The Houston Astros are suffering from a string of bad backs. Kazuo Matsui and Jeff Keppinger, the two primary options at second base, are both out with bad backs, though he was able to pinch-hit yesterday.
Also, Jose Valverde has been suffering from some back woes.
I have a bad back, so I know how awful it can be when it tightens up. I can’t even imagine playing baseball like that.
So it came as good news when the reports started coming in that guys were starting to feel better. Matsui said, “I feel fine… I want to start (today).”
Keppinger, who has ridiculous splits, will be available for the Dodgers series, with lefties Clayton Kershaw, Eric Stults, and Randy Wolf set to pitch. “I will be ready for the Dodgers,” he said. “Even if I’m not ready, I’ll be ready.”
This is good, because Cecil Cooper was beginning to sound crazy again.
Rodriguez has played some third base, which gives me an option of
moving Blum around a little bit,” Cooper said. “As funny as it might
sound, Darin Erstad has played a little bit of infield.
“And, heck, I might even have to stick him in some place. He’s lefthanded, but I have to think of someplace.
“Michael Bourn has played second base before and shortstop. Carlos Lee’s a third baseman.
some options. I got some things. If we get to the point we need to, we
can get creative. Jason Michaels told me he played third base one
inning in this place, this ballpark. So we got options. Did I say they
were (good) options? But we got options. ”
Could you imagine this starting lineup trotting out for the Astros?
2B Michael Bourn
CF Darin Erstad
RF Hunter Pence
3B Carlos Lee
1B Geoff Blum
C Ivan Rodriguez
LF Jason Michaels
SS Jason Smith
I would quit. Seriously, I would quit baseball.
You should add me on Twitter and get brilliant in-game insight from my twisted mind. Okay, well that’s not entirely true. But you should add me anyway.
I’ve loved Heath Bell ever since he got to the San Diego Padres. I don’t know why; maybe I like fat guys with facial hair, since I happen to be a fat guy with facial hair. Maybe it’s because he always reminded me of former Astro, and his teammate in San Diego, Scott Linebrink.
Another fat guy with facial hair.
But anyone who says that he lost 25 pounds in the offseason because the Wii Fit told him was obese is okay in my book.
He recently became, I believe, the first actual player to come out and say what many of us have been saying about ESPN for years:
“I saw ESPN’s promo for tonight’s game. They mention the Mets are
opening Citi Field, they mentioned the starting time, but nowhere did
they mention the Padres. . . .
“I truly believe ESPN only cares about promoting the Red Sox and
Yankees and Mets – and nobody else,” said the closer, a former Met.
“That’s why I like the MLB Network, because they promote everybody. I’m
really turned off by ESPN and ‘Baseball Tonight.’ When Jake Peavy
threw 8 1/3 innings on Saturday, they showed one pitch in the third
inning and that was it. It’s all about the Red Sox, Yankees and Mets.”
ESPN jumped the shark years ago, and in some ways I empathize. Yankees-Sox is sexy. The Cubs are an easy team to write about – they have a backstory that lazy journalists only need to recite, and it creates drama. The Mets, Yankees, and Red Sox are in ESPN’s backyard. And yes, these teams sell. They have huge national followings, and casual sports fans care about them.
The network is not a leader in the world of analysis or real sports news, and shouldn’t be counted on as such. I can’t watch ESPN anymore, at least not for baseball. This isn’t really news, but good for Heath Bell for stepping up and saying it, anyway.
No, this isn’t about what you think it’s about. It’s just a clever title. Over at The Hardball Times, Craig Calcaterra tells a very cool story (albeit it one with a very sad ending.) He recently took his son to Lids to allow him to choose his favorite baseball cap, rather than force his own favorite team onto his son.
Now, I appreciate this, as I’m not a huge fan of parents who basically make their kids fans of their own favorite teams. My dad tried that with Ohio State University, and now I’m about the biggest Michigan fan you’ll meet.
I love the idea of letting your kid pick a team based on their favorite hat (even though the worst possible scenario happened in this case, when his son picked a Chicago Cubs hat), and it got me to wondering: What team would I pick now if I had to do it all over again, knowing nothing about the teams, looking solely at the caps.
I have to say, looking through a large block of caps, I probably would choose the Detroit Tigers. I like the classic look, with the old-English style D. Of course, a big part of how I chose my favorite team was that they had some of my favorite players at the time. When I was ten, Alan Trammell was one of my favorite players. So I could easily have become a fan of a 104-58 team in 1984; and then been a fan of a 43-119 team in 2003.
If I was choosing a team now based on my favorite players, though, I wonder who I would pick. I can’t really say that there’s one team with a chunk of players I like the way I liked Jose Cruz, Kevin Bass, Bill Doran, Terry Puhl, Dickie Thon, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, and Jim DeShaies back in 1987.
I certainly like a lot of the current Astros players, but that’s largely because I’m already an Astros fan. Honestly, I would probably end up choosing – of all teams – the San Francisco Giants. Tim Lincecum, Rich Aurilia, Randy Johnson, Bengie Molina, Pablo Sandoval, Randy Winn, Matt Cain… these are all players I really like. I can’t think of another large group of guys I like that much.
So I could have been a fan of the Giants or Tigers. Fantastic. I sure can pick ’em.
One of the few competitions in Spring Training was for the fifth infielder position. Manager Cecil Cooper decided that he wanted a backup shortstop who could play other positions, so that he could give Miguel Tejada more rest.
That decision – instead of getting a second baseman who could handle other positions, thereby allowing the Astros to plug someone in when Kazuo Matsui inevitably went down to injury – led to a severe mishandling of David Newhan. Newhan, a second baseman by trade, was never really given a chance to fail, despite being better than most of the other candidates.
Jason Smith had a torrid Spring and earned the spot. He is now 0-for-2009, and is exhibiting his massively-limited range at second base. Why? Because, surprise of surprises, Kazuo Matsui went down with a bad back. Jeff Keppinger, who is slated to fill in all over the infield, is also out with back woes.
Though Drew Sutton might not have been ready to come up anyway, he is certainly not an option now that he has been named as the PTBN in the Keppinger deal. There are no other legitimate second-base options in the system.
That leaves Smith, struggling. Exactly as everyone predicted.
Oh, and Tejada? No days off yet.
Gee, who would have predicted any of that? Oh, right. Everyone. Well, everyone but Cecil Cooper.
And for all of this horrible mishandling of such a basic position battle, it was announced today that Cooper would be retained through the 2010 season. Perfect.
What Happened Was…
Houston Astros (MLB) – We all know Wandy Rodriguez can pitch at Minute Maid Park. He had his curveball working today, and allowed just two hits, striking out 10 (including five consecutive) in 7.0 innings and earning his first win of the season. Carlos Lee was 3-for-3 with an RBI, 2 runs, and a walk.
Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Express tried their hardest to lose, giving up three runs in the bottom of the eighth, but luckily they’d just scored three in the top of the eighth, as well, and beat the Iowa Cubs (CHC) 7-5. 2 home runs from Reggie Abercrombie and another from Mark Saccomanno paced the offense. Abercrombie went 2-for-3 with 4 RBI, and Saccomanno went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI. Bud Norris made it 5.1 innings, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks to go with his 6 strikeouts. Chad Paronto earned his second save, giving up just one hit and striking out two in as many innings.
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks took a 5-3 lead into the ninth inning, and ended up losing to the Tulsa Drillers (COL) 6-5. Douglas Arguello pitched well, going 5.2 innings with 7 strikeouts, allowing 3 runs on as many hits, along with 2 walks. Paul Estrada made it just 0.2 innings before giving up 3 runs to lose the game. SS Wladimir Sutil had a career night, going 2-for-2 with 2 walks, stole 3 bases, and scored 2 runs.
Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – The Jethawks allowed 3 runs in the fifth inning, falling to the High Desert Mavericks (SEA), 4-2. David “The Other David Duncan” Duncan continued to struggle on the mound, with 4.2 IP and 3 ER, raising his ERA on the season to 14.85. Offseason acquisition Chia-Jen Lo threw 1.1 perfect innings in relief, striking out three. The offense sputtered; Jason Castro went 1-for-4 and Koby Clemens went 0-for-1 off the bench. Jack Shuck was the only Jethawk with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 and stealing a base. Phillipe Aumont, who I got on Wednesday throwing a bullpen, threw a perfect 1.1 innings in relief.
Lexington Legends (A) – The Legends continued to own the West Virginia Power (PIT), 4-0. Starter Robert Bono didn’t blow anyone away, but allowed just 5 hits and no walks through 6.0 innings to get the win. He’s now thrown 11.0 shutout innings and stands at 2-0. Jack Tilghman pitched the final three innings to earn the save, striking out 4 innings and allowing three hits and no walks. 1B Kody Hinze went 1-for-2 with a home run and a walk. OF Jay Austin finally had a good night, as well, going 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk, a run, and an RBI. He also stole his first base of the season, but also got caught on an attempt.
When the Astros traded a Player To Be Named (PTBN) to the Cincinnati Reds for infielder Jeff Keppinger, it was widely considered to be a pretty darned good move. We’d filled a need at third base, as well as adding a bench player who could fill in at several positions on an as-needed basis.
And though we didn’t know who we’d be giving up to get him, the understanding was that it would be a minor leaguer; perhaps one with a little upside, but since the Astros were making the deal with a position of power – since Keppinger was out of options, the Reds would have to expose him to waivers before they sent him down. At least by making this trade, they were going to get something for the loss of Keppinger.
Today, that “something” was announced, in the form of Drew Sutton.
With a farm system ranked #30 out of 30, the Astros don’t have a lot of top-end prospects to build the future of the club around. Tommy Manzella, Sutton, Chris Johnson, Bud Norris, and Brian Bogusevic are pretty much the only prospects currently in the system with immediate major league-ready talent.
Losing Sutton makes a significant dent in that limited talent pool. Though Keppinger has been very hot in his Astros career, his long-term value is not great. Once Johnson is promoted to the Majors, Geoff Blum will be moved to the bench, leaving Jason Smith and Keppinger as the options for utility infielder. Even assuming Kazuo Matsui has to miss extended time, as usual, making Keppinger the starting second baseman; beyond this season, it’s hard to see where he fits in.
Sutton, on the other hand, is the team’s second baseman of the future. One of the major reasons the Astros organizations is in the shape it’s currently in is that we’ve given up too much value for too little a return. Five players for Miguel Tejada, for instance. Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz, and Jason Hirsh for Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio. I’m sure I don’t need to go on.
I appreciate what Jeff Keppinger brings to the table this season, but to give up one of the very few top-end prospects we’ve got in the system is, once again, overpaying.
I officially don’t know what to say after today’s 7-0 debacle in Pittsburgh, except thank goodness there’s a day off tomorrow.
I’ll hand it off to MusicMan at SpikesnStars.com:
I will hereby put more effort into this recap than the Astros appeared to put into today’s game:
Moehler left with a sprained knee, Matsui left with a stiff back,
the team’s best non-Oswalt pitcher was burned in mop-up duty, Cooper
threw out a panic-induced lineup (again), Berkman struck out with
aplomb, Pence was the most patient hitter on the team, Cooper
completely mismanaged the only scoring opportunity in the game, and
through 7 games, the Astros have been outscored 43-16.
I will only add that at least Jeff Keppinger continues to hit. He started at third and moved to second when Matsui had his annual “fissure,” and went 1-for-2 with a double and a walk.
Zach Duke and Kyle Lohse have pitched consecutive complete game shutouts of the Astros, and both were the best games of their respective careers.
As a certain Astros Fan in Exile has pointed out:
There was a time at the beginning of last season when it seemed like
every opposing pitcher was an ace. Game after game, their pitcher was
having a big game, and our guys just couldn’t figure him out.
Unfortunately, this pattern seems to be recurring in the early days
The offseason and Spring Training leading up to the 2009 season wasn’t exactly spectacular for the Houston Astros. Ty Wigginton, the incumbent third baseman, was non-tendered. Coming into camp, the likeliest scenario for his replacement was a platoon of Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone.
The hole at catcher was plugged at Ivan Rodriguez, a move that left me largely unsatisfied, as I’ve talked about before. The fifth starter spot went from Brandon Backe to Russ Ortiz, which is a slight upwards move, but does not make up for the additional loss of Randy Wolf‘s 16.1 VORP went un-replaced, unless you count Mike Hampton‘s paltry 6.6.
When Boone left the team to have open heart surgery, it opened a big hole at third base. The options seemed to be to prematurely promote Christopher Johnson, or to go with Blum as the everyday option at third. Blum has value, but it’s largely as a utility infielder off the bench: A defensive third baseman who plays shortstop, second, and first, and provides a switch-hitting option off the bench.
Today, though, General Manager Ed Wade may well have redeemed his poor offseason by trading for the Cincinnati Reds’ Jeff Keppinger, primarily to play third base. A lot of fans won’t know much about Keppinger, who has only strung together 876 at-bats over periods of four seasons with the Reds, New York Mets, and Kansas City Royals. He’s a natural second baseman, but has gotten more time at shortstop in the majors than at any other position.
His career line is .287/.338/.390, which is not fantastic, but it does include time missed tending to – and recovering from – a fractured tibial plateau. In other words, the shin bone was broken at the knee, which is the same injury Jermaine Dye suffered once upon a time. His .322/.375/.423 line in the minors (including .338/.380/.432 in AAA action) gives him a lot of upside, despite the fact that he will turn 29 in April.
Should Johnson prove himself in Round Rock and merit a mid-season promotion, Keppinger becomes a great utility player off of the bench. And he was acquired for a PTBN or cash – far superior to a free agent signing, or spending a top-line prospect, who are preciously few in the Astros’ system.
Three available players interested me – Keppinger, Colorado’s Jeff Baker, and Florida’s Dallas McPherson – but I absolutely love this move. In fact, I would say it’s redemption for Wade’s otherwise-mediocre offseason.
PECOTA had Keppinger slotted at a VORP of 11.6, with just 457 plate appearances at three positions (as well as pinch-hitting). They have him slated for a .342 OBP. Keeping him at third and moving Blum to the bench gives a swing of 3.5-4.0 wins, by my estimation.
To me, this unsuspecting move – which won’t raise a lot of eyebrows among casual fans – is the single-most exciting news I’ve gotten all day. I love this move.