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.