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Save This Franchise: Astros in despair, beyond repair

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by Mr. Clutch, Feb 1, 2008.

  1. Mr. Clutch

    Mr. Clutch Contributing Member

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    http://www.sportsline.com/mlb/story/10607275

    For the last few weeks, faithful reader Woodrow has been prodding me for a Save This Franchise profile on the Astros. I ignored the guy, partly because he didn't say "please" but mostly because the Astros are, as of 2:08 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008, one of the few franchises that appear beyond saving.

    Don't get me wrong: They'll finish no worse than fourth in their junior-league division this season and could inch toward wild-card contention if the starters not named Roy Oswalt somehow surprise.

    Hey Astros! How about dumping still-acey Roy Oswalt? (Getty Images)
    But the Astros are the proverbial tree rotting from the inside. They gave away the few half-OK kids in their system for closer Jose Valverde and shortstop-under-siege Miguel Tejada, and now face the prospect of careening toward the next decade with only two young players of note -- Hunter Pence and J.R. Towles -- in their entire organization.

    In other words, the core of the 2008 and 2009 Astros is more or less set in stone, and there's not a single player on the roster beyond Pence and Towles who hasn't peaked. That's the pesky thing about older players: they generally don't get younger, at least not without the type of "nutrition" and "weight training" baseball has tripped over itself to outlaw during the last few years.

    Nonetheless, because I'm a man of the people and the people asked semi-nicely, let's see what we have here. Let's Save This (Unsaveable) Franchise!™©®! To the Batcave! I mean, the Batting Cage!

    Short-term outlook: Nowhere near as good as the team seems to think, given its empty-the-coffers trades for Valverde and Tejada and the free-agent purchase of middling second baseman Kaz Matsui. Those are the types of moves made by franchises who are only a player or two away, not by ones with a three-man-deep pitching staff.

    The Astros do, however, have a bunch of names on their roster. Lance Berkman! Miguel Tejada! Carlos Lee! You recognize these guys and you love them. Unfortunately, all three are statue-esque in the field, and not in the legs-up-to-her-neck Selita Ebanks way. Along those lines, the defensive downgrade at short from Adam Everett to Tejada will cost the team plenty of runs and possibly send Oswalt into a murderous rage.

    Assets: More right-handed power than any team located east, south or west of Detroit. Given the welcoming left-field porch at Orangina Tang Stadium, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the trio of Tejada, Lee and switch-hitter Berkman will combine for 90-plus dingers. Pence and Ty Wigginton, if given enough at-bats, could add 30 more.

    And say what you want about owner Drayton McLane -- and I will in the paragraphs below -- but the guy is willing to throw bushels of cash at players. It's too bad that the league's blind-lunatic spenders (McLane and Peter Angelos in particular) have such toxic people skills that they scare off any GM who might put all that cash to good use.

    Liabilities: The list of the players upon whom the Astros will rely for depth reads like the first round of a bizarro-world rotisserie draft: Geoff Blum, Mark Loretta, Darin Erstad. Why not ink Miguel Cairo and complete the useless-utility potpourri? Just because the average fan has heard of a player doesn't make him any good. How the Astros consistently confuse familiarity with ability boggles the mind.

    Then there's the projected rotation behind the still-acey Oswalt. It includes dainty lefty Wandy Rodriguez, whose out-of-character competent second half might have the 'Stros believing that he's something he isn't (namely, good); Brandon Backe and his surgically reattached elbow, shoulder, labrum and pinky; old fogey Woody Williams, with his batting-practice velocity; and dippy righty Felipe Paulino, who has a thunderbolt for an arm and a bowl of porridge for a head.

    Unless the Astros score 1,100 runs, these four won't keep the team in many games.

    As potent as the aforementioned bats may be, that ain't gonna happen. The two top spots in the lineup will be occupied by untested speed merchant Michael Bourn (no relation to Jason) and Matsui -- who, it should be noted, probably earned himself an extra two years and $10 million with his high-profile dinger against the Sillies during the playoffs. Neither of these guys have shown much inclination in the past to accept a walk. Sure, they'll scurry around the bags with abandon, but like dad always said: You can't steal first base.

    1. Pray for Drayton McLane to have one of those late-in-life epiphanies that prompts him to spend less time with the team and more with the grandkids. As a Knicks fan, I'm intimately familiar with the "pray that the owner is forced to relinquish control of the team following a scandale involving backdated stock options, a thermos of gin and three stewardesses of virtue unsullied" line of thinking. But let's face it: McLane is nowhere near as inappropriate as Mr. Dolan and he hasn't shown any inclination to cut back his involvement with the team. Maybe Houston fans oughta start sending him copies of Tuesdays With Morrie and Cats in the Cradle.

    2. Put Hunter Pence at the top of the batting order. The Astros are one of the few teams that haven't been let in on the state secret that more base runners lead to more runs, that three-run homers contribute more to the bottom line than solo shots. This is the kind of progressive thinking that can get a man killed down Texas way, I know. What good is a Tejada/Berkman/Lee/Pence middle of the order if there's nobody on base for them to drive in?

    3. Don't get too attached to Valverde. He was, by most measures, one of the league's most effective closers during 2007. Still, he starts getting expensive very soon (around $5.5 million this year) and he convalesces on the disabled list for a few weeks every other season. I'm no kinesthesiologist, but this isn't the type of player you buy high on. If he gets off to a good start and the Astros get off to a bad one, he should be traded before his herky-jerky mechanics prompt an elbow apocalypse.

    4. The Astros have to at least consider trading Oswalt, perhaps binding Lee's soon-to-be-an-anvil contract (he'll move well enough to play left field in two years? riiiiiiiiight) to Oz in the same manner that the Marlins latched Mike Lowell to Josh Beckett. Starting pitchers with a top-o'-the-rotation pedigree and a reasonable contract (four years and $60 million left, with a $16 million club option for 2012) are as rare as the manatee, which makes Oswalt one of the game's precious baubles.

    At the same time, he'll be 31 in August and has thrown more than 910 innings over the last four seasons with diminishing returns. He struck out 206 batters in 2003 and 154 in 2007, albeit in 25 fewer innings. Factor in his slight size and his unconventional mechanics, and Oswalt would seem to be a prime breakdown candidate. Dealing him -- and, ideally, shedding a monster, backloaded contract like Lee's in the process -- would be the quickest way for the Astros to reverse the descent into the cellar.

    Of course, this is a moot point: Oswalt has a full no-trade clause and Lee has one that runs through 2010. Lee also has something in his deal that the beyond-awesome Cot's Baseball Contracts describes as a "nominal weight clause." Judging by his girth in 2007, I'm guessing he won't be collecting on that one unless science develops a no-cal bacon cheeseburger.

    Odds of becoming the next Colorado Rockies: 65-1. While the Cubs and Brewers bulked up during the off-season and the Reds show faint traces of a pulse, the NL Central ain't exactly an insurmountable mountain. Assuming perfect health, perfect luck and some minimal competence from the bottom of the rotation, the Astros could find themselves playing meaningful games come September. Similarly, the Academy could bestow an honorary-achievement Oscar upon Norbit.

    Everyone outside Drayton McLane's living room sees the Astros as a house practically begging to be razed. McLane, however, won't buy into this line of thinking and, this offseason, sat back as flunky GM Ed Wade attempted to cover a nine-inch gash with a Band-Aid.

    Some overly simplistic math, then: the 2008 Houston Astros = the 1998 Baltimore Orioles. Those Orioles, despite frontline talent like Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and the resurgent Eric Davis, dipped to 79 wins from 98 the season before. With a decrepit minor-league system and an owner who couldn't or wouldn't stop meddling in baseball decisions, the O's haven't won more than 78 games since.

    Any of that sound familiar? A prediction: 79 wins for the 'Stros in 2008, then no more than 75 until 2011 at the earliest. Yeah, it's that bad. Brace yourself, Astros fans, because things are going to get much, much worse before they get better.
     
  2. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    man, fans of other teams want oswalt so much. can't blame them.
     
  3. BigM

    BigM Contributing Member

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    oswalt stands behind santana as the most consistently fantastic pitcher in baseball. that fact plus his contract should make him close to untouchable. I'd be way beyond pissed if we traded my favorite player but the team getting him would have to give the haul of a lifetime.
     
  4. texanskan

    texanskan Contributing Member

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    It would have to be like the deal the Cowboys got for Walker back in the day, Roy O is going to be scary good this year with the extra bats he can now just go out and pitch and not have to be perfect.
     
  5. Major Malcontent

    Major Malcontent Contributing Member

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    They are just bitter because a great player isn't playing in New York or Boston.

    They will continue to try to denigrate the rest of our roster in hopes we will trade Roy to the Yankees or Bosox for scraps.
     
  6. Blake

    Blake Contributing Member

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    I agree about the pitching and lack of prospects, but disagree with the doomsday forecasting.
     
  7. ryan17wagner

    ryan17wagner Member

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  8. DoitDickau

    DoitDickau Contributing Member

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    Like the article said, Oswalt has a no-trade clause so trade speculation is pretty useless. That said, even if he didn't have a trade clause, I still think trading him would be a big mistake.

    The problems the Astros have in near future are a lot bigger than any reasonable return they could expect to get for Roy. Look at the Santana deal, he's the best pitcher in his generation and i was completely underwhelmed with the deal Twin received. A similar return won't make the astros much more likely to contend in 2010 or 11.

    The one thing that made this past season tolerable was Craig Biggio. Oswalt is the best pitcher in Astros history and could go down as a Houston sports Icon. If the astros are going to be terrible the next few years, at least lets be terrible with Oswalt and Berkman.
     
  9. rrj_gamz

    rrj_gamz Contributing Member

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    Hey bud...thanks for the advice...Hope Houston is treating you well...

    Now back on the topic...As funny and shameful as this article was, there are shreds of truth laced in here...I am coming around to the notion that Lee and O could help fill the farm with great prospects...I may be in the minority, but O can't do it alone and if Lee gets any bigger, well...
     
  10. Aceshigh7

    Aceshigh7 Contributing Member

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    Is this guy on crack? Pence by himself is going to have at least 30 homers. Wigginton should be good for around 20 or so.
     
  11. Buck Turgidson

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    No, he writes for Maxim Online. OK, so maybe, but it's quite probable that he's just naturally that way.
     
  12. Refman

    Refman Contributing Member

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    The guy who wrote the article either:
    1. Has a drug and alcohol problem; or
    2. Is too stupid for words; or
    3. Has his head jammed where the sun doesn't shine; or
    4. A combination of the first three.

    There are so many things wrong with what he has said that I don't feel like taking the time to respond to each of them.
     
  13. RocketFan007

    RocketFan007 Contributing Member

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    You forgeting the biggest difference between Santana's trade value and Oswalt's, money. Santana was due a huge raise, while Oswalt is locked down on a "reasonable" contract for the next few years. For that reason alone, we could demand more than what the Twins got for Santana.
     
  14. Refman

    Refman Contributing Member

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    Oswalt has also stated that this is likely to be his last contract. So why would a team offer up their 4 or 5 best prospects for a pitcher who is likely to be gone in 2 or 3 years while Santana is signing for 7 years with the Mets?
     
  15. Spacemoth

    Spacemoth Contributing Member

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    With the exception of wanting to trade Oswalt, I completely agree with everything said in this article and feel the Astros will do worse than what that guy even projected. He didn't even really go over the complete and utter embarrassment that is this team's farm system. Our players are so bad we shouldn't even be allowed to field a team above A-ball. The ineptitude of this "old-school" GM Ed Wade has made itself apparent through his numerous sell-low buy-high "blockbuster" deals for over the hill players (Tejada) and one year wonders (Valverde). I mean, trading for Tejada when there had been multiple sources suggesting his steroid use, corroborated with his improved numbers during those periods and subsequent nosedive after the accusations, and ONE DAY BEFORE THE MITCHELL REPORT CAME OUT. How do you think those negotiations went, huh?

    Baltimore: "Say, I've got a great special on sale for today only! Your best prospect and five other ok-dudes for my overweight can't-even-play-shortstop-anymore all-star shortstop"?

    Ed Wade: "I love running. What's this about a signature? Where do I sign? I'll see ya at the annual GM barbeque! You gonna bring your wife? I hope she gets back on her feet soon after that operation."

    You couldn't make this s___ up. Put Houston up there with Oakland (with Al Davis), Minneapolis (Carl Pohlad), New York (Dolan), and Baltimore (Angelos) as fan bases that have no recourse but to wait for the passing of their teams' senile owners while abstaining from mentioning it for fear of coming off as heartless.
     
  16. The Cat

    The Cat Contributing Member

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    This is hilarious, for three reasons.

    First, the Astros' system is terrible. It's the worst in the league, cited by this and a number of other sources. You even mentioned it yourself! So who the hell cares if the Astros gave up their "best" prospect (which isn't even true, Towles has much more potential than Patton) when the system is that bad? This, to me, is the biggest flaw among baseball fans; this mentality that someone is automatically good if he's a team's best prospect. Without context, it's meaningless. The 10th best prospect on some teams is superior to the best prospect on others. Essentially, you're looking to whine and throwing out an abstract term with no specific detail or relevance to the team.

    Second, it's sad that people actually believe that the Astros were either surprised by the Mitchell Report or lacked the negotiating prowess to make Baltimore wait. They could have, had they wanted to. They didn't. More than any other sport, baseball is full of holier than thou fans who love to rant about "cheating"... and by the Astros completing the trade one day before the Mitchell Report, it gives them plausible deniability for when those fans point the finger at the organization for lacking class. I'm pretty sure it was the Astros, not the Orioles, forcing this deal to get done before the release of the Mitchell Report.

    Third, let's discuss Miguel Tejada's defense. Sixth among all shortstops in zone rating. 18th in RF. Middle of the pack in RZR. That spells average. He's no healthy Adam Everett, that's for sure, but he's also not a Derek Jeter that will cost you runs relative to the average player. Could you please provide some actual evidence that Tejada "can't play shortstop anymore," or are you more interested in illogical b****ing for the sake of b****ing?
     
  17. MaxwellsTemper

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    Great points as far as the prospects we gave up, and about the Astros completing the deal before the Mitchell report coming up. Our system is terrible, and you are right in that just because we gave up top prospects doesn't mean those guys were going to translate to game-changers.

    And I hadn't thought of the trade that way, that the Astros did it for PR reasons.

    As far as Tejada, you are right, his zone rating from I saw is 7th among SS last year. He had 15 errors, which is mediocre. But from most credible sources I've read, he is not a very good defensive SS. Whether he his held to a higher standard because of his name, I don't know. But I know that he has been labeled around the league as sub-par, and I'm not sure ZR is enough to change my mind, simply because I'm aware of how hard it is to quantify defensive statistics. Its almost more of a "gotta see to know" type of thing to me still. I'll admit I obviously didn't watch many Orioles games last year, so I'm basing this on others' opinions.. but it does to seem to be a consensus. From what I've heard also, the Orioles had been trying to convince him to move to 3B for the past couple of seasons, which always is a sign that a SS is done defensively.
     
  18. The Cat

    The Cat Contributing Member

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    The problem, as you said, is the context. He's looked at as sub-par relative to what he was a few years ago, but in the grand scheme of things, he's average. Don't read too much into the 3B talk. The Orioles had Melvin Mora at 3B the last two seasons, with terrible OPS numbers (for a 3B) of .733 and .759. That meant moving Tejada to 3B would be a dramatic upgrade offensively from Mora and most likely defensively. Meanwhile, it shouldn't be that hard to find a low .700s OPS guy at SS with good defense, which would make it a net upgrade all the way around. I'd agree with you if Tejada would have hypothetically been bumping any kind of quality option at 3B... but in Baltimore's specific case, it's not a reflection that he can't play SS.

    Yes, there is the chance Tejada could continue his slide defensively, and if he does, it's a problem. But as of now, he's middle of the road. I'd agree with you that he's not "very good," but I think sub-par is stretching it by all available evidence. He won't make Adam Everett plays, but he won't be a Loretta-type liability, either.
     
  19. Buck Turgidson

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    It's been rated in the bottom 3rd to bottom quarter since '03 or so. Yet, over the past year, the farm system has produced, in full or in part:

    starting RF - Pence
    starting SS - Tejada
    starting C - Towles
    closer - Valverde
    setup - Villarreal

    Toss in 2/5 of the starting rotation (Sampson, Wandy), some guys who should/could be able to help the staff at some point this season (McLemore, Paulino, Nieve). Go back a little bit & throw in a #2 starter (JJ) & a good mid-season pickup in '06 (Huff).

    That's not bad MLB production for a terrible minor league system.

    The next 2 drafts are huge. After Miller signs somewhere, they'll have 5 of the top 130ish picks this June. There's talent in VZL & DR academies that will come over in the next couple of years. They desperately need the few higher-ceiling guys already in the system to develop.
     
  20. Mr. Clutch

    Mr. Clutch Contributing Member

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    Uh, what? If your farm system sucks you should be less inclined to just trade away really good prospects. Conversely, if your farm system is really good, you can afford to give up more young talent.

    I think you are missing his point and trying to instert your own. You are saying that because our system sucks then that means all our minor leaguers suck and we can practically give them away, which is not true.
     

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