Monday, January 31, 2005

Heard something on AstrosDaily about Rocket on the Dean & Rog radio show the other day. Apparently he's already started his workouts. He was eating dinner one night when his hamstring cramped up on him... he started screaming, and his boys thought he was choking on his food so they started performing the Heimlich manuever on him. Hahaha.

Which player do you think will exceed expectations this year? Your choices are:

Ausmus
Bagwell
Duckworth
Ensberg
Everett
Lane
Qualls
Andy wants minor league reports, so darn it, I'll give him one. This should be good timing because Baseball America just made a list of Top 10 Astros Prospects. I'll go over that list first, and talk about anyone that I think they missed.

FYI, the full version of the stats I'll be summarizing can be found here.

So, without further ado...

Baseball America's Top 10 Astros Prospects.

1. Chris Burke, 2B.

How does .315 / .396 / .507in a severe pitcher's park sound? That's a monster year by any stretch of the imagination. He has nothing left to prove in the minors, and at age 25 (by the time the season starts) he needs to play. A converted shortstop; reputed to be excellent defensively. I'd compare him to a slightly lesser Marcus Giles, with probably more speed but less power.

2. Ezequiel Astacio, RHP

Certainly made the biggest jump of any prospect on this list. I assumed he was basically a throw-in of the Wagner trade (along with Duckworth and Bucholz, the main prospect), but a 3.89 ERA and 56 / 185 walk-to-strikeout ration in 176 innings (in a huge hitter's park) and a dominating Winter League make him the best pitching prospect we've got. I'd like to see him get a look in the bullpen or as a spot starter in spring training. I like the Earl Weaver approach with young pitching prospects - work them in slowly in the bullpen, from one-innings stints to multiple-inning stints, and eventually give them a shot in the rotation. This approach worked well with Roy Oswalt, also, although Astacio isn't quite the prospect Oswalt was.

3. Willy Taveras, CF.

The most overrated prospect in the organization. Yes, he hit .335. Yes, he stole 55 bases. But 16 XBH and 38 BB in 409 AB?? Yuck, yuck, yuck. I'd recommend trading him to a team that covets speed (White Sox? Devil Rays?) or using him as a pinch runner / defensive replacement.

4. Mitch Einerston, OF.

I couldn't find his whole stats, but I found he had 24 HR, 63 RBI, and a .692 slugging percentage in the Appalachian League. And he's 18 years old. By comparison, Manny Ramirez had 19 HR and 63 RBI when he was in the Appalachain League. Mitch was named the #1 App. League prospect by Baseball America. The Astros have tried him at 2B, but I don't really see the need - we're going to need OF's more than 2B in the future. Look for him at A or AA this year.

5. Troy Patton, LHP.

The only guy on the list I've never heard of, Troy comes out of Tomball High School. In 2004 he had a 0.91 ERA and a 24 / 142 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 77 IP. Them's a lotta K's. However, this is against high-school competition. Still, a guy to watch.

6. Matt Albers, RHP.

Had a nice season at Single-A at the age of 21:

3.31 ERA, 57 / 140 in 111.1 IP. Only 3 HR allowed. Not really a grade-A prospect, though.

7. Taylor Bucholz, RHP.

A disappointing 2004 at AAA dropped him down a lot. He was the main prospect we got in the Billy Wagner trade, but he struggled early in 2004, and finished with a 5.23 ERA and a respectable 29 / 74 ratio in 98 IP. His 16 HR allowed really hurt him - he's gotta learn to keep the ball down, especially at The Juice Box. He's only 23, so room to improve.

8. Fernando Nieve, RHP.

22 years old, and a 2.96 ERA in 149 IP? Pretty solid, huh? However, his K rate dropped a lot, as he only struck out 117 while walking 40. Still a good prospect, but you'd like more strikeouts at Single-A.

9. Josh Anderson, OF.

Fast as hell, but you can't steal 1st base. He's only 22, and during two stints at Single-A he combined for 78 SB and only 13 CS, but he also only had 40 XBH and 46 BB in 579 AB. He might be better than Willy Taveras in a year or two, but that's damning with faint praise.

10. Hunter Pence, OF.

Our 1st round pick last year, Pence hit .296 with 27 XBH and 23 BB in only 199 AB, good rate stats. He'll be 21 soon, and should continue to improve.



Some thoughts - no relievers or corner infielders on this list. Some guys that got left out, whether due to their age or they were simply overlooked:

Mike Burns, RHP.

The good? He was finally made a full-time reliever in '04 and responded with a 1.67 ERA and a 15 / 94 ratio in 81 IP. The bad? His career minor league numbers (3.63 ERA, 468 K in 565 innings) aren't that impressive, and he's 26. Last year might have been his peak. Worth a look at spring training, though, especially with our makeshift bullpen.

Todd Self, 1B.

Very similar to Mike Burns, he had a 'peak' year last year and he's also 26, old for a prospect. He hit .315 / .420 / .460, but at a big hitter's park. Not enough power to be a corner infielder in the big leagues. Good batting eye, but probably a minor-league lifer.

Luke Scott, OF. My favorite prospect-you've-never-heard-of. He's also 26 (sensing a trend? We need younger prospects.), but had a big year when promoted to AA last year: 1055 OPS, 36 XBH in 208 AB. A bit above anything he had done in the minors before though...he could probably put up a .250 / .330 / .470 line in the majors for cheap.

Jason Alfaro, UTIL.

Well, that came out of nowhere. At age 27, he hit .325 / .363 / .477 in a pitcher's park. He doesn't walk at all, but neither does Jose Vizcaino, and Alfaro actually has some power. Moral of the story: I hate having Viz on our major league team when we have Alfaro and Conrad in the minors.

Mike Coolbaugh, 3B.

I was excited when I saw that Coolbaugh tore up AAA, with a 950 OPS and 60 XBH in 404 AB. The downside? He's 32. Whoops. Non-prospect.

Brooks Conrad, 2B. The runner-up to Luke Scott in best prospect you've never heard of. Conrad's 25 and has shown good power for a 2B his whole career. His glove isn't too great, but 63 BB and 57 XBH for a 2B is. Too bad we have the Great Viz blocking him.

Hector Gimenez, C. He needs to learn how to hit. He's only 20, so he's got some time, and everyone says he has a cannon, but a 650 OPS in a hitter's park? YECH. Come back in a few years.


So, Burke needs to play, I like Astacio as a reliever / spot starter, and everyone else on the main list isn't ready yet. On my list I wish Alfaro or Conrad could get the chance to be better than Viz for the league minimum rather than paying Viz 1.2 million. We have quite a few decent OF prospects (Einerston, Taveras, Anderson, Pence, Scott), several decent pitching prospects (Astacio, Patton, Albers, Bucholz, Nieve), but our IF prospects are pretty crappy. Only the obvious Burke is good; the rest are too old (Self, Coolbaugh) or too young (Gimenez).

What does this mean? We absolutely shouldn't trade Ensberg, since we get him for a few more years for cheap, we should get used to Everett at SS or look to trade for one, I hope Burke works out, 'cause there's no one else, Berkman will probably slide over to 1st eventually, and we're going to need a catcher in '06 and probably '07 until Gimenez is decent. I read that the Rockies are interested in trading for Robby Hammock - the Astros should get interested, and fast. He'd be a nice temporary fit.

Whew, that's it for now. Tell me if I forgot anybody or whatever.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sammy will be missed in Chicago. As far as his talent, I think he's is eerily similar to Jeff Bagwell. Both are well past their primes and are declining at a steady rate. But they can both still smack the hell out of the ball.

As far as their status with fans, I'd like to say that it's mostly the fault of Chicago fans. Cubs fans, as reknowned as they are for loving the losers and always selling out Wrigley despite all the losing seasons, are brutal. I remember the chants of "HEE-SOP-CHOI" whenever Derrek Lee was at the plate last year. Lee was struggling, and Choi HAD ALREADY BEEN TRADED to Florida. So mean to Derrek.

Sosa was booed more than anyone last year, and every strike out pissed off the fans more and more. By the time he finished the season with a .253 average, he was frustrated and pissed as well. That's why he left the stadium in the last game of the season. And why he bitched all season about this or that. The cork... well, no one can really explain that.

The difference between Bags and Sosa is that Bags would never walk out on the team like that. He wouldn't bitch about being dropped in the order either.

Of course, Astros fans would never boo Bagwell because they actually have respect for ballplayers that have meant so much to our team. It's a vicious cycle, and I'm happy for Sammy that he was able to pull himself out of it. He knows, as does everyone, that Sammy doesn't have what he used to have. And fans up here would never have forgiven him for it.

ˇ
Not much baseball news to report, so I'll try a state-of-the-union address.

Snow hit Flagstaff a few days ago, and we've got a steady 2-5 inches a day since. I like walking in it, but NOT driving in it. The old Eagle Vision (which REALLY needs new shocks) is a little scary to drive through snow...but I'm managing so far.

I watched the replay of the Safin-Federer math last night, and the replay of the Safin-Hewitt match this morning. Safin is the only guy in the world that can challenge and beat Federer even when Fed is playing well, so it's great to see him win one. He seemed really focused the whole tourney; he could have given up several times against Fed, and he lost the first set 6-1 to Hewitt and had the whole country rooting against him, but he absolutely brought the thunder in sets 2,3, and 4, and he's back. It's a great top 4 right now, with Federer at 1, Safin at 1a, and Hewitt and Roddick both just a step behind. Should be a great year for men's tennis.

Funny story: If you're reading this, you probably know I've been without a phone for the past 10 days or 2 weeks or whatever. But I plan to go get one Friday afternoon; right as I'm leaving, I decide to use a buddy's phone to check my messages. And there's on from a girl asking if the room at my house is still available!! So I call back, tell her to meet me there in a half hour, and practically run home...only to wait for another hour, as she's late. When she finally arrives, 4 girls get out of the car, so I'm a little confused, and they are equally confused when I explain there is only one room avaiable, NOT the whole house. Argh. Dumb girls. So no phone and no roommate. But I got one (a phone, that is) Saturday morning, so all better. Give me a call at 928 241 1127, since I don't remember any of your numbers.

I need a good book these days. I'm classic-ed out, I need a break from Dostoyevsky or Joyce or whatever else ya got, how about an easy, non-baseball, non-poker, non-statistics read? I'd owe you one.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

And just like that, he was gone.

Say what you will about Sammy Sosa. He was caught using a corked bat (despite physics studies that say cork doesn't help, by the way.) He was selfish, left games early, and whined about being moved to 6th in the batting order. He had a terrible 2nd half of '04. All that is true. But he was Mr. Cub, and it's going to be a little strange to see the Cub lineup without Sammy.

Ok, sentimentality aside, how does it affect the Astros?

Well, it's hard to analyze the deal (Jerry Hairston Jr. and from 2-4 minor leaguers for Sosa, and the Cubs pay around 10 of Sosa' 17 million dollar salary) by itself, because I think the Cubs aren't done dealing. Rumors say they'll trade some of those prospects to Tampa for Aubrey Huff, or to Washington for Brad Wilkerson or maybe even go after Magglio Ordonez (thought Boras wants SEVEN YEARS...screw you, Boras). If the Cubs follow up by doing that, I think they'll be a better team. If they platoon Hairston at 2nd with Walker or play Hairston in LF and sign Jeromy Burnitz, I think this a bad, bad move by them. Maybe Andy can answer this better than I can, but had Sosa really fallen so far so fast? Did he have to be traded? From the Orioles perspective, I think it was a necessary kind of move since they missed out on Beltran and Delgado and everyone else. Giving up a guy they can easily replace (Brian Roberts can play 2nd) and some decent prospects in return for an aging but still effective slugger is probably a good deal, and Sosa should sell tickets, if nothing else. It's also the first time two 500 HR guys (Sosa and Raffy) are on the same team. Check out this middle of the lineup for the 0's:

Melvin Mora
Miguel Tejada
Sammy Sosa
Javy Lopez
Raffy Palmeiro

Go back and see how Mora did last year, and you see that this lineup might score a helluva lot of runs. Too bad their pitching is craptacular.

Anyway, more Astros thoughts - if the Cubs make a trade for Huff and include Jason DuBois in the trade, the Rays would probably love to move Jose Cruz Jr., who I'm sure would love to come play for the 'Stros. So if that happens I'd be pretty happy, as Cruz Jr. would make a better all-around CF than anyone we've got.

I'm still stunned Sosa's not a Cub. It might take me a few days. He was a worthy adversary.

Sosa to Balitmore! Crazy. I thought there was no way in hell anyone would take him. But it looks like the Cubs are paying about $10 mil of his salary, which is about right. I think Baltimore — which, like Houston, hadn't done much this offseason — was looking to do anything to gain fan support. So they got desperate.

Look for the Cubbies to turn around and sign Magglio. Like today.

Friday, January 28, 2005

I like Astacio too - it's a low risk, high reward option. Sure, he might amount to nothing, but he's put up good numbers in the Dominican League. I think his past injuries might make him more suited to a relief role, though, which would still be fine. Either way, I'd like to get him.

Baseball Prospetus 2005 on Hammock:

It used to be that you'd see lots of teams use catchers at other positions instead of limiting them to catching. Usually, it was a right handed hitter who could mash lefties and do an acceptable job in the infield or outfield corners. Hammock is cut from that mold: He may not be an everday catcher, but he's versatile and has some pop.

You might recall I went as far as recommending the Astros sign Brian Jordan just to have a lefty masher and OF defensive replacement. Well, Hammock fits the lefty masher (805 careerOPS, 17 XBH in 157 AB's). I don't see any downside to trading for him, as long as we don't give up much. Like Astacio, it would be a low risk, high reward move at our weakest position.

I think it's often small moves at the margins like this that can really improve a team. Everyone knows about the superstar signings, but baseball (more than any other sport that I think of) is truly a team game. Otherwise the San Francisco Giants would never lose a game.
How about Pedro Astacio? Word is he's beasting down in the Dominican Leagues. We should take a look at him. And soon, too, because I hear he's close to a minor league with the Red Sox. What would he do there? Be their seventh starter? Ridiculous. We should offer him a minor league deal too. Pencil him in as our fifth starter and see how he does. There are a lot of worse options I can think of (Duckworth, Redding...). Sign this guy up.
I just read on Baseball Primer that the Diamondbacks released catcher Robby Hammock to make room for Tony Clark. The Astros should pick him up IMMEDIATELY. Catcher is by far the weakest position in the organization; Ausmus and Chavez both struggle to put up a 700 OPS, and our best prospect is 20 year-old Hector Gimenez who looked overmatched at AA last year. Hammock would make a great filler for 2006 and maybe even 2007 while Gimenez learns how to hit. He also caught Randy Johnson's perfect game in 2004, so he must be good.

Robby Hammock's stats

If you don't want to check out the link, here's the rundown: Hammock will be 27 until May 11, he's a career .262 / .315 / .441 hitter with 42 XBH and 30 BB in 390 AB. His fielding numbers are also excellent. So a young catcher who'd come cheap, plays good defense and can hit for power? I'd say that might help the 'Stros. Please pick him up.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

So it's 1 year / 10.5 million for Berkman. Not a bad deal, but I can't help thinking that this actually decreases our chances of signing Lance to a long-term deal. If we could sign him to a long term deal now, why didn't we? And if we can't, I'm sure Lance is going to at least want to test free agency at the end of the year. And how many players sign with their original team when they're free agents? Not too many. 20%, at most?

So while I'm glad we locked up Berkman for one more year, I'm a little disappointed we couldn't sign him to a long term deal. With that said, if I had to choose between letting Berkman walk at the end of the year or giving him Beltran's 7 /105 contract, I let him walk. I still think Oswalt is more important to the future of the Astros. But I still want them both on the team.

I wonder how Berkman's knee injury affects the organization's willingness to consider a long-term contract? Now that I think about it, you might at least want some evidence that this injury won't affect Lance's play before you give him 50-60 mil. So maybe it's a good job of restraint, after all. I'm allowed to change my mind, right?
Snow day today. A few comments the last few days have made me realize: no matter what I think should happen, Craig Biggio will probably be starting the entire season for the Astros, barring injury. Phil Garner has said that as things stand right now, he anticipates a starting outfield of Biggio / Lane / Palmeiro. I find this strange, since I believe Palmeiro to be better defensively than Lane, but perhaps Garner just wants Lane to get used to CF, since that's where he'll probably play when Berkman returns: Biggio / Lane / Berkman. I think it's too much to ask to have Biggio return to 2nd, although he's said he wouldn't mind doing so: we have top prospect Chris Burke and overrated veteran Jose Vizcaino ready to go there.

It's not the worst thing in the world that Biggio starts - he had a nice bounceback year last year, right? Well, yes, but in an interesting way - his extra base hits jumped from 61 to 71, his batting average jumped 17 points, and his slugging average jumped 57 points, but his OBP (certainly the most important stat for a leadoff hitter, if not for all hitters) actually fell 13 points to .337, and he only drew 40 walks in 633 AB's, a troubling amount, and he slumped badly n the 2nd half (.256 / .308 / .451). What does it all mean? I think Biggio worked hard in the offseason to get some power back; he worked on eliminating the leg kick, allowing him to catch up to fastballs easier. However, he decided to swing at everything, maybe to 'prove' that he can still drive the ball. He needs to get back to drawing walks, or be moved down in the batting order.

Some more good news? Biggio's a fan favorite: he'll sell tickets. Left field is probably the easiest position to play at The Juice Box; he can play shallow because of the short porch, which minimizes his below-average arm. And it IS below-average. I remember in the NLCS against St. Lous, on a routine flyball to LF, Albert Pujols (bad heel and all) easily tagged up from 2nd to 3rd base. So Biggio's arm is pretty damn bad.

The main thing this all means is that if we trade for a CF, I think Lane would probably go to the bench (at least when Berkman returns.) If this is true, then maybe we shouldn't trade for a CF - we need to start the rebuilding process eventually, and Lane is likely to be part of that.

So: Lane as a CF. Lane's overall defensive numbers are pretty frightening, with a 1.03 Range Factor (league average: 1.86) over 129 games. This might be because Lane was often a late-game defensive replacement, but I wonder if he can handle CF. There's only one way to find out, I guess, and Lance Berkman actually did all right in center, so why not Lane?

I also saw that we lost D.J. Houlton in the Rule 5 draft (to the Dodgers). What the hell? I honestly don't understand how Rule 5 works, but this guy was our 2nd best pitching prospect last year, right after Ezequiel Astacio, so what gives?

Speaking of Astacio, I'd like to see him get a long look in Spring Training. The Astros have traditionally been aggressive in promoting young pitchers (Oswalt, Miller, Carlos Hernandez), so I hope Astacio also benefits from this.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It's snowing again here in Flagstaff, and my classes are starting to get a little more interesting. It's a busy semester, though, and my plans to have a poker 'job' on the side (10 hours a week, 25 dollars an hour, $1000 a month, to basically pay for rent + utilities) have fallen through, for now. But I've still got time to analyze some Astros rumors:

1. I read that now that the Marlins have signed Carlos Delgado they're looking to move an OF (most likely Juan Encarnacion) and are willing to package a good 1B prospect like Jason Stokes along with him. Encarnacion makes 4.25 million, which is a lot for a corner outfielder who has never had better than a .360 OBP. Stokes is a decent prospect, but not a great one (820 OPS or so at age 22 in AA) - he strikes out a ton and is pretty bad defensively. I thought maybe Encarnacion could play the Brian Jordan-esque role I suggested a week or so ago, mashing lefties, playing good defense, and an occasional pinch running episode, but Juan actually has a lower OPS against lefties than righties, he never walks, and his SB% is only around 70%. His defense is decent, though. Basically, I don't like this trade, unless we trade them absolutely nothing of value (Brandon Duckworth? Jose Vizcaino?).

2. There's a link from AstrosDaily that we're working on signing Berkman to a long-term contract. That's fine; he's a great player. But we need to exercise a little caution; as I've written before, Lance's power has gone down the last few years, players of his 'body type' generally don't age too well, he's only average defensively, and he eventually projects as a 1B, where offense can be found easily. None of this means we shouldn't sign him, as he's only 28, and has never done worse than a .927 OPS the last 4 years. But I might max out at 4 or 5 years, for no more than 10 millon a year if at all possible. Probably I'd start with 4 / 40, and go up to 5 / 55 at the highest. If given the choice between Oswalt and Berkman for the next 5 years, I choose Oswalt. Luckily we have club control of Oswalt for one more year than Berkman, so we can work out a contract with him next year - the only 'danger' is that Oswalt has a dominant year, wins the Cy Young, and is now out of price range. And I don't want to have to worry about Oswalt dominating. So sign him now.

I'm pumping out the summer baseball internships this week: the 'best' are with Atlanta, Oakland, Washington, Cincinnati, and Colorado, because they have internships somewhat related to statistics (baseball operations, player development, scouting, etc.)
I plan on sending letters to basically every MLB team, including an incredible one to the Astros, basically offering my soul for a stats internship. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I've assumed this whole offseason that Craig Biggio would move back to 2nd base, where he's played the majority of his career (including stints at catcher and the outfield). That way we could go with an OF of Lane / a CF who we trade for / Berkman, and an IF of Lamberg / Everett / Biggio (and Burke) / Bagwell, and Ausmus at C. I still think we'll trade for a CF, but is asking Biggio to move back to 2nd base really the best course of action?

You might have heard of the defensive spectrum, and it goes a little something like:

SS - 2B - CF - C - 3B - RF - LF - 1B.

At least that's what I think; maybe you could switch 2B and CF or LF and 1B. Anywho, second base is a much more demanding defensive position than left field, particularly at The Juice Box, where left field is approximately the size of a Cracker Jack Box because of the short wall.

Biggio is a special case since he's played more of his career at 2nd than anywhere else, but I think that it might work out better to have Biggio as a 4th OF / utility guy, able to play 2B only in case of an emergency. As long as he doesn't take playing time away from Jason Lane - Lane 'deserves' playing time more than Burke does. So an OF of Biggio / CF / Lane (with Palmeiro and Taveras as backup) to start, then Lane / CF / Berkman, with Biggio and Palmeiro as backup.

There are still plenty of CF rumors out there, but frankly, I'm sick of talking about them, so I won't mention them until one actually happens.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Astros signed The Ageless John Franco to a 1 year, 700K deal today. I don't like it at all. Chris Hammond just signed with the Padres for 750K, and here are their combined numbers from the last 3 years:

Hammond, '02 - '04: 192.2 IP, 2.06 ERA

Franco, '02-'04: 80.1 IP, 4.15 ERA

And here are their numbers against lefties:

Hammond, '02-'04: 252 AB, 626 OPS allowed

Franco, '02-'04: 120 AB, 637 OPS allowed.

Ok, so they are pretty similar against lefties, but Hammond is younger (he's 39, so there aren't too many pitchers he's younger than), healthier, and WAAAAY better against righties.

There's no silver lining here: we blew this one. We could have a much better pitcher for an extra 50K, and instead we waited too long, and now we're going to have to settle for either John Franco or Mike Gallo as our lefty reliever. And if we go with both, make that two mediocrities in our bullpen, and some potentially useful reliever (Qualls, Wheeler, Harville, Carlos Hernandez?) gets the shaft. Thumbs down, Astros management. Thumbs down.

But we're stuck with him now. My bullpen?

Closer - Brad Lidge. Duh.
Set-up guy - Chad Qualls, unless someone else steps up.
Middle Relief: Chad Harville
Dan Wheeler
Mike Burns
Lefty: John Franco (better against lefties than Gallo, at least)
Spot Starter: Dave Burba vs. Pete Munro

This is assuming Carlos Hernandez is the 5th starter and Tim Redding gets traded in a package for a center fielder.

If we had been a little more active on the free agent market, we could have easily had

Lidge
Antonio Osuna
Chris Hammond
Chad Qualls
Dan Wheeler
Chad Harville
Mike Burns

which is so much better than what we have it hurts me. I'm betting Osuna and Hammond combine for 100 innings of sub-3.00 ERA, and we could have had them for under 2 million combined. Damn damn damn.
My NFL Conference Championship Game picks

Falcons at Eagles: Is this the year? Can Philly finally make it to a Super Bowl? I think yes. Dome teams are 1-8 in conference championship games. The significance...the Falcons play in a dome, and it's supposed to be a wind chill of 1 degree for the game. I think the Eagles defense steps it up enough today, especially Jeremiah Trotter versus the Falcons running game. While, McNabb does just enough to pull out the victory. Oh yea, how could I forget the importance of Freddie Mitchell's hands...they're just so good. I say Philly wins 20-17.

Pats at Steelers: How can anyone not pick the Pats after last week's performance? You hold Manning and the Colts high-flying offense to 3 points...THREE POINTS! Simply amazing! Let's face it, if you can shut down Peyton Manning, then Ben Rothlisberger isn't gonna do jack against you. The Steelers are gonna have to rely on the run, as Big Ben looked terrible last week versus the Jets. I just think the Pats' defense is too good. Plus, unlike their meeting earlier in the year, they have Dillon this time. Dillon, Brady and the Pats defense will get it done. I say NE wins 27-17.
I'm picking the Falcons over the Eagles (Philly's NFC Championship Game tradition continues) and the Steelers over the Patriots (more of a wish pick, really; I'm sick of the Pats and the Tom Brady lovefest).

There is a rumor going around that the Astros and the Twins might be close to a trade of Redding, Ensberg, and Jason Hirsh (pitcher, 1st round pick last year) for Torii Hunter. I'm not sure how I feel about this trade; Hunter is overrated offensively: he's put up a .310 and a .330 OBP the last two years after his career year of '02. He hits for a little power and has some speed, but his true value comes defensively, where you've all seen him crashing into walls or robbing Barry Bonds in the All Star Game a few years back. However, based on baseball-reference.com's stats, he's lost a step, as his former lofty Range Factor stats have slipped to just slightly above average.

Redding probably needs to be traded, and although I'm still high on Ensberg (I think he was more hurt than he let on last year, and he'll bounce back to somewhere in between '03 and '04), we've got Lamb and there are also rumors we might be looking to acquire Placido Polanco, who is one of the most underrated players in baseball. Polanco is excellent at any IF position defensively and has put up OPS+ of 112 and 101 the last two years. I guess he and Lamb would platoon at 3B, though he's a great insurance policy if anyone in the IF gets hurt or Burke struggles, etc.

If these moves are done in combination, they might work out all right, as an up-the-middle defense of Ausmus, Everett, Burke, and Hunter would probably be the best in baseball. However, I wouldn't do the Hunter trade by itself, as Lamb is pretty bad defensively.

No matter what happens with CF, I'd love to trade for Polanco. The guy is awesome. We don't have that much room at the moment, with Ensberg, Lamb, Everett, Burke, Biggio, and Vizcaino all as possible 3B / SS / 2B candidates, but there is always room for a guy like Polanco. And the Phillies have a full infield, so he might come cheap.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Apparently Astros management wasn't as insulted by Clemens' 22 million proposal as I was, as today they agreed to a 1 year, 18 million dollar deal. I did mention that Clemens was a special case - he sells tickets, plain and simple. He's the most famous and probably best pitcher of our lifetime, can still bring it, I think that all his home starts were sell-outs last season, etc., etc.

18 million is still a lot of money, but honestly, how else are we gonna spend it? I guess we could lock up Berkman and Oswalt to long-term deals, but we might be able to lock up Berkman this year for 5/60 or something and then lock up Oswalt next year after Clemens leaves.

The fact is we are a MUCH better team with Clemens than without, so I can't really say anything bad about this signing. Oswalt / Pettitte / Clemens / Backe / Redding or Munro or Hernandez is a huge step up from any rotation without Clemens. Will this be the year he ages? I doubt it; the guy is still in tremendous shape and you can't really argue with 18-4, 2.89 ERA, 218K's from last year.

My main concern is where we go from here. If we just call this offseason done with, I'm still pretty worried. I think the Astros are still a bit of a longshot to make the playoffs, and we're an old team (Clemens, Biggio, Bagwell, Pettitte, Ausmus), so we need to recognize we have to look towards the future. So we should at least consider signing Berkman or Oswalt to long-term deals.

I mentioned Leskanic as a bullpen candidate, and I stand by him, but I also think Jeff Nelson would be a nice pickup. I think the Cubs are likely to feature a 2-5 of Garciaparra / Sosa / Ramirez / Lee, and Nelson is death (absolute death) against righties. He'd be worth his 1.5 million or whatever just from pitching against the Cubs and Pujols and Rolen.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Well, no more Brian Jordan, as the Braves signed him to a 1 year / 1 million dollar deal.

There have been quite a few players signed in the last week or so (Jordan, Loaiza, Antonio Osuna, Scott Williamson, Steve Reed) that I thought could definitely help the Astros. And we have done what we've basically done all offseason: nothing.

I realize that we were focused on Beltran for a long time, and now we're probably trying to figure out the arbitration deals for the big 3 first, but still...we've done nothing. Absolutely nothing. As a GM, you have to be proactive, not reactive, and so far Purpura has done a terrible job of addressing team needs. If he really think re-signing Viz and Palmeiro are the only things needed this offseason, it might be a painful few years. Perhaps he's simply better suited to player development.

The only player left on the free agent market that I think might be worth a look is Curtis Leskanic. He's been a pretty solid bullpen addition for the last few years, and you can't expect all our guys (Qualls, Wheeler, Harville, Burns(?), Gallo, Burba(?), Wendell(?)) to work out. So damn it, do something, Purpura!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

It's arbitration time.

The Astros have 3 of the 4 largest differences between a player's asking price (1st number) and the team's counter-offer (2nd number):

Roger Clemens: 22mil / 13.5
Roy Oswalt: 7.8 / 6
Lance Berkman: 11 / 10 mil

Well, that's some money. I'm kind of surprised we can offer the 29.5 million dollars we'd be spending if those big 3 accept those offers.

Brad Ausmus makes 2 million, Viz and Palmeiro both make around 1 million, Bagwell makes about 16 million, Pettitte goes up to 7.5 million, Lidge should get a raise to around 3 million, a mystery CFer will get around 3.5 million, and everyone else (that leaves Chavez, Lamb, Burke, Everett, Ensberg, Lane, Taveras, Backe, Munro, Redding, Hernandez, Duckworth, Qualls, Wheeler, Harville, Gallo, Burns, and Astacio) will probably average around 750K = (750)(18) = 13.5 million (I did that in my head....woooo.) So add all that up and it equals 77 million. Our payroll last year was 'only' 74.66 million. So what gives?

I know the Astros and the Rockets are getting a new TV deal that should increase revenue. And the team's succesful 2004 (one game away from WS, home sell-outs the entire last 1/4 of the season) should generate some buzz heading into '05.

I think I would rather spend the 29.5 million we could spend in arbitration on the big 3 by signing Berkman to a 5 year / 60 million dollar deal (a little less than what Vladi got) and Oswalt to a 4 year / 48 million dollar deal. That still leaves 5.5 million to play around with. Give Brian Jordan a 1 year / 1 million dollar deal, and give Esteban Loaiza a 1 year / 2 million dollar deal with up to 4.5 in incentives (200 IP, sub-4.00 ERA).

Of course, Clemens is a special case. It seemed like every home start he made was a sellout. He'll sell tickets. But my god, 22 million? I'd tell him to shove it up his ass, thanks for losing Game 7, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Monday, January 17, 2005

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:

Lidge
Shuey
Qualls
Wheeler
Harville
Mike Burns (who I forgot last time but TORE UP Double-A in '04)
Mike Gallo

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.

Biggio
Winn
Berkman
Bagwell
Lane
Ensberg
Everett
Ausmus

You could do worse. How Lane, Ensberg, and Everett do in '05 will be huge.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Check out what Pettitte said about his elbow:

"Let's put it this way," Pettitte said. "It doesn't hurt to comb my hair and brush my teeth and turn a doorknob like it did last year. I feel great. I think [the doctors] fixed me up, and I'm looking [forward] to having no problems."

Yikes. It hurt him to turn a doorknob? That's crazy. I wonder how long he went on pitching through pain before the doctors told him to quit. I feel like Pettitte's the kind of guy who would go out there every fifth day, no matter what state his arm was in. But I don't care who you are, you gotta let someone know if you're hurt, especially if you're a pitcher.

I haven't seen anything on AstrosDaily about Redding-for-Cruz, but I agree that it would be a great trade for both teams. Redding has, unfortunately, worn out his welcome in Houston. Few fans remember that he was a solid pitcher in 2003 despite the losing record. His terrible start last year is fresh in our minds, and no one (myself included) is excited about him being in our rotation in 2005.

As for Jose Cruz Jr.: He played with Lance at Rice, and his old man is already here. Rumor is he WANTS to come here and play for us. You gotta believe that a player will try harder if he's in a comfortable, desirable situation. And hopefully trying harder equals playing better and producing more runs.

Another option: Rusty Greer? He hasn't played since 2002, but check out his stats! Career .305 / .387 / .478!!! And he has 300 innings at centerfield. Just something to keep in mind. Maybe a minor-league deal? At worst he can be a fourth or fifth outfielder. Doof: he's 36.

Scott Williamson is still available. He is damn good. Sign him. Also Osuna, Powell, Nelson, Mendoza, Groom, Mecir, Steve Reed, Rick White, Scott Stewart, John Franco or Roberto Hernandez all make good bullpen candidates.

We could do a lot worse than signing a veteran starter to an incentive-laden deal. Sele overpowers no one, but he can eat innings. A 4.50 ERA entirely in the AL sounds decent to me. Nomo could bounce back. He always seems to waver, flip-flopping good years with bad ones. After a terrible year, he might be great in 2005. Omar Daal throws a lot of junk -- he might find his rythym. Pedro Astacio might be over his injuries, and the guy can pitch. Loaiza will cost too much for an unstable, unreliable pitcher.

It wouldn't take more than a million to sign any one of those other guys. We ought to take a chance. I like Sele the best out of this group. Like Darrell May, he will not dominate. But a 4.50 ERA isn't the worst thing in the world. Especially if we can't lure Rocket back, and if we end up trading Redding for Cruz, we gotta find some depth in our rotation. Oswalt and Pettitte are not the two healthiest guys around. But a base rotation of Oswalt-Pettitte-Sele-Backe-Hernandez/Duckworth/Munro might be just strong enough to win some games.

I really, really like the Atlanta Falcons right now. What other team in football is actually FUN to watch?
A quick Tim Purpura quote:

Astros general manager Tim Purpura hasn't ruled out Burnitz, 35, but he said the club has other priorities.
"We've been pursuing a lot of other possibilities, and that's been on the backburner for us," Purpura said. "We're going to move at a pace that works for us, and I've had a lot of other conversations throughout the week that have a little bit more interest for us.


I approve. This is the way to solve the CF problem; don't just latch onto Burnitz, but talk to Seattle about Randy Winn, to Tampa about Jose Cruz Jr., to the Mets about Mike Cameron, to the A's about Eric Byrnes, and see what you like the best. Other than that, I wonder what 'other possibilities' we could be pursuing. Regardless, I like the action.

I forgot to make a note that the Astros signed Turk Wendell and Dave Burba to minor league deals and both will be invited to spring training. I don't really like Turk Wendell, even if he does have a shark necklace, but I like taking a flyer on Burba. He's put up ERA+'s of 93, 124, and 99 the last 3 years, his strikeout rates are still good, and he'll come cheap. Let me put it this way: he's better than Pete Munro.

One other thing that has been on my mind is this: Purpura has said in the last week or so that he wants to sign Berkman to a long-term deal, and he's more concerned with signing Berkman than Oswalt.

This is a dangerous position. (Note: I know we have one more year of arbitration with Oswalt and that Berkman will be a FA after this year, but bear with me.) Not that Lance Berkman isn't an incredibly valuable player. But if I had to choose one to give a 5 year / 60 million dollar deal to (and I hope Purpura can choose both), it would be Oswalt.

Why?

1. Berkman will be 29 on Opening Day 2005. Oswalt will be 27.
2. Some of Berkman's most 'similar' hitters at his age, according to baseball-reference, are Tim Salmon, Albert Belle, and Mo Vaughn. These guys all have something in common: they all declined a lot after their 29th birthday. They were still good players, but not superstars. In addition, Berkman eventually projects to replace Bagwell at 1B, which is a position where you can pick someone off the minor league scrap heap and expect a decent year. Put this way: if you had to choose between a 950 OPS at 1B or a 3.00 ERA over 200 innings, there is no doubt in my mind that the 3.00 ERA over 200 innings is more valuable. Oswalt's most 'similar' pitchers at his age include Mike Mussina and David Cone (and Tim Hudson), who both remained effective pitchers well into their 30's. Oswalt might be more of an injury risk now, but Berkman projects to be a bigger injury risk in the future. He should retain his batting eye, but he's losing power, and he loses a bit of bat speed, watch out.
3. Berkman's SLG% over the last 4 years: 620, 578, 515, 566. Extra base hits: 94, 79, 66, 73. He definitely had a nice year in '04, but his power seems to be decreasing.

I hope we can sign them both to long term deals. But if I had to choose one, I go with Roy O over Fat Elvis.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A few corrections:

Darrell May was outrighted to AAA by the Padres, who obtained him in a trade with the Royals. He's due 3.2 million in '05.

Well, that changes a few things. 3.2 million is a little more than I'd like to pay. I still think May could be a decent pickup, especially since Hernandez might be hurt, Redding might be traded, Duckworth might be Duckworth, and that leaves Pete Murno and the batboy as our 4th and 5th starters.

Roger Clemens and Lance Berkman both filed for salary arbitration. If Clemens decides to return, he's a lock to get at least as much money as Greg Maddux did in '04 (12 million or so), and Berkman is due a raise from the 6.5 million he made in '04.

Ezequiel Astacio has had an awesome winter season; he was named rookie of the year, and went 4-0 with an ERA below 2.00. I wonder if we're considering him as the 5th starter?
A lot more rumors on various message boards that the Redding / Cruz Jr. trade is all but done. This is a good trade for us, and will be the first good move Purpura has made. He could make a 2nd one by signing Darrell May, who was cut by the Royals today. May had a rough year last year, putting up a 5.61 ERA in 186 innings, but he was excellent the year before (3.77 ERA in 210 innings), and made half his starts in the hitter's park of Kaufmann Stadium. The main reason his ERA ballooned up so much was he suddenly became much more hittable, allowing 234 hits in 186 innings compared to 197 in 210 innings in '03. One of the main discoveries in recent years is that pitchers have surprisingly little control over batting average allowed. In other words, May likely just had poor luck in '04.

I don't think May will dominate, but 175 innings of a 4.50 ERA sounds reasonable, and in a rotation with as many question marks as ours, an inning-eater like May would be an excellent cheap pickup. How about a 1 year / 2 million dollar deal?

Friday, January 14, 2005

A guy at the Astros message board says that a Tim Redding-for-Jose Cruz Jr. trade is in the works and will be announced in the 24/48 hours. What can I say; I'm desperate. It may well be crap, but I'll take what I can get. This would be an excellent trade for both teams, probably; the Astros really need outfield help, and the Rays need pitching. Tim Redding could probably benefit from a change of scenery, and Cruz Jr. is only signed for 1 year at around 3 million, so we wouldn't be stuck with him for years to come. I hope this trade goes through, as Cruz could play a solid (better than Burnitz, worse than Cameron, like 90% of the outfielders out there) center field, and put up somewhere around a 260 / 350 / 450 line. Heck, maybe he likes having his dad in the organization and has a career year, putting up something like 280 / 370 / 500, which would make me very very happy. If this trade goes through and Clemens doesn't re-sign, I imagine our rotation as something like

Oswalt
Pettitte
Backe
Carlos Hernandez
Pete Munro

which ain't so great. Maybe we could give Esteban Loaiza an incentive-laden 1 year deal. I don't even know who else is out there that's any good. Convincing Clemens to come back for one more year should would be nice.
So Jose Cruz Sr. thinks we should trade for his son. Not that he's biased or anything. Actually, I'd be plenty happy with trading for Jr., AS LONG AS WE DON'T GIVE UP BURKE OR LANE OR BACKE. Redding for Cruz Jr.? The Rays have Crawford, Baldelli, and they just signed Danny Bautista, so it certainly looks as though they could trade Cruz. Just don't give up a top prospect, Purpura.

I think this might be our best option - as good as Mike Cameron is, he's slightly more of an injury risk and would probably cost too many prospects. Jeromy Burnitz should not play CF. But I think Cruz Jr. could, and I think we could make a decent trade with TB - after all, Blum-for-Backe worked out pretty well.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

All right, I might have been a bit harsh on ol' Jeromy (I can't spell my name) Burnitz. I still think, nay, insist, that Mike Cameron is far and away superior...but Cameron might cost us prospects and is more of an injury risk, as he's coming off wrist surgery in the offseason. My only hope is that Purpura doesn't go overboard with this contract; Burnitz is 35, and at the most that I can 'recommend' is 2 years, hopefully for no more than 5 million. Burnitz can still put up a decent OBP, though I can say with confidence that an OF of Jason Lane / Jeromy Burnitz / Lance Berkman has an excellent chance of being the worst defensive OF in baseball.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hey, Jack... we missed TheJuicebox's one-year anniversary. Your first post was Jan. 7, 2004. Pettitte and Clemens had just signed, Redding and Robertson were battling for the fifth spot, and Colin Porter was our fifth outfielder. Oh, those days were filled with optimsim... and Space Exploration, and "Friends," and the Uber-Supreme Championship of Toughness. I was in South Carolina and you were in Cesky Krumlov. Ah... the good old days.
There have been some posts on the AstrosDaily forums lately that Burnitz is better than Cameron. For some reason I can't register to post on there, but here's what I would say if I could:

I can't believe anyone actually thinks Burnitz is better than Cameron.
Burnitz, road, 2004: .244 / .327 / .448 (775 OPS), 13 HR, 29 BB in 270 AB.
Cameron, road, 2004: .234 / .329 / .512 (841 OPS), 19 HR, 31 BB in 252 AB.
Cameron is also significantly better defensively, 4 years younger, and is a better baserunner.
"How about strikeouts? He's averaged 137 strikeouts per season the last eight years. His K/BB ratio is beyond atrocious. "
Well, he's also averaged over 65 walks a season over the 8 years. Which works out to approximately 1 walk / 2 K's. Biggio last year: 40 BB / 94 K. As a leadoff man!
"He is an EXCELLENT CF...not a TORI HUNTER...but not a BIGGIO either. He is the upper end of DEFENSIVE OF.
But we need some pop guys. Our lineup is really weak. I think a POWER OF period will be better for this squad."
Agreed, Cameron isn't Torii Hunter defenisvely - he's better, by almost any defensive metric you care to use. As for power, he slugged .514 last year on the road, with 19 HR in 252 AB's.
Mike Cameron is an excellent player. Jeromy Burntiz is replacement level.
In addition to inquiring about Burnitz, Cameron and Winn, it appears that Purpura has interest in Danny Bautista as well. What a sorry bunch. Cameron can't hit over .240 anymore, Burnitz can't hit anywhere unless he's a mile high, and Bautista and Winn are mediocre at best. But to cheer everyone up, I made a little multiple-choice quiz involving next year's potential outfielders. Good luck!

1) .319 A) Difference between Burnitz's OPS at home and away
2) .282 B) Winn's career slugging percentage
3) .315 C) Cameron's OBP last year
4) .411 D) Bautista's career OBP

(Answers at the bottom of this post.)

By the way, the Astros signed TURK WENDELL to a minor-league contract. Dave Veres v. 2.0. At least it's a minor-league contract. He's turning 38 in May, and has a career 3.93 ERA. Lefties hit him up pretty good (1.75 WHIP) but can control righties (1.21 WHIP). Who knows. He could pull a Miceli (But I can't tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing)

I guess signing Mike Lamb to a $1.3 million contract (with another 200K based on PAs) is a good thing. It's hard to put him down after he hit .288/.356/.511 and hit 14 homers in 278 ABs. That's DAMN GOOD, but I have a gut feeling that he won't come close to those numbers in 2005. It seemed like he just closed his eyes and swung as hard as he could every time. His stance looks so funky — like he has no control over where his bat is going. But I guess it works for him.

I hoped we'd trade him while his value was at its peak (just like we shoulda traded Redding after 2003). But you never know. Maybe he will repeat. And like Jack says, he can fill in for Bagwell at first when needed. Plus, I like the idea of trying him out in left field. I like it a LOT. This line-up doesn't look half-bad:

Pre-Berkman:
Biggio LF
Ensberg 3B
Bagwell 1B
Lane CF
Lamb RF
Burke 2B
Everett SS
Ausmus C

Post-Berkman:
Biggio 2B
Ensberg 3B
Bagwell 1B
Berkman RF
Lane CF
Lamb LF
Everett SS
Ausmus C

Who needs to sign another outfielder? Lamb's the man! Of course, Burke should get his playing time at 2B, Lamb will fill in for Ensberg and Bagwell from time to time, Biggio can get some playing time in left, Palmeiro could fill in somewheres. And then there's Vizcaino.

Besides, who ever said that great teams have to have players in the same positions every day? Look at Tony LaRussa's Cardinals. They always mix and match... and win. Why are we promising that Biggio will stay in left all year? He wouldn't mind moving aroud a bit... he'd probably enjoy it. And why not have Lamb play left, third and first? He's terrible defensively anyway... let's spread him around. Let's try out Burke at short when we discover that Everett still can't hit.

One thought that occurs to me: Berkman most likely cannot play CF with his bad knee. Not like I was hoping he'd play there to begin with, but we shouldn't even consider him playing there.

Another tought occurs to me: We have the same problems as last year. These problems are named Everett and Ausmus. Look at those line-ups. Biggio, Ensberg, Bagwell, Berkman, Lane, Lamb and Burke are all above average. No matter how or where we play them, they will score runs. They can hit. Everett and Ausmus cannot. Those are our problems.

Answers: 1C, 2A, 3D, 4B
Guess I should have checked Rotoworld this morning before posting, since there's a few Astros-related tidbits:

1. Astros GM Tim Purpura spoke with Jeromy Burnitz's agent on Monday.Burnitz wants to play center and the Astros could be willing to let him. Pittsburgh and Arizona also have vacancies in center.

I could live with it, but Burnitz is pretty bad in CF. Decent OBP, good power, bad defense. I don't like it that much.

2. Mariners GM Bill Bavasi denied reports he's talked with the Astros about Randy Winn.If the two teams talk, Brandon Backe's name figures to come up. The Astros could be smart to sell high with him.

It wouldn't be a terrible idea to sell high with Backe, but I would probably want more than Randy Winn in return. Bavasi is a terrible GM - surely we could do a little better than that.

3. Mike Cameron hasn't asked for a trade, but he would prefer to play center field elsewhere than right field in New York, Newsday reports.Cameron and Cliff Floyd to the Cubs for Sammy Sosa? Cameron to the Astros for Jason Lane? Or maybe we'll see the Manny Ramirez talks with Boston revisited. The Diamondbacks, A's, Tigers and Yankees could also be interested in Cameron. If the Mets can trade him without taking much salary in return, they'd have an easier time signing Carlos Delgado. If they don't get a right fielder back, they could then let Eric Valent and Victor Diaz battle for playing time.

Well, Cameron-for-Jason Lane wouldn't help us at all. We need Lane in LF. Well...hang on a sec. If we do trade Lane, we could play Biggio at LF, Burke at 2B, and put Cameron in CF, who might help hide some of Biggio's shortcomings. Still, it would be a shame to trade Lane, who has put in more than enough time to earn a starting job. I would much rather try Backe-for-Cameron or a couple of prospects for Cameron (Todd Self? Bucholz? Brooks Conrad?)

4. Astros re-signed third baseman Mike Lamb to a one-year, $1.3 million contract.He can earn $200,000 in bonuses. Lamb will battle Morgan Ensberg for playing time at third base. He'll probably be the backup, but he should still get a fair amount of playing time. Depending on what happens the rest of the winter, the Astros may try him in the outfield during spring training.

Lamb's defensive numbers in the OF are terrible. I don't like it. He fits in better as a backup 3B and late inning pinch hitter. He could also give Bagwell the occasional day off so his shoulder doesn't implode.

Ok, I guess that's it. Purpura, at least TALK to Bavasi about Randy Winn (another report has Hargrove leaning towards making Jeremy Reed his fulltime CF next year, which would move Winn to LF, Ichiro! to RF, and Ibanez to DH, but the Mariners might like to play Bucky Jacobsen at DH) or the Mets about Mike Cameron. Don't just settle for 35 year old, chubby, slow, Jeromy Burnitz. Do some homework.
Two new possibilities for center field:

1. Jeromy Burnitz, who is fielding offers from a few other teams, and
2. Mike Cameron, who apparently wants out of New York so he can play CF.

I think you know who I'm going to say we should go after.

Rather than looking at Burnitz's and Cameron's overall stats, let's look at their road stats (since Burnitz plays his home games at Coors, an insane hitter's park, and Cameron at Shea, a pitcher's park)

Burnitz, road, 2004: .244 / .327 / .448 (775 OPS), 13 HR, 29 BB in 270 AB.
Cameron, road, 2004: .234 / .329 / .512 (841 OPS), 19 HR, 31 BB in 252 AB.

Cameron is also one of the best (perhaps the best) defensive CF in the game (career Range Factor of 2.74 vs. 236 league average) and Burnitz is...not (career CF Range Factor of 1.77 vs. league average of 2.24).

Cameron is 32, makes 7 million in 2005 and 2006, while Burnitz is 35, and not signed, so we could conceivably get him for less (maybe 2/6?) I still say we go after Cameron, because of his tremendous defense and underrated offense, and he's younger. We'd have him for two years, at which point we should have a younger OF ready to go (Taveras or Scott). The more I think about it, the more I like it: trade for Mike Cameron! The Mets need to free up payroll to go after Delgado, so they might let him go for surprisingly little. They need bullpen help or maybe a 4th OF...maybe Willy Taveras or Luke Scott plus Mike Burns or something?

If we do (and I hope we do) get Cameron, we could bat him 2nd, although he does strike out a lot. I'm not sure who we should bat leadoff against RHP; it'll probably be Biggio, anyway. I also have a sickening hunch that Garner will bat Everett 2nd despite his weak OBP, so our lineup would most likely be

Biggio
Everett
Berkman
Bagwell
Cameron
Lane
Ensberg
Ausmus.

That has the potential to be an excellent 3-7, at least.

While I'm on the subject of Garner, I think he's an excellent motivator, but I wish he would think 'outside the box' a little more. Case in point: Berkman's injury gives us an excellent opportunity to see how Chris Burke can do at 2nd. We could start Biggio in LF until Berkman returns, and then decide if Biggio or Burke should start and 2nd. However, Garner has already stated he won't move Biggio around at all, so we're more likely to see Orlando Palmeiro start the season in RF. Ugh. You've gotta be creative to be a succesful manager these days.

So, anyway, Mike Cameron. Do it.

Oh, I almost forgot, we re-signed Mike Lamb to a 1 year, 1.3 million dollar deal, with a possible 200K more based on plate appearances. Garner has said he wants to get Lamb into the lineup more, which I guess is ok, though I'd rather see him traded somewhere, since I can't really see him having a better year than he did in '04. Not a bad signing though.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Ready for a kinda long one? I just finished walking 2.5 miles uphill in the snow (sounds like one of grandpa's stories that starts, "Why, when I was your age...") and I had plenty of time to think about baseball.

First things first: remember a few posts ago when I said there weren't any good left-handed hitters in the NL Central? Well, that's crap. But try this one on for size: there aren't any good left-handed pitchers in the NL Central. Ok, Oliver Perez. But other than that: Glendon Rusch? Doug Davis? Eric Milton? What am I getting at? Well, the Astros play 81 games against the NL Central, and it looks to me like about 75 of those games we'll be facing right-handed pitchers.

Quick aside: back to Center Field for one sec. Check out Randy Winn's numbers against righties the last 3 years:

2004: .299 / .359 / .453 (812 OPS)
2003: .288 / .337 / .399 (736 OPS)
2002: .283 / .351 / .434 (785 OPS)

For his career, Winn has a 784 OPS against lefties and a 743 OPS against righties. Well, that wasn't what I was hoping for...but I guess a 743 OPS isn't terrible for a slightly above-average defensive CF.

Just for comparison's sake, here are Jose Cruz Jr.'s numbers against righties the last 3 years:

2004: .233 / .320 / .420 (740 OPS)
2003: .233 / .353 / .379 (732 OPS)
2002: .253 / .334 / .478 (813 OPS)

For his career, Cruz Jr. has a 817 OPS against lefties and a 781 OPS against righties.

I was hoping one of them would have especially good stats against righties, but I was wrong. How about one last guy, just for the heck of it..

Ben Grieve, against RHP, last 3 years:

2004: .254 / .356 / .411 (767 OPS)
2003: .241 / .381 / .384 (765 OPS)
2002: .262 / .365 / .476 (841 OPS)

For his career, Grieve has a 666 OPS against lefties and a 805 OPS against righties.

So, what does this all mean? Well, ignore Grieve for a second: we still need a center fielder. Just looking at Winn's and Cruz's raw stats, they're pretty similar, but apparently Tampa won't trade Cruz without getting Lane in return, so forget that. The only problem with Winn is I don't see how the Mariners trade him without getting an OF in return, UNLESS they play Sexson in LF, Ichiro! in CF, and Ibanez in RF, which I don't really see happening. But either of those guys would be fine by me, and we really need one of them (Winn / Cruz). I still think Grieve would make an excellent 4th OF, and that Palmeiro is much better suited as a 5th OF. In addition, both Winn and Cruz are signed for one more year only (both for around 3 million in 2005), so there wouldn't be any long term commitment, which could be nice if Taveras or Luke Scott suddenly dominate. My summary: trade for Winn or Cruz, sign Grieve, and your OF looks like Lane in LF, Winn/Cruz in CF, Berkman/Grieve in RF.

While I'm on the whole lefty pitcher vs. righty pitcher tangent, I'll post what I think our ideal lineups are against lefties and against righties:

Against LHP:

1. Craig Biggio, 2B: (.303 / .385 / .513) Biggio rocked against lefties in 2004, and has a slightly better OPS against them for his career (817 vs. 804) I don't know why he was so much better against them in 2004; maybe it has something to do with the leg kick?
2. Lance Berkman, RF: (.272 / .404 / .432) What??? Berkman hitting 2nd??? Well, yeah. He's always had excellent OBP's but little power against LHP, which makes him an ideal candidate for batting 2nd against them.
3. Jeff Bagwell, 1B: You don't even want to know his stats against LHP in 2004. I'm going to chalk that up as an anomaly, because for his career he's hitting .321 / .447 / .579 against them.
4. Jason Lane, LF: He didn't really have enough AB's against LHP in 2004 to make the sample size relevant, but for his career his numbers are .308 / .376 / . 596 against them in 104 AB's.
5. Morgan Ensberg, 3B: Similar to Bagwell, he struggled against lefties in 2004 and had an all-around down year; I'm going assume he hits closer to his career numbers against them, which are .304 / .402 / .515.
6. Randy Winn, CF: (.293 / .347 / .436, for his career).
7. Adam Everett, SS: Again, similar to Ensberg and Bagwell, he struggled against lefties in 2004, but I'll assume his career numbers against them: .279 / .353 / .430.
8. Brad Ausmus, C: (.308 / .382 / .423) I still think he's terrible, but look at those numbers against LHP in 2004! A 382 OBP! Wow.

Some notes: I realize that I'm 'cheating'; for some players, I'm using their 2004 numbers (Biggio, Berkman, Ausmus), and for some I'm using their career numbers (Bagwell, Ensberg, Everett). What can I say? I'm an optimist.

Look at that lineup. The lowest OBP on there is Winn's 347. Quick rundown of the OBP's and OPS:

385, 898
404, 836
447, 1026
376, 972
402, 917
347, 783
353, 783
382, 805

I'm no expert, but I think that's pretty good. Like 2003 Red Sox good. Too bad there aren't more lefties in our division.

And now, the much more important lineup: the one against righties.

Against RHP:

1. Randy Winn, CF: (.299 / .359 / .453 in 2004) Biggio just doesn't cut it leading off against RHP; Winn does, and he has solid SB% numbers.
2. Morgan Ensberg, 3B: (.268 / .335 / .438 for his career). I know, not all that impressive, but for whatever reason, Ensberg was TREMENDOUSLY better hitting 2nd in 2003 than 6th in 2004; maybe it's because he saw much better pitches to hit. Whatever it was, we have to move him up to 2nd again, and in fact, it might be worth it to move him up to 2nd against LHP also. Whatever it takes to get him back to his monster 2003.
3. Lance Berkman, RF: (. 314 / .426 / .605 for his career) That is simply incredible. INCREDIBLE. That's a 1031 OPS in over 2,000 ABs against RHP. That's what you build an offense around, folks.
4. Jeff Bagwell, 1B: (.291 / .392 / .505 in 2004) He had a down year, but those are still excellent numbers against righties. I think his struggles against lefties were a fluke, and although he's not the player he once was, I don't really think he needs to change anything for 2005.
5. Jason Lane, LF (.258 / .331 / .469 for his career). He needs to start all year in LF. It's his time to prove himself.
6. Craig Biggio, 2B (.276 / .326 / . 459 in '04). Not a great OBP, but surprising power. He really shouldn't be leading off against righties. How often does he chase that slider down and away?
7. Adam Everett, SS (.251 / .306 / .350 for his career). Yech. This is a big chance for Everett to prove himself, too - it would be nice if he could bat higher because of his speed, but he just doesn't have the OBP for it.
8. Brad Ausmus, C (.253 / .318 / .349) Yech again. Three words: No. Better. Options.

A few notes: I'll assume Biggio gets the majority of starts at 2B, with Burke occasionally filling in. Although these stats aren't quite as impressive, it really comes down to what 2005 is all about: chances for the young players. If Ensberg, Lane, and Everett can come through, we could be a solid team. One thing I've noticed is how important it is to trade for a CF: Biggio, aside from being terrible defensively in the OF, just can't put up the production you'd expect from a corner OF. So please, Purpura, trade some combination of Lamb / Redding / Duckworth to Seattle for Randy Winn. He's good offensively, good defensively, and would be a shorty and somewhat cheap commitment.

Trade for a CF and hope the young guys step up. That should be the game plan in '05.
A random poster at Baseball Primer's Message Board said they he was listening to a Carlos Beltran interview and Beltran reportedly said they he "never considered the Astros". To which I have to send a big FUCK YOU to Beltran and Boras, for leaving us high and dry while all other possible free agent options (J.D. Drew, Odalis Perez, Adrian Beltre) slipped through our fingers.

From Rotoworld:

If the Astros can't land Soriano, it appears they'll turn their attention to acquiring Randy Winn from Seattle or Marlon Byrd from Philadelphia.
Jan. 11 - 1:41 pm etSource: Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The same article says that the Rangers are leaning towards keeping Soriano (and not pursuing Delgado). This is good news - Soriano is overpaid and would not be a good fit. So, Winn and Byrd:

Randy Winn, 31, CF, Switch hitter:

His OPS+ the last 3 years (100 is league average for his position, and this takes park factors into account also...check out Baseball Reference for more info) have been 117, 105, and 107. He has a good stolen base rate the last 3 years (77%, 82%, 75%), he's only missed 20 games the last 3 yeras, and his fielding has been excellent (his Range Factor is consistently higher than league average for a CF). Some of his 'similar batters' look good, like Jose Cruz and Steve Finley...but I have to mention that his #1 comp is Doug Glanville. Ouch. Overall, a solid player, and he made 3.5 million last year for the Mariners.

Marlon Byrd, 27, CF, Bats right:

He had an excellent 2003, with a 109 OPS+, 11 steals vs. 1 caught stealing, and a good Range Factor at the age of 25, and then proceeded to be absolutely terrible last year. Check it out. That's rough: a 57 OPS+! What happened? Was he hurt? I couldn't find any mention of it if he was, and his 2nd half stats were as bad as his 1st half. I don't know what caused it, but maybe he's just not that good. At this point, I can't really recommend acquiring him, because he was so damn bad last year. We could probably get him pretty cheap, but I just don't know.

I'd rather see us go after his Philly buddy Jason Michaels, age 27, Bats right:

Here are his career numbers in 519 AB:

.283 / .370 / .457, 17 HR, 70 BB, 137 K (!)

He's not very good defensively (check out one of Andy's recent posts for his blooper of the year), but I'd rather have him than Byrd right now.

Well, I have to be honest: none of those 3 guys really knocks my socks off. I'd rank them 1) Winn 2) Michaels 3) Byrd. I guess I say try and trade for Winn, if for no other reason than the fact that we can probably destory Bill Bavasi in a trade - think of it as a test for Purpura.

I've heard a few suggestions that we try Mike Lamb in LF. While it's not a terrible idea (Lamb couldn't really be worse than Biggio in LF), it ignores the fact that it would push Lane or Berkman to center, which could spell disaster.

Go after Winn, I guess. I'm kinda depressed just thinking about it.
Craig Biggio is the 6th greatest second baseman ever" according to some guy. Biggio ranks 6th all-time in Runs Created Above Average at his Position (RCAP). And Ryne Sandberg just got in, which bodes well for Biggio.

I have this to say about Beltran: sour grapes.

The Phillies don't really NEED anything. Which is the problem, if we're trying to trade for Jason Michaels (yea!) or Marlon Byrd (no!). I'd prefer Michaels, despite his blooper of the year. Hahahahaha. Seriously, though, the Phillies have their rotation set (Leiber, Padilla, Myers, Lidle, Wolf -- plus Floyd as the 6th man), solid catchers in Lieberthal and Pratt, a solid infield (Thome, Polanco, Rollins, Bell -- plus Utley wherever) and a crazy-go-nuts outfield (Abreu, Burrell, Lofton, Michaels, Byrd). Wow. They're looking pretty good. I never thought I'd say this, but the NL East looks REALLY good right about now. (Déjá vu... did I say this last year?)

Ixnay on a Soriano trade. Please no.

That's it. I'm sending out résumés. Give me a job.

-A

Monday, January 10, 2005

Good points about Pupura needing to recognize the need for rebuilding. But why can't we compete in the meantime? I don't think our situation right now is half bad. Sure, we're relying on a few things that are anything but certain (Pettitte's elbow, Berkman's rehab, Roger's willingness to play, Burke's transition to the majors, Lane's transition to everyday outfielder, Backe's workload, Bagwell's new stance, Lidge's overall health, a centerfielder, Biggio's fight against Father Time, Purpura's ability to run a team, Adam Everett's ability OBP, Garner's consistency). Okay, that's a LOT of question marks. But you never know...

The thing is... we can't really start to rebuild until Bagwell's and Pettitte's contracts are up. They're both gone after 2006. And in the meantime, Oswalt, Berkman, Burke, Lidge, Backe, Ensberg and Lane are good young players who will be peaking together in the next 2-4 years.

"Rebuilding" means giving young players lots of playing time and 3- to 4-year contracts, å la Oakland and Cleveland. We can do this (Lane, AE, Ensberg, Burke qualify as young...) and still compete. So we'll be giving our nucleus of the future plenty of playing time. If we can sign them to multi-year deals and make intelligent, informed decisions (I sound like a Bush Cabinet member, huh?) we'l be just fine as we transition toward the post-Killer B era.

Also, do we have any big names we can trade for some young talent? Say, if we're under .500 right before the trade deadline... do we try and pull a Cleveland by trading our star? Do we trade Bagwell or Pettitte? Biggio? Berkman?!?! Oswalt?!?!?! I hope not. But how else are we supposed to get goo prospects?

My thoughts on the Beltran thing: From what I've read, Boras is a big huge dick. Apparently he called McLane at 9 a.m. or thereabouts on Jan. 8. After a brief discussion, Boras says, "I'll call you back." He does so... at 9 p.m. CST, a mere two hours before our 11 p.m. deadline. He now wants an eighth year and a no-trade clause, among other demands. This gives our guys less that two hours to discuss and decide. We can't get it done.

I don't blame McLane or Purpura or, really, Beltran. I blame Scott Boras. I truly believe that Beltran enjoyed his time in Houston, and would have been happy to play for the Astros for the next few years. But Boras convinced him to go for the money.

Disirregardless, Beltran was not worth more than $15 million per year. That's what I've decided. It was much easier in hindsight, but despite all his talents, an annual $15 million paycheck would have hurt us in the long run.

As far as the mission for our next centerfielder: I also like Cameron and Byrd. Burnitz ain't that great. Neither is Laynce Nix. And I'm fairly certain Lew Ford had the best year he will ever have. We absolutely cannot have Lane or Biggio in center. Keep up the trade talks with JCJr. Do not give in to their request of Lane. Offer... Redding? Lamb and Duckworth?

We'll see. Five weeks til pitchers and catchers....
And one more Purpura quote:

During Saturday's press conference following the Beltran decision, Purpura indicated that while Taveras will be in the center field mix, he's not likely to make the team out of Spring Training. Jason Lane and Craig Biggio right now are the top candidates to play center.

Owwwwwwww. Biggio playing CF makes me queasy. Lane might be all right, but I'd much rather have someone else out there. Lane's Range Factor (in an admittably small sample size) is 1.36, with a league Range Factor of 1.69. And only 24 of those 129 games came in center field. Jason Lane just cannot realistically play center field, and I hope Purpura recognizes that.
Some interesting comments from Tim Purpura from a Yahoo! report:

1. ``Certainly we will welcome Roger back,'' Purpura said. ``We're not going to shift into a rebuilding mode because of this. We certainly feel we have the nucleus of a competitive club.''

2. ``We're going to improve this club,'' Purpura said. ``We're going to be competitive and we're going to challenge.''

3. ``I consider myself someone who is very comfortable with young players,'' he said. ``I think you have to give young players a chance. This may give us a chance to get younger and faster.''

Well, which is it, Tim? 1. and 2. appear to indicate he thinks the Astros can compete this year. But that usually doesn't coincide with giving young players a chance, as he says in 3. Maybe he's only saying 1. and 2. to appease the fan base, or because he doesn't want to give up on the season before it's begun; I certainly hope he is more accurate with 3.


Operation: Center Fielder.

The Astros don't have one. Even after Lance Berkman comes back, our only two 'locks' in the outfield are Berkman and Lane, and neither one can play a good defensive center field (to his credit, Berkman did play CF for a while, and didn't embarrass himself, but that was a few years ago). So: what do we do?

Option 1: Trade for one. I've heard Randy Winn's name bandied about, Mike Cameron isn't nearly as valuable to the Mets in RF as he would be to us in CF, and the Phillies have some extra OF's (Marlon Byrd, notably), and the Twins have Lew Ford (Stewart, Hunter and Jones are already there). Out of all those options, I wanted Mike Cameron the most last offseason, and I want him the most right now. He signed a reasonable contract last year, so we wouldn't be overpaying, he still plays a bitchin' CF (2.74 Range Factor, compared to a league average of 2.36), and he had somewhat a down year, so the Mets might be looking to trade him. What did he do in his 'down' year (where he was constantly suffering from a thumb injury)? 231 / 319 / 479 with 30 HR's and 57 BB in 493 AB, good for a 798 OPS in a pitcher's park. The Mets really need a 1B, and though I don't see us trading Bagwell, maybe an offer of Todd Self plus Tim Redding plus D.J. Houlton does the trick.

Option 2: Promote from within. Orlando Palmerio is too old. Willy Taveras is too young (and not that good). I can't think of anyone else. Lane would be badly stretched in CF. Just 'cause he used to be a defensive replacement for Biggio when Craig played CF does not mean Lane should play CF. It just means he was better than Biggio, which is damning with faint praise if I've ever heard it.

I choose Option 1. It's a tricky option, really, because the Astros probably aren't going to compete in 2005 and maybe not in 2006, so we don't necessarily want to trade for an older guy since we're rebuilding. But Cameron is only 31 and damn good, so unless we can get Byrd or Lew Ford or Laynce Nix cheap, I say go after him.

For some reason, there are lots of rumors that the Astros will try and work a trade for Alfonso Soriano. Why??? Unless they intend to move him to center, which Soriano has said he does not want to do, we have a guy named Chris Burke and an aging veteran in Craig Biggio that will fit in fine at 2B. The last thing we need is an overpaid, no-walking guy (124 BB in 2618 career ABs) like Soriano. Stay away from him, please.

I broke my cell phone the other day, and I had to file a claim with Verizon's insurance company, so I might be out of a phone for a few days. So you'll have to e-mail me if you want to tell me how stupid my ideas are.



I'm back in Flagstaff, but Carlos Beltran will not be back in Houston. WAAAAH. Apparently the last-minute reason was that we wouldn't give Beltran a no-trade clause, as an insurance policy in case he blows it. It sucks that it had to come down to something that small, and now the Mets get him for 7/119, which is approximately the same as our 7/105 offer.

So we put all our eggs in one basket, and dropped it. Now we're left with the pitiful remains of the free agent market: a possibly hurt Magglio Ordonez, Esteban Loaiza, and some used toilet paper.

The first and most important step to take is to recognize 2005 as what it is: the start of a rebuilding process, not one last hurrah for Bagwell and Biggio. New GM Tim Purpura grew up in player development, so he understands how to rebuild, and he may be better suited to do so than even Hunsicker was. It'll be tough for him this year, as the Astros will likely struggle to reach .500 without Beltran or Clemens, but it should pay off in the long term.

Here's my final advice for you, Mr. Purpura: the next great (or even good) Astros team will not include Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus, Jose Vizcaino, or Andy Pettitte. It should include Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge, and Chris Burke. Good luck.

I went 2-for-4 on my football picks, missing the Jets and the Vikings winning.

My next round of picks will come later this week, after I've had a chance to consult my football advisor: the dog next door.

I don't have too much to do this whole week, so count on a post or two a day.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

And the Beltran saga is over....for the Astros at least. It will be interesting to see where he lands. If it ends up being with the Mets, I'm gonna have a hard time believing that he's anything other than a greedy liar. Hard to backup the statement that you want to play for a contender and be in the playoffs if you end up signing with the Mets. In the end, I guess it was all about the money.

As for the Astros, where do we go from here? We got all this money freed up now, but no one left in the free agent market worthy of spending it on. We can most likely assume that missing out on Beltran means that Clemens won't be back (but I've been wrong a lot in my life....let's hope I am again in this case).

So we have basically the same team from last year's playoff team. Minus our best starting pitcher (Clemens). Minus our stud CF (Beltran). Minus a solid bat at 2B (Kent). And thankfully, minus Dan "I suck hard" Miceli. Wade Miller is gone, but he was injured anyways. We should get Pettitte back and hopefully he'll be healthy the entire year.

In my opinion, we still need another bat (an OF), another SP, and still another RP. The problem is that everyone that would be worth signing has already been signed. The last good SP options were O.Perez and Lowe (although not a good one in my opinion) and they're most likely signed by LA now. The only OF option really is Burnitz (who I hardly care for).

I guess we'll find out in the next few weeks what's in store for the Astros future. I can only expect that we'll try to lock up Berkman and Oswalt to long term deals now (4-5 years each). And we'll see if we can pull of any kind of trade to fill some needs for this year. I only pray that Palmeiro is not our starting RF to begin the year....oh the pain.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Beltran saga will be over for the Astros in the next 9 hours. I don't know what's going to happen...seems every report I read says something completely different and contradicts what the other report said.

On a side note, Rotoworld has reported that talks with TB have died down about a potential trade for Cruz because TB wants Lane in exchange. I say f- that. I'd rather have Lane than Cruz and we are in no position to trade one OF for another. If we miss out on Beltran, then we're going to need an additional OF, not just a trade for a different one.

Rotoworld has also reported that Purpura has begun talks with Berkman about a contract extension. Word is that the talks will be around $10-12 million per year. I wonder if we're gonna sign him to a one year contract and then see how he recovers from this torn ACL. If that's what we end up doing, then we're gonna be the in same situation with him next offseason that we're in with Beltran now. I'd rather just lock him up now.

As for football, I have countered Jack's picks with my own picks. They are posted on my Xanga site (http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=aggiedoc2003). We only differ on the first game today, but our score predictions are different. Let's see who comes the closest.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Some good signings were made yesterday. Unfortunately, the Astros weren't involved in any of them.

The Padres signed LHP Chris Hammond to a 1 year, 750K deal. Scroll down a few posts to see what I think of Hammond; suffice to say, he's better than Mike Gallo.

The White Sox signed C A.J. Pierzynski to a 1 year, 2.25 milion dollar contract. "Clubhouse cancer"? "A dirty player"? Maybe, but A.J. has 773 career OPS. Brad Ausmus the last two years? 594, 631.

What the Astros did do (this morning, I believe) is make their final offer to Carlos Beltran, rumored to be in the neighborhood of 7 years for 100 - 105 million. Purpura declined to discuss the amount of Houston's proposal. "We feel it's a good offer," he said. "But to go any further wouldn't be prudent for the future of our organization."

Well, that's good to hear. At least Purpura doesn't WANT to mortgage the future with Beltran; for a while there, I thought he was planning on it. But if he's not, why haven't the Astros done anything else? If they don't get Beltran, it could get ugly.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

I'll go a little lighter on the baseball side today. Instead: football playoffs!

There are lots of Beltran rumors out there: Mets make a gigantic offer, Mets make a similar offer, Cubs make an offer, Yankees pull out, Astros are still alive, Astros have given up...

I'll just wait until Saturday to talk about it. If the Cubs and Mets are still in this, it's my opinion that the bidding for Beltran will go too high, and we should let him go. This offseason has been a failure so far in large part because we have concentrated so heavily on one player. Baseball is a team game with a 25 man roster, and by completely ignoring all non-Beltrans, we may have done some damage in trying to eventually sign them. I hope not.

Some of you might remember my incredible football playoff predicition from last year. They were incredible for one reason only: I got every single pick wrong. Which, if you think about it, is even harder than getting every single pick right. So I'm pumped for another year of predicitons. Without further ado,

Sat, 4:30 pm, Rams at Seahawks. The Rams have beaten Seattle twice. What's that old cliche..."It's tough to beat a team three times in one year." or something? Well, that's crap. If you've beaten a team twice already, then you obviously match up well or are just a better team. Shaun Alexander is pretty good, but Matt Hasselbeck stunk it up this year (he was my fantasy QB). The Rams can't play outdoors, but they'll play well enough to win this one.
Rams 30, Seahawks 17.

Sat, 8 pm, Jets at Chargers. I think this is likely to be the best wild card playoff game. The Chargers have come out of nowhere, with Drew Brees having an insanely good year (especially by his standards), and LT is always a beast, and some guy named Antonio Gates has about 14 TD's as a tight end. And their 3-4 defense, led by Wade Phillips (Andy and I met him at the airport one time) is tough. The Jets? Well, they've got Curtis Martin, and Chad Pennington is damn accurate, but I don't think they have enough. Heck, I think the Chargers have a decent shot at making it to the AFC Championship. So they ain't losing to no stinkin' Jets.
San Diego 24, New York 10.

Sun, 4:30 pm, Vikings at Packers. Minnesota has lost twice to Green Bay already, both on last second Ryan Longwell field goals. If they couldn't beat Green Bay at home, they are damn sure not gonna beat them at Lambeau in January. Favre's good, Ahman Green has been kinda quiet (is he still fumbling all the time?), and Green Bay defense is 'good enough', I think. Culpepper-to-Moss just hasn't really gotten going this year. Man, the Vikings are terrible in the 2nd half. This one might get rough.
Green Bay 41, Minnesota 21.

Sun, 8 pm , Denver at Indy. These two teams play for about the fifth time in the last 15 months or so...and the Colts win all the big games. I actually think Denver has a shot here...but only a shot, and they'd have to play perfect football to win. I'll give Peyton 4 TD's, and Indy's defense can hold their own against Denver's offense. One thing I noticed about Denver: their offense is kinda predictable. They either run the ball or they run a bootleg, Plummer scrambles out, and throws (or takes off). It works pretty well, but you have to have more variety.
Indy 34, Denver 24.

JT, Barstool, Andy, letsa go! Tell me what you guys think.

Oh, and JT, I'll be up at College Station at about 3:30 or 4pm or so. I basically remember where you live, so I'll just look for your truck. If you want you could tell me the name of the street when you turn off of the street next to the railroad tracks. I'll see ya then.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I'll play Devil's Advocate: What if the Astros sign Beltran?

Say we give Beltran 7 years / 105 million. Then Clemens is pumped and re-signs. We don't have the money to sign Berkman or Oswalt to long-term deals but we get both in arbitration. Then we make one final push for the Series, whatever happens, happens, and in 2006 we lose Berkman, Clemens, Biggio, Oswalt (one more year of arbitration? I'm not sure.)

Is it worth it?

Maybe.

A big playoff push or WS appearance or WS championship brings tons of revenue to Houston. We could jack up ticket prices, get some endorsements...I don't really know. But I do know flags fly forever, and a WS flag would look pretty nice.

So I might have been too hasty to dismiss Beltran. One thing that I hadn't really considered is that Clemens has said that he would return if we sign Beltran, but otherwise he'll retire. So it might help to think of them as a packaged deal. And with our rotation looking like it does right now...Clemens would help. A lot.

I'm going to do some more thinking about it. But maybe, just maybe...we should go for it all, for one more year, while we still have the Bagwell / Biggio core.
A few baseball nuggets:

Odalis Perez has agreed to re-sign with the Dodgers for 3 years / 24 million. Damn! If we could have had him for 4 / 32 or 3 / 27, I think we should have done it. Tip of the cap to Paul DePodesta. Here are a few players he's signed this offseason: Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, and Odalis Perez. I'm still amazed he couldn't beat the Mariners' 5 year / 65 million offer for Beltre, but oh well.

So there goes the last good free agent starting pitcher on the market. So I guess it's time to look inwards for our starting five. I'm going to assume the No Beltran / No Clemens route, so as of right now the only sure things are Roy Oswalt (still hasn't accepted arbitration, actually) / Andy Pettitte / Brandon Backe. Then we got the usual suspects: Redding, Hernandez, Munro, Duckworth, Astacio, D.J. Houlton. I'll assume we won't throw the AA guys (Astacio and Houlton) straight into the mix, so pick 2 from the front 4. I have a icky feeling Munro will absolutely be one of them, and I'd give Redding one last chance and stick Hernandez in the middle relief role in the bullpen. So that leaves us with Oswalt / Pettitte / Backe / Redding / Munro. Get excited!! Man, there's a lot that could go wrong there. Pettitte might not be completely healthy. Backe might not be that good. Redding might repeat 2004. Munro might realize he's Pete Munro. I don't know. But there's a lot that could go wrong, and even the best-case scenario has that as an average starting five.

Purpura and McLane, it's time to realize that it's rebuilding time. Don't think of that as a failure - just recognize that the next great Astros team should be built around Oswalt / Berkman / Lane / Burke / Lidge, etc., and not Bagwell / Biggio / Pettitte.

Rebuilding for the next year or two could be pretty exciting - you get to see which of the young players stick in the big leagues (Ensberg circa 2003 or 2004? Can Lane do it? Chris Burke? Adam Everett = 340 OBP? Which pitching prospects will make it? Can Carlos Hernandez get his velocity back? How will the young bullpen do?)

Rebuilding is NOT a failure. But it can be a failure to not recognize that it's time to rebuild.

Sign Berkman and Oswalt to 4 year deals and move on. End of story.
Andy hit on an important point in his last post: depth. Specifically, our lack of depth in certain areas and how finding the right trading partner can fix that. Specifically, the Phillies and the Angels. The Phillies have the following players for 2B and SS: Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, and Chase Utley. They have the following OF's: Kenny Lofton, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Marlon Byrd, Jason Michaels. Now, there's nothing wrong with having depth, but any of those players would be significantly more valuable to other teams (such as the Astros) than they would be to the Phillies. So...what do they need? Probably starting pitching or bullpen help. Maybe they still like Duckworth. Maybe they need prospects. I don't know. But doing some trade like Tim Redding for Marlon Byrd would really help both teams, I think.

Now for the Angels. They have the following guys signed for OF, 1B, and DH: Vladi, Garret Anderson, Erstad, Steve Finley, Casey Kotchmann, Juan Rivera, Jeff DaVanon. Vladi and Anderson and Finley are probably locks in the OF, and Erstad (ugh) at 1B. That leaves Kotchmann, a damn good 1B prospect, Juan Rivera (a young athletic OF) and Jeff DaVanon, who goes crazy every year in a backup role, as expendable parts. What do they need? Heck, I don't know. The point is, you need to take advantage of teams that have depth where you do not.

A good question at this point would be: where do the Astros have depth to trade from? Our minor league prospects are ok: Chris Burke is probably untradeable, we have some good AA arms in Astacio and D.J. Houlton, Brooks Conrad would make a fine backup infielder, Luke Scott, Willy Taveras....where our real depth lies, I think, is in that 5th starter role. You might remember how I listed all the possibilites, and did that weird percentage thing to show one of them will probably break out. Well, that's true, but it might be more worth our while to trade one (or two) of them to fill in some holes. Every year a team's bench ends up being very important (injuries, late-inning PH at-bats, trade bait), so we gotta stock up. Brandon Duckworth and Brooks Conrad for Chase Utley and Tim Redding for Jeff DaVanon. DO IT.