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.

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