Tagged: brett myers

Calm after the storm, or eye of the hurricane?

So the 2011 MLB non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, and the Astros were expectedly very active. Though perhaps surprisingly less active than some/most had expected or predicted. But I don’t believe that they’re done dealing yet.

Hunter Pence is gone. Michael Bourn is gone. Jeff Keppinger is gone, too, and 9 prospects have come back in return for that trio so far, with one more yet to be named. I’m… numb. Sad. And worn out. Though less sad at this time this year than I was one year ago (Bourn & Pence don’t have nearly the Houston legacy that Oswalt & Berkman did). And maybe… more hopeful for the future now, too. Last year’s trades were a sign that the Astros recognized the need to rebuild, but other moves (like the Wandy/Myers extensions) were signs that they hadn’t yet fully embraced the idea. There’s no question that they’re in full-on rebuilding mode now. As well they should be.

It would be easy to argue that Ed Wade should have received more in return on any or all of the deals he made this month, and I might even agree with that. I’d be a good deal more enthusiastic if Domonic Brown and Mike Minor were wearing Astros pinstripes tomorrow. But regardless of what anyone – myself included – may think, reality is that the trade value for Pence & Bourn was never going to be higher than it was this week. They needed to be dealt now for the best possible return, and if this was the best than anyone else was willing to give up for them – so be it. Pull the trigger. We’ll never know if a better deal could have been had, so there’s no point in wasting further energy moaning about it now. We’ll take what we’ve got and move on. As is always true in any trade involving prospects, we won’t know for years whether these deals were honestly good ones or bad ones anyway.

What we do know now is this – the Houston farm system is notably stronger today than it was a month ago. I believe it will get stronger still this month, too, as I expect at least Wandy to find a new home before September 1, and very possibly Myers or Michaels or Barmes as well. If Myers and Wandy aren’t dealt in August, they’ll be traded over the winter, which is fine, as they don’t have the same urgency for maximum value as Bourn & Pence. Michaels and Barmes will (and should be) allowed to walk as free agents if not dealt, leaving Carlos Lee (35) as by far the elder statesman on the 2012 club. Unless by some miracle they manage to move Lee too, which would be great news for Brett Wallace and which should perhaps be the top priority for a rebuilding club. That would leave Brandon Lyon (31) as the highest paid and oldest regular on the 2012 club; I don’t expect they’ll be able to get anyone to take him on after his health & performance this season.

We also know that the Astros should officially have a new owner by the end of August. I expect we’ll have a new GM this winter, as well, and it wouldn’t shock me to see a new field manager too. Whatever else may happen, the 2012 Astros will be much younger, much less experienced… but hopefully the start of great new things. Only time will tell, but at least we know now they’re not holding onto delusions of past glories any longer. The fastest way back to success from here is to tear it down and start over.

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So… how about that 2012 Draft?

Astros fans, want to see your team dominate atop the standings again? Then look no further: http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/reversestandings/

Maybe that’s tacky, but as bad as this season has been already, I’d feel even worse about it if they somehow put on another huge late surge and play themselves out of the #1 draft spot. Fortunately (or unfortunately, take your pick), they’ve buried themselves far enough down that it will take a huge late surge to look down on anyone else. The Mariners have lost 16 straight and still lag 10 games back of worst.

So who do you like for 2012? Mock drafts abound, though of course it’s much, much too early to consider anything even remotely concrete. It’s one of the few things Astros fans have to look forward to these days, however, so it’s fun to speculate. The consensus seems to be that there’s no consensus – no Bryce Harper or Steven Strasburg this year – but there does seem to be a lot of chatter about Lance McCullers and Mark Appel. Both are exciting prospects, I’ll grant, but I’m leery of taking any pitcher #1 overall. Sure, you’ve got David Price, but you’ve got a longer list of luminaries such as Brian Bullington, Matt Anderson, Paul Wilson, Kris Benson, Ben McDonald and Brien Taylor. Even Strasburg is still hurt, and who knows if he’ll be the same? The Astros are a team sorely lacking in power, so I’d much rather see them go after a Trey Williams or a Victor Roache. Or… I’m really starting to like this Nick Williams kid out of Galveston Ball. We shall see what we shall see…

Our other hope of a bright spot right now is Sunday’s looming trade deadline, and is it bad that I’d be most excited to see Bourn, Pence, Myers, Wandy and Barmes all wearing opposing uniforms on August 1? Not that I have anything against any of those guys – Bourn, Pence and Wandy in particular are favorites – but the 2011 Astros are truly, historically bad. Their bad-ness may be the best thing that could happen to this franchise right now, as it’s unmasked entirely the need for rebuilding, with no false hope of contention left to hide behind. For a team with this many holes, the fastest way back to contention is to trade every veteran you can for the best prospects that you can, then let the young guys grow up together (see: 1991 Astros, who laid the groundwork for the most successful decade in franchise history).

I’m as eager as anyone for the Astros to get on with the future and blow up the roster now, but I don’t expect all five of those guys to be gone by next week. But, y’know – that’s okay. With the exception of Barmes, it’s important to remember that none of the Astros’ key veterans are in line for free agency this winter. So anybody they don’t trade now, they could still move for prospects in the off-season. It could be argued that they’ll get better value in the heat of a pennant race, but that’s not always necessarily the case, so it behooves the club to find the best possible deal. No, they shouldn’t set their asking price so high now that they’ll be forced to take a lesser deal later, but neither should they trade anybody now just for the sake of offloading them immediately. It’s an inexact science, and it’s maddening, but the flexibility is ultimately better than having their hand forced by expiring contracts right now. Or it should be. I’ll be most upset if the team doesn’t look drastically different – and younger – by 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

Wish List for a Lost Season

“Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us.” -Heinrich Heine

These are sad days to be an Astros fan. The first domino has fallen with the trade of Jeff Keppinger this week, and over the next 10 days we expect to hear of several more. I’m on board with that; our Astros, in their 50th season, appear to be worse in 2011 than they’ve ever been before. I feel like it will be a huge upset if they don’t end up beating the 1991 squad for the worst record in Houston history, if they don’t end up over 100 losses and last in the big leagues this year. Admittedly, nothing that happens the remainder of this month will likely be quite as depressing as the weekend before July 31 last year, when we learned how it would have felt to see Bagwell and Biggio in opposing uniforms. But as we wait for news about who else is leaving town, and as we wait to face nemesis Carlos Zambrano this afternoon, my mind turns to thoughts of the ways that Brad Mills & Co. can make the remainder of 2011 more exciting than a race for the #1 draft pick.

Catcher: We love Humberto Quintero. He’s not Brad Ausmus, and he’s not Tony Eusebio, but we love him nonetheless. Q paired with any available backup on hand is fine; there’s not much wrong you can do here, other than rushing Jason Castro back from his knee surgery. If Castro is legitimately ready to go by September, then I’d love to see him, as Q really shouldn’t be more than a backup. But as long as Jason gets the lion’s share of the starts in 2012, then I’ll be happy.

First Base: Brett Wallace. All the way. Let’s start seeing Brick every day regardless, and quit with this Carlos-Lee-at-1B-versus-lefties nonsense. Whether Astros management manages to trade El Caballo, releases him, benches him or just lets him play out his contract, it’s certain that Lee won’t be here beyond September 2012. Brett Wallace will. You’re not gonna win this season, it’s overwhelmingly likely that you won’t win next season either, and Brick is one of the few young talents that Houston has, so let him play and prove for himself whether he’s an everyday guy or only a platoon player.

Second Base: Jose Altuve is the brightest spot in the 2011 season so far. I certainly didn’t expect to see him before September at the soonest, or 2012, but I’m all about running him out there every day now that he’s here. I like Matt Downs a lot, but giving him or Angel Sanchez even 1/4 of the starts here would be infuriating. Let’s go, Mighty Mouse!!

Third Base: I’m a Chris Johnson kinda guy. Sure, I know that his defense is less than great, and his bat has dropped off even more than expected from last year, but his bat has also been a lot better the last several weeks than it was during a dismal start to the season, so his overall numbers are misleading. I know that Matt Downs deserves more time, too, but CJ has not (IMO) played himself out of this job yet. Let him keep it for the rest of 2011, unless he gets awful again, then let him and Downs duke it out in Kissimmee next Spring.

Shortstop: This is a tough one. As long as Clint Barmes is here, the job should be his, but I don’t see Clint in our long-term plans. He may not even be in our plans at all (hello, Milwaukee) after the next 10 days. But if/when he’s gone? Angel Sanchez is great off the bench, and I know that Matt Downs is more of a 2B/3B guy than SS, but this is where I’d be inclined to give Downs more time. If you want to give Angel the majority of the starts, that’s fine, but don’t let him take time away from Altuve and CJ. And don’t go back to Tommy Manzella. This is a stop-gap position until one of our middle infield prospects (Paredes? Villar? Mier? …Sutil?) is ready for the Show.

Outfield: No one knows what to expect here. I strongly doubt that Ed Wade will be able to send Carlos Lee anywhere, so as long as he’s here, leave him in LF. Michael Bourn is (or should be) serious trade bait, but Hunter Pence’s name is drawing a lot more attention than Michael’s, so who knows if he’ll be moved at all. I really… don’t want the Astros to trade Hunter, but reality is that he’ll likely hit free agency by the time that Houston is a legitimate contender again, and he should fetch better prospects than anyone else on the current Astros roster. So moving him might be the smartest thing that they could do, and I kind of expect now that it will happen. I’d really like to see Bourn traded, too; he’ll hit free agency – under Scott Boras – a year before Hunter, so you’ll probably get more for him now than next year, when he would be a “rental.” Jason Bourgeois is back from the DL today, so assuming that Pence and Bourn move and Lee doesn’t, I’d like to see a Lee-Bourgeois-Bogusevic outfield to finish out 2011. Though I know we’re more likely to see Jason Michaels than Bogey, but I don’t see Jason here beyond this year either, so I’ll be frustrated if they don’t give Bogey the shot. Unless they get somebody back in trade that can play outfield immediately, too. Or they put J.D. Martinez on the Altuve Express and don’t make him wait for a call until El Caballo rides off into the sunset. Summary: Whatever. But just not Michaels.

Pitching: Jordan Lyles is the other brightest spot for the 2011 Astros, and I’m thrilled to hear that he’s on an innings limit. If that means we get a month of Nelson Figueroa or Ryan Rowland-Smith in September, so be it; Jordan Lyles is VERY much a part of Houston’s future plans, so he needs to be protected more than the 2011 squad needs to win one or two more games. Bud Norris has been another big bright spot, better than I thought he’d be, so he should be a part of the grander plan as well. J.A. Happ has been mostly a black hole this season, but he is still young, so there’s no harm in continuing to run him out there and hope that he figures it out. Really though, we might see a lot more of Figgy or Hyphen before September, because I don’t expect Wandy or Brett Myers to be wearing Houston pinstripes after next week either. So let’s move Aneury Rodriguez back to the rotation and see what he’s got. Old or not, I’d love to see Andy Van Hekken get a shot. Then if you need a starter after those two guys, give Figgy or Hyphen a call. Of course trade acquisitions are the wild card here, too, but based on who we know we’ve got, I’ll be happy to finish the year with Aneury and Andy at the back end of the rotation.

I know that I haven’t touched on the bullpen, but that’s been so fluid for the last few years that I hesitate to name names. I like Mark Melancon a lot, and Wilton Lopez. We know that Brandon Lyon is under contract for next season – fine. He’s good when healthy. But the fundamental point of this whole exercise is to say: Give the young guys a chance. Angel Sanchez is not your savior for the future, nor is Jason Michaels. Nor is Carlos Lee at first base. If we can see more Castro, and Wallace, and Altuve, and CJ, more Bogey and Bourgeois and maybe some J.D. next year, then I’ll be excited even if we lose 100 games again. I know that even all of those guys aren’t likely the long-term answers, but they’re all a step in the right direction until the pipeline on the farm starts a steady flow again. If “these are our Astros,” then let’s make that so and stop giving time to guys that won’t be here when our future Astros arrive.

Special Ks

The cold days of winter are wearing on and the Hot Stove market is burning out – it’s been all but frozen in Houston since the Bill Hall signing – while Spring Training games remain a few weeks away yet, so there’s not been much to talk about in Astroland. Jeff Bagwell HOF talk has died down until next winter at least, and no significant news has emerged on the Astros’ “For Sale” front. This makes it a great time to look back, and while I’ve also got thoughts to share about Bagwell and about Houston’s moderate moves this off-season, a bit of research on another topic motivated this post.

Namely this: It’s long been interesting to me, but any fan even casually acquainted with Astros history should be able to tell you – Houston loves the strikeout. LOVES it. From Houston pitchers, obviously, as no one loves to see their own hitters getting fanned (though Astros fans can at least take pride in last season that no other NL team’s offense struck out less). Maybe it started with J.R. Richard, maybe it started with Nolan Ryan, maybe it has much to do with the majority of the franchise’s history still tied to the pitcher-friendly Astrodome. It can’t hurt that both Ryan and Roger Clemens are Houston-area residents. So can any other franchise lay a stronger claim to legendary K-Men than the Astros?
As a kid in Houston in the ’80s, I had twin giant posters of Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan on my wall. I grew up in the shadow of Roger Clemens’ high school. My favorite regular Astrodome moment was hearing The Rifleman theme echo under the roof whenever a Houston pitcher whiffed an opponent. I was indoctrinated early on the love of the strikeout, and I’m a bigger fan of pitcher’s duels than of slugfests to this day. Thanks to the power of the Internet (and the wonderful baseball-reference.com), I’ve been able to look back at just how much the strikeout has dominated Houston baseball history.
The obvious, of course, is Houston’s tie to Nolan Ryan, who spent more seasons in an Astros uniform (nine) than that of any other team. But all three of the top all-time strikeout pitchers – Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Clemens – spent time in Houston. So did #7 (Don Sutton) and #15 (Curt Schilling) on the career K list. Of all pitchers to record at least 290 strikeouts in a season in the last 35 years, only one – Pedro Martinez – has never suited up for the Astros. Houston can lay at least some claim to all of the other six – Ryan, Johnson, Clemens, Schilling, Richard, and Scott.
If you want to protest (legitimately) than most of those big years – particularly Johnson’s and Schilling’s – occurred outside of Houston, then also consider that since Richard’s first full season in 1975, the Astros have landed at least one starter in the NL’s top 10 for strikeouts every season but six (1990, 1994, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008), and Doug Drabek’s 121 in ’94 only missed the top 10 due to a tie for 9th at 122 between Steve Avery and Denny Neagle. (I count Roy Oswalt for 2010 because he recorded 120 of his 193 Ks last year with the Astros, even though he finished the season in Philly.) The dominance doesn’t end with starters, either, as among guys with at least 500 career IP, both of the top two pitchers all-time in career SO/9 – Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner – are Houston farm products and long-time Astros.
Oswalt is gone this year, of course, but it’s still well possible that Houston’s string could continue; both Wandy Rodriguez (8th 2009) and Brett Myers (3rd 2005, 5th 2006) have been top 10 strikeout guys before. With 158 SO in 153.2 IP last season, Bud Norris is certainly capable too, if he can stay consistent in 2011.
The truly legendary, dominant strikeout pitcher was missing from baseball last year, following Randy Johnson’s retirement in 2009. The current active pitcher with the most Ks in a season is Justin Verlander, with 269 in ’09, and the active career leader is either Jamie Moyer (if he pitches this year) at #36 all-time, or else Javier Vasquez at #40. Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana are probably the poster strikeout guys now, but both recorded only (“only”) 265 in their respective best seasons so far. Santana, by the way… is of course also an Astros farm product, though he never pitched in Houston before famously being lost to Minnesota.
No real point to this post other than that – just interesting historical analysis. I’ll be very interested to see where the next 300 K guy comes from. Have we seen him yet (Strasburg?), or is he yet to come?

The times, they are a-changin’…

So. Wow. What is there for Astro fans to say about the past weekend that hasn’t already been said? Roy was expected, and while it was sad indeed to see him go, at least we had two and a half months to know that it was likely coming. We knew it might happen with Lance too, but I didn’t truly expect that it would until it was already upon us. Losing both him and Roy within 48 hours of each other made their departures all the sadder than losing either one alone. As fan blogger Chip Bailey said, has there ever been a darker weekend in Astros history? 

I know it was necessary. I know it’s for the good of the team. I know that the Astros are closer  today to being competitive again than they were four or five days ago, and I wanted these trades to happen – both of them – before they did happen, or at least that’s what I told myself. But as a lifelong Astros diehard, it still hurts.
There was one scary winter in the mid-’90s – 1995, I believe it was – when Craig Biggio became a free agent for the first time. He’d already been an Astro for eight years by that point, but the other teams came courting. The Yankees, in particular I recall, were interested, and New York is Bidge’s home state, so everyone in Houston feared that he would skip town for the Big Apple. That story had a happy ending, as he resigned with Houston, ultimately retiring as a career Astro 12 years later. I dreaded the thought that winter of seeing one of our own in Yankee pinstripes. I know exactly how that feels now. I tried watching Yankees and Phillies highlight reels over the weekend, but I had to walk away.
But I dwell too much in the darkness of these deals. I’m happy for Lance and Roy, excited for both of them. I’ll get used to seeing them in opposing uniforms, the same way I got used to seeing Billy Wagner with the Phillies after 9 years an Astro. I hope they both end up with championship rings, as Brad Lidge did two years ago. I’m excited for the youngsters that they’ve brought in, too – J.A. Happ impressing in his Houston debut, and Brett Wallace earning his first big league hit yesterday afternoon. I’m excited that Carlos Lee is the only everyday Astros regular over 30 years old now, and I hope that this winter, Ed Wade will do what he just did twice and take whatever steps necessary to move Carlos out of the way for younger talent to break through (Brian Bogusevic, I’m looking at you). Not that I hate El Caballo like it seems many do these days, but as with Lance and Roy, the team will be better off in the long run if they can move him for almost anything now. I like the Brett Myers extension, even though many wanted him traded too; he’s younger than Wandy, and without many or any additional youngsters ready to step into the rotation right now, his innings-eating tendencies should prove very valuable while the best of the youngsters rise to the top around him in the next few years.
It feels like 2010 may be the return of the 1990 Astros – a team that’s been hanging onto players from past glories (’86) finally trades a couple of fan favorites (Bill Doran, Glenn Davis) while a few youngsters are taking over (Biggio, Ken Caminiti). If Wade can move Lee in the off-season and doesn’t make any dumb veteran signings, then 2011 could be the return of 1991, with the oldest regular being a 30-year-old 2B (Casey Candaele vs. Jeff Keppinger). ’91 was a rough year in the standings, but watching all those kids was fun.
At least the Astros managed a sweep of Milwaukee while the off-field drama played itself out. May it be the sign of better things to come. At long last, things are looking up in Astroland.

Roy-mors, Roy-mors everywhere…

Is it sad when fans are more interested in their team’s off-field dealings than what they’re doing on the field? I believe that it is sad, and yet such is how I find myself feeling. Such it will likely continue until this week is over.

When last we spoke, Roy Oswalt had just recorded career win #143, the All-Star Break was looming, and Cliff Lee had just been dealt to the Texas Rangers. Now the All-Star Break is over, Dan Haren has just changed addresses from Arizona to Anaheim, and Roy Oswalt still has 143 career wins. More significantly, he’s still in an Astros uniform. Whether that last will still be true come Sunday is the cause of much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, by Roy himself, by Astros management, and by seemingly all Astros faithful.
Astros team president Tal Smith said yesterday that he expects Oswalt to be gone from Houston by week’s end, and he expected things to start heating up today. According to the reports, the Dodgers, Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals were all in town to scout Roy’s outing on Saturday, so those four at least seem to be interested. Now that Dan Haren is off the market, more clubs may be interested as well. With all of the many, many rumors (or Roy-mors) floating around in the past week, it would seem that a deal could happen any minute, and yet the reports are so conflicting that it seems like nothing may happen at all. Welcome to life on a “seller” club before the MLB trade deadline.
Roy wants to go to St. Louis. The Astros seem to prefer Philadelphia, if the Phillies can come up with suitable prospects, perhaps by dealing Jayson Werth to the Rays. The Rays apparently don’t want Werth. Roy seems to not want Philadelphia, and Houston really, really does not want to deal with St. Louis – their farm system is even worse than ours, and the very thought of Roy O in a Cardinals uniform is abhorrent to almost every Astros fan. The Dodgers reportedly “kicked the tires” on Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers before starting to focus on Roy, but the Astros reportedly would need to be “overwhelmed” to deal either Wandy or Brett, so how much moreso for Oswalt? The Astros may be looking at Houstonian James Loney from L.A., but where does he fit with Lance Berkman still on the team? Or is Berkman soon to be dealt too? And the Yankees… well, they came out of nowhere to almost land Cliff Lee, so why shouldn’t they be players for Roy too? Speculation is that NYC may be too “big time” for quiet country boy Oswalt, but old pal Andy Pettitte is there, and Andy talked Roger Clemens into the Astros before. Couldn’t he talk Roy into the Yankees?
It’s a mess. A certified, grade A, first class mess. But at this point, I really do think that Roy needs to go. His not-so-secret desire to go to St. Louis is damaging his standing with Houston fans, and I suspect with Houston teammates and management too. It seems he’s starting to burn bridges. He’s scheduled to start again on Friday night, for his last shot at tying Joe Niekro’s club wins record, but wouldn’t it almost be fitting now if he finishes one win shy? As a symbol of why he’s so frustrated with Houston, a symbol of the championship he couldn’t quite achieve as an Astro, and so he wants to pick up his toys and move to a different sandbox. It’s a symbol of the sacred place in Houston hearts that he could have had, did have, as the greatest pitcher in pitching-rich Astros history… but now he’s alienating himself from the fans that loved him so long, so will they ever love him the same? It’s not nearly King James to South Beach, but it’s approaching a Houstonian version of that.
I want to wish Roy well wherever he goes. Brad Lidge’s story with the 2008 World Series champ Phillies is the closest thing to redemption that the 2005 Astros may ever see, but I’d love to cheer Roy onto to a championship elsewhere if he can’t get one here. Roy to St. Louis, though… I don’t think I could do it. I would wish him well individually, but I could not cheer for his team. Roy to Yankees would only be slightly less easy to swallow than St. Louis, but by this point… I don’t hate Roy. I don’t think I ever will. But he needs to be gone. It’s better for both Roy and the Astros in the long run if he’s not here after this week, almost regardless of what they get in return. Certainly I want to see Houston get the best deal they possibly can for Oswalt, but if they come down to Saturday evening and still haven’t been “overwhelmed,” then the best possible less-than-ideal deal is better than no deal at all. Roy is not going to help the Astros back to the World Series while he’s still playing, so any young players who might help towards that end would help more than standing pat.
Which is why I’d also like to see the Astros deal Brett Myers and/or Wandy Rodriguez for prospects if they can, too. Likewise Lance Berkman, or I think there’s a strong chance that Lance will walk away in free agency this winter. Keep the young core guys that you already have – Pence, Bourn, Johnson, Castro, Lindstrom, Paulino. But really everyone else should be fair game.
Maybe that’s asking too much. At least start with Roy, and both sides will be happier in the end. There’s a game tonight, but I’m more interested in watching my RSS feed reader for any new trade news. This is Astroland 2010.