Monday, February 05, 2007

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.

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