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.