After agreeing to contracts with Everett, Lidge and Wheeler this week, Ensberg's our only remaining arbiration case. From what I've heard, the numbers aren't too far off: Ensberg wants $4.2 million, $800K more than the Astros' offer.
Ensberg's already 30, but won't be a FA until after the 2008 season. A long-term deal would be nice: avoiding arbitration for the next three years if nothing else. At this point, I think we'd have to give him $18-$20 million for a three-year deal, which is right around what he'd make in arbitration if he keeps hitting well. Hopefully Mo has turned a corner in his career, and we'll be abe to count on a .900 OPS for the next couple years.
The whole arbitration system is really funky. It rewards playing time over good performance, so players who suck but have been in the majors a while will end up getting more money than better players with little experience. This is clearly a benefit to teams that draft well. Oakland's strategy has been to continually bring in younger and cheaper players while letting their more expensive veterans hit paydirt with other teams. If you always have decent replacements waiting in the wings, why risk a blockbuster deal with a guy who might get injured or just start to suck? I bet Beane's kicking himself for the Chavez deal a couple years ago.
The Astros are on the other end of the spectrum. We tend to wait several years to call up good hitters. Ensberg and Lane were both ready for the majors years before they finally got their starting jobs. By the time those players are ready to test free agencym they'll be pretty old. Ensberg will be 33 after 2008, when he'll be a FA. Lane will also be 33 when he's a FA after 2009. If they continue to dominate, they'll cost teams gobs of money for what probably will be the decline of their careers. Problem is, that team could be us. We tend to "stick to our guns" and "reward our veterans" all the time, and I can see us doing this with these players. Of course, if they dominate in those years, I'll be happy. And this so-called "problem" won't really affect us for several years.
Back to the present: I really wonder if the Astros have any more plans in the mix. The FA list is running thin; only a handful of players even perk my interest: Durazo, Ward, Chris Stynes, Jose Hernandez, Wade Miller, Astacio, Fogg, Weaver, Kevin Brown, Ismael Valdez, Halama, Quantrill, Fox, Mecir, Urbina. Hard to believe there are still well over 100 FAs out there, nearly all of whom will sign with teams.
Like many others, I don't like the prospect of having Backe-Wandy-Zeke at the end of our rotation. I can already foresee a bunch of three-game sweeps going the wrong way. Zeke and Wandy have potential, but that doesn't always translate to actual performace, which is all that really matters. Zeke (5.67, 1.54) and Wandy (5.53, 1.46) were far from good last year. They're young (Wandy just celebrated his 27th birthday on Jan. 18; Zeke will turn 27 in November), but in no way are they solid, reliable pitchers yet.
Aside from Boras' Jeff Weaver, the remaining FA starters are either old, injury-prone or just plain bad. Still, there's some talent left in the pool, and we almost need to sign someone. Valdez and Halama are journeymen who can put up mediocre numbers (4.50 to 5.00 ERA, 1.40 to 1.50 WHIP) and eat innings. Kevin Brown's back may be broken, but he'd make a worthwhile risk if the price is right.
On the position player front, I think we're pretty much set. If we enter Spring Training with our current roster, it looks like Scott and Quintero would start the year at Round Rock. Bruntlett, who's not a very good hitter, seems to be a lock for the utility-man role.
Bagwell's shoulder is still a mystery, but there's no way he won't be on our Opening Day roster. If he says he can play first base, how about playing him there only three or four days a week? Give him an entire day off between starts. That way, Taveras still gets plenty of playing time. Or, take Bagwell out of the game at the seventh inning. Get Taveras in there for his defense and you rest Bagwell for a while.
OK, dinner time.