If he wants to come back, I'd sign him up. Burns, Gallo, Qualls, Wheeler and Lidge will all be back, and I hope either Wandy or Zeke will be pushed into the bullpen after we sign a fourth starter.
Free agents lefty relievers include Scott Eyre, Mike Stanton, Alan Embree, Joey Eischen, Ricardo Rincon, Chris Hammond, Buddy Groom and Mike Myers. Righties include Bob Howry, Cal Eldred, Julian Tavarez, Tim Worrell, Felix Rodriguez, Paul Quantrill, Mike Timlin, Todd Jones, Chad Fox, Jay Witasick, Antonio Osuna, Jay Powell, Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir.
We might call up a rookie or two, but not too many of our minor league pitchers fared too well. Both Carlos Hernandez and Taylor Buchholz both struggled. Nieve breezed through AA, but was very hittable after being called up to AAA. Overall he struck out 171 and walked 62 in 167 innings. He'll be up soon. Jason Hirsh had a great year with AA Round Rock: 13-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 29 starts. He allowed only 137 hits (12 homers) and 42 walks in 172.1 innings while striking out 165. He's got stuff.
So, assuming we don't fork over $20 million to Clemens, Here are the players I would sign:
Ausmus, 1-year, $1 million
Tomko, 1-year, $3 million
Ramon E. Martinez, 1-year, $1 million
Scott Eyre, $750,000
Geez, that took a while. I don't know why I started looking at next year's team when this one is about to start a huge playoff series. But anyway, our game starts in less than 12 hours. Let's get right to it.