In three hours, the West Coast will be shrouded in April. Can you feel it?
It’s a magical month for baseball fans. The last month full of hope and promise, before the summer lazes before us, full of disappointment for some; celebration for others. The magical march to October has begun.
In less than a week, the Major League Baseball season will be underway. As Spring Training winds down, what do Astros fans have to look forward to?
The Asros are last in the Grapefruit League, owing largely to a massive winless streak. But they seem to be heating up at the right time: 9-2 since March 20th.
During that stretch through the end of March, the actual members of the Astros 25-man roster went .306/.329/.436. That includes new arrival Jeff Keppinger, whose numbers came with the Cincinnati Reds. Without his 2-for-24 line, the numbers are .325/.349/.466 for the 25-man roster.
The pitchers expected to make the 25-man roster have gone 7-1 in 72 IP with a 3.50 ERA, an incredible 1.17 WHIP, and a 3.89 DICE; 39 K to 16 BB. That’s sure to go up with the move to Minute Maid Park, but it’s nice to see that, at the very least, the 25-man roster looks to be heating up at the right time.
And they’re going to need to be hot going into the season. A lot has been made of their difficult second-half schedule, and rightly so.
Looking at their 2009 schedule, and breaking each game down by the opponents’ 2008 record (using home records for home games and road records for road games), this is how the season looks by month:
April: 267-309 (.464)
May: 396-422 (.484)
June: 348-380 (.478)
July: 125-199 (.386)
July (post-All Star Break): 230-175 (.568)
August: 438-371 (.541)
September: 367-372 (.497)
October: 96-66 (.593)
As you can see, prior to the All-Star Break, the Astros’ opponents in every month are less than .500 – after the All-Star Break, with the exception of a brief respite in September (during which, though the opponents are under an aggregate .500, they are still better than during any single month before the All-Star Break), every month features opponents with overall winning percentages.
So clearly, the key to the Astros season is not waiting until August or September to make a run, as they have in the past, but rather to get off to a quick start.
Luckily, they appear poised to do just that.
For all intents and purposes, the Astros have always had an ace. A dominant pitcher who could be given the ball every fifth game and be expected to shut down the opposing team as often as not. In 2001, a skinny, unseemly right-hander from Weir, Mississippi was called up in May and asked to do just that. Less than a month later, he was entered into the starting rotation, and the team won the next eight games he started, with him collecting the W in six of the eight games.
He went 12-2 as a starter that year, with three complete games including a shutout. He threw 127.2 innings as a starter, with 130 strikeouts, 17 walks, a 2.82 ERA, and a 1.03 WHIP. He was second in Rookie of the Year voting, fifth in Cy Young voting, and 22nd in MVP voting.
Eight seasons later, Roy Oswalt is the undisputed ace of the Houston rotation, but in 2001 – despite the tremendous year by Wade Miller – the ace was Shane Reynolds, who went 14-11 with a 4.34 ERA. Not ace-type numbers, but Reynolds had been the de facto ace since his 16-win campaign in 1996. Though Darryl Kile and a young Mike Hampton also pitched well for that team, Reynolds was clearly the leader.
Before Reynolds’ emergence, most people would probably have pointed at veteran Doug Drabek. Before that, Pete Harnisch. Mike Scott. Nolan Ryan.
Other teams, on the other hand, have trouble defining an ace. Specifically, the Pittsburgh Pirates – an intradivisional foe – have had a string of seriously bad luck with their aces.
In 2006, after a 14-win campaign, Ian Snell was annointed with the “ace” title. Entering the 2009 season, he has only managed 16 wins in the two years since then. In 2007, Tom Gorzelanny was the 14-game winner on the roster, and now he finds himself in minor league camp.
It seems that, as an organization, the top of the Pirates’ rotation has been befuddling at least since Oliver Perez’s Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde act from 2004-2006. This year, their hope lies in the left arm of Paul Maholm.
Maholm is a sinkerball pitcher who has gone 19-24 over the past two seasons with 244 K and 112 BB in 384 IP. Over that time, he has an ERA of 4.31 and a WHIP of 1.35. His DIPS was 4.26 and his DICE was 4.18. By almost any metric, saber or otherwise, he’s at best an above-average pitcher.
And last month, they awarded him with a three-year, $14.5m contract to avoid arbitration.
That’s a lot of money for a guy who had 2.7 Value Wins a year ago. So does Maholm have ace-type stuff, or is he merely benefitting from being part of a weak pitching staff?
Maholm’s VORP in 2008 was 40.8 – 30th in the majors among pitchers with a minimum 100 IP. Roy Oswalt’s 43.3 was just five spots ahead at 25th. It was almost double the next-highest VORP on the team, reliever John Grabow with 22.3, and far away above Zach Duke, who had the second-highest VORP among Pirates starters in 2008 with 5.3.
Compare that to Gorzelanny in 2007, whose 41.5 VORP was 31st in the majors and just 0.2 ahead of rotation-mate Ian Snell. In 2008, Gorzelanny’s VORP had tumbled to -13.2; in other words, worse than a replacement-level player. Snell’s was “better” at -3.9, but hardly good. There is some indication that Snell, at least, was the victim of bad luck, as his BABIP was a hefty .360, compared to Maholm’s .298.
But Pirates coaches believe Maholm has the mental makeup of an ace, which can of course be important. Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who used to work with the Yankees and the Red Sox, told Sporting News “If you’ve seen him throwing on the side, see his understanding of the
game, the understanding of his craft — pitching — you can tell he has
a great idea,” Kerrigan said. “He’s a coach’s dream. The effort he puts
into the side sessions, his bullpen sessions, is translated into the
That’s great, but it doesn’t exactly make him an ace.
Maholm has been coolly efficient this spring, going 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA, 12 K, and 1 BB in 19.2 IP. He’s run out of innings in games well before hitting the maximum pitch count set aside by his coaches this spring.
Considering the rapid falls from grace many of the Pirates’ other “aces” have seen in recent years, it’s definitely too early to give Maholm the title – and as of right now, he is being vastly overpaid – but there’s certainly room for hope for the Pirates, who need as much as they can get.
Geoff Geary and the Florida sun allowed the Cardinals to tie today’s Grapefruit League game at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Wesley Wright and Jeff Fulchino shut them down in the final two innings, and Michael Bourn‘s single up the middle in the ninth gave the Astros their sixth win in a row.
Right now, we’re winning games in the same fashion we were losing them just a week ago. Back then, Jason Michaels losing the ball in the sun or Jason Smith sprinting across the diamond to drop a pop-up while trying to backhand it just feet from Chris Johnson, whose ball it clearly was, would have spelled disaster.
Today, they were mere bumps in the road.
Of particular note during this streak is Bourn, who went 1-for-3 today with two walks. Bourn’s numbers during this stretch are perhaps the single-most encouraging part of the Astros’ Spring Training: .333/.389/.400 with 2 SB in 4 attempts, 2 BB, 2 K, 5 RBI, and 4 R over six games. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but holds a lot of promise. If he can continue to get on base at anything near a .350 clip or above, the Astros’ offense will succeed.
For the first time in 2009, I’m disappointed to have a day off.
That day off will be spent by at least one person in Astros camp, Danny Graves, to look for a new job. Graves was assigned to minor league camp, and had until Tuesday to decide whether to accept the assignment or to ask for his release. He asked for, and was granted, his release.
Though his spring wasn’t great, neither was it as terrible as the 6.43 ERA suggests. First of all, he was only given seven innings to show his wares, and though he gave up five earned runs in those seven innings, none were from home runs. He also only issued one walk, didn’t hit any batsmen, and struck out three for a DICE of 2.57 despite a WHIP of 1.71.
Unfortunately, given human nature, most people will see the high WHIP and ERA and fail to give him a chance to show his wares. But based on his ability to keep his walks, HBP, and HR to an absolute minimum – even over such a short amount of time – should at least warrant him the ability to go out and show someone what he can do.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the last we heard from Graves.
As recently as seven years ago, had you told me that the Boston Red Sox would be the best organization in Major League baseball, I would probably have laughed at you.
In 2002, the Red Sox had just finished second in the AL East. Thirty-nine players played for the Red Sox that year, only ten of whom had been drafted and developed by the Sox. Of eighteen pitchers, only three – including zero in the starting rotation – had come up through the organization. Those three relievers accounted for just 143 innings of the 1,446 that the pitching staff had thrown in the season. Left-hander Casey Fossum pitched 106.2 of those 143.
Though the Sox were competitive, they were doing it without much of a farm system. Because they had cobbled together a lineup mostly out of free-agent signings, trading away prospects, and waiver wire acquisitions, they had the look of the Yankees Lite. Their strategy seemed to be to outspend everyone in baseball with the exception of the Yankees, and then to play the underdog and complain about how the Yankees were buying championships.
Their farm system was a shambles, perenially ranked near the bottom. The six minor league affiliates were a combined 314-377 (.454) in 2002, with only the Augusta Greenjackets finishing with a winning record at 69-67. They had an average finish of 9.5, and none of them finished higher than 8th in their divisions.
In 2008, the Red Sox finished second in their division again, earning a Wild Card spot and advancing to the American League Championship Series, where they lost in seven games. Forty-seven different players suited up for the Sox, and though that only included 3 starting position players (C Jason Varitek, 1B Kevin Youkilis, 2B Dustin Pedroia), it did include 24 players who broke into the majors with the team.
Their six minor league teams finished a combined 373-313 (.541), with an average finish of fifth in their respective divisions. No team finished worse than eighth. No team did not post a winning record. Additionally, the Lancaster Jethawks (now a Houston Astros affiliate) made it to the California League finals.
Moving into 2009, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie should receive strong consideration to be the everyday starters at centerfield and shortstop, respectively, making five of the Red Sox starting nine homegrown prospects. The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, considered by many to be the model of farm-system efficiency, had just four (Iwamura, Longoria, Crawford, Upton).
Had you asked a Red Sox fan how they felt about the team in 2002, they probably would have been very positive. They’d just finished second in a tough division, and though they hadn’t made a playoff appearance since 1999, they were continually in the hunt. They hadn’t finished lower than second in the division since 1997.
They spent money, they had All-Star caliber players, and they competed in their division. But they couldn’t break through and win it all. Injuries at key positions could decimate them, because they had a weak farm system, despite a few standout players. They couldn’t pull everything together at the same time.
Houston Astros fans, does this sound familiar?
What changed for the Red Sox between 2002 and 2009? How was this franchise, whose major league team was solid, but whose minor league system was incapable of filtering through enough quality players to add much-needed depth to compete solidly in the playoffs, , able to turn things around and become what I believe is the best organization in baseball?
There are many factors, of course, but three big ones leap to mind:
1) John Henry. In 2002, the Red Sox had just been purchased by an ownership group headed up by John Henry. Henry certainly hadn’t impressed many as the owner of the Marlins from 1999-2001, but when he took over the Red Sox in 2002, he assembled a top-notch front office, headed by CEO Larry Lucchino from the Padres. Henry had grown up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and had been involved in baseball at many levels – first as owner of the minor league Tuscon Toros, subsequently as co-founder of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. For a while, he also headed up a group vying for an expansion team in Denver, which would later become the Colorado Rockies. He had also owned a small interest in the New York Yankees before becoming sole owner of the Marlins.
What was different about his tenure with the Red Sox? Simply put: money. He had a much bigger market, a more-dedicated fan base, significantly higher revenue, and the added funds of his co-owners, television producer Tom Werner and the New York Times Company.
2) Billy Beane. Before the 2003 Winter Meetings, the Red Sox hired Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane to fulfill the same function for their organization. Beane accepted the offer for $12.5m a year over five years – the largest contract ever offered to a Geneal Manager. The new Oakland GM, Paul DePodesta, argued at length with the Red Sox and their new assistant GM, Theo Epstein, about the compensation the Red Sox would give the Athletics. He refused to give away Beane for anything less than two minor leaguers, including a single-A player named Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek God of Walks.”
During the negotiations, before a contract had been signed, Beane changed his mind and returned to the Athletics. Epstein was promoted to the General Manager position, despite being just 28 years old. The hiring of Billy Beane wasn’t significant in itself, but rather because it showed that the Front Office had dedicated themselves to Beane’s philosophy, that a sabermetric approach to building an organization – combined with their deep pockets – was an approach that could not be topped.
So far, they’ve been right.
3) Bill James. James might have been little more than a token hire when Henry signed him as the Red Sox “Senior Consultant, Baseball Operations.” He w
as 54 years old and had never played professional baseball. He’d never been involved in the front office of a baseball team. But he was the father of sabermetrics, going back to his self-published Baseball Abstracts beginning in 1977.
James was responsible for many new statistics that tried to explain baseball production better than the typical “triple crown” statistics. Runs Created, Range Factor, Defensive Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, Pythagorean Winning Percentage, Game Score, Major League Equivalency, Brock2, Similarity Scores, Secondary Average, Power/Speed Number, and Approximate Value are all Bill James inventions.
Henry had grown up reading the Bill James Baseball Abstracts, and had found himself fascinated with this new way of looking at the numbers of baseball. The fact that it took so long for a Major League Baseball team to hire James is one of the greatest confusions in modern sports, but when the Red Sox finally did it in October 2002, they sent a very clear signal that they were serious about competing.
The Astros’ owner, Drayton McLane, is a very hands-on owner with a rigid view of baseball. In a day and age where many teams are “seeing the light” on sabermetrics and most GM positions are filled with first-timers who have shown a dedication to advanced baseball knowledge, McLane hired former Phillies GM Ed Wade. Wade is a good General Manager – he built the overwhelming majority of the Phillies’ 2008 championship team.
But as the Red Sox have proven over the last six years, a sabermetric approach – combined with the ability to spend money on the right players – is about as potent a combination as baseball has seen.
After all, it’s turned them into the best organization in baseball.
off-day. A day for the Houston Astros front office to get together and
decide what in the world they’re going to do. A day to reflect. A day
for the players to visit with their families. With each other. To try
and become a team.
A day when we can’t lose a game. Which is
good, because on Saturday, we have a Split Squad game, so we can make
up for lost time by losing two.
Spring Training records don’t
matter, and thank goodness for that, because ours has been lousy.
Let’s take a moment and recap the statistics of our presumed Opening
Day starters, shall we?
Please note that this does not include exhibition or WBC games. These numbers are what most insiders would refer to as “bad.”
Carlos Lee, our cleanup hitter, has grounded into as many double plays
(1) as he has hits. I’m not worried about him, though. He’ll be
fine. He got to camp late, he went to play for Panama in the WBC.
He’s an older guy, he may take longer to get there but I’m sure he will
In addition, Berkman (our #3 hitter) and Tejada (who will hit fifth or sixth) are doing just fine. The heart of the order is not the concern, though. Hunter Pence (who would hit 5th in an ideal lineup, but will probably end up 2nd or 6th) is striking out a lot as he works on getting deeper into counts, but he’s getting on base for the most part. Michael Bourn is Michael Bourn – he’s doing better than most of us expected.
That leaves Quintero, Blum, and Matsui. Now, we all know that Quintero and Blum would not be starters on most rosters. Blum is an invaluable utilityman who has only had 400+ at-bats twice in his 10-season career. Quintero is an arm behind the plate who has only had more than 150 at-bats once, and that was last season.
These are not big surprises. Matsui is a bit of a surprise, especially as he’s the de facto leadoff hitter for the Astros. The good news is that he’s drastically under-performing right now, so it can generally be chalked up to a bad Spring. Over the past two and a half seasons, he’s gone .297/.350/.427 in Colorado and Houston (admittedly two hitters’ parks, but that’s where he’ll be playing this year, as well.)
So it comes down to uncertainty about Bourn’s supposed progress, hope that Lee and Matsui will pick it up in time, and dread over the catcher and third base spots.
Simply put, Quintero is not an upgrade to Brad Ausmus, who opted to move out west to be closer to his family. His other option was retiring, so it’s not as if we could have retained him. And I realize he didn’t exactly swing a great stick, but over the past 8 seasons with the Astros, he went .240/.311/.319. Quintero career minor league OBP is .311, there’s no reason to think he can be that productive at the major league level – after he “improved” at the end of last season in August and September after he became more or less the full-time catcher, he scraped together a .306 OBP.
Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, among catchers currently in our system, J.R. Towles‘ .302/.386/.476 over five minor league seasons makes him the best offensive option behind the plate, his poor showing in 2008 notwithstanding.
That said, we still may be better served going out and grabbing a catcher from outside of our system. Toby Hall‘s injury spoiled things for him, but Johnny Estrada (.277/.317/.400), Paul Lo Duca (.286/.337/.409), and Ivan Rodriguez (.301/.339/.475) are all still available, and neither would cost us a draft pick.
Third base is a little bleaker. It should be assumed that Christopher Johnson (.353/.409/.588 this Spring) is going to at least begin the season at AAA Round Rock, but will no doubt find his way to the Show as the long-term solution at third base. Otherwise, he could end up in a position similar to what Towles was handed last year – given the reins a bit too early and written off once he’d failed as a result.
Until that time, we can probably look forward to a platoon of Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone. In 2003, when that duo would have combined to go .265/.310/.261, that would have been mildly acceptable. In 2009, when they combined to go .241/.293/.289 the previous year, it’s not quite as exciting (and it wasn’t all that exciting before.)
There’s no help in free agency, unless you were to shift Tejada to third (where he played in the WBC), Matsui to shortstop (where he played before switching positions with Jose Reyes in New York), and getting either Ray Durham or Mark Grudzielanek from free agency. That seems unlikely, so I suppose we’ll have to dig in and wait for the Chris Johnson era to start. I’m cautiously optimistic that that could happen as early as May.
A word of caution, however, as Johnson’s minor league line (.266/.304/.395) is actually worse than the last promotion-from-within at third base, Morgan Ensberg‘s (.271/.381/.472). Ultimately, Ensberg lost all confidence at the plate, but let’s remember that he did give us three very solid years at the big league level – 2003, 2004, and 2005 – before his collapse. Even 2006, the beginning of his “downturn”, he boasted a .396 OBP and a .463 SLG.
Free agent pitchers are less of a sure thing. If we were going to enter the market, we’ve missed the window. All that’s left are a few reclamation projects: Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, Ben Sheets, Kenny Rogers, Curt Schilling, El Duque, Sidney Ponson. Upgrades over Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler? Possibly. But it’s unlikely we’d sign any of these guys, and I can’t really blame the FO for passing on them.
All told, it will be interesting to see how our team comes together. If they come together. At this point in Spring Training, the positives are few, but they exist. And honestly, if it means that money goes into development and signing draft picks, I’m okay with no moves being made. Let’s just hunker down and see if we can’t lose us some games!
To commemorate my #25 ranking on MLBlogs’ Latest Leaders list, I will dedicate today’s post to a former Astros great who wore jersey #25. This one is pretty easy – after all, the jersey is retired because of one Jose Cruz.
The Astros lost their Spring Training game today. Again. That’s seven losses in a row (not counting exhibition games against Venezuela and Panama), and twelve games since our last win, which was coincidentally the first Spring Training game of 2009.
I’ve put a positive spin on it until I was blue in the face All I can say now is, “Ibid.”
- It’s still early. It’s a long Spring Training, and it is – after all – just Spring Training.
- Our farm system ranks 30th out of 30 teams. Most of the minor league guys in our camp are not likely to make the team out of Spring Training, but they’re still getting at-bats.
- Four players – LaTroy Hawkins, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee, and Miguel Tejada – are involved in the WBC and are not with the team.
- We have more pitchers than our roster will fit. Our bullpen is largely set, leaving a host of guys vying for one or two open spots. In many cases, those guys are not ideal major league pitchers.
The list of
excuses reasons goes on and on, and many of them are legitimate. But aren’t these very same factors affecting the teams against whom we’re playing, too? Aren’t we all on some sort of level playing field?
Last year, the third-worst team in the Grapefruit League was the Philadelphia Phillies. They’d go on to be World Series champs (after dispatching the second-worst team in the Grapefruit League, the Dodgers, in the NLCS). And so on and so on and so on.
I’ve said it all. It’s all been said. I feel awful for Alyson Footer, who has to continually find some sort of positive thing to say. I have the luxury of not having to write at all, or of being able to go back and talk about something completely unrelated to the Astros’ 2009 Spring Training.
She doesn’t have that choice.
My thoughts have bounced from place to place, trying to think of something. I’ve wondered if a manager was ever fired during Spring Training. I’ve wondered if, with Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada returning from their teams’ early WBC exits, we should just play our Opening Day lineup every game and hope they jell. We could pull them after five or six innings to give at-bats to the other hopefuls.
I’ve wondered if we shouldn’t make a trade (Tejada to the Yankees being just one possibility) or pick up a free agent. Any free agent.
Chris Rosenbaum, a catching prospect in the Angels’ system, has a blog. In his most recent entry, in discussing Minor League camp, he says this:
So, if you are in doubt, run. Somewhere. Anywhere. Even
if you go to the wrong location, at least you will not have wasted as
much time trying to find the right location than if you were walking.
This is beginning to seem more and more like good advice for the Astros. I’m beginning to agree with everyone who wants us to pick up Pudge Rodriguez (though I’m still a fan of J.R. Towles) or Pedro Martinez (though I’m still a fan of… oh, who am I kidding?)
We don’t really have the payroll flexibility to pick up either one right now, but that’s sort of a double-edged sword. Depending on the contract Martinez would want, the chances are good that he’d pay for himself on a one-year deal in ticket sales and merchandising alone.
No one’s going to pay to watch Russ Ortiz and Brian Moehler pitch. Anyone who goes to those games would go no matter who is pitching. People will pay money specifically to see Pedro Martinez, however. With a good year, he could get the 10th-most strikeouts in the history of major league baseball. He’d join four former Astros on that list, those being the top three all time: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens, as well as Don Sutton.
Even if he doesn’t entirely pay for his own contract, he’d get us all excited about the Astros again. Right now, it’s painfully hard to be excited. I hear people who keep saying, “Looks like we’re poised to do it again! Fall way behind in the first half and then come storming back in the second!”
I don’t want to do that anymore.
I’m sick of being dead in the water in July and having to race at the end to catch up. You all know the stories – in 2005, before we stormed back to capture the NL Pennant, the Houston Chronicle ran this incredibly irresponsible photograph:
Or last season, when we were as many as 16 games back, as late as August 30th. Dead last in the NL Central as late as July 26th. But the best second half in the National League put us in the thick of the wild card race, which we eventually lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, at least in part due to some bizarre scheduling which placed our “home games” against the Cubs in Milwaukee (Miller Park is 90 miles away from Wrigley Field) while Hurricane Ike tore the Houston area apart.
Not really pertinent here, but let’s take a moment to remember what Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said while the Cubs were waiting to hear about their series with the Astros. Ryan was waiting at Wrigley Field. The Astros were at home with their families during a hurricane, still trying to determine if everyone had made it out safely:
We’re all big boys hereWhatever the situation that is thrown at us, we’ll handle it
very well. … Nobody said it was going to be easy. Sometimes you’re
going to hit speed bumps. This is a big one, but it’s all right. We’ll
be just fine.
Anyway, my point is that I’m getting rather tired of watching the team get their tail ends handed to them, only to rally back at the end of the season and have a go at it. Our farm system is depleted – there’s no help on the way right now, outside of precious few standouts.
We need to compete now.
And I can’t help but wonder if making a move – any move – might not at least be a signal that we’re trying.
And even if you go to the wrong location, at least you will not have wasted as much time trying to find the right location than if you were walking.
Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez will probably require surgery. When that surgery is going to take place seems to be the only consideration. With a fairly long recovery time, the Yankees are stuck with a third baseman who will be limited if he plays in the field, and DH is not necessarily an option, depending on whether or not Jorge Posada can catch.
The Dominican Republic’s team in the WBC seems as though it’s comfortable playing Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada at third base to cover for Rodriguez. My question is this:
Might the Yankees be interested in doing the same thing?
At some point – probably 2010 – Tejada is likely to become an everyday third baseman if he wants his Major League career to continue. The Yankees, if they were to lose Rodriguez’s production at third, suddenly find themselves behind the 8-Ball. There aren’t many third basemen who would even approach Rodriguez’s numbers. Though Tejada isn’t quite A-Rod at the plate, he’s a much better option than any currently-available free agent third basemen, and he comes with just one year left on his contract.
Many opinions are floating on the best way to replace Rodriguez, should the Yankees opt to do that. One of the more intriguing ones has 2B Robinson Cano moving to third base, and the Yankees acquiring either a free agent second baseman like Mark Grudzielanek or Ray Durham, or trading for a second baseman. Popular opinion puts Florida’s Dan Uggla at the top of this list.
But Uggla’s likely to come with a high price tag. The Marlins covet prospects, and the Yankees have quite a few that may interest them. Pitchers Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson are commonly referred to.
What I wonder, though, is if Tejada might entice the Bronx Bombers as an option. His albatross contract, which is currently strangling the Astros’ payroll, would be a drop in the bucket to the Yankees. He provides good defense and a solid bat for their lineup, and would no doubt cost less in prospects than would Uggla.
The Astros’ needs are simple, and they begin with starting pitching. In 2008, the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees had a nice crop of pitchers that helped them place first in the North Division of the International League: Hughes, Jackson, Kei Igawa, Daniel McCutcheon, Ian Kennedy, Jeff Karstens. The list goes on, but that is a group of pitchers who logged at least 60 innings with ERAs under 4 and WHIPs under 1.20.
Assuming that the Astros want a pitcher on the younger side, under the age of 28, McCutcheon, Kennedy, and Karstens have to look mighty enticing. Unfortunately, McCutcheon and Karstens were sent to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady–Damaso Marte deal in July. That leaves Ian Kennedy, as well as some more marginal options, including 24-year-old righty Jeff Marquez, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, and Zachary Kroenke, as well as youngsters Dellin Betances, Zachary McAllister, and Mark Melancon.
You can almost pick and choose any two on the list, though it’s highly unlikely the Yanks would part with Coke, who figures to be a big part of their bullpen at some point this year. Melancon, who spent time in A+, AA, and AAA ball in 2008, combined to go 8-1 with 3 saves in 95 IP, 2.27 ERA, 0.958 WHIP, 89 K, 22 BB. In my eyes, he’s easily the most intriguing option. He’ll be 24 this year, and could make a case to break into the Astros’ rotation if things falter and he stays on his current path.
The Astros would also likely want a pitcher who could pitch in the majors this year as a starter, which would be questionable for Melancon, but the Yankees are short on pitchers they might actually deal. Certainly, they won’t be giving away C.C. Sabathia, Joba Chamberlin, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, or Chien-Ming Wang without a return greater than Tejada. But what they might part with is a non-roster invitee like Brett Tomko. Tomko would be someone who might pitch a little bit at the big league level until Melancon is ready, probably in 2010.
In addition, the Astros would need to find someone to fill the gap left by Tejada. Drew Sutton, Edwin Maysonet, and Tommy Manzella would enter that debate, along with Geoff Blum. Let’s assume that Chris Johnson will become the full-time starter at third base at some point this season. I don’t think it’s unfair to ask the Yankees to send someone who can play both shortstop and third base, and they have a former Astro that fits that bill in Cody Ransom
Because Ransom would primarily be a bench utilityman, Tomko is a flyer, and Melancon would probably need time to develop, the Yankees would have to add another prospect – perhaps switch-hitting second baseman Reegie Corona – to sweeten the deal.
So there you have it: Tomko, Melancon, Ransom, and Corona for Miguel Tejada. Certainly a fair deal for the Yankees, and the Astros receive some prospects and some middling major leaguers, while ditching Tejada’s contract. The Yankees get a proven hitter who can play third base and not require them to move their established infielders around, and it would cost them a lot less than Uggla would. Sounds like a plan; let’s make it happen.