Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I can't decide whether I hate the Jennings trade or just dislike it. No matter how you look at it, we overpaid. But big-league experience is crucial in evaluating pitchers. I'm not saying I value 'veteran presence,' but Hirsh's minor-league dominance might not translate into major-league success. At least not for a while.

Jennings is hard to evaluate: His walk totals over the course of his career have been scary, but all the signs are there for an improvement on last year's breakout performance. Here's hoping he pitches well and likes the ballclub enough to re-sign here.

The funny thing is, we immediately improve at centerfield. Burke, who struggled mightily in the second half, is easily a better offensive player than Taveras. He'll likely be the new lead-off man, and a .280/.360/.440 line should be attainable. Burke is one of the handful of players who will determine the Astros' success next year. We all know Oswalt, Berkman, and Lee are goig to dominate, and we know Everett and Ausmus are going to suck. Biggio will start off hot before declining rapidly, and Wheeler, Qualls and Miller are going to be steady in the bullpen. Last year, we relied on Ensberg, Pettitte and Lidge, and as they went south, so did our team. This year, we still need Ensberg and Lidge, but a few other guys need to come through and produce.

• Morgan Ensberg. I've ranted enough about The Ensberg Situation, so I won't go into great detail here. Basically, we know he's capable of hitting 30 bombs and putting up a .950 OPS. But he's also capable of getting into extended slumps and frustrating everyone with bad swings and letting good pitches go by. If he can put up another .380 OBP and stay healthy enough to keep the slugging up, he'll have a good year by my book.

• Brad Lidge. Hoo boy. Here we go again. Lidge has always had the potential to be the best closer in baseball, but two things can implode on him: his control and his mental toughness. He really had problems commanding the fastball last year, so hopefully he can correct that. His 1.40 WHIP scares me more than his 5.28 ERA from last year. The early going will be critical for him. If he starts out hot, getting his first 9 of 10 saves or so, I think he'll do okay on the year.

• Woody Williams. It's not his talent I'm worried about: He's a lock for a mid-4 ERA. The question is how many starts he'll make. Two hundred innings is asking a lot, but 25 starts and a 4.20-4.50 ERA would be fine.

• Jason Jennings. I wonder if he'll benefit from Ausmus catching him. Either way, his sinker should benefit from being at sea-level. Unlike Woody, his health isn't an issue. Can he get the job done in a much better offensive division? Our playoff hopes may hinge on that question. I hope he can produce a 4 ERA over 200 innings, but 4.30 is more likely.

• Chris Burke. Like Ensberg, he had injury problems that clearly affected his production last year. If he stays healthy, and is able to pull himself out of slumps more quickly, I think he'll have a fine year. I worry about his arm and his ability to catch on the run. I still have nightmares about the ball that got over his head in left field in the 2005 NLCS. Man that was ugly. Anyway, I'm still hoping for a 280/.360/.440 line.

• Luke Scott. OK, Luke. You carry a gun and you have ridiculous TV ads about your relationship with Darth Vader. You've also got a starting corner outfield position. Can you dominate like last year? Obviously he was over his head last year with his 1.047 OPS, but a .290/.350/.500 would be perfectly acceptable.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

OK. Deep breath. Purpura just traded Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh to Colorado for Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio. My first impression was that we got absolutely ripped on this trade. We panicked after losing out on Pettitte and overpaid for a 'quality starter' who's only had two decent years. We gave up a terrific prospect in Jason Hirsh and two improving young players.

But after sitting with the trade for a few hours, it's not as bad as I first thought. First of all: Willy is not an above-average centerfielder. Even with his tremendous defense, he simply doesn't get on base enough for him to be effective. We've all heard the rumors of him trying to improve his discipline and batter's eye this offseason, but we shouldn't have expected a dramatic upswing of his offensive numbers. Plus, we have finally found a spot for Chris Burke. Yes, we're taking a step backward on our defensive outfield, but the offensive improvement will more than make up for it. Essentially — and Jack and I have stated this several times — Taveras is really a defensive replacement/pinch runner.

Second: Buchholz was not an integral part of our team's future. Doubts about his health cast a shadow on his future, and with Sampson, Nieve, Patton, Albers, Wandy and Astacio in the minors, Buchholz wasn't exactly a jewel on the team's depth chart.

In other words, Buchholz and Taveras are easily replacable. I'm not sure what their VORPs have been, but I'm guessing they're both pretty neutral.

I don't know much about Miguel Asencio other than the Royals didn't want him. He's apparently got a live arm, but I don't see him as a bullpen option anytime soon.

This trade was all about Jennings for Hirsh. Jennings had a very good year in 2006. He finally got a handle on his walk rate, and produced a 3.78 ERA with a 1.37 WHIP in 32 starts and 212 innings. If he can do that for the Astros, I'd be happy. In short, Jennings isn't going to go nuts and win 20 games. And he likely won't fall apart and post a 5+ ERA. There are a lot of uncertainties, but in all likelihood, he'll post an ERA around 4 while producing a ton of groundballs for Everett and Biggio.

Hirsh was the man last year. He'll probably be the man for a few years, too. He was inconsistent in the majors when he finally got called up, but you know he'll figure it out and become a very good pitcher very soon. He'll probably be better than Jennings before too long.

So I guess it was a question of proven-ness versus potential. The Astros apparently weren't sold on Hirsh as a quality starter for years to come, so they dealt him for someone who has the experience and — supposedly — the ability to be a consistent regular.

Purpura said he hadn't spoken with Jennings about a multi-year deal. He was born in Dallas and went to Baylor, though, so it's possible he'll become one of those good ol' Texas boys. Let's just hope everyone stays healthy. I guess only time will tell the degree to which this trade was a bust.

We still have two wide open rotation spots... scroll down to see my candidates for free-agent and trade targets.

Monday, December 11, 2006

If you missed my rundown of free-agent starting pitchers the Astros should target, scroll on down to check it out. My mind's been rambling this Monday, so I decided to investigate possible trades the Astros might be looking to work out. There are quite a few teams with a plethora of pitchers — the Dodgers, Phillies, White Sox, Pittsburgh and Florida. We should definitely explore our options with these teams to see who's available and for what price.

Let's keep in mind, though, that Jason Hirsh is penciled into our rotation for 2007. To trade him for a starting pitcher practically negates our objective of solidifying the rotation. Our trade candidates are few and — to be honest — not too great. Taveras, Burke, Ensberg, Lidge, Wheeler, Buchholz and Scott should be on the table. Hirsh, Pence and Patton should not.

Rumors have been circulating about Colorado's Jason Jennings. The Rockies tried but failed to sign him to an extension, so they're supposedly focusing on trading him. Jennings had a remarkable campaign last year, but let us not forget about his past three years and his 5.00+ ERAs. He was finally able to find his command and lower his walk totals. Away from Coors, he's put up a 4.37 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in his career. Not exactly stellar. Let's not put him on a pedestal before we trade for him. In other words, just because we're desperate for starters doesn't mean we should cough up Hirsh or Wheeler.

The Dodgers are allegedly shopping Brad Penny after acquiring Jason Schmidt. Penny is a quality starter when he's healthy, but he's a regular on the disabled list. He came out of the gates smoking and started the All-Star Game in July, only to post a 6+ ERA over the second half of the season. Penny will make $7.5 million in 2007 and $8.5 million 2008, with a club option for $8.75 million in 2009 or a $2 million buyout. The Dodgers don't appear to have many needs at starting positions; they're probably going with Wilson Betemit as their full-time thirdbaseman to start the year. They could use relief help or prospects. Maybe Dan Wheeler and Buchholz could be a starting block.

The Phillies are overloaded with starters. They have Myers, Moyer, Lieber, Hamels, Garcia and Eaton. They're probably shopping Lieber and Myers. Lieber will make $7.5 million in 2007; Myers made $3.3 million in 2006 and will be a free agent after 2008. The Phillies are also shopping Pat Burrell, but now that we have Lee, I don't think we'll be interested. They appear to need a right-fielder, but Jason Lane is not exactly a hot commodity. It' possible they would be interested in swapping centerfielders, and that's something I think is worth pursuing. Lane-Taveras-Nieve for Lieber-Rowand would be interesting.

Would the Mets be willing to part with Aaron Heilman for Chris Burke? They need a right-handed-hitting secondbaseman, and Heilman has expressed interest in starting. That could be a very interesting target. I seriously hope we inquire about this.

Florida is rich in young talent, and Willy Taveras somehow impresses them. I'd deal for Josh Johnson or Scott Olsen. Of course, if we wanted Dontrelle Willis, we'd have to pay the price.

Pittsburgh, like Florida, has the young studs, and appears willing to deal them. Paul Maholm's name has surfaced, and Zach Duke would be an interesting target. They're looking for a left-handed right-fielder or firstbaseman, so perhaps Luke Scott would be a good fit?

Cleveland would appear to have its rotation set with Sabathia-Lee-Westbrook-Byrd-Sowers, but they may try to test the trade waters to see what they can get. After getting Borowski and Hernandez, their bullpen might be set, but maybe Lidge would interest them. They allegedly offered Westbrook for Lidge this offseason, and it would be interesting to see where those discussion lead.

Baltimore probably wants to rid itself of Rodrigo Lopez, and they probably don't want a whole lot. Would a prospect get it done?

Oakland has dangled their starters Blanton, Haren and Harden, and Billy Beane loves Chris Burke. He's no dummy, though. If Harden's healthy, could we get him for Burke and Lidge?

I don't think there's much truth behind the Peavy rumors, but it's worth investigating. They want a righty secondbaseman to pair with Todd Walker, and they could use an outfielder or a thirdbaseman, depending on how they view this Kouzmanoff guy. But c'mon... it's Peavy.

Washington's John Patterson is a stud if he's healthy, but the Natties are looking to add pitching depth, not deal it. They could use a corner outfielder, but I don't think we have what it takes.

The Angels' John Lackey would make sense. But is he worth trading away Ensberg?

Of course, the Garland deal could always be revisited, but hopefully Hirsh will be off-limits.

Good deal. Let's get trading...
Geez... I leave town for a weekend and we lose Andy Pettitte. I'm actually not sure what to make about this whole deal. One thing's for sure: People are making way too big a deal out of it. Players leave all the time. Maddux and Glavine left Atlanta, after all. Houston shouldn't feel like we're different from other ball clubs just because we have this "hometown team" image.

Here's what I know about the Pettitte situation: Pettitte said he wanted to pitch next year. We offer $12 million for one year. At some point, the Yankees offer $16 million with a player option for the same deal in 2008. Pettitte asks the Astros to improve their offer, but ends up going to the Yankees.

Here's what I don't know: I don't know if the Astros offered $14 million for one year, a deal that reportedly would have lured Pettitte back to Houston. I don't know if Purpura and McLane were adamant about not offering a two-year deal or a one-year deal with a player option. I don't know what kind of contract it would have taken to sign Pettitte. I also don't know what condition Pettitte's elbow was in.

I do remember being upset when we non-tendered Wade Miller. He was a good pitcher for us, but had constant arm problems. Non-tendering him was actually a smart move business-wise.

I don't know why everyone's upset. I don't think Pettitte did anything wrong, and I don't blame Purpura for avoiding a bidding war with New York. Pettitte probably wanted another year or a player option, but I don't think the Astros were willing to give him that. Yes, Pettitte will be sorely missed in the Astros' now-depleted rotation. He was a good pitcher when healthy, and maybe we'll see him back in Houston someday.

Anyway, there's no use crying over him. He's a Yankee now, so let's keep this offseason party rolling. If nothing else, it's sure been an exciting ride so far, eh?

Time to play "Let's Find A Starting Pitcher!" Most of the top free-agents starters been signed, but there are still several options. Here's a list of pitchers that will cost us next-to-nothing. At first glance, they're not very appealing, but bear with me: Tony Armas, Bruce Chen, Shawn Estes, Rick Helling, Jason Johnson, Brian Lawrence, Ohka, Ramon Ortiz, Chan Ho Park, Mark Redman, Aaron Sele, Jeff Suppan, John Thomson, Steve Trachsel, Jeff Weaver, Jamey Wright. I've left off a few starters that I think we have no chance of signing, for better or worse (Zito and David Wells). Several of these pitchers won't get a major-league deal, and they don't deserve one. But there are a handful that might surprise you. Check 'em out:

Pitcher A: Career 4.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 4.5 seasons. From 2002-05, averaged 33 starts and 204 IP. Over his career, creates nearly twice as many groundballs as flyballs (a 1.86 GB/FB ratio). Career 5.58 Ks per 9, 2.45 BBs per 9. Will turn 31 in May.

Pitcher B: Career 4.58 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 8 seasons, averaging 30 starts per year. Slight ground-ball pitcher (1.16 GB/FB). Career 6 Ks per 9, 2.45 BBs per 9. Will turn 31 in August, and has a World Series ring.

Pitcher C: Career 4.65 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 6.5 seasons, averaging 30 starts over the past 5 years. Pretty much even ground-ball ratio (1.08 GB/FB). Career 5.47 Ks per 9, 2.93 BBs per 9. Will turn 33 in January, and has a World Series ring.

Player D: Career 4.69 ERA, 1.39 WHIP in 9 seasons. Has made 32 starts the past 2 seasons. Career 5.69 Ks per 9, 2.61 BBs per 9. Alight ground-ball pitcher (1.28 GB/FB). Will turn 34 next October.

Player E: Career 4.68 ERA, 1.38 WHIP in 9.5 seasons. From 1998-2003, averaged 32 starts and 200 IP. After injury took away his 2004 season, he's posted a 3.21 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 84 IP the past two years, mostly as a reliever. Career 6.24 Ks per 9, 3.32 BBs per 9. Totally a fly-ball pitcher (0.67 GB/FB). Will turn 36 on Friday.

Player F: Career 4.60 ERA, 1.39 WHIP in 7 seasons. Has worked about half his career out of the pen. Career 7.17 Ks per 9, 3.48 BBs per 9. Flyball pitcher (0.73 GB/FB). Will turn 30 in June.

Player G; Career 4.45 ERA, 1.42 WHIP in 6 seasons. Played a whole season for the first time since 2002, posting a 5.03 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Career 6.59 Ks per 9, 4.30 BBs per 9. Dead-even groundball-to-flyball ratio (1.03 GB/FB). Will turn 29 in April.


Player A: Brian Lawrence. All those stats are awesome. Unfortunately, he had surgery on a torn labrum. He was waived by the Natties, though, so it might be a good idea to pick him up and see if he can get back to a decent level.

Player B: No, it's not Jeff Suppan. It's Jeff Weaver, who had a horrific year before his postseason heroics. Still, teams might be scared off by that nasty 5.76 ERA last year. I'll look at the 4.01 and 4.22 ERAs he put up the previous 2 years with the Dodgers, plus the fact that he's avoided the DL.

Player C: No, this isn't Jeff Suppan either. This one will shock you: it's Mark Redman. He's changed teams every year the past 5 years (Tigers, Marlins, A's, Pirates, Royals). Also, he posted a 5.71 ERA with the Royals in 2006 but was an All-Star! He's been pretty bad the past couple of years, but his career numbers aren't too bad. And a glance at his game log last year indicates he's prone to the bomb-shell starts. In September, for example, he gave up 9 ER and got one out. That'll touch up the ERA.

Player D: John Thomson. He went to Blinn College in Brenham. Go Bucs! He seemed to have a resurgence in Atlanta, but the injury bug caught him again the past two years. When he's healthy, he's capable of being a solid starter.

Player E: Rick Helling. Won 20 games for Texas in 1998. He's done a great job in Milwaukee, and I'd take a gamble on him. He likely won't cost much.

Player F: Bruce Chen. Weird dude. He seems to either bring it (13-10, 3.83, 1.27 for Baltimore in 2005) or suck it (0-7, 6.93, 1.74 in 2006). He was on the Astros for 11 games in 2003, and he's from Panama, like Carlos Lee.

Player G: Tony Armas. his health is the concern, as he's been fairly consistent (and slightly below average) over the course of his career.

OK, hope you enjoyed that. I know I did. Till next time....

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I spent much of Wednesday throwing up. Thanks a lot, cajun catfish. I was well on my way to recovery when Jack text-messaged me this morning: "Garland!" I raced to the computer to check the wires: Different sites and sources were claiming different deals, but as soon as I saw Jason Hirsh's name thrown around, I nearly wanted to puke again.

Yes, Jon Garland is a good pitcher. I might go so far as to say "pretty good." He's not a dominant pitcher by any means, but he's proven that he's durable (at least 32 starts and 190 innings in 5 straight campaigns), consistent (between 3.50-4.89 ERA). He keeps the ball on the ground, but he gives up a fair shar of homers. He's been very good the past two years with control, but opposing batters hit .294 off him in 2006, a career low.

I suppose he'd be a good addition to our rotation, but not if he's going to cost us a lot in terms of players and money. And the long and hort of it is this: If we get Garland, we are not signing Pettitte. Somehow, I think this might have been a ploy by the Astros front office to shake things up with Pettitte. Richard Justice wrote something along those lines: That Purpura and McLane were tired of being pushed around by free-agents playing the waiting game.

Still, there's no WAY Garland is worth Jason Hirsh. I don't mind giving up Willy Taveras, although I will miss his superb defense in an otherwise subpar outfield. Buchholz reminds me a lot of Kirk Saarloos: They show flashes of genius (like when Barstool and I saw Buchholz's should've-been one-hitter against the Pirates). But everyone in baseball can hit slow fastballs, so they get absolutely hammered when they can't get the heater across. Oh yeah, and they both have really weird names.

Hirsh has got to be off-limits. I know they say there's no such thing as a pitching prospect, but the Astros system is not exactly stacked. Purpura's got to recognize the value in Hirsh, Patton and Pence. I could understand letting one of them go in a monster deal ... Tejada, anyone? But not for an average pitcher like Garland.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Holy crap there's been a ton of rumors around the league lately. Manny Ramirez could go anywhere, and teams are lining up to throw gobs of money for crappy starters like Gil Meche, Ted Lilly and Jeff Suppan. J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo appear to be headed to Boston, but you never know. Maddux is a Padre. Jason Jennings, Adam LaRoche, Pat Burrell, Kevin Mench, Jon Leiber, Jorge Cantu, Craig Monroe and Mike Gonzalez are being tossed around in trade speculation. And there are still free agents like Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt and a guy named Bonds.

The Astros, meanwhile, are likely caught (again) waiting for a pitcher. It's a tough situation — we cannot make any significant signings because we know Andy Pettitte will require more than $10 million a year. If he ends up signing with us, great. But if he goes to the Yankees — and there are rumors to that effect — we've wasted a lot of time.

The big news in Astros deals have been incredibly intriguing but unfortunately unlikely (yeah, alliteration). The Chronicle reports that we've inquired about Jake Peavy. That's great, but he's not going anywhere. I don't consider him Oswalt-quality, but he's close. And for the Padres to give away one of the most valuable players in baseball would be foolish.

What say we? Not that the Padres would even consider it, but some combination of Ensberg, Burke/Pence/Lane, and Hirsh/Nieve/Buchholz/Patton would have to be the starting point. Honestly, I would do a lot to get Peavy. He good. I would trade Ensberg, Lane and Buchholz but not Ensberg, Pence and Hirsh. Funny... I wonder if the Padres know as much our prospects as we do. I'm sure they do. (By the way, I just want to comment about the guy who posted on AstrosDaily who said he didn't want Peavy because his windup would lead to arm problems. This guy then suggested we pursue Dontrelle Willis, who's got the funkiest wind-up since Satchel Paige.)

The Padres don't really need Ensberg, since they traded for Kevin Kouzmanoff already. He's a rookie, though, so it's conceivable they could keep both on the roster. But if by some miracle we pulled off a trade, giving up, say, Ensberg, Burke and Buchholz, we could slide Mike Lamb over to third base, and pray he doesn't go .284 OBP on us again. We *might* have enough left in the bank to resign Pettitte (since we'd essentially be trading Ensberg's salary for Peavy's). That'd give us Oswalt-Pettitte-Peavy-Williams-Hirsh. That's the shit.

Quick note: I absolutely do not comprehend our third-base "problem." There shouldn't be a problem here. Ensberg is awesome, and he's our starter. What's the problem? He was crushing the ball, until he started slumping. Then he hurt his shoulder, but didn't want to stop playing, so he stayed in and his stats suffered. He got benched down the stretch, but still posted a .396 OBP and hit 23 homers. Here's the comparison between Ensberg and Lamb:

ME: .235/.396/.463, 23 HRs, 58 RBI, 101 BB, 96 Ks, 387 ABs
ML: .307/.361/.475, 12 HRs, 45 RBI, 35 BB, 55 K, 381 ABs

Don't know about you, but I'd say Morgan was better. Over their careers:

ME: .270/.372/.486, 97 HRs, 304 RBI, 288 BB, 347 Ks, 1848 ABs
ML: .280/.335/.423, 57 HRs, 273 RBI, 171 BB, 325 Ks, 2110 ABs

Yep. Morgan is still better by a long shot. He'll probably cost $2 million to $3 million more, but factor in defense, and he is worth the price. I just cannot understand the reasoning behind trading Ensberg. I guarantee he'll rebound in 2007. Perhaps not to his 2005 levels, but damn near.

Houston has also been linked with the Padres' catcher, Josh Bard, who had a pretty remarkable year, hitting .338/.406/.537 in 231 ABs last year. Not bad. He's definitely the kind of platoonmate (I hesitate to call him a back-up) we could use at catcher. He's not expensive, and we would have control of him for a few years (3?). I wonder what the cost would be for just Bard. I'd think about trading Lane or Buchholz for Bard straight-up. And maybe Ensberg/Burke/Buchholz for Peavy/Bard. Man, there is no way in hell the Padres do that.

Jason Jennings has been the topic of trade rumors to several teams, including the Cubs and Twins. Jennings is good, durable and a Texan, but he would be a free agent after 2007. The Rockies need a centerfielder, and they seem to like Chris Burke for some reason. I would do this trade straight-up right now. It's really a no-brainer. Trade a back-up whose at-bats are going to plummet for an above-average starting pitcher. We could still sign Pettitte for a rotation of Oswalt-Pettitte-Jennings-Williams-Hirsh. Not bad. I think, however, the Rockies would want more. Brad Hawpe is a good player, but the pieces don't appear to fit, not with the Astros holding onto Luke Scott for the forseeable future.

If I had to make a wager, I'd bet we make two more major moves this offseason: Signing Andy Pettitte and signing another lefty reliever. There's actually quite a few free agents out there: Alan Embree, Kent Merker, Darren Oliver, Arthur Rhodes, J.C. Romero, Scott Schoeneweis, Ron Villone. But it's cool to speculate. And it's also cool to surf baseball rumor Web sites all day instead of working.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lots of new Astros-related contact on Baseball Prospectus in the last day or two. Since I'm a subscriber, I guess I can copy / paste it here. Enjoy!

Transaction Oracle:

Houston Astros

Signed LF-R Carlos Lee to a six-year, $100 million contract, and RHP Woody Williams to a two-year, $12.5 million contract. [11/24]

So, no repeat of the Preston Wilson exercise, as the Astros go straight from putzing around with ballpark-inflated heroes and jump straight to buying one of the best bats on the market. While I admire the ambition, and while it's easy to see Lee making frequent deposits in the Crawford Boxes, this isn't without risk. Lee's been signed after a season in which he really hit a wee bit better than expected within his particular range of expectations, hitting .300/.355/.540 against PECOTA's projected .286/.348/.519. That's good for him, of course, but his most-comparable players going into the year included a bunch of guys infamous for bulkiness and limited subsequent horizons. He's already becoming increasingly immobile in left, which might make for an interesting problem sooner rather than later should he have to move to first and push Lance Berkman back out into the outfield. That's quite doable, of course, and Berkman's flexible and Lee's a former third baseman, so it might work out quite nicely by the third year of the deal or so. However, I wouldn't worry about his track record in Fruit Beverage Ballpark (.234/.294/.468)—he's probably not going to have to worry about facing Roger Clemens or Andy Pettitte there, and he'll now count Roy Oswalt as a teammate.

Certainly, twinning up a top-shelf right-handed slugger with Lance Berkman is good stuff, and making one outfield slot a no-brainer leaves Phil Garner with the exercise of picking a center fielder and right fielder from among Luke Scott, Willy Taveras, Chris Burke, and Jason Lane. The big loser is probably Mike Lamb, in that if Scott's in right, Berkman's probably at first base. Happily, Lamb can still provide spot work at third, Burke can do likewise at second, so in a sense, the last man on the bench just has to be able to play some shortstop, good news for Eric Bruntlett, I suppose, and not quite so much for Brooks Conrad (and perhaps Lane).

I really can't get worked up about Williams. We're talking about a 40-year-old junkballing flyball pitcher coming to a pretty hostile environment for the type, and a park that's unforgiving where mistakes are concerned. In a nice season for the Pads, he was still only that team's fourth starter, and he allowed 4.9 runs per nine when he wasn't taking advantage of PETCO's expansive outfield. I know they can't count on all of the kids to pan out behind Oswalt in the rotation, but Williams is going to provide a lot of disappointment if he's expected to be this rotation's veteran No. 2.

Top Ten Prospects

Houston Astros

1. Jason Hirsh, RHP
DOB: 2/20/82
Height/Weight: 6-8/250
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2003, California Lutheran
What he did in 2006: 2.10 ERA, 137.1-94-51-118 at Triple-A; 6.04, 44.2-48-22-29 at MLB
The Good: Boasts an imposing presence on mound with three solid offerings: a 91-93 mph fastball with sinking action that he can dial up to 95-96 at times, as well as a solid slider and changeup. Throws strikes with all of his pitches, and will throw them at any point in the count. Excellent makeup and highly advanced approach play a clear role in his effectiveness.
The Bad: While all of his pitches are at least average or better, he may lack that one over-the-top out pitch that he can depend on at the major league level. At 25, it's hard to project him.
The Irrelevant: Hirsh is only the second player from Division III California Lutheran to reach the major leagues, the other being former All-Star Kevin Gross.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, maybe slightly more than that.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. With Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens almost assuredly gone, competition for spots in the Astros' rotation is wide open, and Hirsh is all but a lock to take one of those slots immediately.

2. Hunter Pence, RF
DOB: 4/13/83
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2004, Texas-Arlington
What he did in 2006: .283/.357/.533 at Double-A (592 PA)
The Good: Big, athletic outfielder with plus power to all fields. Surprisingly fast for his size, as he stole a career-high 17 bases in 21 attempts. Also has good instincts in the outfield.
The Bad: He's played center in the minors, but his range is a little short there, and his arm is not a classic right field cannon. His swing has a natural uppercut in it, leading some to question his ability to hit for average as he moves up. Pence needs to temper his approach, as intensity can get the better of him in clutch situations.
The Irrelevant: Pence's distinctive swing includes a significant choke-up on the bat, which he began as a teenager while imitating Barry Bonds.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A corner outfielder who hits 30+ home runs annually.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Pence has no glaring weaknesses, yet he's a few minor adjustments away from being ready for the big leagues. He'll begin the year at Triple-A, and will likely make his big league debut during the second half of the season.

3. Troy Patton, LHP
DOB: 9/3/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: S/L
Draft: 9th round, 2004, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: 2.93 ERA, 101.1-92-37-102 at High A; 4.37 ERA, 45.1-48-13-37 at Double-A
The Good: Excellent stuff for a lefthander--his 89-92 mph fastball touches 94 and features good tailing action. That complements a hard curveball, his second plus offering. He held his own at Double-A before his 21st birthday.
The Bad: He's pitched through arm soreness and various points in each of the last two seasons. A little undersized, and like many young pitchers, his changeup needs refinement.
The Irrelevant: Needing to warmup more? Batters hit .294 against Patton in the first inning of games this year, but just .238 thereafter.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average lefthanded starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Patton has moved through the system ahead of schedule, moving up to High A in his full-season debut, and then reaching Double-A last year. He'll likely return there in 2007, but could push for a big league look by the end of the year.

4. Jimmy Barthmaier, RHP
DOB: 1/6/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 13th round, 2003, Georgia HS
What he did in 2006: 3.62 ERA, 146.2-137-67-134 at High A
The Good: Continually improving, Barthmeier has slowly evolved into a good prospect by developing a pair of plus pitches: a 91-93 mph that touches 95 at times, and a hammer curve. A big-bodied athlete with excellent stamina who maintains his stuff deep into ballgames.
The Bad: He turns 23 in January and has yet to pitch in Double-A. Mechanical inconsistency leads to control issues, and his changeup is shaky.
The Irrelevant: Barthmaier went undefeated in his last ten starts, winning six decisions with a 1.53 ERA.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 3 or 4 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Barthmaier will face the big test at Double-A this year. If he passes it with flying colors, he's on the radar for a starting job in 2008.

5. Max Sapp, C
DOB: 2/21/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Draft: 1st round, 2006, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: .229/.317/.301 at Short-Season (189 PA)
The Good: A left-handed-hitting catcher with big-time power potential–-ignore the numbers in his pro debut, as he was generally facing pitchers three to four years older than he was. With a smooth swing and good pitch recognition, Sapp should produce solid averages and on-base percentages. Behind the plate, he controls the running game well with an arm that earns plus grades for both strength and accuracy. Big, durable body.
The Bad: Other than the arm, Sapp is well below average in all defensive aspects of the game. His approach can get pull-conscious at times, leading to strikeouts.
The Irrelevant: Scouts going to see Sapp at Bishop Moore High School in Orlando walked away intrigued with the team's pitching ace, Mike Mehlich, as well. The Braves drafted him in the 11th round, and he was impressive in his Gulf Coast League debut, striking out 25 in 22.1 innings.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A catcher who hits in the middle of the order.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Sapp is still a teenager, and much of his projection depends on his ability to stay behind the plate, as his size limits his other options in the field.

6. J.R. Towles, C
DOB: 2/11/84
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 20th round, 2004, North Central Texas JUCO
What he did in 2006: .317/.382/.525 at Low A (321 PA)
The Good: A catcher with that rare combination of hitting skills and defensive chops. Towles has a quick bat and excellent contact abilities that generate hard-hit balls from gap to gap. An excellent defender, agile behind the plate with soft hands and a plus arm.
The Bad: He's still relatively unproven, as he was 22 in Low A last year. Power projects as no more than average, and approach can get over-aggressive. Has problems against lefthanders.
The Irrelevant: Towles hit .275 with three home runs at home, yet .353 with nine home runs on the road.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An everyday catcher.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. While Towles offers much to like, he still has plenty to prove. The Astros would like him to at least finish the year at Double-A in 2007.

7. Matt Albers, RHP
DOB: 1/20/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Draft: 23rd round, 2001 (DFE), San Jacinto JUCO
What he did in 2006: 2.17 ERA, 116-96-47-95 at Double-A; 3.96 ERA, 25-24-10-26 at Triple-A; 6.00 ERA, 15-17-7-11 at MLB
The Good: Excellent command and control of low 90s fastball and a slider that becomes a plus pitch at times. Good feel for a changeup.
The Bad: A little short, and his pitches tend to come in straight. He began to nibble as he moved up levels, walking too many batters at Triple-A and a brief big league stint. He can overthrow his slider at times, causing it to flatten out, while also giving him trouble against lefties.
The Irrelevant: Albers pitched at JUCO powerhouse San Jacinto, not far from the San Jacinto Monument, which commemorates the Texas Revolution, and at 570 feet is the world's tallest masonry tower.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A back-of-the-rotation starter. Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. By reaching the big leagues last year, Albers has a shot at sticking in the Astros rotation next year despite limited Triple-A experience.

8. Juan Gutierrez, RHP
DOB: 7/14/83
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2000
What he did in 2006: 3.04 ERA, 103.2-94-34-106 at Double-A
The Good: Big-bodied power pitcher sat at 91-94 mph this year while touching 95-96 nearly every time out, and he backed it up with a hard curveball. His control improved throughout the year, and his performance followed.
The Bad: His changeup is still well-below average. While the Astros still see him as a starter, many already think his future is as a two-pitch power reliever.
The Irrelevant: After missing nearly six weeks with arm soreness, Gutierrez returned in mid-August and finished the year with 14 scoreless innings over four appearances.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: See above–-it all depends on the changeup. The number of pitchers we could say that about can be counted in the thousands, possibly.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Gutierrez is in an interesting place, as he's ready for Triple-A, yet his future role is not clearly defined. Either way, he'll see the big leagues in one way or another by 2008.

9. Felipe Paulino, RHP
DOB: 10/5/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2001
What he did in 2006: 4.35 ERA, 126.1-119-59-91 at High A
The Good: Arguably the best raw arm in the system, Paulino has hit 100 mph in the past, and topped out at 98 this year while more usually sitting at 92-95. His curveball is second plus pitch. Long and lanky with good mechanics.
The Bad: Control has been a consistent problem, as the organization has worked with Paulino to dial down the fastball in order to gain precision and movement. His offspeed pitch only resembles a changeup.
The Irrelevant: Paulino's full name is Felipe Paulino Del Guidice, which is a bit hard to fit on a uniform.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Maybe a closer, but he's not moving to the bullpen yet.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average-to-high. Paulino has the stuff to rank towards the top of this list, yet his performance leaves people wanting for more. The Double-A Texas League will be a significant test for him, and one gets the feeling that he'll either sit near the top of this list next year, or be completely off it.

10. Brian Bogusevic, LHP
DOB: 2/18/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Tulane
What he did in 2006: 4.09 ERA, 11-10-5-6 at Short-Season; 4.73 ERA, 70.1-76-24-60 at Low A
The Good: A lefthander with plus velocity and a very good slider, and his command and control are both advanced. He's battled arm soreness since being drafted, but finished the year healthy and successful, allowing four earned runs over 22.1 innings in his last four games.
The Bad: Health has been as issue since signing, so Bogusevic will turn 23 in spring training with just 70 innings of full-season ball under his belt.
The Irrelevant: A two-way star who saw limited position player time in his junior year at Tulane due to a hamstring injury, there are scouts who preferred Bogusevic as a hitter and saw him as a first-round talent based solely on some impressive shows he put on in batting practice.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average lefty starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. For Bogusevic it's all about health. What he did in August was impressive, but he needs to do it over a longer period of time. He'll likely start the year at High A.

The Sleeper: While it was his third year in a half-season league, outfielder Jordan Parraz finally came alive in 2006, batting .336/.421/.494 for Tri-City in the New York-Penn League. He's behind the development curve, but he's also a six-foot-three, 220 pound tools-laden monster with more athleticism than anybody in the system. All the ingredients for a breakout are there.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"We listen to music, have a couple of drinks. We'll talk about baseball, about women. Baseball, women, and beer, that's what we do."
--Felix Hernandez, on what he does to relax in the offseason.
From the Houston Chronicle:

If that's the case, Morgan Ensberg, Aubrey Huff, Dan Wheeler or perhaps Willy Taveras should be expecting calls soon. If the Astros have to trim $10 million in order to keep the payroll around $100 million in 2007, that's where they figure to find it.

Ensberg, who made $3.8 million last year, and Wheeler ($930,000) are arbitration-eligible this offseason. Huff ($6.8 million) is a free agent who will command a multiyear contract. Taveras will be a relative bargain in 2007, but becomes arbitration-eligible in a year.

Considering the Astros are looking to lean more heavily on Mike Lamb at third base next season, Huff and Ensberg become expendable. Taveras remains in demand among baseball GMs in search of a center fielder. And Astros manager Phil Garner has been kicking around the idea of Jason Lane getting a look in center field, complemented by Lee in left and a combination of Luke Scott and Chris Burke in right.

The Astros would love to keep Wheeler, but his arbitration-eligible status could make him a prime trade commodity as well if Pettitte and Clemens return.

Trade at least a couple of key pieces from the 2006 roster? The Lee deal gave the Astros $100 million reasons they might not have a choice, depending on what Pettitte and Clemens decide.

I don't like most of what I just read. Going in order,

Considering the Astros are looking to lean more heavily on Mike Lamb at third base next season, Huff and Ensberg become expendable.

Argh. Mike Lamb? He's great as a backup corner infielder/PH extraordinaire, but a semi-regular 3B? Count me out. He's a butcher with the glove, and although he's a decent enough hitter (.307 / .361 / .475 last year), he was terrible in 2004-05, and he's just not that good to begin with. The lesson that should be learned from Mike Lamb is how many guys there are out there that can do close to what he does if given a chance. The minors is full of guys that can play backup 1B / 3B and put up a 800 / 850 OPS. But instead we sign Lamb and he has a few big hits and puts up some decent numbers and we fall for him. He's nothing special. He's no Ensberg or Huff.

And Astros manager Phil Garner has been kicking around the idea of Jason Lane getting a look in center field, complemented by Lee in left and a combination of Luke Scott and Chris Burke in right.

Four words: Worst. Defensive. Outfield. Ever.

The Astros would love to keep Wheeler, but his arbitration-eligible status could make him a prime trade commodity as well if Pettitte and Clemens return.

Are you kidding me? Trade Wheeler? Yeah, he was great last year, but he only made 930K - how much of a raise could he get? 3, 4 million? He's definitely worth that. Trade someone else.
I've spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the Carlos Lee deal, and I think I've finally come to a conclusion: it's a mistake. It was a deal that we "had" to make based on our inadequate offense the last few years. But wait a sec - why has it been inadequate? Has it been because of our production from left field? Nope. It's been our 'production' from center field, shortstop, catcher, and even second base to some extent. Let me play a little Devil's Advocate for a second. Consider these outfielders:

Player A, 29 years old, 294 career AB's, career 133 OPS+
Player B, 30 years old, 1037 career AB's, career 105 OPS+
Player C, 31 years old, 4570 career AB's, career 113 OPS+

It's probably fairly obvious based on the AB's, but Player A is Luke Scott, Player B is Jason Lane, and Player C is Carlos Lee. Ignore Lee's counting stats for a minute (HR, RBI, etc.) - they're nice, but they're a product of hitting in the middle of the order and being very durable. Lee's percentage statistics are not significantly better than Jason Lane's, and Luke Scott has been much better than either of them (although that's probably a little bit of a fluke). Now I know that Scott or Lane is still going to play RF - Lee's signing doesn't mean they're both out of a job. But it's meant to show that Lee is really not a $100 million dollar guy. I would have MUCH preferred signing Moises Alou to the 1 year / 8.5 million dollar deal the Mets gave him. Because in about a year, our best prospect, Hunter Pence, is going to be ready to play right field. But we have Scott AND Lane there right now (although honestly Lane is probably as good as gone, in my opinion.) , and Lee isn't going anywhere. If we signed someone like Alou or Luis Gonzalez to a short deal, it's not a huge loss if they don't work out, and then you've got Pence coming to take that spot soon. If for whatever reason Lee doesn't work out, he's an albatross.
A really expensive one.

Just for the heck of it, Lee's career numbers at Minute Maid:

58 AB, .276 / .333 / .552, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 5 BB

The Woody Williams signing is also a little dangerous, but it's one that we can afford to have go badly. See a post from about a month ago where I compared Williams, Rodrigo Lopez, and Brian Lawrence. Interestingly, Williams is better against left-handed batters than right-handed batters, and he also gives up a LOT of flyballs. Not great against righties + flyballs + 1/2 his starts at Minute Maid = uh-oh. This could get ugly. Maybe it won't, but Williams is 39 - he's unlikely to suddenly get better.

Just for the heck of it, Williams's career numbers at Minute Maid:

75.1 IP, 4.42 ERA, 12 HR, 23 BB, 47 K, 9 wins / 3 losses

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Welcome to Houston, Mr. Lee. Oh, and here's your $100 million. Enjoy. Don't eat too many moon pies. Jack and I have had dozens of discussions about Carlos, and here's what we came up with: We'll just have to wait and see. Maybe he'll get fat and become terrible on defense. But maybe he'll hit 40 bombs. Maybe he'll do both.

It's hard to say it was a bad decision to sign him. We had a terrible offense (and still do, I might add), and we got a nice, big run producer. Of course, it's hard to say it was a great signing either. It's a big commitment, both in terms of length and cost, and he's probably not going to improve on either side of the ball.

Make all the arguments you want with statistics (He's never posted a .900 OPS; he's averaged 29 HRs and 100 RBI for the past 7 seasons), the long and short of it is this: he's a slugger, and he will improve our lineup. He is consistent, and we can only hope that he can maintain his talent well into the latter years of this deal.

Woody at 2 for $12 million is decent. Like Rotoworld said, the Astros sure are predictable. Let's hope he can stay healthy and on top of his game.

We'll talk more about Carlos and Woody later (there are FIVE MONTHS til the season starts!), but I want to talk about payroll in this post. I did some research and found that only 8 Astros currently have contracts through 2007: Berkman, Oswalt, Lee, Woody, Biggio, Ausmus, Miller and Palmeiro. The others (Lidge, Ensberg, Everett, Lamb, Wheeler, Lane, Taveras, Qualls, Bruntlett, Burke, Quintero, Hirsh, Nieve, Scott, Borkowski, Buchholz, Sampson, Wandy, etc.) will stay with the organization unless they are nontendered or traded.

Those first 8 players have the following contracts for 2007:

Berkman: $14.5 million
Oswalt: $13 million
Lee: $11 million
Woody: $6 million
Biggio: $5.15 million
Ausmus: $3.5 million
Miller: $1.3 million
Palmeiro: $0.95 million

That's $55.4 million right there. As of now, there are six players who (I think) are due for arbitration. Their 2006 contracts are in parentheses, and my estimate for their salaries in 2007 after that:

Lidge ($3.975 million) —> $5.5 million
Ensberg ($3.8 million) —> $5.5 million
Everett ($1.9 million) —> $4 million
Lamb ($1.7 million) —> $3 million
Wheeler ($930K) —> $1.5 million
Lane ($450K) —> $1 million

Those 6 estimates total $19.5 million. So adding the first 8 players, that's 14 players for $74.9 million

Taveras, Qualls, Bruntlett and Burke (plus Hirsh, Albers, Borkowski, Buchholz, Nieve, Wandy, Sampson, Scott, etc.) are not due for arbitration yet, so they'll each make between $330K and $500K. I really don't know how you calculate the payroll: By the 25-man roster or the 40-man roster or what? In any case, our yougner players' contracts might add up to around $8 million to $10 million, which puts our overall payroll at $85 million. Getting pretty high, huh?

I'll try and post again soon. Gotta head back up to Bryan tomorrow. Had a great four-day holiday with the folks and played a lot if disc golf and bridge. Jack got sick, though... Sick of me beating him at disc golf! Oooooohhhh

Monday, November 20, 2006

Exciting time to be a baseball fan. Alfonso Soriano cashed in with the Cubs, signing an 8-year, $136 million deal. If he can perform like he did last year with the Nats, I can see him being worth the money for the next 4-5 years. But he wasn't an amazing player when he was a Ranger, so it'll be interesting to see what the Cubs get here. Now their offense looks damn good. Soriano-DeRosa-Lee-Ramirez-Jones-Barrett-Murton (or Cliff Floyd)-Cedeño. Yikes. Good thing they still have no pitching.

The Astros still appear to be the front-runners for the Carlos Lee sweepstakes. I'v heard reports about an offer, but it's hard to tell exactly what's going on. For the past several years, the Astros front office has been very quiet when it comes to leaking information about trades or signings. Don't know if this is good or bad — I always like to know what the status is on big deals. But at the same time, the ridiculous overload of speculation and unconfirmed reports from Boston and New York would probably be pretty annoying.

In any case, all the signs are pointing to Lee in an Astros uniform. Too bad Soriano had to blow the market open like he did. Soriano's 5 months older than Lee (they're both currently 30), but Soriano's obviously in better shape and will more likely be a better player in his mid-to-late 30s. I wouldn't dare offer him six guaranteed years. Five years with an option is as far as I'd go. And I wouldn't mind giving him $15 mil a year.

The best thing about the Lee situation is that we can win either way. If we sign him, we have successfully upgraded the offense. A few more moves (adding starting pitchers and perhaps a backup catcher) and we can look forward to a competitive 2007. But if we don't sign him because of his demands, we can still have a successful offseason. There are plenty of decent free-agent outfielders out there (Luis Gonzalez, Jose Guillen, Jay Payton) who can be had for much less. And there appears to be a wide-open field of potential trading partners.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Some trade rumors...

Wily Mo Peña for Brad Lidge: First of all, I don't know if this has been offered by either side, and it probably wouldn't be a straight-up deal. At first glance, I would tell Boston to go shove it. Wily Mo strikes out a TON, and walks seldom. He's never had more than 350 ABs in a season, so it's hard to assume he'd succeed in a full-time role. But he'll turn 25 in January, he consistently slugs around .500, and his defense is rumored to be above-average (perhaps Jack can confirm or deny this rumor). He can play RF and CF, so he'd give us some flexibility there. Last year was something of an abberation for him: He crushed righties (.946 OPS), and sturggled against lefties (.660). In his career, he's fared slightly better against lefties. Basically, who knows? Lidge, meanwhile, is coming off a down year. But we have him for two more years at a great price and closer or not, he's one of the most valuable commodities on the market. We do, however, have three very good relievers in Qualls, Wheeler and Miller, and Wheeler did perform very well in the closer's role down the stretch last year. In short, I'd think about it, but I'd ask about prospects. Lidge is too valuable to give up for Peña alone.

Jason Jennings for Chris Burke (or Willy Taveras): I would definitely think about this one. Jennings is a free agent after 2007, so there's no guarantee we would have him for more than a year. Burke and Taveras, meanwhile, aren't free agents till after the 2010 season. But it's a supply vs. demand equation. Burke and Taveras contribute little to the team, whereas a quality starter like Jennings would be a huge addition. This is a tough choice. There are so many question marks, not the least of which is: How will Jennings produce outside of Coors Field? Here's another oddity: He put up a better ERA at home than on the road last year, which goes against his career norm. Weird.

The Astros hired Dave Wallace to be the pitching coach. Don't know much about him, except that players and coaches alike seem to admire and appreciate him. Depending on our piching staff entering 2007, his role will either be huge or minuscule.

The Astros met with Vicente Padilla's agent. $40 for 4 years seems a bit much...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Obviously our pitching staff needs a lot of work this off-season. But the outfield is also a bit up in the air. As it stands right now, we have Taveras, Scott, Pence, Lane, Palmeiro, and sometimes Berkman and Burke who can play outfield. I'd really like Taveras to work on a few things over the winter, namely, improving his patience and shortening his swing. He turns 25 in December, so there's no reason to assume he can't improve his abilities. For better or worse, I want Taveras to be our lead-off man all year. Tell him to get on base, and hope he can 35 percent of the time.

Luke Scott has shown he can hit major-league pitching. That's not to say that he's a proven starter. He never really slumped last year, which I suppose is a good thing. But it'll be interesting to see how he deals with a bad week. Will he adjust his swing? How will he respond to getting dropped in the batting order or benched for a day or two? Scott's very good, but he probably will struggle mightily against lefties. His OPS was still .777 against lefties, but that was 354 points below his OPS against righties. I don't expect him to go .336/.426/.622 again, but I do expect a similar lefty-righty split. In short, he would make an excellent platoon player with a right-handed bat — someone like Lane or Pence. Lane had a prett horrendous year last year, but he still has something to contribute. I wouldn't mind seeing him in this platoon role while Pence plays another year in the minors. Of course, I wouldn't fault the organization for calling Pence up ASAP. A platoon role is a good way to introduce rookies to the big show.

Basically, there's an opening for a corner outfield position. But I don't see the point in signing anyone long-term. If Scott and Pence show that they're both big-time sluggers, they should be our corner outfielders for the next 4-5 years. We have a history of "ruining" outfield prospects while they're at their peak abilities. Daryl Ward and Jason Lane both rode the pine during their prime years, and they both seemed to burn out when they finally got a chance to play full-time. I'd hate to see Pence be nothing more than a spot-starter or defensive replacement for the next 3 years, especially if he proves he's ready to play.

I think it makes much more sense to sign a 1-year veteran. It makes so much sense considering our roster and our payroll. Some options are Alou, Catalanotto, Dellucci, Gonzo, Klesko, Trot Nixon, Jay Payton, Shannon Stewart. At this point, I'd be happier signing one of them and using the extra money to pull some decent pitching and/or catching help. I'm still excited about a return to the Juicebox for Moises Alou. If he does get hurt, we got decent outfielders who can fill in. An outfield of Scott/Lane/Pence, Taveras and Alou would be decent offensively, decent defensively, but most importantly: cheap.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Biggio re-signed for $5.15 million. You know, Clemens and Pettitte could learn a thing or two from Biggio. Bidge always seems to get his deals doen early. Whether it's because he has fewer demands, or because he knows he wants the team to worry about other deals, it is nice that he doesn't cause us the wait-and-wonder grief that Clemens and Pettitte like so much. Pettitte, by the way, indicated he's leaning toward retirement. I don't think it's the case. I think he's just trying to drag this thing out.

More rumors...

The Denver Post suggested Chris Burke as a possible trade candidate to the Rockies (for Jason Jennings?). Burke is a solid player, but he'll be 27 in March, so he's no spring chicken. He only put up a .765 OPS last year, but did hurt his shoulder in Colorado. Maybe the Rockies were impressed when he separated his shoulder at Coors Field. He's never had a full-time position to himself, so I guess no one really knows what he's fully capable of.

Jack will like this latest Rotoworld snippet:

Fernando Nieve, who spent the second half of last season as a reliever, is expected to be tried again as a starter next spring. If the Astros can't retain either Roger Clemens or Andy Pettitte, they'll be looking for two veterans to put behind Roy Oswalt and then they'll fill the other two slots with youngsters. Jason Hirsh, Nieve and Taylor Buchholz would likely be the favorites for the openings, with Matt Albers, Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Sampson and Ezequiel Astacio also serving as candidates.

Nieve's good. I think he only had two plus pitches, his fastball and slider, but if he can work in one or two more decent pitches, maybe The Snowman has a future in the rotation. His stats weren't terrific (4.20 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 70 K, 41 BB, 18 HR in 96 1/3 innings), but he's young and talented. Let's see what he's got.

Friday, November 10, 2006

J.D. Drew?

He just opted out of the last three years of his contract with the Dodgers. He would have made $33 million, but he wasn't satisfied In Los Angeles. I know, I know... we don't need another left-handed hitter, but he's available, he smashes the ball when he's healthy, and he would appear to be a good fit with our club. Just another option for Purpura to think about. I'd still rather sign Pettitte, Piazza, Alou, Williams and Lawrence. And then win 100 games and the World Series.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Clemens and Pettitte filed for free agency, and they both are undecided if they'll pitch next year. Jack and I both want to re-sign Pettitte despite his disappointing year. How many stud lefty starters are available with postseason experience? I hope we give him $10 million per year for up to three years. Clemens can go either way. He'll dominate if he pitches, but it's really up to him. I don't like wasting a fourth of our payroll on him, but I guess he practically pays for himself.

The negotiations with Biggio are almost done. Expect something around $6 million, which is twice as much as he should get. But hey, he's a Hall-of-Famer and a great guy.

According to the Chronicle, the Astros have inquired about Jeff Suppan and Woody Williams. It's funny... they are very similar pitchers, but Suppan is younger (32 to 40), can throw a tad harder, he'll probably command a 3- or 4-year deal worth $7 million-$8 million a year. That's overpaying. Woody, meanwhile, has a career 4.09 ERA (Suppan's in 4.60), and last year pitched quite well, even if it was at pitcher-friendly Petco. He would likely take a one-year, $4 million deal from his hometown team. I hope we make it happen.
Every offseason the guys at Baseball Think Factory do ZIPS projections for every baseball team. I won't go through all the details on where they get these projections from; you can check that out at their website here.

I tried copy-pasting the projections from their website for our likely starting lineup as it stands right now, but it didn't work so well. Instead, just link to that page right here.

Here are my comments on a few players:

Wow, Hunter Pence!! Those are pretty sweet projections for both Luke Scott
and Hunter Pence; maybe Carlos Lee is unnecessary after all. Seriously, a 841 OPS (Scott)
and an 845 OPS (Pence) from the corner OF spots is pretty decent AND it wouldn't cost very
much. I seriously doubt the Astros will do that; I have a hard time seeing them
going into 2007 with a Scott / Taveras / Pence outfield. More likely we sign a FA
and platoon 2 of Scott / Pence / Lane. I'm pretty excited about Hunter Pence, though.

Morgan Ensberg is a better choice than Aubrey Huff (373 OBP vs. 348 OBP). His defense is better, he draws a lot of walks in front of Berkman, and he might not be as expensive.

I hope Craig Biggio can beat that projection (.255/.311/.419), and if not, I hope he gets to 3000 hits quickly so Chris Burke can step in.

Ugh...two guys at the bottom with a sub-700 OPS (Guess who? Everett and Ausmus again). Giving Quintero more playing time (.269/.311/.395) or signing / trading for a new catcher would be sweet, 'cause Ausmus is BAD.

Nice projection for Lamb. Not a bad projection for Brooks Conrad, either -
almost as high an OPS as Burke or Biggio. Palmeiro and Bruntlett, meh.

Starting Pitchers:

Man, we need to sign Pettitte. ZIPS actually likes Buchholz (4.43 ERA) and Sampson (4.32 ERA) a lot; more than Hirsh (4.47) or Nieve (4.78, nice strikeout rate). Clemens would be a nice boost, huh? Wandy is terrible. Buchholz and Sampson! Kinda surprising to me.

Bullpen: ZIPS likes Lidge a LOT! (3.51 ERA, 106 K in 75 IP) Look at that strikeout rate. In fact, look at the strikeout rate for all of those guys (Wheeler, Lidge, Qualls, Miller, Springer, Paul Estrada?). We'll almost certainly put one of our extra starters in here as well - probably Nieve, darn. Hey, I gotta run, but look over these stats, they're pretty darn cool.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The 2000 season was quite possibly the weirdest year ever for the Astros.

I was looking up Berkman's career stats on The kid can hit. Then I notice that Berkman finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2000. my first though was, "Only sixth?!" He had a great rookie campaign, hitting .297 with 21 homers and a .949 OPS in 353 ABs. Who could have done better? Any guesses? Well, the winner was Rafael Furcal, who hit .295 with 40 SBs. Sure, he only had a .776 OPS, but I can understand his winning the award. The others, though? Get ready for some shockers:

#2: Rick Ankiel — 11-7, 3.50 ERA
#3: Jay Payton — .291, 17 HRs, .778 OPS
#4: Pat Burrell — .260, 18 HRs, .822 OPS

And the biggest surprise of them all ... finishing 5th in the 2000 Rookie of the Year voting ... That's right ... Mitch Meluskey! He actually had a great season in 2000: .300/.401/.487, 14 HRs, 69 RBI in 337 ABs. Too bad he never hit a major league homer after that year, and only got 26 more ABs! What happened to Mitch? Can you imagine if he didn't get into that fight with Billy Spiers or Tim Bogar or whoever it was...? Oh well.

Anyway, I did a little most researching on, which is a tremendous site. Basically, the 2000 Astros were the exact opposite from the Astros of today: all power, no pitching. Check out the middle of the order:

Bagwell: .310/.424/.615, 47 HRs, 132 RBI
Alou: .355/.416/.623, 30, 114
Hidalgo: .314/.391/.626, 44, 122
Berkman: .297/.388/561, 21, 67

We even got decent contributions from Truby (.772 OPS), Lugo (.777), Spiers (.778), Ward (.833), Eusebio (.820), and Cedeño (.781). Biggio (.781) blew out his knee and only played in 101 games, and Caminiti (1.001) was limited to 69 games. In all, that lineup scored 938 runs. Yikes.

As good as the offense was, the pitching was ten times as BAD. I'm thinking it could have been historically bad. I mean, futility of epic proportions. Here are some stats for you: We used 23 pitchers and only one of them had an ERA under 4. That was Tony McKnight, who posted a 3.86 ERA in 35 innings. Nice work, Tony. Our most-used starting pitchers were Lima (6.65 ERA), Chris Holt (5.35), Scott Elarton (4.81), Wade Miller (5.14) and Shane Reynolds (5.22). Excuse me, ALL-STAR Shane Reynolds. That's right, he was an All-Star. Actually, he was our ONLY All-Star! WHAT!?!?! No Bagwell. No Alou. No Hidalgo. The Astro rep was Shane Reynolds, who finished the year with a 7-8 record. Weird. Also weird: Dotel started 16 games and got 16 saves with a 5.40 ERA. Wagner went down, but not before putting up a 6.18 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. All that awesome (or awe-inspiring) pitching allowed 864 earned runs and 944 runs total.

We finished 18 games under .500 at 72-90, but were outscored by only 6 runs. Our Pythagorean W-L record was dead even, 81-81. That's how weird a year it was.

Ok, so that's it for now. Still a bunch of rumors floating around about Lee, Soriano and … Aramis Ramirez (?). But both Jack and I still like Ensberg. Can't we just say he had a down year and move on? Hell, he still put up an .859 OPS. And you can't argue with that. At his salary, which I assume will be somewhere in the $5 million to $6 million range, it's hard to justify moving him.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Astros extended Purpura's contract through 2008. Tim's been a decent GM. Not great, but his actions have generally helped the franchise. To his credit, he makes smart moves and is willing to admit and correct mistakes (see Wilson, Preston). His faults are harder to quantify: He hasn't made that huge blockbuster trade or free-agent signing, but it's hard to know exactly what was on the table. It's hard to blame him for failing to acquire Tejada if the Orioles really did ask for Oswalt. The other downside to his managerial style is his extreme loyatly to old or just plain crappy players. As Rotoworld points out, it's probably McLane's influence. I can understand the Biggio situation, but Ausmus is hardly a "good ol' boy" of the franchise.

Purpura seems to know what it takes to succeed as a GM, but his training days are over. This offseason will prove to be the most important months of his career to date. Sign Piazza, Alou, Woody Williams and Brian Lawrence.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jack and I both love the offseason. I think it's even better than spring training, because not only is every team tied for first, but every team has the chance to do great things and improve the team by making smart signings and trades. Plus, all the fans get to debate who we should sign and who we should trade.

Barzilla from AstrosDaily reported that Purpura said that replacing Ausmus AFTER 2007 would define his career as Astros GM. Well guess what, TP... maybe you should start looking early. Ausmus is clearly the weakest link in a very weak lineup. Taveras and Everett at least add above-average defensive skills; Ausmus's defense is mediocre and on the decline. We've competed with the miserable Everett-Ausmus-pitcher lineup for four years now, and we've been successful in spite of it. It's time to upgrade at one of those positions, and catcher is the obvious choice. There are several reasons why: 1) Everett's defense makes him a commodity despite the poor offense. 2) There are few possibilities to upgrade at SS. 3) There are many free agent catchers. 4) Many of the free-agent catchers have split time before. Check out these choices (with age by April 2007, career OPS and notes):

Rod Barajas: 31, .692 (.771 in 2005)
Mike Lieberthal: 35, .788
Javy Lopez: 36, .828
Doug Mirabelli: 36, .732
Bengie Molina: 32, .717 (.785, 19 HR in 2006)
Mike Piazza: 38, .931 (.843 in 2006)
Gregg Zaun: 35, .729 (.825 in 2006)

And here are some trade candidates:
Johnny Estrada: 30, .733 (.773 in 2006)
Toby Hall: 31, .685
Jason LaRue: 33, .740

Yes, several of these catchers are old and slow, but that's what catchers are supposed to be, right? Seriously, though, Ausmus should NOT be our starting catcher. He's a good guy and a great baseball mind, but he hasn't been a major-league hitter in several years. Honestly, I'd be happy if we signed any of these guys to split time with Ausmus. Piazza's my dream-signing this offseason, but I'm intrigued by all of them. Lieberthal and Lopez have had very good years in the past, but injuries have hindered them. Barajas had a breakout year in 2005 but regressed and lost his starting job in Texas to Gerald Laird. Zaun has been fantastic in Toronto; would he want to return to Houston, where he seemed to fit in well? Would Molina command too much, and would he mind splitting time? What would it cost to trade for Johnny Estrada? Who knows... but Purpura should be on the lookout.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ok, after spending most of the 2 hour drive from Flagstaff to Phoenix talking Astros baseball with Andy, I figured it's time for a nice big post.

First of all, I've decided I'm pretty much ambivalent about Carlos Lee. If we give him 5/65, I won't be ecstatic, but I won't be depressed. I will say that I'd rather we give Alou 2/10 and Piazza 1/7. There' s just no way you can convince me that Carlos Lee + Brad Ausmus is better than Moises Alou + Mike Piazza or even something like Luis Gonzalez + Johnny Estrada.

I was cruising around Baseball Prospectus and I found an old article than convincingly argues that it is generally not worth it to give free agent deals to mediocre-to-slightly-above-average free agents. They generally argue for giving big contracts to superstars and going from there. In mathematical terms, the relationship between x=VORP and y=Net Worth is not a linear one, but more of an exponential one. A guy like Albert Pujols with an 85.4 VORP is not worth 10 times more than a guy with an 8.5 VORP. He's worth a lot more than that. With that in mind, I'm psyched that we have Berkman and Oswalt locked up for 5 more years each! Here's a list of the National League leaders in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

1. Albert Pujols, 85.4
2. Ryan Howard, 81.5
3. Miguel Cabrera, 78.7
4. Roy Oswalt, 72.4
5. Lance Berkman, 70.1
6. Brandon Webb, 68.9
7. Carlos Beltran, 68.5
8. Chris Carpenter, 67.8
9. Chase Utley, 65.2
10. Garret Atkins, 62.7

VORP doesn't take defense into account, so Berkman falls a little bit (more on this later), but still, 2 of the top 5 players in the league? COUNT IT. Oh, and Garret Atkins?? Wow.

There's a neat article over at The Baseball Analysts that talks about 'net stolen bases'. Essentially it takes stolen bases, caught stealings, and pick-offs into account and lists the best basestealers based on that. Willy Taveras was the best for the Astros, with the following numbers:

33 SB
9 CS
2 PO

which gives a net SB value of 11 = 33-(2*9)-(2*2).

That's not too bad; for comparison, the league leaders were Ichiro Suzuki with 39 and Dave Roberts with 31. So Taveras isn't quite in their tier, but his speed helps the team.

Andy and I generally agree that our biggest hole this offseason is our starting pitching. Our #1 priority needs to be to re-sign Andy Pettitte. We NEED to do this. Pettitte struggled in the 1st half this past year, but in the last 2 years he's pitched 222.3 and 214.3 innings with ERA's of 2.39 and 4.20. He's 34 years old, his strikeout rate is still good, and his most similar pitchers are Mike Mussina and Dwight Gooden. If we don't re-sign him, we're looking at Oswalt and a lot of questions marks. He signed a 3 / 31 deal in 2004; perhaps we could give him that same deal? I think he'd be worth it. He's worth slightly overpaying for if you look at the free agent market for pitchers. I think he's better than Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, personally.

If we sign Pettitte, we're looking at Oswalt / Pettitte / Hirsh / ? / ?. I personally like giving one of the question marks to Fernando Nieve, but there are many other options: Buchholz, Albers, Chris Sampson, etc. I'd be ok with just giving it to whichever of those guys looks the best in spring training. That leaves one more spot to fill. I've already argued that Woody Williams would make a decent fit (Option A). Here are two other guys that I'll endorse:

Option B: Brian Lawrence. This is Andy's idea, but I like it. He's coming off of surgery, but in 2003-2005 he pitched 210.7, 203.0, and 195.7 innings with ERA's of 4.19, 4.12, and 4.83. His walk rates are fairly low, he doesn't strike out too many guys, but with our excellent infield defense (more on this later), he could be a great fit. He's also very tough on righties (701 OPS allowed, 841 OPS for lefties), which is great for Minute Maid Park, which traditionally benefits right-handed hitters a lot. He'll be 31, and his most similar pitchers include Tomo Ohka and Bronson Arroyo.

Option C: Rodrigo Lopez. I've mentioned him before, but his walk / strikeout / HR rates are similar to Lawrence's, and he has to face the Yankees / Red Sox / Blue Jays lineups a ton. Compare that to the Brewers / Pirates / Cubs. Yum. He has no injury concers and is only 30 years old. I like him a lot. His most similar pitchers are John Thomson and Brett Tomko. Lefties and righties hit him equally well (779 OPS righties, 785 OPS lefties).

If forced to pick between one of Williams / Lawrence / Lopez, I pick the one with the highest groundball rate. Here are each of our three guys GB / FB ratios (so a number >1 means more groundballs, and <1 means more flyballs). Why groundball rate as the tiebreaker? Read on.

Woody Williams - 0.93/0.83/0.90. Worst rates of the three, and he's WORSE against righties.
Rodrigo Lopez - 1.33/1.13/1.23. Pretty solid.
Brian Lawrence - 1.61/1.81/1.46. Your winner, Brian Lawrence!! Tough on righties, a lot of groundalls = SOLID #3 STARTER! Do it, Purpura!! Andy, well done.

Let's talk about defense. Baseball Think Factory has a nice article up about their choices for National League Gold Gloves, and includes defensive stats for every regular. Here are the Astros stats, measure by Runs Saved / 150 games:

Catcher: Brad Ausmus, 0
First Base: Lance Berkman, -5
Second Base: Craig Biggio, 6 (!)
Shorstop: Adam Everett, 28 (!!) - Easily leads all SS in the NL. I quote from the article:

If Ozzie Smith was as good as Adam Everett, he was incredible. Everett is on the verge of saving the most runs on defense over the last 20 years. He’s truly incredible at outpacing his peers.

Third Base: Morgan Ensberg, 12 (!) - Barely leads all 3B in the NL (Feliz, Rolen are close).
Left Field: Preston Wilson, -31 (!!!) - Partially caused by the tiny left field at Minute Maid, but YIKES.
Center Field: Willy Taveras, 6 - 7th in the NL
Right Field: Jason Lane, -16 (!) - Ugh. Outfield defense besides Taveras = BAD.

So in summary, infield defense = great, outfield defense except for Taveras = BAD. Hence my desire for groundball pitchers. And that's some pretty high praise for Adam Everett.

Ok, that ought to give you some Astros tidbits to mull over. There's more that I'd like to talk about, but it basically boils down to Brad Ausmus being the bane of my existence, hoping we look into trading for Johnny Estrada, and Phil Garner rating pretty highly on a study of managers who get the most out of their players. Later.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Well, the Astros sure made it interesting toward the end of September, but the 2006 season was simply a case of "too little, too late." After a hot 19-9 start, the team just seemed stuck in doldrums of summer, always waiting for the "big run" to take them back to the postseason.

In a way, it might be a good thing that we didn't make the playoffs this year. Lets face it: we didn't deserve it, and to make the playoffs would have sent the message that the organization is making the right moves. It's not.

Not to place all the blame on the front office. Much of the team's futility can be traced to underperformance by many players, specifially the "locks": that is, the guys we all KNEW would produce. We didn't have to worry about them because they had a history of solid production and seemed to be on track for solid years. I'm talking, of course, about Ensberg, Pettitte, Lidge, and to a lesser extent, Wilson. Coming into the year, these were the guys we said would have very good, if not spectacular, seasons. And while they each showed flashes of brilliance (Wilson and Ensberg in the first month, Lidge and Pettitte in the second half), they quite simply did not come through.

Almost everyone else performed as predicted: Oswalt, Berkman and Clemens absolutely dominated. Biggio kept up his ridiculous home/away splits and slumped horrifically in the second half. Taveras went through a sophomore slump and was benched before turning it up in the second half. Burke progressed nicely with more playing time, although he was prone to extended slumps. Wandy got run support but proved that he's nothing special. Our young pitchers Buchholz and Hirsh struggled but showed some promise for the future. Our bullpen started slow, but Wheeler, Qualls, Springer and Miller were all very good, particularly in the second half.

Ausmus and Everett... well, they combined for 950 mostly worthless at-bats. Everett was magnificent on defense and is likely in line for the Gold Glove award. He actually did improve at the plate in the second half, and I do recall seeing him hit singles to right field a few times. So that says something. I don't want to discuss Ausmus because there's really nothing positive to say.

Believe it or not, the offseason is very exciting to me. So much can happen... so many different ways to go. Everyone gets to act like a GM and criticize, complement or chastise every small move that's made.

The first move Purpura made was adding reliever Paul Estrada to the 40-man roster and sending down Eric Munson and J.R. House. Though he went hitless in nine major league at-bats this year (although Ryan Freel robbed him of an extra-base hit), House went NUTS in the minor leagues this year and could really do some good things at the plate for the Astros in the future. I hope we can hold onto him, although I think by sending him down, we are subjecting him to the Rule 5 draft. I don't know the rules on this... maybe Jack can clue me in.

Purpura will have a lot do this this winter. He'll resign Biggio (somewhere in the $3 million neighborhood), and he'll have to think long and hard about resigning Pettitte. Clemens is another story altogether. We'll have plenty of time to discuss free agents throughout the next few months (I've renewed my pledge to be more involved with The Juicebox), but here's a list of potential free agents I think we should consider:

Moises Alou
Rod Barajas
MIke Cameron*
Frank Catalanotto
David Dellucci
Jermaine Dye
Jim Edmonds*
Luis Gonzalez
Jose Guillen
Torii Hunter
Javy Lopez
Trot Nixon
Mike Piazza
Alfonso Soriano

Tony Armas Jr.
Pedro Astacio
Miguel Batista
Mark Buerhle
Brian Lawrence
Ted Lilly
Mike Mussina*
Tomo Ohka
Vicente Padilla
Chan Ho Park
Brad Radke
Jason Schmidt
John Thomson
Jeff Weaver
Woody Williams
Barry Zito

(* = option with current team)

Oh yeah, and there's also the issue that A-Rod might be traded from the Yankees. The Yanks are so funny... could any other team hate a guy who consistently puts up All-Star numbers? Did any other vaunted Yankee sluggers really do well against the Tigers' pitching? It's crazy.

So a big question is, should we pursue A-Rod? I say Yes. The Yanks need pitching, bullpen help... and a thirdbaseman if they trade A-Rod. I'd give up Ensberg, Lidge and a prospect for A-Rod and cash. While I'm at it, I'd sign Piazza to split time with Ausmus. Then sign Alou, who's put up a .900 OPS for three straight years!

For the rotation, I'd like to take a chance on some starters. Brian Lawrence particularly interests me. He put up three good years in San Diego (pre-Petco), throwing 200+ IP with an ERA hovering around 4.00. Not sure what his injury status is, but he could be a valuable pickup. Also on my mind are Batista and Williams. They;re old and they don't strike out anyone, but they seem like they'd fit well in the clubhouse, and with Ausmus half the time, they could put up some decent innings.

OK, enough rambling. Here's hoping good things are on the way this offseason.

Monday, October 02, 2006

> Here's a summary of what the Astros should do this offseason.  By the way, a
> good link towards 2007 free agents is here:
> Well, it was a fun last two weeks, but the 2006 season
> for the Astros is over. We finished at 82-80, which
> is about where we belong considering we scored 735
> runs (12th out of 16 teams in the NL) and allowed 719
> runs (2nd out of 16 teams). This offseason should be
> an interesting one - here's what I'm thinking,
> position by position:
> Catcher - Brad Ausmus / Humberto Quintero / J.R. House
> Ugh. Ausmus and Angel Berroa of the Royals had a long
> showdown to see which regular would end the year with
> the lowest OPS in baseball (Ausmus - 593, Berroa - ).
> He also only threw out 17 of 77 basestealers, a
> career-low 22%. Basically: he's terrible, and we're
> stuck with him for another year. We have to play him,
> but hopefully as little as possible. He did put up a
> .333 OBP against lefties, so hopefully platoon him
> with Quintero or House a little more. Long-term, look
> to sign a free-agent catcher after 2007. I wanted
> Ramon Hernandez (.275 / .343 / .479, 23 HR, 91 RBI) or
> Johnny Estrada (.302 / .328 / .444, 11 HR, 71 RBI)
> this past off-season. Damn.
> First Base - Lance Berkman
> That was easy. Lancey Lance had a huge year in '06,
> leading the team in virtually every important
> offensive category, and hitting .315 / .420 / .621
> with 45 HR and 98 walks. It's a great start to his 6
> year / 75 million dollar contract, and if he stays
> healthy he should be absolutely worth it. Note: He
> slugged .704 against righties this year; only .416
> against lefties.
> Second Base - Craig Biggio / Chris Burke
> Biggio has some really weird splits this year (his
> worst year in a LONG time, by the way). He hit a
> solid .298 / .346 / .522 at home, and a jaw-droppingly
> awful .178 / .253 / .288 on the road. Is that even
> possible? Once again, he collapsed after the All-Star
> Break (784 OPS before, 648 OPS after), as he has for
> quite a while. Hopefully this means he gets off to a
> good start in 2007, gets to 3000 hits (he's 70 away)
> by the ASB, at which point Burke (who had a good
> building block kind of year, hitting .276 / .347 /
> .418) takes over the 2nd base job for good, with
> Biggio getting occasional sentimental 'farewell'
> starts at home in front of the fans.
> Third Base - Morgan Ensberg
> This is my biggest offseason concern BY FAR. I am
> terrified that the Astros will make Mike Lamb or
> Aubrey Huff their 3rd baseman and let Ensberg walk,
> where he will get snapped up by some team like the
> Padres, where he will put up a .400 OBP and solid
> defense for cheap. Yes, Ensberg had a strange
> injury-filled year, and he hit only .235. But he put
> up a .396 OBP, HIGHER than his career year of 2005,
> and drew 101 walks despite missing a lot of time.
> He'll be 31 at the start of '07, but he has a career
> .270 / .372 / .486 line, which is exactly what we need
> batting in front of Berkman. PLEASE re-sign Ensberg.
> He won't even be that expensive (he made 3.8 million
> this year).
> Shortstop - Adam Everett
> Unlike Brad Ausmus, Everett really does live up to his
> fielding reputation. There have been several articles
> that have Everett conservatively listed as saving
> approximately 40 runs with his glove over the course
> of the season. He's that good. Yeah, his offense is
> bad: .239 / .290 / .352 but I think he's still worth
> it. He's cheap, too - $1.9 million this year. We
> don't have any better options anyway.
> Outfield - RF: Luke Scott / Jason Lane
> Luke Scott = Roy Hobbs, circa 2006? Scott came out of
> nowhere with a Pujols-like .336 / .426 / .622 line in
> the final few months. I don't think he's THAT good -
> first of all, no one is, and 2nd of all, he's a career
> .277 / .363 / .524 hitter in the minors. That's not
> too bad, but Jason Lane is a career .252 / .324 / .475
> hitter in the majors, and he needs more playing time.
> He actually hit lefties better this year, and is
> slightly better against them over his career (821 OPS
> to 788 OPS), so I like them platooning in RF and
> having the other as our 4th outfielder / PH
> specialist.
> CF: Willy Taveras
> Willy T is similar to Everett in that he really is
> good defensively, and although he's frustrating
> offensively he did put up a .333 OBP with decent SB
> rates (33/42). His 2nd half stats are particularly
> encouraging: .308 / .365 / .375 with 20 SB / 4 CS.
> Combine that with the fact that he'll be 25 in
> December and will be cheap, and he'll be fine.
> LF: Moises Alou / Hunter Pence
> Now, left field. Top prospect Hunter Pence might get
> a shot, but I'd rather give a short-term deal to a
> free agent. How about one lasthurrah for Moises Alou?
> He had his highest OPS in 4 years this past year,
> hitting .301 / .352 / .571. He's pretty bad
> defensively but he only has to cover the 4 square feet
> that comprise left field at Minute Maid. He'll also
> need plenty of rest, so Lane / Pence can fill in for
> him plenty. Alou was extremely popular in Houston,
> and loves hitting at Minute Maid .337 / .405 / .591,
> 37 HR, 153 RBI in 606 AB. Put that into a 400 AB
> season and account for some aging (Alou will be 40,
> but he just put up the best OPS of his last 4 year),
> and you're looking at something like .300 / .370 /
> .520, 20 HR, 85 RBI. Just make sure you don't give
> him a multi-year deal! I don't hink he'll get one,
> anyway. One really important note - Alou is a dead
> pull hitter. In fact, this is one thing that I want
> to talk about: Minute Maid deserves to be treated as a
> unique ballpark because of the short fence. Righties
> hit MUCH better there, so it is to our advantage (all
> other things equal) to have righty pull hitters on
> offense (Biggio, Ensberg, Alou) and pitchers that are
> tough on right-handed batters.
> Bench: Humberto Quintero, Eric Bruntlett, Mike Lamb,
> Jason Lane, Orlando Palmeiro
> Starting Pitchers - Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Woody
> Williams, Fernando Nieve , Jason Hirsh
> Anyone realize that Oswalt was the only NL pitcher to
> finish with a sub-3.00 ERA? His 2.98 ERA is awesome,
> he only walked 38 in 220.2 IP, is tough on righties,
> doesn't give up many HR's...what's not to like? His 5
> year / 73 million dollar deal should be ok ASSUMING HE
> STAYS HEALTHY, just like Berkman. I think Oswalt is
> more of an injury risk because he is of slight build,
> has a fairly violent delivery, and he has to pitch,
> while Berkman plays 1B.
> I really think Andy Pettitte is going to want to come
> back (he'll be 34 in July), and it seems that he likes
> pitching in Houston. He got off to a rough start last
> year but then turned it on in the 2nd half: 5.28 ERA
> before, 2.80 ERA after. He's still got a nice
> strikeout rate (178 K / 214.1 IP) and is a nice fit
> for our infield defense (Ensberg / Everett / Burke) as
> a groundball pitcher.
> I read on RotoWorld that Woody Williams really,
> REALLY, wants to come pitch for the Astros. He's from
> the area and has always mentioned how much he likes
> the team. Do we want him? For the right price, I say
> yes. He had a solid year in 2006, putting up a 3.65
> ERA and a 2-to-1 K/BB ratio. He did give up 21 HR,
> and pitched significantly better at home in spacious
> Petco Park, so there is concern here. He'll be 40, so
> a 1 year / 5 million dollar deal would be fine.
> After that, it's pretty wide open. I really want to
> see Fernando Nieve get a look as a starter - we really
> don't need him in the bullpen (see below), and he had
> a much better BB/K ratio as a starter. Oh, and he's
> tough on righties.
> I'm guessing Jason Hirsh will be the 5th starter. He
> gave up 10 ER in 2.2 IP at Cincinnati in his 3rd
> start; take that away and his ERA was 4.27 and his
> WHIP was 1.33. He dominated at AAA last year (2.10
> ERA in 137.1 IP) and has nothing more to prove there.
> Bullpen - Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, Russ
> Springer, Trever Miller, Chris Sampson
> Lidge had issues with command last year, but he has
> too much potential to give up on. Qualls needs to
> throw fewer innings (168 the last 2 years). Wheeler
> had a 1.11 ERA in the 2nd half. Springer actually had
> a really good year last year, with a 3/1 BB/K ratio
> and a 1.04 WHIP, and Trever Miller was a good Purpura
> signing, pitching 50 innings with a 3.02 ERA. Note to
> Garner: Miller was just as good against righties last
> year. I like Chris Sampson as a spot starter /
> long-relief guy more than Matt Albers or Wandy
> Rodriguez or Taylor Buchholz. Albers isn't quite
> there yet, Wandy has a career 5.58 ERA in 264 IP in
> the majors, and Buchholz had a 5.89 ERA last year.
> Sampson is a groundball machine who doesn't walk
> anybody, kind of a mini-Qualls.
> Those are the mainstays, though there a few prospects
> that might break through:
> Brooks Conrad played mostly 2B last year and can't
> field that well, but he did lead the league in
> extra-base hits while slugging .534 at AAA. Not too
> bad. Paul Estrada struck out 134 guys in only 88
> innings as our AA closer.
> Well, that's that.
> My lineup:
> Taveras
> Ensberg
> Berkman
> Alou
> Scott / Lane
> Biggio / Burke
> Everett
> Ausmus / Quintero
> P
> My rotation:
> Oswalt
> Pettitte
> Williams
> Nieve
> Hirsh
> and a pen of
> Wheeler
> Qualls
> Lidge
> Miller
> Springer
> Sampson
> It's not a terrible team, and it's unlikely that we'd
> make the playoffs, but the NL Central is still weak,
> and it's got a good mix of breaking in the youngsters
> (Taveras, Scott, Burke, Pence, Nieve, Hirsh, Sampson)
> and signing a few popular veterans that should please
> the fans (Biggio, Alou, Pettitte, Williams).
> It wouldn't be a terribly expensive team, either - I
> don't think bringing in Carlos Lee would make a huge
> difference - the only 'name' signings would be Alou,
> Pettitte, and Williams.
> In a year or two, those three and Ausmus should be
> moving on, hopefully replaced by Hunter Pence or Adam
> Dunn, a few of our pitching prospects, and a 2008 free
> agent catcher (Johnny Estrada, Jorge Posada, etc.)
> That's enough. I guess I was pretty bored.
> -Jack
> Next time: 5 reasons why I don't want Carlos Lee.