Sunday, December 25, 2005

We signed a bunch of players to minor league deals before Christmas, none of whom should have much of an impact next year:

Steve Sparks is a 40-year-old knuckleballer who hasn't been in the majors in a while. Didn't we learn our lesson with Jared Fernandez?

David Borkowski had a 4.34 ERA in a full season of Triple A last season. Meh.

Eric Munson and Mike Lamb are nearly identical players: lefty hit-or-miss "power" batters.

Kevin Orie had a very good season in Triple A last year (.352/.466/.630 in 349 AB), but probably won't have a spot on the bench.

Danny Klassen, who was with Round Rock last season, batted .319/.375/.532 in 342 AB. I think he can play other infield positions, so he might be an option as our 25th man.

So, two worthless starters and three third basemen. We're gonna need something more, Timmy.

Meanwhile, Brett Tomko signed with the Dodgers for two years and $8.7 million. Yikes. That is a little more than I'm willing to pay for a fifth starter. Yes, he's durable and eats innings, but come one… $8.7 million? I just hope Timmy at least inquired about him.

Jason Johnson was close to signing with the Indians on a one-year deal, but it looks like it's not finalized. If we could snag him for a good price, it's worth it for a one-year deal.

Jeff Weaver's still out there. Not much talk about him, but I'm sure he'll get $40 million from somebody. If Jarrod Washburn gets $37.5 from the Mariners...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

We tendered contracts to all our arbitration-eligible players, including Raul Chavez. Everyone else (Ensberg, Lidge, Everett, Wheeler) was a no-brainer. Chavez could have been released, but instead we gave him $400,000. Hey, it's not my money. Humberto Quintero underwent wrist surgery a few days ago, which will keep him out about six weeks. I guess we want Q to spend another year in AAA.

Jack and I said right after the World Series that this team must upgrade offensively at shortop or catcher. With Ausmus sticking around the next two years, we're left with the shortstop question. I wonder if the Orioles would consider trading Tejada for Lane, Lidge and Nieve. They'd get an everyday outfielder with 30-homer potential, a proven closer and a top prospect. We'd get Tejada for $48 million over the next four years, a bargain.

Tejada is definitely one of the most valuable players in the game. He plays terrific defense and is a tremendous middle-of-the-lineup hitter. It would suck to give up Lane and Lidge, but I think it would be worth it. Besides, trading Lane would open up more playing time for Burke and Scott in left field. Lidge is a damn good closer, but with his health risks, we'd be smart to trade him while his value is high. Qualls and Wheeler would have first dibs at the closing vacancy, or we could pursue a free agent, say, Ugueth Urbina to help us out.

Monday, December 19, 2005

No Nomar, which isn't the end of the world.

Surprisingly enough, I don't think there are any free agent hitters I'd like to sign at this point. There are no worthwhile shortstops out there, and that's our only position in need of an offensive upgrade. At this point, I don't think we could improve our Opening Day lineup of: Taveras, Biggio, Berkman, Ensberg, Bagwell, Lane, Everett, Ausmus. I don't think it's necessary to sign a 1B/LF type hitter, because he wouldn't come close to playing full-time. Even if Bagwell gets hurt, someone between Scott, Burke and Lamb is bound to have a decent year as a back-up. Plus, Purpura can always make a midseason trade for Dunn, Lugo, Huff etc. And at that point, we'll have more of an idea where Bagwell's shoulder is.

On the other hand, Purpura needs to be looking at free agent starters. There are plenty of decent pitchers out there, and that's all we'd need — someone decent. Someone like Brett Tomko or Jason Johnson, who is at least established as someone you can count on for six innings and a sub-5.00 ERA. Hopefully. With Only Oswalt, Pettitte and Backe (and probably Zeke) penciled in our rotation, we need a 3rd or 4th starter. I wouldn't mind signing a multi-year deal either.

I'm pretty sure we've been saying the same things over and over since October.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I guess it's time I gave my opinion on the Brad Ausmus signing. Forget all the numbers for a moment. Well, every number but one: 37. That's how old Ausmus will be one week into the 2006 season. Off the top of your head, how many catchers can you think of that were still productive at that age? Carlton Fisk......oops. That's it. So what does that tell you? CATCHERS DON'T AGE WELL. Yap all you want to about how Ausmus is great defensively, or 'calls a good game', or has great rapport with the umpires. I can quote stat after stat about how bad Ausmus is offensively. Let's call the two even. But the one thing neither side can deny is we just gave 7.5 million to a 37 year old catcher. And that is simply stupid.

Supposedly we're one of the finalists for the Nomar sweepstakes. Generally speaking, I think this is a good thing - Nomar is coming off a down year (and he still put up a 772 OPS when he played), so he won't break the bank, and all reports have him looking for a 1 year deal (for around 6-8 million), which is fine by me. However, I would much prefer seeing Nomar at SS than at LF. A Luke Scott / Chris Burke platoon (and that assumes Berkman would be at 1B because Bagwell can't play) could certainly put up a 750 OPS for a lot cheaper than Nomar will cost. However, Nomar would be a big upgrade at SS over Adam Everett. I don't think we should just move Everett, though - Nomar will definitely need the occasional day off. Everett would make a great defensive replacement and pinch-runner, too.

Oh yeah, Rondell White. I actually like him a lot - unfortunately, I just don't see where we can play him. Lance Berkman and Jason Lane aren't going anywhere - if Bagwell can throw, he'll be at 1B (occasionally spelled by Berkman / Lamb), and if he can't...well, then we could sign White, but we just don't know. White has played in some tough pitcher's parks throughout his career (his road OPS is a solid 842) and he's consistently hit lefties well (888 OPS). And from what I've seen of him, he looks to be a pretty dead pull hitter. He'd like that short LF porch. I think he could help the Astros - but where do we put him? So much is resting on Bagwell's shoulder. I think we have to assume he'll be the Astros starting 1B in '06 until we hear otherwise.

Jon Garland for 2 pitching prospects, eh? Andy weighed in on this earlier, so I'll keep it short: I'd be interested, as long as we don't have to sell the farm. Garland had a great year; part of that was the incredible White Sox defense, though. Podsednik, Crede, Uribe, and Rowand are all well above-average defensively. I think Garland might regress a little bit next year simply because his last year was so much better than his previous career stats. However, he is still very young, and his most comparable player at his age was Brad Radke, which sounds good to me. He'll make at least 5 million in arbitration this year, though, so it would be a moderately expensive one year rental. Still, we're going to need another starter from somewhere. And I can only recommend Jason Johnson so many times.
Well, we're still waiting for Nomar to make a decision, and it won't happen 'til at least this weekend. There's a rumor floating around that the Astros will trade two pitching prospects for Jon Garland of the White Sox.

After trading for Javier Vazquez, the White Sox have a plethora of pitchers — Beurhle, Contreras, Garcia, Garland and Brandon McCarthy, who they'd like to work into the rotation full-time. Contreras and Garland will be free agents after 2006, so they will most likely deal one of them.

Garland was incredibly good for the Sox last year, posting career highs in ERA (3.50), WHIP (1.17), wins (18), IP (221) , strikeouts (115) and shutouts (3). He came out of the gates on fire, winning his first eight starts and 12 of his first 14. He faded a bit in August, but picked it back up in September and got some deserved Cy Young votes.

Garland's superb sinker makes him an extreme ground-ball pitcher; his career ground ball-to-fly ball ratio is 1.33. He is still prone to giving up the long ball (26 is '05, 34 in '04), and still doesn't strike anybody out: His K-rate has declined in each of the past four years. He definitely benefited from having a superb infield behind him to gobble up ground balls. Garland's control really clicked last year. He walked only 47 batters in 221 innings. That 1.91 BB/9 rate was well below his career 3.35 mark. The big question is, can he keep it up? Was 2005 a fluke, or the new norm? Will he fall back down to Earth, or will he keep improving?

One thing you can count on: He'll likely stay healthy. You can't say enough about a guy who's started 131 games the past four years. And he'll obviously benefit from moving to the NL. Plus, he'll have Brad Ausmus, who's from Dartmouth, so he has his PhD: Pitcher-Helping Degree. More like Puny-Hitting Degree.

In short, Garland would be a very good improvement for us, especially now that Clemens is somewhat out of the picture. I think we could expect Garland to post another 3.50 ERA if he comes to Houston. The problems are: 1) We'd only have him for one year, 2) He'll probably make $6-$7 million in arbitration, and 3) We'd have to trade a couple of top prospects to get him.

So is it worth it to trade away two of: Wandy/Zeke/Nieve/Hirsh/Buchholz/Patton for one year of Garland? It depends on who we give up, but this might not be such a bad move. It's always risky to trade away top prospects, but as Jack has quoted, "There's no such thing as a pitching prospect." Or something like that. The point is, you just never know with young pitchers.

The point is, a rotation of Oswalt/Pettitte/Garland/Backe/Zeke would be great, and, if everyone stays healthy, could be among the best in baseball. Garland could never replace Clemens, but if we improve the team offensively, he may not have to. With Bagwell back and Lane, Taveras and Burke all improving, we might have enough bats to complement our fantastic rotation.

If this trade is indeed on the table, I urge Purpura to pursue it. Try to sell the Sox on Buchholz and Wandy, but try to get the deal done at any price. It's never good to make a move just for the sake of making a move, but it's getting damn near that point. Purp, you gota do something!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The more I think about Rondell White, the less I like him. We already have Berkman, Lane, Taveras, Palmeiro, Burke and Scott (whose status on the ML team should be all but cemented). Berkman and Burke will play occasionally in the infield, but those six are a very good outfield as it stands. White would significantly decrease playing time for Scott and Burke, and his potential talent isn't much of an upgrade.

Jack recommends we try Burke at shortstop: I really support this idea. Burke may have a breakout year in '06: I think it's important to find ABs for him.

The big question is: What will we do with Adam Everett? I've heard his name in trade rumors (to the Braves, of all teams … won't happen now that they have Renteria … ) Can you think of a team who would even consider him at short? Maybe the Mets, since they're always trying to catch up on defense. Maybe some suckers like the Royals or Twins. I'm sure the Red Sox would love to have him back, but only as a late-inning defensive replacement which, unfortunately for him, is where I see his career heading.) Defense is great — and vital for his position — but one must be able to hit to stay in the league, and AE has not shown ability to succeed in this endeavor.

If we trade him, I hope we have another playe who could fill in at short, someone besides Burke and Bruntlett. I would support Timmy if he signed Nomar with the intention of trading AE for a reliever or decent minor league starter. That way, Nomar, Burke or Bruntlett could all play short, and Ausmus would be the only "hole" in our lineup. Check this out:

CF Taveras - SS Burke - LF Berkman - 3B Ensberg - 1B Bagwell - RF Lane - 2B Biggio - C Ausmus. Or:

CF Taveras - 2B Biggio - LF Berkman - 3B Ensberg - SS Nomar - 1B Bagwell - RF Lane - C Ausmus.

If we somehow eliminate AE from our lineup, the Ausmus deal suddenly looks less horrific.

It has come to my attention that Jason LaRue, who's a free agent after 2006, will not be in an Astros uniform anytime soon. This sucks … I was hoping we'd get him for the second half of his peak years.

Oh, Nomar…

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ron-DL White visited with the Astros in Houston a couple days ago. His career parallels Austin Kearns': Very good when healthy, but somehow manages to miss 50 games a year. His career .815 OPS would be a great addition to our offensively-challenged club, but Rondell has averaged 115 games a year since becoming a regular for Montreal in 1995.

Plus, I can't see how we can sign a big-name free agent (even as big as Rondell White). With Bagwell at first, we'd have nowhere to put him. Bagwell's not going to take a seat for anyone while he's healthy, so it's not worth it to commit money to a first baseman or an outfielder if we can't find him at-bats.

The problem we've had for the last four years is the absolute black hole at the bottom of our lineup. Everyone says we need to add another bat, but Rondell White or Adam Dunn or Brian Giles would not have changed Ausmus-Everett-pitcher as our 7-8-9 hitters. Taveras, Biggio, Berkman, Ensberg, Bagwell and Lane make a very good lineup. Acquiring Rondell White or even Dunn would replace one of these hitters, not Everett or Ausmus.

Which is why we should sign Nomar. He's willing to play anywhere, but I think he can still play short. It's been over six months since he tore his groin, so that should be all nice and healed by now. Sure, he wouldn't be a fantastic defender, but he'd make up for it with the bat. And if Garner's smart, he'd play Everett for Pettitte's starts.

From what I've heard and read, we are still talking with him. I think I saw the Yankees offer him $4 million for one year, which is ridiculous. Get 'im, Tim!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Isn't it a bit silly the way team reporters skew stats and words to try and make everything sound good? Some excerpts from Jim Molony's article on the Ausmus and Lamb signings (and my expert analysis):

"[Ausmus] led all NL catchers in the second half with 55 hits." (He was good in the second half, but by no means the best catcher in the NL.)

"Ausmus [is] the only Gold Glove catcher in Astros franchise history … He is also the Houston franchise leader in games caught with 914." (So what? Games Played is not a significant stat. As for the Gold Gloves, they're nice, but I'd rather see some doubles.)

"Over 13 big-league seasons … Ausmus has hit .255 with 71 homers and 508 RBIs. (Yes, but he's 37 already, and can only get worse. He's never posted double digits in homers, and has no more than six in one season for the Astros. His career high in RBI is 54.)

"[Lamb has] been one of the Astros' best clutch hitters." (Lamb actually surprised me here: He put up a .912 OPS w/RISP. But molony never mentions his sub-.300 OBP.)

"He played in 125 games and started at five different positions…' (Molony includes DH as a "position." And is playing 125 games a good thing? with lamb's defense, absolutely not!)

"Lamb hit a career-high five triples and recorded 13 doubles. he walked 22 times while striking out 65 times in 322 at-bats." (Again, I don't know if Molony's trying to inspire confidence with these numbers. Walking 22 times in 322 ABS? And who cares about the triples? Urg.)

You see my point. I know these guys are more PR people than actual journalists, but come on! Show a little analytical thought: these guys are not good at the plate.
The bad news was inevitable: We re-signed Brad Ausmus. But it gets worse: We're giving him $7.5 million for two years. Forget the money (which is enormous) — the fact that we'll have a 39-year-old catcher in 2007 is not good news. To his credit, he performed admirably last season, putting up very good numbers for an old, "defense-oriented" catcher. He managed to have good at-bats and work walks while the rest of our team (Taveras, Lane) couldn't take a walk if their lives depended on it. Still, the man cannot hit for power. And at 38 at 39, no one's expecting a sudden surge. He may work wonders with Pettitte and Oswalt, and he may bring Clemens back … in May. But I wish we wouldn't have signed him, though everyone knew we would.

Ever optimistic, I saved the good news for last. has us bidding for Nomar, but as a left-fielder. Nomar, who has said that he's willing to switch positions for a contender, would be a great signing for us. He could play shortstop in place of Everett, or he could play left field if/when Bagwell gets hurt. This guy can still swing the bat, and he'd put up great numbers in the Juicebox. Purpura needs to sign Nomar, not just for the offense he'd bring us, but to show everyone that he can make a good acquisition. It would make up for the Palmeiro, Lamb and Ausmus debacles. I'd even overpay Nomar and give him $16 million over two years. We must get something done this offseason.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Jon Daniels, the Rangers' new GM, acquired Vicente Padilla from the Phillies for a PTBN, who most likely will be Ricardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a young reliever who might be good someday but probably won't. Padilla, as Jack and I have said before, has the talent to put up very good numbers. He'll make $4 to $5 million in arbitration, and he might only pitch half a season, but he's the type of player who can win games under the radar. He'll never have impressive stats, but he'll give the team a chance to win whenever he pitches. Yes, the Rangers are going to eat their hats if Padilla's arm falls off. But at least they're doing something. Standing pat won't work.

I've heard rumors of as Astros blockbuster. Everyone has Lidge being traded away for a slugger. I think we need to hold onto Lidge for at least another year. He won't cost more than $4 million, and his arm is not going to fall off next year (Eventually... maybe.) But a proven closer is always nice to have. I think Qualls or Wheeler would be okay in that role, but I wouldn't like to see Russ Springer pitching important eighth innings. Anyway, Lidge is a great commodity for $3 to $4 million. Trade him next offseason.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I'm not sure how I missed it, but there is an intersting article in the Chronicle about the Astros' offseason plans. Some notable quotes:

The Astros, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, have also had talks with the Texas Rangers about acquiring left fielder Kevin Mench, who would fill the club's desire for a righthanded bat.

Why do we need a righty bat? Lane, Biggio, Ensberg, Taveras, Everett, Bagwell, and Ausmus not enough for you? We need a LEFTY bat to pair with Berkman.

"That was a nice commitment on (owner) Drayton's (McLane) part to lock up a guy who's been a nice part of our ballclub and a key contributor and is great with young players and a great role model," Astros general manager Tim Purpura said. "He fits with our mold pretty well."

It seems like Purpura mentions character and being a "great role model" a little too often. Ok, fine, he's a nice guy. But can he play? Note that I'm not criticizing the move, though I'm not that fond of it, but it's strange to justify it by mentioning how well he "fits with our mold".

The Astros also appear to be close to reaching a two-year contract agreement with free-agent catcher Brad Ausmus. Purpura said a deal could be worked out in the "next several days."

"We keep narrowing the gap, and everybody's working together," he said.

Kill me now. A two year deal?? Do you enjoy causing me misery? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?? Fine, we have no good catching prospects. Trade for someone! Sign someone next year! Anything but two more crappy years of no-power, overrated-defense, "he calls a game well", 37-year old Brad Ausmus. Piss poor.

Purpura said free-agent pitchers Jarrod Washburn and Scott Elarton, who will become a free agent if he declines the Cleveland Indians' arbitration offer, could be of interest.

Washburn is a lefty fly-ball pitcher (career 0.74 GB/FB ratio, 0.97 last year.) He also only struck out 94 batters in 177.2 IP. He would get destroyed by the Crawford Boxes. DESTROYED. But what about Andy Pettitte, you say? Pettitte is a severe ground ball pitcher (1.73 career, 1.62 last year). He makes Adam Everett look really good (maybe the other way around, I guess). He can succeed at The Juice Box. I don't think Washburn can. Oh, and he's a Scott Boras guy, so expect him to command top dollar. It damn well shouldn't be from us.

Elarton is a little more interesting. He had a decent year last year:

4.61 ERA
1.30 WHIP
48 BB
103 K
181.2 IP

Unfortunately, he's also a fly-ball pitcher (0.67 GB/FB ratio last year, 0.79 career), and he's given up 65 HR's the last two years. I think he'd give up a lot of Crawford shots. Pass.

And as for my dark horse, Jason Johnson? Well:

210.0 IP
49 BB
93 K
4.54 ERA
1.74 GB / FB ratio (1.24 career)

First off, he's durable - at least 190.0 IP the last 3 years.
Second, he doesn't walk anybody anymore - from 80 walks to 60 to 49 the last three years.
Unfortunately, he doesn't strike out anybody anymore either - 118 K's to 125 to 93.
But he's redeemed himself by becoming a groundball machine. Ready for this?


Notice a trend? Those are Johnson's GB / FB ratios the last 7 years. I don't know how he's done it, but he's improved his ratio every year, and you have to assume he can keep it up. And with our infield defense (especially if we keep Everett), we can turn a lot of those ground balls into outs. Johnson is 32 years old, so we shouldn't give him a huge deal - he signed a 2 year / 7 million dollar deal with the Tigers 2 years ago - I'd be happy to give him 2 / 8 or 2 / 9. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:


Finally, there is a really cool article over at The Hardball Times which looks at pitchers' home run rates and predicts starting pitchers who are likely to significantly slump or improve next year due to unusually large increases this past year. A few pitchers of interest:

Most Likely to Regress Next Year:

7. Roger Clemens, -9
12. Roy Oswalt, -7

Most Likely to Improve Next Year:

1. Javier Vazquez, 12
10. Ezequiel Astacio, 8

So this chart is telling us that given a pitcher's career HR rate and IP last year, we would have expected Clemens and Oswalt to have given up 9 and 7 more HR's last year and Vazquez and Astacio to have given up 12 and 8 fewer HR's last year. Yet another reason why I would love to pursue Vazquez and why Astacio will end up being much better than Wandy Rodriguez.
There are quite a few Brad Lidge trade rumors going around right now.

Check out this post at Astros Daily where they ask people to guess the blockbuster trade the Astros will make this offseason - it's pretty fun. Most of them are involve us trading Lidge + prospects for either Miggy, Manny, Abreu, or Adam Dunn.

First of all: do I think we will trade Brad Lidge? Actually, I think it's fairly likely. The organization has proven in the past that we don't mind trading away closers (see Wagner, Dotel) in order to bring in prospects (Astacio, Bucholz in the Wagner deal) or superstars (Beltran in the Dotel deal). This is a great mindset to have, since closers pitch around 80 innings a year at most and are simply not as valuable as a starting pitcher or everyday player.

Of those four possibilites, I'd be most interested in trading for (drum roll) Adam Dunn. Tejada fills a bigger hole for us, Manny is a Top 5 offensive player in MLB, and Abreu would be a sweet homecoming, but they're all freakin' expensive and on the wrong side of 30. Dunn, on the other hand, is only moderately expensive (4.6 mil last year, will probably want a raise to around 7/8/9 million this year), is from Houston, and (best of all) just turned 26. Oh, and he has a career line of .248 / .383 / .518. And did I mention he's 26 years old?

The Reds, as always, need pitching - I would do something like Backe + Lidge or Astacio + Lidge or Nieve + Lidge in a heartbeat.

Oh, and just in case you were interested, Adam Dunn's two most similar players through age 25? Darryl Strawberry and Reggie Jackson.

Brad Lidge's? Ken Tatum and Mariano Rivera. Ok, Rivera is pretty good.

You might not know Lidge is about to turn 29, and he still has some injury concerns. Dunn has no such concerns, and actually has an above-average Range Factor in LF. I admit that I have a bit of a baseball crush on Adam Dunn, but, one more time:

Age: 26
Career line: .248 / .383 / .518, 158 HR

Ignore the .248 and focus on the 901 career OPS. Yum.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Matthew Reed pointed out that the Ramon Hernandez signing is now official: 4 years, 27.5 million from the Orioles. I guess they'll be trying to move Javy Lopez or maybe mix him in at DH / 1B? Either way, this is a good signing for the O's, though it would be a lot better if it were something like 3 years / 21 million. That extra year for a catcher who will be 33 is dangerous. Hernandez has hit in pitcher's parks his entire career (Oakland, San Diego), has truly good defensive statistics (as opposed to the unprovable 'he handles a staff well' Ausmus nonsense), and has been durable (and hit well after his wrist injury last year). I probably would have given Hernandez this exact same contract for the Astros if I knew that he would take it. It looks like we may have to sre-sign Ausmus - who else is there?

Ever since the Rangers traded Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals for Brad Wilkerson, Termel Sledge, and a PTBNL (which is an absolute steal, because Soriano has sucked away from Texas, is poor defensively, and is expensive), there have been rumors regarding their outfielders. As of right now, they have Kevin Mench, Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge (yep, two r's), David Dellucci, Laynce Nix, and Gary Matthews Jr. They're going to trade a few of those guys, and it looks like Kevin Mench is drawing a lot of interest from teams, including the Astros.

Let's take a look at Mench's career stats:

Home: .286 / .356 / .505, 92 XBH, 72 BB
Away: .256 / .310 / .461, 79 XBH, 52 BB

Those away numbers aren't quite as attractice, are they? I don't mean to say Mench isn't a decent player - he'll be 28 to start the '06 season, and still has one more year of arbitration, so he won't break the bank. But he is partly a product of his home field.

I'd be more interested in Brad Wilkerson or Terrmel Sledge, for different reasons:

Wilkerson is a walkin' fool. 89, 104, and 84 walks the last three years. He has a career .365 OBP (and with Biggio, Lane, and Taveras in the line-up, we need some OBP from somebody), and a career 817 OPS. He's bettre defensively than Mench (he's played games in CF). It looks like he had a down year last year because he only had 11 home runs, but he had 42 doubles and 9 tripled in a huge home park, and part of that was due to an ugly 2nd half. Oh, and he even hits lefties well (career .837 OPS). The only bad news about Wilkerson is he earned 3.5 million last year compared to Mench's 345,000. He's worth it if he keeps drawing 80 walks a year, though. Just make him stop running (45 SB, 38 CS).

Ah, Terrmel Sledge. He's basically a poor man's Jacque Jones with more patience and less defense. He only got 37 AB's in the majors last year but he had a solid year in '04: (.269 / .336 / .462, 41 XBH, 40 BB in 398 AB). He's 28, just like Mench and Wilkerson. He rips on righties (career 832 OPS) and is still 2 years away from arbitration. He can't hit lefties but he and Chris Burke would make a kick-ass platoon in LF. Unfortunately, it might take Burke to get Sledge.

I'd rank them like this:

1. Sledge (cheap for at least 2 more years, poor man's Jacque Jones)
2. Wilkerson (tons of walks, the most expensive)
3. Mench (cheap for 1 more year, not that great away from Texas)

Keep talking to people, Purpura!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Astros news:

The Astros sign OP to a 2 year / 1.9 million deal. Meh. I don't much care for it. Yeah, Palmeiro is all right - he plays solid defense, works counts, and has put up OBP's of .336, .344, and .341 the last three years, which aren't terrible for a bench playear (though he has no power). But he's also 37 and we gave him a two year deal? Where does that leave Luke Scott? It's not a terrible signing, but if we give Ausmus this exact same deal I'll be pissed.

Astros rumors:

Taveras + ?to the D-Backs for Javier Vazquez

Scott Barzilla is fighting the good fight on the Astros Daily message boards for this trade. Go check them out if you want more info. Here's my take:

Taveras is a young CF who is likely to improve, but he just put up a .666 OPS with 25 walks and 20 extra base hits in 592 AB's. He has value since he's cheap and plays good defense and steals bases at a decent clip, but he's not that great.

Javier Vazquez has demanded a trade from the D-Backs, and he's set to make 15 million over the next 2 years. His numbers don't look that great (4.91 ERA with the Yankees last year, 4.42 ERA with the D-Backs this year), but he's pitched in some tough parks and his BB / K ratio (a great indicator of future success) is superb. He is a bit of a flyball pitcher, so he'll give up his share of HR's at Minute Maid, but the guy is only 29 years old, extremely durable, and has a career BB/ K ratio of almost 3.5. If we did this trade without throwing in too much else, I would like it quite a bit. A front three of Oswalt / Pettitte / Vazquez would be really nice.

There have been rumors that a few teams have been interested in Adam Everett, but we've told them forget it. WHY??? At least listen to what they're offering!!

Miguel Tejada wants out of Baltimore. I don't think they're going to trade him, but if he wants out, look into it. He's making 48 million the next 4 years but he'd be a huge upgrade over Everett at SS. I don't see it though.

More later, gotta run.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The first truly good move by Tim Purpura:

Astros declined to offer arbitration to infielder Jose Vizcaino.
We're surprised the Astros couldn't work anything out with Vizcaino, who had been with the club the last five years. He'll land a reserve job elsewhere. The Astros said they haven't decided whether to offer arbitration to Brad Ausmus or Orlando Palmeiro. Negotations are ongoing. -Rotoworld

This just in:

Mark Sweeney has agreed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Giants, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.The Giants could platoon Sweeney and Lance Niekro at first base and get pretty reasonable production, but they'll probably keep looking for another left-handed-hitting first baseman, allowing Sweeney to be used primarily as a pinch-hitter. Sweeney hit .294/.395/.466 in 221 AB for the Padres last season.

And there goes another guy that I would have liked to have signed. 2 year / 1.8 million for a guy that has put up .377 and .395 OBP's the last two years. By contrast, Mike Lamb has put .356 and .284 OBP's the last two years for a similar salary. Hell, offer Sweeney the same contract but remind him that Jeff Bagwell is going to need plenty of time off, so he'll start more here! Gah.
Let's get right to the Astros moves for today.

Non-Move 1:

Braves acquired RHP Lance Cormier and RHP Oscar Villarreal from the Diamondbacks catchers Johnny Estrada. Cormier and Villarreal were about the last relievers we would have selected from the Arizona pen, but the Braves deserve some benefit of the doubt in cases like these. Cormier, 25, had a 5.11 ERA in 79 1/3 IP last season. His offspeed pitches are pretty good, but he only works at 90-91 mph and he doesn't have great command. He's just a middle reliever. Villarreal had a very promising rookie season as a 21-year-old in 2003, but after pitching 98 innings in one start and 85 relief appearances, he started suffering from arm problems and he's failed to contribute the last two seasons. He's already arbitration eligible, making him expendable in Arizona. We're not especially optimistic that he'll ever bounce back. - Rotoworld

So the Diamondbacks traded two mediocre young relievers (one of whom has been hurt the last two years) to the Braves for Johnny Estrada?? There goes a 29-year old catcher who had a .828 OPS in '04 who we could have had for cheap for the next several years. Hell, if the Braves took those guys, I guarantee they would have taken Dan Wheeler or Wandy Rodriguez + Mike Burns or some deal along those lines. What a disappointment. I never heard that we were even interested in Estrada. I just don't get it.

Move 2:

ESPNews is reporting that the Astros have told Roger Clemens they won't offer him arbitration.This rules out the possibility of him rejoining the Astros before May 1. Clemens is said to be leaning toward retirement, but he still wants to pitch for the U.S. in the WBC. Perhaps this opens the door for Clemens to join the Yankees, Rangers or Red Sox on a one-year deal or maybe he'll re-sign with the Astros later on. The Astros now become much bigger players in free agency and trade talks. - Rotoworld

I understand you don't want to offer Clemens a huge one-year contract, have him accept it, and then he gets hurt or decides he's going to retire. But couldn't we just offer him something like 1 year / 10 million (he's worth that in ticket sales / advertisements alone) and if Clemens rejects it then at least we get a draft pick if he decides to sign with another team. Moving on without Clemens? Fine. Not getting at least a draft pick for him if he goes elsewhere? Stupid.

A possible silver lining is that we use the money from the Clemens deal and get in on signing Ramon Hernandez. Too bad he's a Scott Boras client, so we'll probably have to go to at least 3 years / 24 million. I'd do that or possibly a bit more, though - we have NO good catching prospects, and Hernandez has had 3 good years in a row.

I'll talk about some of the other moves later (Juan Pierre to the Cubs, Mark Loretta to the Red Sox, etc.), but for now let's se some action, Purpura. Looks like you have a little more leeway now. Oh, and Austin Kearns is probably off the trade block now since Sean Casey is going to the Pirates (so the Reds will likely move Adam Dunn to 1st base).

Go Tim go!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

There are a lot of Winter Meeting rumors out there right now. It sure if fun talking about them, but they're ultimately just rumors. Case in point - I said it looked like the Cardinals had Burnett signed, but now it looks like it's the Blue Jays for 5/55. 102 million combined on B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett? At least they both have two-initial first names.

The D-Backs have supposedly shown interest in Brad Ausmus, to which I say: YES!! The more teams that show interest in him, the higher his price goes, and the less likely it becomes that we sign him. Or maybe we give him a 2 year / 7 million dollar deal and I cry. Either way.

Other players that might be available in trades that I'd be interested in: Bobby Abreu, Austin Kearns, Jason LaRue, Johnny Estrada. I'd especially like to give Kearns a try - he had a rough year last year, but he's a 25 year old with a career .821 OPS.

Players that the Astros could trade that either I wouldn't mind trading or their current trade value is at its peak: Brandon Backe, Dan Wheeler, Adam Everett, Wandy Rodriguez.

Backe picks it up in the playoffs, but as Scott Barzilla as pointed out, ALL his rate stats are below league average. He simply cannot be a decent pitcher with his current walk rate and K rate.

Dan Wheeler's trade value could not possibly be any higher. He has to come back to Earth eventually.

Adam Everett is overrated - his counting stats (11 HR, 54 RBI) obscure his .654 OPS. Good defense, but we can do better.

Wandy Rodriguez is actually in similar to Jeriome Robertson from a few years back - superficially good record (10-10 as a #5 starter) despite an ugly ERA (5.53, 1.46 WHIP). Deal him.

Backe for Austin Kearns and Dan Wheeler for Estrada - you can do it, Purpura!

Monday, December 05, 2005

One of the main misconceptions with Moneyball is that it's all about on-base percentage (OBP). In fact, the main idea presented in the book was the idea that the best way to have success in baseball is to take advantages of qualities that the market undervalues. At the time that the Oakland A's were putting a mini-dynasty together, those qualities were on-base percentage. However, they've adapted. Last year they were 14th in the majors in OBP, yet they still won 88 games despite injuries to Bobby Crosby, Rich Harden, and Octavio Dotel. How? It's too general to say "pitching and defense", but that's in part how they did it: with a pitching staff built to not allow home runss and a truly outstanding defense to take care of anything put in play (they finished 2nd in baseball in Defensive Efficiency, behind the White Sox.)

Why am I talking about this? Well, what is undervalued in the baseball market these days? OBP? Nah. Defense? Maybe. Starting pitching? Never. I do like what the Cardinals have done, though - assemble one ace and back him up with a bunch of guys that can give you 4.00 to 4.50 ERAs. I still think a guy like Jason Johnson could do that for us. But truthfully, so far this offseason, very little is being undervalued. In fact, of all the signings made so far, I would have made exactly one (Brian Giles, 3 years, 30 million.) It looks like A.J. Burnett (career 3.73 ERA) is about to get 5 years / 50 million from the Cards. It seems like all the big-name free agents are getting huge deals, and even some mediocre players (Hector Carrasco, Kyle Farnsworth, etc.) are getting fairly big deals. What to do?

If I'm Tim Purpura, I don't make any big moves. Sign a 4th OF if you like, (Matt Lawton, Rondell White if he's healthy, Todd Hollandsworth, Mark Sweeney) in case Bagwell can't play and Berkman has to move to 1st. Don't re-sign Viz, Ausmus, or Palmeiro - let Chris Burke and Luke Scott be the backup OF's if you don't sign anyone. Bruntlett can take over Viz's utility spot. And only sign Ausmus if Clemens gives you an absolute ultimatum that he won't come back without him. Look to make trades (the Braves supposedly offered Johnny Estrada to the D-Rays for Julio Lugo. Show interest in Estrada! The Phillies might be looking to move Jason Michaels...etc.) Small, smart moves, and at least look into possible trades.

I'm doing a presentation on baseball statistics (a.k.a 'Sabermetrics') in my statistical theory class on Wednesday. I'm going to talk about how it got started (if you're interested, check out 'The Numbers Game' by Alan Schwarz), how I got into it, and new developments recently. It should be fun.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Astros news:

Houston re-signed Russ Springer for 2006. I've read he's making $750,000, but it hasn't been confirmed. Springer was better than advertised last year. His 4.73 ERA wasn't pretty, but a 1.19 WHIP and 54 strikeouts in 59 innings sure is. He's 37, so let's not expect any miracles. The price is decent, although we could have saved half a million by calling up a rookie like Hirsh or Nieve. Still, it might be in our best interest to keep those two in the minors for another year.

Luke Scott is Barry Bonds' cousin. He's batting .439 / .536 / .930 in 57 at-bats in Venezuela. And he's playing centerfield. Intersting…

The D-Backs have an interest acquiring Brad Ausmus. Whatever. If anything, this is good news. It might drive his price out of our range.

Other intersting trades and signings:

• Giles re-signs with San Diego. I didn't think we had much of a shot at him. We'd have trouble playing Lane, Berkman, Bagwell and Giles, and we couldn't afford him. But props to a guy who takes a significant pay cut to play where he wants to.

• Hector Carrasco to the Angels for two years, $6 million. It's looking like Pual Byrd has a 3-year, $20 million offer on the table from some mystery team. I can tell you who it isn't: the Astros.

• Tom Gordon to the Phillies for 3 years, $18 million. He's a lot cheaper than Billy the Kid, although three years to a 38-year-old is about as secure as asking a little old lady to watch your stuff while you go break a twenty.

• Kyle Farnsworth to the Yankees for 3 years, $17 million. This for a guy who put up a 4.72 ERA in 2004 (Not to mention his two fantastic innings in NLDS Game Four)? Pass.

• Tim Worrell back to the Giants for 2 years, $4 million. Not

• Luis Castillo to the Twins for prospects. One, Travis Bowyer, is decent. Ninety-six strikeouts in 74 innings decent. He might close soon. Castillo will help the Twins, but unless Morneau and Hunter return to form and the Twinkies find another pitcher besides Santana, it won't be enough

• Manny, Abreu, LoDuca, Benson, Soriano, Pavano, Bradley, Blalock, Pierre and Jason Michaels are staying put. For now.

• Millwood, Burnett, Byrd, The Big Hurt, Nomar, Hoffman, Morris, Molina and Hernandez are still available...

This, from Baseball Insider:

"Houston's rising salary structure has prompted Purpura to explore trades rather than free-agent signings as a possible way to upgrade the Astros' offense. Baseball sources told the Astros have expressed interest in Texas outfielder Kevin Mench and Philadelphia's Jason Michaels, but backed off when the Rangers and Phillies asked for starter Brandon Backe in return. Houston would be more receptive to trading pitchers Ezequiel Astacio or Wandy Rodriguez for a hitter.

The Astros are working to retain backup outfielder Orlando Palmeiro and catcher Brad Ausmus, who has a choice of returning to Houston or signing with San Diego."

This is all good news. Not great, but good. It's good to see that Purpura is looking into available players, trying to cash in on second-tier players for bargain deals. But given our status and roster, I wouldn't give up Backe for Michaels, though it'd be tough to say no. Palmeiro would be fine as a fifth oufielder again, so long as he doesn't block Luke Scott. The more I read about him, the more I like Luke Scott. I like saying Luke Scott.

The Reds are still noncommital on LaRue. What could it take to snatch him? A pitching prospect, perhaps? Maybe Dunn and LaRue for Lane, Burke and Nieve? Looks like an even trade to me.