Monday, December 17, 2007

Well, there goes the farm.

At least we got two of the most exciting and dynamic players in the game in last week's dealings. If nothing else, Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde will sell tickets and generate excitement. I, for one, am DYING to see the 2008 lineup in action. It might not be ideal, but it'll be fun to watch:


Ed Wade had better be the great recruiter he's known to be, because in the span of one month, he has completely gutted our farm system. Of course, many of the players we gave up in those two trades were not exactly prospects: Scott, Burke and Qualls have been on the big-league club for the better part of three years now. 

Patton, Albers and Gutierrez, meanwhile, still have potential. None of them is going to be the next Roy Oswalt, but all three could develop into cheap, serviceable starters for several years. As Jack says, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect, but now we hardly have any young pitchers at all.

One reason I like the trades is that we aren't simply getting one-year rentals. Valverde and Tejada both are under contract for the next two years. Of course, by being traded in the middle of a multi-year deal, Tejada can now opt out of his remaining year, but I hope the Astros organization and fans can convince him to stay.

A few key items are still missing from the 2008 squad. The most glaring need is starting pitching. Right now it looks as though Backe, Wandy, Sampson and Woody would be in line to start after Oswalt, which is a pretty terrible crew. Not that the talent isn't there, because it is. All those guys are capable of throwing 8 innings of 1-run ball. What's lacking is stability and consistency. I'd venture that all of them are capable of posting ERAs under 4.00, but at the same time they're all fully capable of posting ERAs over 5.50. 

I'd gladly take a pitcher who goes 6 innings and gave up 3 runs every time out. Hell yeah. Of course, Wandy's plan appears to be mixing some sparkling outings with some absolute meltdowns. And doesn't it irritate that one of his best games of the year came in our 18-1 win over the Cards

Since there doesn't appear to be any players remaining in our minor-league system, we'll have to target free agents for our pitching needs. There are several tiers in the pitchers available: Injury Comebacks with Potential, Overpaid Innings-Eaters with Low Ceilings, and Just Plain Crappy Options:

Injury Comebacks with Potential include: Mark Prior, Bartolo Colon, Matt Clement, Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Kris Benson, Jason Jennings and Rodrigo Lopez. I haven't researched their injuries too extensively, but I know Prior and Garcia are probably out until June or so. I think it's safe to say none of them should be counted on for a full season. The beauty of this class of free-agents is that you can usually snag them for cheap, short, incentive-laden deals. Something like a guaranteed $4 million with the chance to make up to $7 million would be attractive to these guys as they try and work their way back toward the big money. 

Overpaid Innings-Eaters with Low Ceilings include: Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Livan Hernandez, Josh Towers and Josh Fogg. Each of these guys will likely take a multi-year deal worth WAY too much money, so hopefully Ed Wade steers clear. The last thing this team needs is a $10-million-a-year pitcher names Carlos Silva, but with our added payroll from Tejada and Valverde, I doubt McLane will let Wade sign these guys even if he wanted to. 

Just Plain Crappy: Tony Armas Jr., Shawn Chacon, Casey Fossum, Mark Hendrickson, Byung-Hyun Kim, Brian Lawrence, Eric Milton, Mike Maroth, Tomo Ohka, Russ Ortiz, Odalis Perez, John Thompson, Bret Tomko, Steve Trachsel, Jeff Weaver, Jamey Wright and Jaret Wright. Yikes. Minor-league deals only, please.

Shifting focus: The last thing we need is power off the bench. Geoff Blum, Mark Loretta and Reggie Abercrombie are not my ideas of power off the bench. Pence can play center in a jiffy, so there's no need to look for a backup CF like Kenny Lofton. What we need is someone with pop who can play outfield corners. I'm liking Kevin Mench. A career .465 SLG% looks pretty nice off the bench. It's higher than Mike Lamb's. Other interesting options are Trot Nixon, Reggie Sanders or even our good buddy Jason Lane. I wouldn't mind him back if he understood his role on this team.  

So, my crazy idea for Ed Wade:

1. Sign Prior, Clement or Lieber. Two might be stretching it, but pursue all three of them very aggressively. 

2. Sign Mench. 

3. Draft us some players, because in two years, after Tejada and Valverde are gone and Lee, Berkman and Oswalt start to decline, it ain't looking so good. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hello, Mr. Matsui. Goodbye, Mr. Burke.

I can't help but think what a shame it is that Burke, the heir apparent to succeed Biggio at second base, is now all but out the door. Anyone remember his 18th-inning homer to beat the Braves in the 2005 NLDS? I remember thinking how awesome it'll be to have this guy for the next five years.

Oh well. I guess you can say that Burke had his shot, though his stint as as our starting centerfielder last year lasted an entire month before Pence came storming onto the scene. I'd like to think that Burke can still produce for the Astros, but everyone (including Burke himself) thinks he'll be somewhere else, probably before the end of the week.

When I interned for a paper in South Carolina in the winter of 2004, I worked with a guy who went to Tennessee. He told me how excited I should be about this Burke fellow, who had been drafted the previous year. My co-worker (a sportswriter) said Burke was absolutely the hardest-working player he'd ever covered, and that whatever his deficiencies, Burke had the will and the heart and the passion to overcome and succeed.

I suppose I've always held Burke in high regard, but ultimately, he hasn't produced. Sure, you can say we haven't seen him in a full year, but with a sub-.700 OPS in over 1000 career ABs, how can you justify giving him a starting job?

Luckily, we're replacing him with a guy with a .712 career OPS in 1400 ABs. Sure, Matsui has had success. And yes, he seemed to spark the Rockies during their amazing run to end the 2007 season. But a career .325 OBP scares me.

No, what really scares me is that our "exciting" "speedster" "catalysts" that we've inserted at the top of the lineup are by no stretch of the imagination sure things. What are the best stats can Bourn and Matsui put up? If they have simply amazing years, what's the best they can do? I'd say:

Bourn: .290/.350/.390
Matsui: .290/.360/.430

And that's the best we can hope for. Both are candidates to hit .240.

Luke Scott's a whole different story. Unlike Burke, he's actually had prolonged success in the majors. But he seems destined for a trade, too. By the time I get around to blogging about him, he'll likely be a Padre.

Monday, November 19, 2007

After a thoroughly forgettable 73-89 campaign, the Astros appear to be starting fresh.

First off: Farewell, Craig Biggio. The man has been an absolute pleasure to watch and root for since I started caring about baseball. Bidge wasn't ever the biggest, the quickest or the strongest player on the field, but by God he tried the hardest. Even in his last years, when his keen batting eye and his legs began their inevitable decline, you could still see his never-say-die attitude in every grimace. He'll turn 42 in December, but to his last at-bat, Biggio played with the intensity of a September call-up trying to earn a spot in The Show. He is, truly, forever young. Perhaps we'll see him again before long in a Houston dugout.

2007 has indeed been a year of coming and going. Along with Biggio, we witnessed the departures of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Dan Wheeler, Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and Brad Lidge. Orlando Palmeiro, Mike Lamb, Trever Miller, Mark Loretta, Brian Moehler, Jason Jennings are likely to follow, with Chris Burke and Luke Scott no longer guaranteed roster spots, either.

But not all has been doom and gloom in Astroland this year. The arrivals of Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Troy Patton, J.R. Towles, Paul Estrada, Ty Wigginton and Michael Bourn give us hope for the future. None is perfect (although Pence is close), and only one has a résumé of established major-league success, but all can contribute if they stay healthy and live up to their potential. These seven players will undoubtedly be integral factors in the team's success in the next 3-5 years. A quick look at each one:

Carlos Lee: As close to a sure thing as you can get in baseball. Of course, we've all said that about Berkman. Lee's great year was largely masked by the team's offensively-challenged campaign. But El Caballo did exactly what we asked of him in '07: He hit lots of home runs and drove in lots of runs. Sooner or later, Lee will drop off. Let's just hope it's later. And who needs defense, anyway? It's only left field.

Hunter Pence: He didn't make the team out of Spring Training, but was the team's first call-up after Burke struggled in centerfield. Jack and I thought it much to early to call up the youngster, but Hunter exceeded everyone's wildest dreams by hitting over well over .300 with power and speed. If not for an broken wrist, Pence may have battled Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki for Rookie-of-the-Year honors. His defense in center was serviceable, and he should be above-average in right field in '08. 

Troy Patton: He's not the next Roy Oswalt (Who is?), and he's not likely to light up the hype machines like Tim Lincecum or Yovani Gallardo. But he is a very good, very young pitcher who's got loads of talent. He'll have growing pains, but he'll also have Brad Ausmus to help him get through the doldrums. Let's also hope he gets a rotation spot to himself.

J.R. Towles: Hallelujah! A catcher who can hit! He won't post a 1.000 OPS, nor will he drive in 8 runs in a game ever again. But his track record indicated his hitting is for real. It remains to be seen how often he gets to play with Ausmus hanging around. Here's hoping it's a bunch.

Paul Estrada: The Astros' bullpen was terrible last year, and it wasn't all because of Lidge and Wheeler. It's because we had guys like Dave Borkowski, Rick White, Brian Moehler, Mark McLemore and Stephen Randolph. These guys just aren't good, and they didn't get the job done. This is where Paul Estrada comes in. I heard phenomenal things about this guy in the minors, and assuming a natural adjustment to the majors, he can be a crucial bridge to the late innings with tons of strikeouts along the way. I don't think we need to spend $40 million on a closer like Francisco Cordero, but an Eric Gagne or a Scott Linebrink or a Kerry Wood would go great with Chad Qualls and Estrada.

Ty Wigginton: The anti-Ensberg. Wiggy won't walk too much, and he's not good enough of a hitter to get on base at a .350 clip. But if can approach a .500 SLG and a .800 OPS, we'll consider it an improvement over Mr. Nerd. He'll hit 4 homers a month or so, and, batting behind Lee and Berkman, he'll probably drive in a ton of runs. Plus, The Juicebox seems to favor righty pull hitters.

Michael Bourn: He fast. He'll play some enormous defense in center, and he'll steal a shit-ton of bases. But you can't steal first, and we'll be lucky if he can slug .400. In other words, it's Willy T., Version 2.0. He is still young (25 in December), so we'll see how he reacts to being handed a starting gig in his hometown. Could have an impact ... we'll see.  

Perhaps the most intriguing new addition is GM Ed Wade who has been, surprisingly, a breath of fresh air. After several years of getting jerked around by free agency and trades for the sake of trades, it's nice to see a leader who's able to assess a team's strengths and weaknesses, and make intelligent moves. I like the Lidge-for-Bourn trade. Not a steal by any means, but the truth is, we're probably better off without Lidge. Although we'll see who's closing come April. 

Assuming Adam Everett is still our starting shortstop (and who knows how long that will last), the other major issue facing the team is second base. Biggio's gone, and his heir apparent, Chris Burke, took a step backward in 2007. Wade has allegedly signed Geoff Blum, whose utility is useful. But God help us if he gets 300 ABs next year. I don't mind going forward with Burke and Blum at second. Loretta was a nice addition last year, but he completely lost his power in the second half, and his versatility is severely limited, just like his range at shortstop. 

Luke Scott has got to be pissed right now. I mean, did people actually expect him to reproduce his 1.050 OPS in 200 ABs in 2006? The guy puts up a .850 OPS, and he's out of a starting job. What's the deal? The guy has made a case for being at least a semi-regular player, and instead he's now our fourth outfielder. Scott actually hit lefties just fine last year. Since he's still under club control, I hope we hold onto him in case an injury strikes. 

The rotation looks a little shaky right now. There are a lot of names, but still quite a few question marks. Oswalt, Patton, Backe, Wandy and Williams appear to fill out the rotation, but several guys are hanging around and are worth a look: Chris Sampson, Matt Albers, Felipe Paulino, Juan Gutierrez. 

We've been linked to a couple free-agent starters in possibly the weakest free-agent pitching field I've ever seen. Thankfully, the names I've heard us inquiring about are players I wouldn't mind seeing wearing an Astros uniform, if the price is right. Jon Lieber won't put up fantastic numbers, but if he's healthy, he can eat innings and make quality starts. Same goes for Randy Wolf, but his left elbow is a ticking time bomb. If either could be had for a 1-year, $7 million deal, sign 'em up. There's always Andy Pettitte, but with all his pals resigning with the Yankees, it's hard to believe he won't join them. 

I hope we keep an eye on Eric Hinske. The guy seems comfortable in a backup role, and that's precisely what we'd want him for: our Mike Lamb role. A bench of Scott, Blum, Reggie Abercrombie (Who knew we had HIM? And how much does he look like Hanley Ramirez?), Ausmus and Hinske would be average to above-average. Lefty masher, righty masher, speed guy, all-around guy and catcher. Boo-yah. 

CF Bourn
RF Pence
1B Berkman
LF Lee
3B Wiggy
C Towles
2B Burke
SS Everett

P Oswalt
P Patton
P Woody
P Backe
P Wandy
(Leiber? Wolf?)

P Qualls
P Estrada
P Geary
P Nieve
P Villarreal
P Sampson
(Gagne? Linebrink?)

1B-3B Hinske
2B-Ss-3B Blum
OF Scott
OF Abercrombie
C Ausmus

Looks pretty good to me. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

All I gotta say about Brad Lidge is....

...I told you so.
Three words: What the crap? In the last four days, the Astros have:

1) Sent down their second-best starting pitcher this spring (and quite possibly their second best starter overall). Nieve in my mind was a lock to make the rotation. He had very good numbers and showed no signs of the elbow problems that plagued him late last year. But no, Chris Sampson overtook him despite Sampson allowing eight runs in a start. And the Chronicle claimed Sampson had a "more consistent spring." Utter BS. I thought maybe the Astros wouldn't need their fifth starter until late in April, but looking at the schedule, that's false. Wandy and Sampson will likely make three or four starts apiece this month. And Nieve will be pitching better than both of them in Round Rock.

2) Batted Adam Everett second in the lineup, after switching between Ensberg and Burke batting there in spring training. Judging by the way all the Astros were laughing and goofing off throughout the first game, maybe Garner was just thinking, "What the hell, let's try this craziness!" Forget his stats in the 2-hole and his ability to bunt and his speed at the top of the lineup. Pure and simple, Everett is a terrible hitter. Most nights, he deserves to bat ninth, behind our pitcher.

3) Blown their first late-inning lead, courtesy of Brad Lidge. I'm sure everyone reading this saw the game or at least the highlight. Lidge got two good outs against LaRoche and Paulino. But his first pitch to Xavier Nady was a fastball right down the middle that Nady deposited into the Crawfords. Lidge said later that Nady hit a good pitch, but something's gotta give, Lidge. I don't care about good pitches, I care about converting saves and getting wins. That pitch reminded me of the one he threw to Scott Podsednik in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1 in the 2005 World Series. Right down the middle, and the batter was waiting for it, dead red. Good pitchers locate their fastballs. Inside, outisde ... upstairs, down low. Corners. You can't get away with crummy command, Brad, if you expect to save games for much longer. Batters can hit 97-mph heaters if they're right down the middle.

4) Lost their first game of the year when Jason Bay hit a 2-run bomb off Chad Qualls in the 10th inning. Qualls got off to a rotten start last year, and he has a tendency to give up HRs at incredibly inconvenient times. Perhaps he's overthrowing and his sinker doesn't sink in time. Whatever it is, Lidge might not be the only headcase in the Astros' bullpen.

Now then.

I realize it's only one game. Garner will stop being a jackass and bat Everett where he belongs. Whether it's Burke or Ensberg hitting 2nd, we'll score more than two runs more often that not. Lee will get big hits with men on. And Lidge and Qualls will settle down. Also, I expect to see Nieve pitching for the Astros before month's end.

But damn, what a way to start the season.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Post No. 600. Yay.

Dude, how about March Madness this year? Admittedly, I haven't been as excited as I was a few years ago when I was in college, but this year has been terrific. Incredible games, dominant players, thrilling endings, heartbreaking losses. This year's tournament has had it all. I caught the second half of the UNC-Georgetown game on Sunday, and it was the most well-played game I've seen in a long time.

And then I saw this: (Scroll down to the video of the Div. II National Chamionship game)

Sorry, I still can't post hyperlinks. Lame, I know. If this is a Div. 1 tournament game, it's the Game of the Century. Absolutely amazing. I'm really looking forward to UCLA-Florida and Georgetown-Ohio State. I think both games will go down to the wire, with Florida and Ohio State going to the finals. And why not? Buckeye fans want revenge after the Gators thrashed them in the BCS National Championship game in January.

In Astros news, Chris Sampson pitched well in his second start, allowing 1 run in 5 innings. Is it enough to overcome his horrendous first start in his bid to claim a rotation spot? Not likely. Ensberg hit in the second spot in the lineup and hit a bomb. I wonder if Garner is thinking about hitting him in that spot in the regular season. It makes sense, given his incredible OBP. Burke-Ensberg-Berkman-Lee-Scott-Biggio-Everett-Ausmus would be my ideal Opening Day line-up, but I'm certain it's going to be Biggio-Burke-Berkman-Lee-Ensberg-Scott-Everett-Ausmus on April 2. Oh well.
Time for a reality check. Posters all over the message board are either crowning us champions or getting ready for a last-place finish. Let's take a look at what's going to happen over the 2007 season. First, the offense:

1. Carlos Lee will bring much-needed offense. Yes, he'll 'provide protection' for Berkman, not that he needed any in the first place. The duo will combine for at least 65 homers and 200 RBI. Lee's defense, however, will be somewhat atrocious.

2. The back of the lineup will once again drag the team down offensively. Everett will begin the season decently, trying to hit the ball to all sides of the field. But he'll fall back into old habits by swinging for the fences in the second half. Jennings and Williams will both out-OPS Ausmus, who will stay the 'starting' catcher much too long. Quintero will serve as an adequate back-up. He'll hit the ball hard, but will be too slow to take second most of the time.

3. Burke will put up decent numbers, although he'll continue to be a streaky hitter, vulnerable to lenghty slumps. His defense will be mediocre at first, as he'll have communication issues. But he'll make some Web-Gem-worthy diving catches coming in or to his left. He'll get banged up every now and then, requiring Jason Lane to fill in a handful of times in center.

4. Biggio will start off hot as usual, even though the home-road split phenomenon will stay. Come All-Star break, he'll begin his annual descent into .240-land. Garner and Purpura will take too long in replacing Biggio as an everyday player, claiming he's just going through a slump.

5. Luke Scott will regress toward the mean, but so will Jason Lane. The two will combine for slightly above-average production in right field. They'll combine for 30 homers and 100 RBI.

6. Mark Loretta and Mike Lamb will provide a spark off the bench. Loretta will fully embrace the pinch hitter/defensive replacement/spot starter role, making fans forget about Eric Bruntlett (sorry, Eric!). Lamb will swing a hot bat, earning a start every now and then at the corners to keep Ensberg and Berkman fresh.

7. Ensberg will rebound, but he'll once again fall out of favor among Astros fans. He'll hit plenty of homers, and get on base nearly 40 percent of the time, but his knack for striking out with RISP will cause an outcry. Garner will sit him four or five times a month, but Ensberg's power and patience will keep him in the lineup a a regular for ht most part.

Next up: Pitching predictions.

Man, April can't get here soon enough. I've been reading Astros Daily, Rotoworld, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Primer, and Aaron Gleeman so much lately that I felt guilty for not making a post of my own. So here goes.

Astros Notes

Richard Hidalgo and Ezequiel Astacio are gone. One had a bad spring (Hidalgo) and one had a good spring (Astacio), but Hidalgo was sent to the minors and Astacio was claimed by the Rangers. I'm glad we let Hidalgo go; he's a shell of his former self, and hopefully this means one last shot for Jason Lane. I'm a little upset that Astacio never worked out; he had a great K rate and good overall numbers in the minors, but he just gave up too many HR's. He'll probably be remembered for giving up that HR to Geoff Blum in the World Series. GEOFF BLUM!

Eric Bruntlett will probably not make the team also. Sorry, Eric, but being good defensively at most positions isn't enough, especially with guys like Mark Loretta and Orlando Palmeiro, both of whom will probably put up better offensive numbers than you would.

From everything that Garner has said, it looks like Wandy Rodriguez and hopefully Fernando Nieve will be the 4th and 5th starters. Wandy Rodriguez - ugh. Nieve has done quite well this spring; unfortunately, neither Chris Sampson or Matt Albers has been great, so it looks like we're stuck with Wandy for a bit.

A few interesting Astros spring training statistics:

Jason Lane is hitting .250 / .323 / .589 with 5 HR and 6 BB in 56 AB's.
Morgan Ensberg is hitting .286 / .375 / .510
Eric Munson - .395 / .477 / .553
Adam Everett - .119 / .229 / .190
Hunter Pence - .571 / .647 / 1.071!!!

Woody Williams - 9.92 ERA, 26 hits in 16.1 innings
Fernando Nieve - 2.81 ERA, 4 BB / 12 K in 16.0 innings
Matt Albers - 3.21 ERA, 12 BB (!!!!!!) / 6 K in 14.0 innings
Chris Sampson - 7.36 ERA, 5 BB / 9 K in 11.0 innings
Wandy Rodriguez - 5.40 ERA, 12 BB (!!!!) / 8 K in 11.2 innings
Rick White - 0.00 ERA, 2 BB / 8 K in 11.0 innings
Paul Estrada - 0.00 ERA, 0 BB / 6 K in 5.1 innings
Trever Miller - 0.00 ERA, 1 BB / 10 K in 8.0 innings - only 1 hit allowed!

That bullpen is looking pretty nice. Hopefully Paul Estrada gets a chance to fill in for whichever of Rick White / Dave Borkowski falls apart. A front 5 of Lidge / Wheeler / Qualls / Miller / Estrada is good. Unless Lidge goes wild again.

Oh, and Andy showed me that our blog was listed in Sports Illustrated. They put 4 different blogs for each team on the "Team Preview" page, and we were #4 for the Astros, along with Astros Daily, The Crawfish Boxes, and...someone else, sorry.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The offseason's not quite over — 10 more days til Opening Day! — but I think we can safely assume Purpura's done dealing. Of course, there are several players being shopped around, guys like Jon Lieber, Josh Fogg, Byung-Hyun Kim … maybe Brad Penny.

I can't say I'm a huge fan of how the 2006 offseason played out, but at least it's been exciting. You can't tell me that shelling out $100 million for a slugger isn't an exciting move. Sure, Carlos Lee might be overrated and terrible defensively. And of course Jason Hirsh might outperform Jason Jennings as soon as this year. And Woody Williams could easily serve up 40 homers this year. But at least it'll be fun to watch the new guys in the wide-open NL Central.

I'm still very disappointed Purpura et al didn't make a move for Mark Redman. He was picked up by the Braves a few weeks ago when Mike Hampton went down with an oblique injury. Redman has not been good the last three years, his ERA peaking at 5.71 last year. But he's had moderate success in his earlier years: His career line is 4.65/1.40. I'd say that the very definition of average. But it's still a whole lot better than what Wandy will do this year.

After the last few games of Spring Training, it's becoming clear that Wandy and Nieve are our No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Sampson was given a big start Thursday to show off his stuff, but he fell in the worst way, giving up 10 runs. To the Nationals. Ouch.

Sampson is capable of good things, and it will be interesting to see how he's used during the regular season. It would seem as though Sampson, Borkowski and Moehler (and to a lesser degree, Zeke Astacio) are all competing for the long-reliever/spot-starter role in the bullpen. Of course, with Woody, Wandy and Nieve in the rotation, it might be prudent to have more than one long-reliever to eat innings.

Sampson would also seem to fit into a dependable ground-ball pitcher a la Chad Qualls. Bring him in with men on to induce the GIDP. I bet Sampson could excel in that role.

Hunter Pence was sent down to minor-league camp this week. I suppose it was inevitable. I wonder if Drayton was slapping himself for paying out $100 million when he could have had the same production from a $300K guy. Oh well. I wonder if anyone's set up a pool for Hunter's call-up.

Lane's been doing well, leading the Grapefruit League in RBI. He hit 2 bombs the other day against the Marlins, and he appears to have locked up the RF platoon role with Luke Scott. I think and hope it'll work out well. I wonder if Hidalgo will accept an assignment to Round Rock, knowing that Pence would likely be called up sooner than he would if an injury strikes.

I've been preparing for our pay-league draft this weekend. Jack and J.T. say they'd prefer not to be in slots Nos. 2-7 or so. But I completely disagree. Getting any one of Santana, Reyes, Soriano, Beltran, Howard or Crawford would be OK in my book.

I'm also waffling about the idea of position scarcity. Utley specifically comes to mind. He's eons above anyone else at at second, so it makes sense to draft him early, even though other guys might put up better numbers. Would you rather have Guerrero and Iguchi or Utley and Hunter? Hard to say. But Utley's damn good.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I've wanted to reserve judgment on the Astros for the first few weeks of spring training, so I've held off posting through our first handful of games. But I can't contain my excitement! Hunter Pence is knocking the cover off the ball. He's 9 for 12 with an OPS over 2.000. On the flip side, Richard Hidalgo was 0-for-ST until Wednesday's game, when he finally collected his first hit with an infield dribble that he beat out. Nice work, Reeshard.

Ensberg, Lee, Lane, Biggio, Berkman and Ausmus are hitting well, too. And all the candidates for rotation spots: Sampson, Nieve, Wandy, Moehler and Albers are pitching well.

Obviously it's too early to make decisions yet, but one has to wonder about the fates of Pence and Hidalgo. No matter how well he hits, Pence shouldn't be on the opening-day roster. He needs to play everyday at Round Rock for a few months. Lane definitely has the advantage over Hidalgo right now in terms of making the team. Plus, Hidalgo only signed a minor-league contract, so he could start the year at Round Rock until injuries strike. Despite all the attention he got in Venezuela, he just doesn't look good right now.

Still have no idea who's closing in on a rotation spot. If I had to rank 'em right now, I'd go: Nieve, Albers, Sampson, Wandy, Moehler. (although Albers and Sampson are VERY close).

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Astros are shaking off a few bumps and bruises down in Kissimmee. The most notable injury belongs to Héctor Giménez, who will undergo surgery next week to repair a torn right labrum. He'll probably miss the whole year, but Giménez, 24, should be OK in the long run. He hit very well in Venezuela this winter, but was facing an uphill battle to claim the backup catcher spot over Humberto Quintero. The silver lining is that the Astros can keep Giménez in the organization by placing him on the 60-day DL. Giménez was out of options, and would have faced the waiver wire if he didn't make the ballclub.

Brad Ausmus' throwing shoulder also is hurting, and he received a cortisone shot early this week. He says he should be fine, but he also claimed he couldn't lift his arm over his head during the winter. Maybe he's been hanging out with Jeff Bagwell to much ...

Troy Patton tripped over a sprinkler head and twisted his left ankle. Nice going, Patty. He should be OK, but I hate for him to miss any time showing off his stuff to Rocket and Nolan and all the Astros brass.

Richard Justice had a good column about Jason Lane in today's Chronicle. Lane appears to be a nice guy, well-liked among Astros players and staff, but the odds are not in his favor this spring. I suppose there's still unrealized potential there, but for the most part, I get the feeling that he's had basically a year and a half to prove he's an adequate corner outfielder, and he hasn't really done so. His career line is .252/.324/.475, and I believe he is capable of putting up a .270/.360/.525 line. But he's equally capable of putting up another .220/.320/.400 year.

Is there any way we can keep Hidalgo and Lane? So what if they're not ideal pinch-hitters? They're both SO much better than Palmeiro. How about a bench of Lamb, Quintero, Loretta, Bruntlett, Lane and Hidalgo? Not bad at all.

What's the deal with NL Central center fielders? Bill Hall, Alfonso Soriano and Chris Burke are all being handed starting CF jobs this year. No question Hall and Soriano are going to outslug Burke, but who'll be the best defender out there? I'm going to say they'll all be in the bottom half of the league in defense, but I bet Burke can play the best of the trio.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I read an interesting article by Dayn Perry over at Fox Sports describing how the NL Central is by far the weakest division in baseball. He's right, too; he calculated the overall records of every division both for all of 2006 and against out-of-division opponents. In both cases, the NL Central was dead last by plenty. Don't believe that yet? Let's take a look at a few of the flaws for every team:

St. Louis Cardinals

Their corner outfielders are Chris Duncan and Juan Encarnacion.
Their stars (Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds) have all been injured recently.
They only have 2 experienced starters! (Carpenter and Kip Wells).

Houston Astros

Brad Ausmus.
Craig Biggio isn't getting any younger.
Outfield defense.
Who are our #4 and #5 starters?

Milwaukee Brewers

Can Bill Hall adjust to CF?
Will their bullpen suck again (Derrick Turnbow)?
Will Claudio Vargas be any good as a #5 starter?
Will Ben Sheets stay healthy?

Chicago Cubs

Their up-the-middle infielders are Cesar Izturis and Mark DeRosa.
Jason Marquis.
Can Alfonso Soriano play CF?

Cincinnati Reds

Will Ken Griffey Jr. stay healthy? (NO.)
Can Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo really be that good?
Alex Gonzalez and Brandon Phillips up the middle?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Will any of their young pitchers be good?
Who supplies the offense besides Bay / Sanchez? (Possibly LaRoche?)
Their bullpen...any good?

All the teams certainly have a lot of flaws. Like Andy has mentioned in the past, I really like the Brewers this year. The Cardinals still have Pujols, the Cubs have plenty of offense, etc. I honestly think the Astros' main undoing will be their outfield defense. It's going to be BAD. If I had to guess how the division finishes, I'd go Brewers / Cubs / Cardinals / Astros / Reds / Pirates.

P.S. Arizona baseball fans are getting pretty excited about their Diamondbacks. And why shouldn't they? Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Brandon Webb...oh, and the oldest guy in that group is Webb. He'll be 28 in May. Oh yeah, and they have some guy named Randy Johnson now too.
Hello, everyone out there in InternetLand. Not too much news to report, other than the fact that Richard Justice is a moron. Way to call all of your "readers" idiots, Dick. Real classy. Apparently he was fed up of his "readers" complaining about Ausmus and Everett being useless. Justice wrote that if fans don't appreciate the value of those two players, then the fans are stupid. First off, as a fellow Internet writer, I really don't like it when bloggers get all uppity and start to talk down to their readers. But calling them idiots? That's a new low, Dick.

But enough ranting. Yes, Everett and Ausmus are valuable. Defensivel, they are second-to-none. They save tens of runs for our pitching staff, and they are great team leaders on defense. On offense, the two combine for one of the weakest combinations this side of the Washington Nationals. So their value is almost entirely one-sided. It's like an ultimate player who can can out-run and out-jump everyone he plays against. He gets layout Ds at will and completely shuts down anyone he's guarding. Tiny problem: he can't throw or catch.

Let's see here, what else is going on? Apparently Qualls is feeling a little shoulder stiffness, but I don't think it's anything to worry about.

Garner told reporters in Kissimmee what his Opening Day lineup will be. It's the same one he announced at Astros Fan Fest: Biggio, Burke, Berkman, Lee, Ensberg, Scott/Lane/Hidalgo, Everett, Ausmus, Oswalt. Can't be too happy about Bidge leading off, but if it gets him to 3,000 hits any faster

Oh, I saw the Fightin' Texas Aggies take down UT-Arlington tonight. It was my first game at Olsen field in College Station, and it was definitely one of the most interesting games I've ever been to. Crazy Aggies, with their crazy cheers and whoops and making fun of the pitchers and coaches. Good think they didn't see me talking on my phone — I woulda gotten heckled. I'm discovering how much I like college baseball. These kids are good: the defense is generally sound, the pitching is relatively controlled and the kids can crush!

Bought Explosions in the Sky's new album, called "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone." My first impression is that it can't touch 2003's "The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place," but I'll give it a few more spins. It's not as clean as "The Earth", but "All of a Sudden" adds some more experimentation, and the piano is new. My favorite track so far is "Catatrophe and the Cure."
Hello, everyone out there in InternetLand. Not too much news to report, other than the fact that Richard Justice is a moron. Way to call all of your "readers" idiots, Dick. Real classy. Apparently he was fed up of his "readers" complaining about Ausmus and Everett being useless. Justice wrote that if fans don't appreciate the value of those two players, then the fans are stupid. First off, as a fellow Internet writer, I really don't like it when bloggers get all uppity and start to talk down to their readers. But calling them idiots? That's a new low, Dick.

But enough ranting. Yes, Everett and Ausmus are valuable. Defensivel, they are second-to-none. They save tens of runs for our pitching staff, and they are great team leaders on defense. On offense, the two combine for one of the weakest combinations this side of the Washington Nationals. So their value is almost entirely one-sided. It's like an ultimate player who can can out-run and out-jump everyone he plays against. He gets layout Ds at will and completely shuts down anyone he's guarding. Tiny problem: he can't throw or catch.

Let's see here, what else is going on? Apparently Qualls is feeling a little shoulder stiffness, but I don't think it's anything to worry about.

Garner told reporters in Kissimmee what his Opening Day lineup will be. It's the same one he announced at Astros Fan Fest: Biggio, Burke, Berkman, Lee, Ensberg, Scott/Lane/Hidalgo, Everett, Ausmus, Oswalt. Can't be too happy about Bidge leading off, but if it gets him to 3,000 hits any faster

Oh, I saw the Fightin' Texas Aggies take down UT-Arlington tonight. It was my first game at Olsen field in College Station, and it was definitely one of the most interesting games I've ever been to. Crazy Aggies, with their crazy cheers and whoops and making fun of the pitchers and coaches. Good think they didn't see me talking on my phone — I woulda gotten heckled. I'm discovering how much I like college baseball. These kids are good: the defense is generally sound, the pitching is relatively controlled and the kids can crush!

Bought Explosions in the Sky's new album, called "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone." My first impression is that it can't touch 2003's "The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place," but I'll give it a few more spins. It's not as clean as "The Earth", but "All of a Sudden" adds some more experimentation, and the piano is new. My favorite track so far is "Catatrophe and the Cure."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Great day. My roommate Chris and I went to the batting cages to get ready for our slow-pitch co-ed D-league softball season that starts next week. Man, those pitches come slow. You gotta WAIT! Afterwards, we went back home and tossed the baseball around. My right arm has been pretty banged up since I ran into David Pillar playing ultimate three weekends ago. But it's feeling better, and I should be 100 percent by our first game on Thursday. I'm really excited, especially because I'm the captain/coach, so I get to do the lineup and fielding positions. The key is the girls: There has to be a girl in the battery, two girls in the infield and two in the outfield. Ideally, we'll have a girl who can catch at first base.

While I'm getting ready for softball, the Astros are slowly getting ready for spring training. Here are the most important things to watch for this spring:

• Who's starting? After Oswalt, Jennings and Williams, we have two question marks. Garner said a few days ago that Wandy has the experience, and his 19-20 record in his two years is decent. Well I got some not-so-pretty numbers for you, Phil: 5.58 and 1.53, Wandy's career ERA and WHIP. I don't want that. Chris Sampson, Fernando Nieve, Matt Albers, Dave Borkowski, Brian Moehler and Zeke Astacio will be considered for starting spots. I like Sampson, Nieve and Albers, but their major-league experience is minimal.

• How's Burke doing in center? He'll obviously be playing there constantly, and it will be interesting to see how he's doing on adjusting his routes and making long throws. I saw another blog discussing the best outfield "arms" in 2006. The dude got stats on every outfield throwing situation: "holds" and "kills" on runners advancing from first to third on a single; trying to score from second on a single; trying to score from first on a double; etc. And Willy Taveras had by far the best "arm" of major-league centerfielders. His kill rate was ridiculous, and his hold percentage was not spectacular but still above-average. The blogger's assumption was that since Taveras was still relatively young, more coaches and baserunners tested him arm. I can remember a couple of assists at home plate, and I generally held Willy T in high regard when it came to his arm, but I didn't think he was top in the league! I assume runners will be testing Burke's arm this year, too, so hopefully he can hold his own out there.

• Who wins the Lane vs. Hidalgo battle? There's just not enough room to carry both of them. Hidalgo is clearly the sentimental favorite, but Lane has been working hard this offseason to earn his spot on the spring. Hidalgo had a monster winter league in Venezuela, while Lane shat the bed. Hidalgo has the better arm in right field, but Lane *supposedly* can play center, which might be important if we don't carry Bruntlett.

• How can we possibly carry 12 pitchers? Garner says he needs 12, but I don't see why. He overuses his main relievers anyway, and the Astros got rid of Russ Springer specifically because they said he couldn't pitch multiple innings. Oswalt, Jennings and Williams are locks in the rotation, and Lidge, Wheeler, Qualls and Miller are locks in the pen. If, say, Albers and Nieve are the fourth and fifth starters, we could carry Borkowski and Sampson as the spot starter/mop-up guys. That would seem to work, at least for the first few months of the season.

The reason I'm against 12 pitchers is because of our bench. After our starters (Biggio, Burke, Berkman, Lee, Ensberg, Scott, Everett, Ausmus ... in some order), we'll have either 5 or 6 bench spots. Lamb, Loretta, Palmeiro and a backup catcher (see below) are locks for the bench. If we carry 12 pitchers, that leaves exactly one bench spot left between Hidalgo, Lane and Bruntlett. See what I'm getting at here?

Bruntlett's versatility, particularly his ability to play CF and SS well, make him practically necessary on the roster. If he doesn't make the team, who'd play center when Burke rests? Who'd play short to spell Everett? Burke and Everett won't play everyday, and I do NOT like the idea of Lane in center or Loretta at short, even briefly. We'll have a better idea of the roster in a few weeks, but I can't see a way around carrying 11 pitchers. Maybe — and this is a long shot — we can release Palmeiro. I like him more than Jack does, because I think there is some value to a pinch-hitter who, if nothing else, will make contact. But he really is the weakest link on our bench, especially with Loretta as a contact specialist and Lamb as our lefty off the bench. Of course, we'd have to eat his 900K.

• Who's the backup catcher? We got Humberto Quintero, Hector Gimenez and Eric Munson. To be honest, I'm not too excited about any of them, especially Munson. He's got some pop, but he didn't exactly make the most of his opportunity last year. Oh, and his career line? That'd be .211/.286/.400. Stay away.

Humberto and Hector are both out of options, so whoever doesn't make the team out of ST will have to clear waivers before they can accept an assignment. Gimenez, 24, was OK at Round Rock in 2006, hitting .273/.331/.389 in 275 ABs. But he tore it up in Venezuela this winter, hitting .302/.377/.547 in 53 ABs. He's a switch-hitter, and I think his defense is decent.

Quintero is older (27) but has a better track record. He posted an .800 OPS in 200 ABs at Round Rock in 2005 before getting 59 mostly worthless ABs for the Astros that year. He followed that up with a .298/.352/.425 line in 292 ABs at Round Rock in 2006 before going 7-for-21 with the Astros in the fall. Q also performed well in Venezuela, hitting .302/.324/.475 in 139 ABs. PECOTA lists him with a +7 defensive rating, which is about as high as they go.

So it's hard to say who we should hold onto. Neither appears to be any sort of long-term solution, but both could serve as an adequate transition from the Ausmus years to the J.R. Towles/Max Sapp generation. I think both Quintero and Gimenez are capable of posting a .270/.330/.400 line in 100-200 ABs, which is a hell of a lot better than Ausmus' line. Gimenez's age makes me think he could improve with time, but Quintero's defense and track record make him pretty attractive. Either way, this is probably the least important decision the Astros will make this spring.

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am about baseball right now.

And to make me even happier, The Houston Chronicle reports that Tim Purpura has discussed a contract extension with Jason Jennings' agent. This is great news. Jennings will make $5.5 million this year, and I think Purpura is open to the idea of paying him more this year in order to lock him up for 2-3 more years. I doubt Jennings will want to settle for 4 years, $40 million, given what Gil Meche and Ted Lilly made this offseason. But I really hope that they keep the communication lines open. After trading Jason Hirsh for him, I'd really like to see Jennings as an Astro through 2010.

How awesome is 'The Office'?
I think Phil Garner is a pretty decent in-game manager, and I also think he does a pretty good job of getting his players ready to play. Every now and then, though, he lets loose with something like:

"Those guys have not had more success," manager Phil Garner says in response to fans who believe the righthanded candidates have better major league track records than Rodriguez. "Wandy's won (19) games in the big leagues. ERA can be deceptive. Some of those guys' ERAs are better. The bottom line is, do you win? If you have a 10 ERA and win more games than you lose, to me that's what counts.

"Yeah, it may put a strain, but something should be said for somebody who wins. In two years, he's won ballgames for us here."

Rodriguez was 9-10 with a 5.64 ERA last season over 24 starts and six relief appearances a year after going 10-10 with a 5.53 ERA.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I was browsing our archives today, and found some gems from the past two offsesasons. Back then, we did a bit more speculating, and most of it was complete garbage. Stuff like, "Trade Tim Redding and Raul Chavez for Mike Cameron." Obviously, we didn't know what we were talking about. Anyway, check this baby out:

Tuesday, February 22, 2005, posted by Jack:

My dream world:
Astros trade Taylor Bucholz to the Phillies for Placido Polanco.
Astros trade Jason Lane to the Mets for Mike Cameron.
Astros trade Brooks Conrad and Luke Scott to the Red Sox for BH Kim.
Ezequiel Astacio starts off in a middle relief role, excels, and becomes the 5th starter when the Astros sell high on Brandon Backe by trading him to the Reds for Austin Kearns.

* Good idea about Lane-for-Cameron. BAD idea about Scott and Conrad for Kim. I don't think Kim's been very good in Colorado. I'm sure he gets plenty of striekouts, but not too many wins. And how high were we on Zeke Astacio? That guy SUCKS now.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. More importantly, pitchers and catchers can start early spring training tomorrow!
The Astros have been busy inviting a lot of washed-up pitchers to spring training (Rick White, Scott Sauerbeck, Kelly Wunsch, Ben Weber) and 'flirting' with Steve Trachsel (he gets HAMMERED by righties; he would be a terrible fit at MMP). Let's look at what Baseball Prospectus's projection genius PECOTA thinks of the Astros pitchers:

Roy Oswalt: 213.0 IP, 3.67 ERA (seems like a high ERA, but he's thrown a LOT of innings)
Jason Jennings: 180.0 IP, 4.24 ERA (we certainly need a #2 like this, but he's no Pettitte)
Woody Williams: 116.0 IP, 4.79 ERA (flyball pitcher in MMP: yikes.)
Fernando Nieve: 72.7 IP, 4.51 ERA (pretty good, considering age)
Wandy Rodriguez: 56.7 IP, 5.74 ERA (not good)
Chris Sampson: 94.0 IP, 4.61 ERA (pretty good, considering age)

All in all, the starters look pretty mediocre after Roy O. Jennings should eat innings, but Woody and Wandy are both pretty bad. Hopefully Woody can do a little better than that, and Nieve / Sampson / Albers / Patton replace Wandy, who is not a major league starter.

Brad Lidge: 65.3 IP, 3.34 ERA (nice comeback)
Dan Wheeler: 54.3 IP, 3.61 ERA (kinda high, but can he really be this good?)
Chad Qualls: 60.0 IP, 3.91 ERA (looks about right)
Trever Miller: 44.7 IP, 3.87 ERA (one or Purpura's best signings)
Paul Estrada: 59.0 IP, 4.30 ERA (high K rate, young)

Pretty decent bullpen! No one is dominant, but that's a solid 5-some to build a pen around.

Baseball Prospectus also ranked all the farm systems for the major league teams. The Astros finished 28th out of 30, with only Hunter Pence and Troy Patton as good prospects. Unfortunately, I have to agree, especially when some of our best prospects (Brooks Conrad) are left to waste in the minors. Having Berkman and Oswalt around for 5 more years will certainly help, but if we want to be competitive in the division for the short-term, we desperately need some good drafts in the next year or two. A good CF or SS offensive prospect would be a godsend.

Andy, great posts lately.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I'd probably feel more comfortable right now if I were a Brewers fan. At least they have a solid rotation. Sure, Ben Sheets has injury concerns, but look at their starting 5: Sheets, Capuano, Dave Bush, Suppan and Claudio Vargas. Pretty sick.

Almost every teams has 4 or 5 huge questions to answer before the season starts. Most are something like this: "If ________ pitches 200 innings, we'll contend." Or "If ________ can improve his numbers against lefties, we'll win the division." The Brewers' ifs are looking like pretty decent bets to me. The biggest one, obviously, is Sheets' health. No other team is relying so much on one player's health (excluding Carpenter).

• Can Sheets can stay healthy and make 25+ starts?
• Can Dave Bush can finally have that break-out year?
• Can their middle infielders can stay healthy?
• Can Prince and Bill Hall at least match their 2006 numbers?
• Will Jenkins and Mench realize that they don't have to hit a lot of homers to carry the team?
• Is Cordero is the answer at closer, and Turnbow can bounce back in a set-up role?

If most of these are answered in the affirmative, the Brewers will not only contend, but they'd be the favorites for the division. I'd say that most of those questions are attainable for the Brew Crew. Bush has looked good, but his career ERA (4.28) is a bit higher than you'd expect from his career WHIP (1.19). He can keep runners off base, but if he can stop those runners from scoring once they get on, he could be an All-Star. Even if their middle infielders Weeks and Hardy get hurt, the team has pretty darn good back-ups with Graffanino and Counsell. Prince and Hall are pretty good bets for a combined 55 homers and 170 RBI.

The Astros' questions are a lot more, well, questionable:

• Can Lidge and Ensberg can bounce back?
• Can Burke be able to handle centerfield?
• Will Luke Scott rake for a full year while playing right field?
• How will Jennings perform outside of Coors Field?
• Who the hell starts after Oswalt, Jennings and Williams?

We shall see. I really think both Lidge and Ensberg can produce, and produce well. Maybe not at their 2005 levels of domination, but they can still be among the top 10 players in baseball in their respective positions.

I think Burke can and will make the most of his opportunity. I think he'll excel at hitting high in the order, getting on base and smacking lots of doubles. My concern is his defense and his shoulder. Once you dislocate a shoulder, the odds of doing it again skyrocket. One awkward dive or another running crash into a wall, and he could be out for the year.

Luke Scott will be fine. Obviously, he won't hit .340 or slug .700, but he'll be just fine. And he'll be best suited for a platoon role, which I hope and suspect will be implemented.

I've said before that Jennings is something of a sure thing. We can pencil him in for 200 innings and a 3.50-4.50 ERA. I think this is generally true, but maybe he's more of a wild-card than that. Thing is, I can see him going nuts and winning 17 games. With Everett to scoop up all the grounders he produces, he can pitch some outstanding games against weak lineups in the NL Central. Keep in mind that it's his contract year. Of course, it's possible that for whatever reason, things simply don't click in Houston. He might not adjust well to sea-level. Ha. Anyway, much of the team's success hinges on his ability to replace Pettitte in the rotation.

Ah, the fourth and fifth starters. Who knows? At this point, we can only hope that someone establishes themselves. Sampson, Nieve, Albers? C'mon. Wandy, Moehler? Ugh. This is not a good position to be in, and everyone in the organization knows it. Clemens is no sure by any stretch of the imagination, so we MUST be looking at adding depth. I'm still in favor of getting a hold of Mark Redman. He's a better bet than Wandy for 2007 or any other year. If we can get him on a minor-league deal, we HAVE to do it. Have to.

I just got My Morning Jacket's double-disc live record, Okonokos. Phenomenal. And I'm going to see Explosions in the Sky in a couple weeks. Life is good.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

It's official: Baseball season is upon us.

The rents and I drove down to Minute Maid today to watch Vanderbilt play in the Houston College Classic and to check out the Astros Fan Fest going on around the park.

Vandy beat ASU on the most ridiculous game-ending play I have ever seen. It was an exciting, well-coached and well-played game throughout. The Sun Devils started hot, just like they did against Texas A&M on Friday. It was 3-0 before we even found our seats (which were incredible: 12 rows behind the home dugout). After a few futile innings against ASU's crafty lefty, Vandy scored a couple in the 3rd and 4th. I missed a few of the middle innings because I was listening to Drayton, Phil, Tim and Milo talk Astros, which was insightful and HILARIOUS! (Much more on this later…).

Vandy thirdbaseman (and future All-Star) Pedro Alvarez crushed a two-run bomb in the seventh to put Vandy up 6-5. But ASU came right back with a somewhat controversial run in the top of the eighth: With runners on second and third and one out, RF/P Ike Davis lined a hot shot into center. Vandy CF David Macias made a spectacular diving play coming straight in. It was a questionable catch, though, as all the ASU fans were saying it was a trap. Macias held up his glove to signal the catch; meanwhile, the Sun Devil's leadoff man, 2B Eric Sogard, scampered home from third for the tying run. This was also questionable: All the Vandy fans thought he tagged much too early. They tried to check at third, but the appeal was denied. In either case, It really was bang-bang in both places, the catch and the tag-up, so I think the umps got it right.

Vandy almost won it in the bottom of the ninth. With runners on first and second and one out, the ASU thirdbasemen made a great diving grab on a sharp grounder from RF Dominic de la Osa, then had the agility to get up, step on third (he was playing close to the lne to prevent a double), and throw to first for the double play. Great move.

Meanwhile, Vandy closer Casey Weathers mowed down the Sun Devils in the 9th and 10th. Oh, and it was getting pretty late in the day: The Houston-A&M game was supposed to start at 3:30 p.m., but the bottom of the 10th was just getting started around 4 p.m. I figured if Vandy didn't score in the 10th, the umps would have called it a tie.

Luckily, they did score. With one out, Candy DH Matt Menigasner smacked a ball into the gap in left-center. It rolled all the way to the bullpen under the fuel pump, and Meingasner high-tailed it into third. Vandy put pinch-runner on third, and ASU decided to walk the next batter, 1B Brad French. Don't know if they were going to walk one more to load the bases. And I guess we'll never know …

ASU had brought in their huge RF, Ike Davis, to pitch in the 9th inning. He induced the double-play to third. But apparently big Ike isn't known for his command, as he sailed an intentional ball over the catcher's head! Pinch-runner Jonathan White broke for home as ASU catcher Petey Paramore collected the wild pitch and fired it in to Davis covering home. It was CLOSE at home, but White's head-frist slide barely beat Davis' tag. What an ending! Unbelieveable. Incredible. And the best.

Right, so I should mention meeting the Astros brass. I actually didn't know Purpura, McLane, Garner and Milo were going to be discussing the Astros in the left-field concourse; I was walking around looking for programs for the college games. But I hear some dudes with microphones and — Bam — there they are. Milo was nuts as usual, tellng several crazy stories about players and other personnel. He referred to Carlos Lee as Carlos May, and asked if Garner was going to carry 10 or 11 pitchers. But hey, Milo's the coolest, so I let it slide. I took some notes on my cell-phone during their talk, and here's what they had to say:

• They're all excited about Burke finally getting a chance to play a whole season. Garner said "Burke's gonna play all the time" in center.

• Garner can't say enough about Carlos May — er — Lee. He said Lee is the type of player who knows the situation every time he comes to the plate. He's not always thinking about hitting a home run. If there's a way to drive in a run — sometimes without getting a hit — Carlos knows how to do it. Garner mentioned that it's no coincidence that he's driven in 100+ runs all those years. Sure, he's hit in the middle of potent orders, but it takes a certain type of player to know HOW to drive in runs. I guess I see his point.

• Milo told the most HILARIOUS story I've heard about the Stros in a long time. Milo accompanied the team on its caravan acros southeast Texas. They stopped by Temple, Round Rock, College Station (unfortunately, I didn't have time to go). Anyway, they stopped at Fort Hood and a few of them tried their hand at the tank similuators they run for soldiers there. Milo was the tank driver for Brandon Backe. Watch out, insurgents. So they're driving around in this simulation, looking for enemies (in red) while trying to protect their teammates (in white). "Well, I be durned if that Luke Scott isn't colorblind," Milo says. "Brandon and I get obliterated, and we don't know why. So we get out of the simulator, and Luke Scott has the biggest grin on his face. He's gone and killed us all!" Oh, man. That Luke Scott. Good thing he carries around a gun with him.

• Garner and Purpura are real excited about Matt Albers. Say that he's made a turning point in his professional career. That he wasn't fully committed to baseball, but now he's developed a strong work ethic and great attitude and will make a fine addition to the Astros clubhouse. They mentioned he was in the running for the 4th and 5th starter positions, along with Nieve, Sampson and Moehler. (They didn't mention Wandy's name!)

• Milo made fun of Drayton's high-school basketball days in Temple. Says they stopped by the historic gym where Drayton played. "And saw the bench where he sat during every game." Oh, Milo.

• Garner said Lincoln Holdzkom is humongous. Like he's got football pads on his shoulders. And he was hitting the high 90s.

• Alyson Footer is pretty cute. Just thought I'd throw that one in there.

• Oh, Tim said he'd "lifted the viel" on Garner even thinking about Troy Patton. Garner apparently has a man-crush on the big lefty, and with good reason. Garner said when he was managing Los Tigres, Patton was a better pitcher in high-school than the entire Tigers pitching staff. Ouch. Patton and Pence were invited to major-league spring training in Kissimmee. It's doubtful either will make the opening-day roster, but it will be a good chance to see how they handle major-league competition.

• Drayton assured the fans that Biggio would get his 3,000th hit at home. Garner also mentioned that Biggio would get more rest throughout the season, with many of his off-days coming on the road. Good thinking, Phil.

• Milo screamed "Santo Toledo" a few times. That was fun.

• Tim and Phil expressed their fondness of Hidalgo. Tim recalled personally wheeling Hidalgo in a wheelchair outside the brand-new Enron Field after Hidalgo had broken a bone in his hand. Tim also said that Hidalgo's one of the classiest, most humble people in baseball, and he was so proud of his comeback. It sounds like everyone in the organization is rooting for him. Sorry, Jason.

• Garner said if the season started today, he would carry 12 pitchers. 'I just don't see any way we can't carry 12," he said. Hmm. A little math: 12 pitchers, 8 starting position players. That leaves 5 bench players: Lamb, Palmeiro, Loretta, back-up catcher (Quintero/Gimenez). So basically, there's one spot left for Bruntlett, Lane and Hidalgo. Yikes. My vote's for Hidalgo, but who can play center if Burke goes down? Can Luke Scott shift over with Hidalgo in RF? Who knows.

• Garner said his opening-day line-up is this: Biggio, Burke, Berkman, Lee, Ensberg, Scott, Everett, Ausmus, Oswalt. Meh.

• Finally, I get up to the microphone during the Q&A session. I ask 2 questions for everyone: 1) How do yall feel about Hunter Pence and Brooks Conrad, and 2) What's to be done about the catching situation (i.e. how can we get more offensive production there). In response to the first question, Tim and Phil talk for a few minutes about Pence and how Bagwell says he's gonna be the next big thing. The next generation funky-swinger. No one even mentions Brooks Conrad. In response to the second, Phil says he was really impressed by one guy at the pitchers and catchers mini-camp last week. It wasn't Quintero. Or Gimenez or J.R. Towles. It was 2006 first-round pick Max Sapp. First of all, great name. But Garner went on about how this guy is the real deal. He can throw, hit for average and power, and is generally a great guy. So ... yeah. Garner also mentioned that one of the hardest things to do in baseball was to develop and keep great catchers. That it really is the most unique position in the game. With which I concur.

I guess that's all the good stuff. We stayed for the first few innings of the A&M-Houston game, but left in the third. What a day. the Juicebox looks great, although the 'Eat Mor Fowl' signs on the foul poles look pretty stupid. Oh, we saw Jason Lane and Charlton Jimerson signing autographs. And Bagwell was doing a photo-shoot for half an hour. He looked pretty good. All in all, a great day. I picked up a copy of Baseball America magazine, and they rank the NL Central's farm system. I'll have to post about that tomorrow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Missed the Astros caravan in College Station this week. Probably didn't have time to stand in line for a few hours anyway — I've been swamped at work all week.

Baseball Prospectus has ranked their top five second basemen for 2007 in VORP:
Chase Utley, 49.0
Ray Durham, 38.7
Eric Patterson, 34.9
Brooks Conrad, 29.2
Jeff Kent, 28.2

Free Brooks Conrad! Dude went .267/.334/.534 and led the PCL in extra-base hits. His .334 OBP was actually worse than 2004 or 2005, but he's clearly superior than Biggio or Loretta, and probably Burke, too. BP rates his defense fairly high; I wonder if we can try him at short and make him our utility guy in place of Eric Bruntlett.

Going to the Houston College Classic this weekend. Vandy beat Rice 7-3 this afternoon, scoring all its runs in the 6th inning or later. Nice job, Dores. Tomorrow, Vandy vs. ASU and A&M vs. Houston. And if we're crazy enough to try the triple-header, Rice vs. Baylor. But we'll see. I can't wait to see The Juicebox. I bet it's looking might fine these days.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Astros have been busy inviting a lot of washed-up pitchers to spring training (Rick White, Scott Sauerbeck, Kelly Wunsch, Ben Weber) and 'flirting' with Steve Trachsel (he gets HAMMERED by righties; he would be a terrible fit at MMP). Let's look at what Baseball Prospectus's projection genius PECOTA thinks of the Astros pitchers:

Roy Oswalt: 213.0 IP, 3.67 ERA (seems like a high ERA, but he's thrown a LOT of innings)
Jason Jennings: 180.0 IP, 4.24 ERA (we certainly need a #2 like this, but he's no Pettitte)
Woody Williams: 116.0 IP, 4.79 ERA (flyball pitcher in MMP: yikes.)
Fernando Nieve: 72.7 IP, 4.51 ERA (pretty good, considering age)
Wandy Rodriguez: 56.7 IP, 5.74 ERA (not good)
Chris Sampson: 94.0 IP, 4.61 ERA (pretty good, considering age)

All in all, the starters look pretty mediocre after Roy O. Jennings should eat innings, but Woody and Wandy are both pretty bad. Hopefully Woody can do a little better than that, and Nieve / Sampson / Albers / Patton replace Wandy, who is not a major league starter.

Brad Lidge: 65.3 IP, 3.34 ERA (nice comeback)
Dan Wheeler: 54.3 IP, 3.61 ERA (kinda high, but can he really be this good?)
Chad Qualls: 60.0 IP, 3.91 ERA (looks about right)
Trever Miller: 44.7 IP, 3.87 ERA (one or Purpura's best signings)
Paul Estrada: 59.0 IP, 4.30 ERA (high K rate, young)

Pretty decent bullpen! No one is dominant, but that's a solid 5-some to build a pen around.

Baseball Prospectus also ranked all the farm systems for the major league teams. The Astros finished 28th out of 30, with only Hunter Pence and Troy Patton as good prospects. Unfortunately, I have to agree, especially when some of our best prospects (Brooks Conrad) are left to waste in the minors. Having Berkman and Oswalt around for 5 more years will certainly help, but if we want to be competitive in the division for the short-term, we desperately need some good drafts in the next year or two. A good CF or SS offensive prospect would be a godsend.

Andy, great posts lately.
Long time, no post. Only 50+ days til Opening Day!

Since we last posted, the Astros have made several minor moves. Really, though, it's the minor moves that can make the difference between an 85-win season and a 90-win season. So let's check 'em out:

• Signed Richard Hidalgo to a minor-league contract. Nothing is guaranteed, but in my mind this is a fantastic low-risk, high-reward move that Purpura is so adept at making. (Remember Preston Wilson? We *only* gave him $4 million for one-year. He was coming off a decent year, and the potential was there for him to have another good one as an Astro. Things obviously didn't work out, though, so it didn't hurt too bad for us to dump him).

Hidalgo's in a similar situation. He has reportedly slimmed down and gotten in great shape. I saw a YouTube video of him crushing the ball down in Venezuela. I'll admit it sent shivers down my spine. He looks good.

Clearly, Luke Scott has earned the starting gig in right field. It's his job to lose. But no one's holding their breath for another 1.000-OPS year from the lefty. He'll likely regress … I have him down for .275/.360/.500, which is damn good. Luke did "struggle" against lefties last year, hitting .240/.397/.380 against southpaws. So a platoon is in order.

In my mind, Hidalgo is battling Lane to be the right-handed platoon partner for Scott. Hidalgo has the defensive advantage of having an absolute cannon, but Lane has the advantage of, well, playing in the majors in 2006. Sort of.

As good as Hidalgo was in 2000 and 2003, keep in mind that he's averaged .230/.300/.435 from 2004 on. Not pretty. Still, his career line is .269/.345/.490, and he's only 31! So there is hope that his comeback is for real — that he's lost enough weight to regain bat speed and crush the ball. The Lane-Hidalgo battle will be decided in spring training, so they better brign their A-games to Kissimmee. Hidalgo will make $850K if he makes the big-league squad.

• Signed all of our arbitration-eligible players to one-year deals, making it a full decade since the last hearing. Our lack of arbitration hearings doesn't have anything to do with on-field performance, but it's nice to see that we're keeping up our reputation as a classy organization.

Lamb signed for $2.7 million, Lidge $5.35 million, Lane $1.05 million, Everett $2.8 million and Ensberg $4.35 million. Despite an awful 2005, Lamb was very productive last year, hiting .307/.361/.475. More importantly, he probably increased Garry Matthews' salary by several million: Lamb hit the would-be homer that Matthews snagged over his shoulder at Ameriquest Field for what was surely the play of the year. Lamb will be a free agent after 2007.

Lidge was obviously a disappointment in 2006, but it was encouraging to see him working out with Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens at last week's Nolan Ryan Elite pitching camp. Ryan apparently called Lidge in person to invite him. Nolan wanted to work on Lidge's mechanics, which seemed to fall apart. Lidge would often 'fly open' in his wind-up, leaving his pitches up. He often could not handle his fastball, which led to a career-high in walks. The stuff is still there, as evidenced by his still-ridiculous strikeout totals. But if he can regain his command, he'll bounce back in 2007.

This was Lane's first year of arbitration, and it might well be his last with the Astros. I almost feel bad for him: He rides the pine for years, waiting for his chance. He puts up an .815 OPS and hits 27 homers in 2005, but he gets blasted for not taking any walks. So he triples his walk rate only his average and slugging drop off the map. Basically, he can't do anything right. I still think he can be useful — he's OK on defense, and can supposedly play center. But I don't see him as an Astro if Hidalgo turns in a good spring.

Everett and Ensberg, like Lidge, will be free agents after 2008. They both settled for less than the midpoint between their arbitration exchanges. And from what I read in the Chronicle, they're both really excited. Everett to keep playnig spectacular defense and possibly put up a .700 OPS (please?), Ensberg to rebound after his injury-plagued power outage last year. Ensberg's a big component in the success of the team. Whether he bats 2nd or 5th or 6th, he'll be an important contributor for both his patience and his power. I have faith that he can produce. Something along the lines of .280/.380/.500 would be awesome.

• Signed Brian Moehler to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training. Moehler had four decent years as a starter in Detroit from 1997-2000, averaging 190 innings with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Since injuries struck, though, he hasn't done much, but I suppose there's hope he can regain his innings-eating ways. 180 innings of 4.80 ERA from the fifth starter is fine by me. He's in the mix for the two open rotation spots along with Wandy, Nieve, Sampson and Albers.

• Signed a bunch of relievers: RHP Rick White, LHP Scott Sauerbeck, RHP Ben Weber and LHP Kelly Wunsch to minor-league contracts. Sauerbeck and White, not from Houston, get invites to major-league spring training. Weber and Wunsch, Houston natives, do not. Not real sure what to make of any of these guys … They're not good but even if they make the club, they won't have much of an impact anyway.

White has been serviceable in his career, but ERAs over 5 in three of the last four years make me question his value.

Sauerbeck has been good against lefties in his career: They've hit .199/.304/.333 against him. Problem is, he's just no good against righties, to the tune of .275/.401/.385. Yikes. Garner likes having two lefties in the pen, though, so we'll see ...

All I know about Weber is his ridiculous wind-up. He was surprisingly good for the Angels from 01-03, putting up ERAs of 3.42, 2.54 and 2.69 in 68.1, 78.0 and 80.3 IP, respectively. He hasn't done much since

Wunsch has been derailed by injuries the past 3 years, but he's had three decent years in the White Sox pen. He's even better than Sauerbeck against lefties (.185/.296/.266), plus he went to Texas A&M. He's the most likely to contribute as an Astro, but only if he can stay healthy. I hope he can.

So not too much going on, although I am getting PUMPEd for baseball to start. The Super Bowl was decent. WE had a ton of food at the house and I ate just about all of it. So that was good.

Oh, the folks and I might go down to The Juicebox this weekend for the Houston College Classic. Rice, Vanderbilt, Arizona State, Houston, Baylor and Texas A&M will all be there for the round-robin-style tournament. It should be fun.

Later, losers.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Every year, Baseball Prospectus comes out with their annual PECOTA projections, which estimate what every major league baseball player will do in the coming year. They're more than estimations, really; year after year, PECOTA is by far the best projection system out there. I thought I'd take a lot at a few of their Astros projections, and analyze what I think of them.

In alphabetical order, here are the Astros hitters with their position, age, BA / OBP / SLG lines and then their VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

Brad Ausmus, C, 38: .227 / .296 / .294, -5.7

It'd be funny if it weren't so sad. We're paying something like $3 million for this? Oh, and just for giggles, PECOTA doesn't even give him a defensive advantage anymore, rating Ausmus's defense as a "0", which is exactly average.

Lance Berkman, 1B, 31: .308 / .421 / .573, 57.8

Sweet. Fat Elvis is still solid. That 57.8 VORP is one of the highest in the NL (well behind Albert Pujols's massive 81.4, though)

Craig Biggio, 2B, 41: .256 / .322 / .413, 6.8

That OPS projections of .735 actually isn't terrible, but PECOTA doesn't like Biggio's defense (it rates him as a -4) much. Hopefully Craig gets to 3,000 quickly so it doesn't get ugly if we start playing Mark Loretta often.

Chris Burke, CF, 27: .278 / .348 / .452, 19.6

Sweet! I'll take that line, which puts Burke at exactly an .800 OPS. PECOTA isn't really sure what to think of Burke at CF; neither am I. We'll just have to hope for the best.

Brooks Conrad, 2B, 27: .274 / .345 / .493, 29.2

The "Free Brooks Conrad" campaign continues, with nothing to show for it. Conrad is an excellent offensive prospect - he led his league in extra base hits last year, which isn't too shabby for a 2nd baseman. Chase Utley is one of his top comparables. And none of it matters, because he's behind Biggio, Loretta, AND Burke at 2nd. Hopefully that will be down to just Chris Burke by 2008. Sadly, it looks like Conrad will join a list of Astros hitting prospects that the Astros promoted too slowly and didn't reach the majors until their upper 20's (Ensberg, Lane, Burke). PECOTA even likes his defense, giving him a +3 rating at 2B. One more time: FREE BROOKS CONRAD!

Morgan Ensberg, 3B, 31: .263 / .374 / .484, 27.3

That .374 OBP sure would look nice at the top of the order, wouldn't it? PECOTA likes his defense (+2). I'm really glad we've held on to Ensberg - he's a big offensive and defensive upgrade over a Lamb / Loretta platoon, both of whom should get plenty of AB's anyway.

Adam Everett, SS, 30: .255 / .302 / .385, 6.6

Hard to believe Everett is 30 years old - he still looks about 17. He's still got that defense (+5), but I hope we don't view him as a long long-term solution at SS. I can only take so much of that offense. A Chris Burke / Brooks Conrad combination would be pretty sweet in 2009.

Mike Lamb, 1B/3B, 31: .275 / .338 / .461, 11.2

That's just fine for a backup corner infielder - emphasis on backup. Lamb just doesn't have the complete package to be a starting corner infielder in the majors. That's not meant to be a huge putdown - he's still valuable. PECOTA doesn't mind his defense as much as I do (0).

Jason Lane, RF, 30: .249 / .331 / .475, 8.9

Poor Lane. He ups his walk rate and power numbers last year, but because he hits around .200 for most of the year, people say he had a terrible year. Batting average is notoriously inconsistent. He's been jerked around a bunch by the Astros, including wasting in the majors for a couple of years when he should have been brought up much earlier (see Conrad, Brooks for more of this). He'd make a fine RF platoon with Luke Scott / 4th outfielder, but instead we signed washed-up Richard Hidalgo, who will probably get the job, while Lane gets screwed. I hope we at least get some value back if we trade him.

Carlos Lee, LF, 31: .296 / .359 / .530, 36.6

Pretty good, but not GREAT. People are talking about Lee bashing 40 HR with 130 RBI - even batting behind Berkman, I don't know about that. He's solid and doesn't miss much time, but an .889 OPS isn't extraordinary for a corner OF and his defense is pretty bad (PECOTA: -5). Not worth $100 million, but we do need offense.

Mark Loretta, 2B, 35: .276 / .341 / .388, 12.7

I guess his power outage last year is for real. Loretta's OPS is actually lower than Biggio's, although is superior OBP and defense should help him get some playing time. I'm pretty disappointed by this projection, to tell the truth (I was hoping for .280 / .360 / .400, maybe), but 35 year old 2nd basemen don't normally rebound (right, Ray Durham?....oops.)

Hunter Pence, RF, 24: .278 / .338 / .489, 21.1

That's a good projection for a 24-year old RF, but, kind of like Carlos Lee, not a great one. Pence isn't going to be a superstar, but he should be an above-average RF / CF for maybe 5 years. PECOTA likes his defense (+3), so maybe he can play CF next year. He needs to be starting in the majors full-time by 2008, if not before.

Humberto Quintero, C, 27: .263 / .304 / .397, 5.0

That's not a spectacular line, but it's still 100 points of OPS higher than Brad Ausmus, and Quintero can actually play defense, as opposed to just having a good defensive reputation (PECOTA - +7!!). He's got a great throwing arm, and although he doesn't walk much, doesn't a .400 SLG from a catcher sound nice? If he's not starting over Ausmus in the 2nd half of the season, I'll be shocked and disappointed. There'd be nothing wrong with Quintero as our starting catcher for a few years.

Luke Scott, RF, 29: .270 / .353 / .495, 22.1

Nice! PECOTA doesn't think Scott's 2006 was a total fluke, and if he puts up that line, he'll make a great addition to the Ensberg / Berkman / Lee offensive core. PECOTA doesn't really care for his defense (-1), so a defensive outfield of Lee / Burke / Scott will certainly be an adventure. Throw groundballs, pitchers.

Ok, that's all the major offensive players. Taking all of that into account, let's take a look at our projected 2007 lineup (or at least what I'd like it to be), with their OBP / SLG:

Chris Burke, CF: .348 / .452
Morgan Ensberg: .374 / .484
Lance Berkman: .421 / .573
Carlos Lee: .359 / .530
Luke Scott / Jason Lane: .353 / .495 (.331 / .475)
Craig Biggio/ Mark Loretta: .322 / .413 (.341 / .388)
Adam Everett: .302 / .385
Brad Ausmus / Humberto Quintero: .296 / .294 (.304 / .397)

Those #1 - #5 spots are actually pretty good, huh? Ending with Biggio / Everett / Ausmus hurts a lot, unfortunately. But what are you going to do? Hopefully play Loretta and Quintero often, since they're both good players and to keep Biggio / Ausmus fresh. Next time, I'll look at what PECOTA thinks of our pitchers. Sneak peek: they really don't like Woody Williams.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The offseason isn't over yet — and with only three legitimate starters, let's hope it isn't — but I thought I'd take a look at our team's moves so far this winter. Pretty much all of our major moves were of the "good news/bad news" variety. That is, each of them had value, but with a cost.

The Carlos Lee signing was a big boost for next year's offense. We haven't had a decent lineup since 2004, and it was nice to see GM Tim Purpura address our most glaring weakness. Lee is a masher, and though we'd all like to see him take a few more walks, he'll be a welcome addition to a weak lineup. That's the good news. The bad is that, historically speaking, bulky outfielders of Lee's body type age poorly. If they lose reaction time or bat speed, they really start struggling. The home run balls that once left the yard now only reach the warning track. And Lee's defense is nothing to speak of, and will likely regress throughout the contract.

The Jennings/Pettitte moves were obviously impacted by the Lee contract, which went all the way to $100 million. No one was suggesting anything over $90 million before the press conference, and the nine-digit contract really left us hamstrung when it came to addressing the pitching staff. I don't know the exact status of Pettitte's elbow, but I wish we could have kept him for another year. The Jennings trade, in my opinion, was a little rushed. I think we were in freak-out mode since we lost Pettitte, and decided to acquire Jennings at any cost. I don't think Hirsh will ever devlelop into an All-Star, but he had the makings of a workhorse who could put up decent numbers and throw a lot of innings. You know, someone like ... Jason Jennings. I suppose time will tell the outcome of this trade.

I have to say, the decision to keep Ensberg was one of my most appreciated moves made this offseason. We could have signed Huff to put up inferior numbers for almost twice the price, but we decided to stick with Morgan, who could possibly rebound to post a .900 OPS. I think that's how lots of teams succeed: They collect a bunch of players with upside, hoping that they can all get hot and put up numbers and help the team win. Check out the 2006 Tigers or the 2003 Marlins. There weren't any superstars (except for the 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera), but the GMs collected a bunch of decent players who all got hot and won a lot of games. Ensberg is sort of like a gamble. Yes, he could suck and bat .230 again. But he could rebound and post a .950 OPS. And for a $5 million contract, that's worth the risk.

Woody Williams, like Lee, was expected to sign with the Astros when the 2006 season ended. He's a fly-ball pitcher who's no good against righties, so he wouldn't appear to be an effective pitcher in The Juicebox. But you never know. He's produced couple of "rebound" years before, where he's posted really good numbers from out of nowhere. I don't expect 18 wins or a 3.50 ERA, but I hope he stays healthy and doesn't mind a really crappy outfield defense.

The Loretta deal is the best deal so far this offseason, but, sadly, also the least important. I'd be surprised if he gets 250 ABs, so the impact on the team will be minimal. I doubt he can play shortstop effectively. Rather, I should say I doubt Garner will let him replace Everett on a regular basis. The unfortunate aspect is that he's eerily similar to Biggio — an old second baseman who's suddenly incapable of hitting on the road. He is a definite upgrade over Bruntlett, but his impact will be minimal.

I think our lineup, even with Everett and Ausmus, has vastly improved from last year. Burke, Scott and Lee essentially replace Taveras, Lane and Preston Wilson in the starting lineup. That's a tremendous plus. Our bench improves: Lamb, Lane, Loretta, Bruntlett, Palmeiro and Quintero is solid, although I'd like to see a solid defensive replacement in center.

Our pitching staff, though, has taken a hit. Oswalt, Jennings and Woody form a decent front three, but it would be nice to see more depth there. There are still TONS of unsigned pitchers out there. Only some of them require a major league deal. Ohka, Redman, Lawrence, Weaver, Armas, Chen, Helling, Park, Trachsel, Jerome Williams, Paul Wilson ... I'm not saying they're gonna take us to the World Series, but it would be nice to make some moves that could pan out to be real steals.

Oh, and there's also that Clemens guy.

Anyway, I don't think I've written anything here that I haven't said before, but it's nice to talk baseball.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I think I'm going to get a Mark Loretta Astros uni. The funny thing is, I don't own any Astros jerseys. Berkman or Biggio would be my other top choices... maybe Burke or Oswalt. But just reading about Mark Loretta over the past week has really excited me. The fact that he really wanted to sign here despite the lack of a starting position really signals that he's in it for the right reasons. He likes Garner and Ausmus, likes the stadium and the fans and the city of Houston. What else could you ask for?

Not only that... the man produces. His last year was arguably one of his worst, yet he put up a .345 OBP. He is 35, but he seems to be the type of hitter — making contact, driving balls into the gaps — that ages well. Plus he won't have too heavy a defensive workload, at least not at first. Mabe that'll keep him fresh. Check out his career numbers: 513 Ks to 462 BBs. A .363 OBP. An .886 OPS in Petco in 2004.

Most importantly, though: Loretta was a Northwestern Wildcat. So you know he's on the level.

Also on my mind: Starting picthing. Once again, we get to ride the Clemens rollercoaster. If we have a deal worked out where he signs in June and pitches in the second half, I suppose I could live with two months of Wandy and Nieve/Sampson/Albers. But if he signs elsewhere, we NEED one more starter. Brian Lawrence, Tomo Ohka and Jeff Weaver are still on the market. Brad Penny and Jon Lieber are likely to be traded. Any one of these guys would be a good acquisition.

Man I can't wait for baseball. In the meantime, I'll have to focus on ultimate and disc golf.
It's good to be back in Flagstaff. I'm ready for the new semester, I'm ready to drive my new car (a white 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid) all over the place, and I'm ready for baseball!....but I'll have to hold off on the last one for a while longer. How are the Astros doing these days?

I really like the Mark Loretta deal. He's great insurance for Biggio, and Everett to some extent. I really hope he doesn't see much time at 3B, because we need Ensberg's OBP and Lamb is a fine backup there. But once Biggio gets to 3,000, he really shouldn't be starting more than 3 times a week. That should leave plenty of playing time for Loretta. And if an infielder gets hurt, we've got a great backup guy ready to guy. It's less time for Bruntlett, which is fine by me. He's not very good offensively. I'd like to see Jason Lane make the team over him, because a Scott / Lane platoon in RF would be sweet, but I don't know if it will happen.

I like the idea of the Jennings trade, but not the execution. Hirsh is good but overrated, Buccholz is actually a pretty decent prospect (his BB/K ratio was solid last year - I think he could be better than Hirsh), and Taveras had his uses as a cheap defensive CF / pinch-runner, but none of them are THAT valuable. Neither is Jennings if it's only for one year, unfortunately. The most depressing thing about the trade is when Tim Purpura said he "hasn't even thought" about signing Jennings to a long-term deal. Trade three decent young players for a one-year rental without even thinking about it? BAD.

I'd like to see the 'Stros explore trading for a Phillies starting pitcher. They've got too many, and they've been dangling Jon Lieber. He doesn't walk anybody, and although he'd give up his share of hits and HR's in Minute Maid, he'd be a great #3 or #4 starter with Woody Williams. They're looking for bullpen help - I'd rather not trade Qualls / Wheeler / Lidge, but that's probably who they'll want. Nieve for Lieber? Qualls for Lieber? Something to think about.

Our current OF will almost certainly be bad defensively. Lee is below-average in LF, Burke hasn't played much in CF, and Scott is ok at best in RF. Oh well. Don't be surprised if a few of our pitchers don't do quite as well this year. Woody Williams in particular is a flyball pitcher. Yikes.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hope everyone had a nice, relaxing holiday season. The Astros didn't do much over the break until this morning, when they *allegedly* signed Mark Loretta to a 1-year, $2.5 million deal. Apparently only Loretta's agent has announced it, so the deal is far from official, but if it's true, I like the signing a great deal. Loretta hasn't slugged much over the past two seasons, but his career .299 BA and .363 OBP will be a great addition to the club. We traded for him back in 2002 at the deadline, and he performed very well for us. I think the front office has always liked his work ethic and baseball skills. Hopefully he won't mind an initial back-up role.

This signing also means that Burke has an evern stronger hold on centerfield. I assumed he might start once a week or so at second, with Bruntlett or Lane filling in at center. But Loretta now will probably get all the extra starts at second, leaving Burke as our clear everyday centerfielder.

Eric Bruntlett must not be too happy about this deal, but that's OK. Yes, he's had some big hits over the past two years, but he hasn't put up the numbers to guarantee him a roster spot. He and Lane are now battling for one spot with the team, unless we decide to go with 11 pitchers.

Haven't heard much from the starting pitching front. Richard Justice wrote in his blog that the Astros were considering inviting a couple of invitees to spring training: Paul Wilson and Pedro Astacio. I like the idea: Everyone know these guys have had the stuff to compete at a high level, but injuries have hampered their careers. If it doesn't cost us anything, give them a chance. I'd still like to pursue other guys, like Brian Lawrence or Tony Armas, but they might require major league deals. A And we should keep our eye on Jeff Weaver, just in case his price falls.