What about Houston’s other native son on the market this winter?
Chip Bailey has a nice entry up today asking questions about Carl Crawford and the Astros. He asked for readers to argue for or against signing Crawford, and most seem to be arguing against. Maybe that’s not surprising, but what is surprising to me is the number of folks arguing for signing Adam Dunn instead.
Dunn, like Crawford, is another Houston native. He will probably sign for less money per year over fewer years than Crawford, so for that reason I can understand why some would argue for him. For that reason also, I’d place better odds on Dunn signing here than on Crawford. Adam is one of the most dangerous pure power hitters of the last decade, and Houston is a team sorely lacking in power this season.
But the problem with Dunn is that the Astros basically already have the same player in Carlos Lee. Dunn is younger, yes, and with more power, but with a lower batting average, and equally bad defensively. Dunn also strikes out up to four times as often as Lee. Home runs are exciting, but strikeouts are rally killers. Would you really take 10-15 more homers per year for 120-140 more K’s?
Of course Dunn could be signed without moving Lee, but… why? Granted, sticking Adam in the middle of a lineup between Bourn, Keppinger, Lee, Pence and Chris Johnson could be downright scary for opposing pitchers, but if the whole point of playing Lee at 1B is to take away a defensive liability in LF, then why would you go out and sign a replacement for LF who will be just as bad? If Ed Wade can move Carlos Lee, then signing Dunn would make a little more sense, but where do you play him? If at 1B, you’re burying Brett Wallace for the life of Dunn’s contract. If in LF, then why not just keep Carlos? Dunn is a 3.6 WAR guy this season, as opposed to Lee’s -1.6, but that’s 3.6 as a 1B for Dunn. He was a 0.9 WAR guy last season after spending most of his games in the outfield. If he spent his entire season out there, you’d probably have a figure nearly identical to Lee’s 0.3 WAR last year. Would you spend $10-12 million next season to win maybe one more game?
Adam Dunn and Carl Crawford are both among my favorite non-Astro players, due to their Houston ties. Speaking purely as a fan, I would be excited to see either one or both in an Astros uniform eventually. But also speaking purely as a fan, I would be more excited to see the Astros win the World Series with anybody than to see them miss the playoffs again “but gosh that walkoff homer in May was great!” Signing Crawford whether you move Lee or not makes some sense; it makes a great deal of sense if you can move Lee. Signing Dunn without moving Lee makes very little sense at all, and not much more even if you do move him. Adam just doesn’t have a place on this team.
One more name that’s been mentioned: Jayson Werth. JUST SAY NO. He’s a fine player, sure, and he could likely benefit almost any team next season. But he’s just signed on to be a Scott Boras client, and Boras is already pushing for a $100 million, long-term deal. As Werth is by far the premiere power-hitting outfielder on the market this winter, he’ll probably get that deal, too. Yes, that’s also likely what it will take to sign Carl Crawford, but Crawford will be 29 next year. Werth will be 32. Crawford is more likely to be worth it over the life of the deal, and dealing with him is not dealing with
Satan Scott Boras. Boras played the Astros for a fool in the Carlos Beltran negotiations, and if Drayton McLane never does another deal with the devil guy, I wouldn’t blame him one iota. No, thank you.
Coming soon to an outfield near you?
The regular season isn’t even over yet, and already the off-season rumors are starting… which is not surprising in the least, really. But it’s drawing some attention in Houston today as the Boston Herald has linked one of the biggest names in this year’s market to the Astros.
Let me start off by saying that I will be VERY surprised if we see Carl Crawford in an Astros uniform next year. If he doesn’t stay in Tampa, I expect he’ll be lured away by the deeper pockets of the Angels or Yankees. Plus Crawford went on record recently saying that he loves the city of Houston, but “the Astros are not really winning right now,” and his friends “want to see [him] on a team that’s winning.” The Astros and their 33-18 record since July 27 can argue against that, but I’ll be surprised if their efforts are successful. I’ll be surprised, but I’ll also be surprised if they don’t at least make Crawford an offer.
The biggest barrier standing between Crawford and the Astros isn’t money; it’s Carlos Lee. Or maybe it is money, due to Lee’s contract and the difficulty that Ed Wade is certain to have in trying to get rid of it. While Lee has somewhat redeemed his season in the second half, he’s still unlikely to be worth the money he’s owed on the remainder of his contract – at least to a National League, non-DH team. His no-trade clause expires after this season, but he’ll fall into MLB’s 10/5 no-trade category if he spends next year in Houston, so it’s likely now or never if the Astros want to unload him. They’d be foolish not to try. The good news about Lee’s offensive improvement since the All-Star Break, besides the fact that he’s helped Houston win a few games, is that he’s not quite the “most untradeable player in the history of untradeable players” any longer, as Alyson Footer once put it. Some AL team ought to be willing to take a chance on him as a DH, if Houston eats a portion of his salary; I honestly suspect that his being played at 1B is an attempt by management to increase his market value, as well. Ed will still have his hands full attempting to move him, but I think it can be done.
If they can find El Caballo a happy new home, then Carl Crawford starts to make a lot more sense. Trading Lee’s -1.6 WAR for Crawford’s 4.4 instantly makes your team 6 games better. An outfield lineup of Crawford, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence would be among the best defensive trios in baseball, which would in turn make Houston’s pitching staff better (especially fly-ball lovers like J.A. Happ). Replacing Lee with Crawford would mean losing 10-15 HRs per season, which is a problem for a team that’s already last in the league in power, but Carl has actually outslugged Carlos this season – .489 v. .425 – and he helps your team win in plenty of other ways. Could you imagine the havoc wreaked on opposing pitchers with Crawford and Bourn together at the top of the lineup? Plus, of course, Crawford is a Houston native and Bourn’s (and Jason Bourgeois’) old Little League teammate. Astros fans would LOVE him.
There remains the issue of money. Crawford is likely to command a $100-million, long-term contract, or something close to it… something close to what Houston paid for Carlos Lee, come to think of it. Those kinds of contracts are rarely worth the cost in their final years, but Crawford is two years younger than Lee was when he got his six-year deal, and he’s in better physical shape to theoretically hold up longer. A few months ago, adding any kind of big name free agent this winter would have made NO sense for Houston, as the Astros seemed too far away from contending. But ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume has already predicted an NL Central title for Houston in 2011, and the amazing part is that the possibility really could be there. These Astros have been a non-losing team since June 1 and a winning team since late July, with a cast that is likely to return almost entirely next season. An entire season played at their post-May pace would put them pretty much exactly where Cincinnati is right now. Add a six-game swing like Crawford-for-Lee, and you’re looking at 97-98 wins. That’s good enough for the playoffs almost every year.
Drayton McLane likes to show the fans that he’s committed to winning. Signing Carl Crawford wouldn’t quite be like signing Roger Clemens, but it could be close. And if you’re going to spend $100 million on a player, it’s better spent on an all-around talent like Crawford than on a bat-only guy like Carlos Lee. The Astros likely wouldn’t even have to lose their 1st round draft pick next year, as they’re still sitting at #12 in the draft order right now, and all picks through #18 are protected. Those awful first two months this year may end up being the best thing that could have happened to this team.
I do have one big caveat to bringing Carl Crawford on board: J.D. Martinez. You’re not going to get Crawford on a two-year deal, which guarantees that he would still be in town by the time you expect Martinez to be ready for the majors. But consider this: Michael Bourn’s arbitration years will be up and he’ll be eligible to hit free agency following the 2012 season. I like Michael a lot, but if he continues to improve, he may price himself out of the Astros’ range by then. You figure that Martinez will start next season in Corpus, then probably move up to Oklahoma City by season’s end. He could start 2012 in OKC, or he could compete for a starting job then – making Bourn (or Hunter Pence) expendable as trade bait to fill other holes. It’s sad to think about either one of those guys leaving right now, but that’s the reason a strong farm system is so important, and that’s how good teams stay competitive for years at a time – replacing old players with new, trading surplus parts to meet needs in other areas. That’s how Houston won four NL Central titles in five years, 1997-2001.
All of that said – I still don’t expect that Crawford will sign here. I do expect that Ed Wade will try very, very hard to move Carlos Lee, if not this winter, then by July 31 next season. If that happens, and they miss out on Carl, then a guy like Pat Burrell might make a lot of sense – lower cost, would make up for most of the power lost in Lee’s departure, and likely wouldn’t still be a barrier by the time Martinez or others were ready for the bigs. I’ve been a Brian Bogusevic fan for a couple of years now, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him given a shot at the LF starting role, either. In any event, this winter is shaping up to be much more interesting than I once thought it would be…
Did you see that game last night? Did you believe what you saw? If they’re aiming to ease our pain over the loss of Lance and Roy, they’re doing a dang good job of it. Stomping on the Cardinals – it’s good for what ails ya!
If nothing else, the Astros have at least been interesting to watch over the past week, which is more than can be said about most of their 2010 season so far. While Houston is riding a 7 game winning streak, the Phillies are 2-2 and the Yankees are 0-3 since acquiring our old friends. Irony much? The Astros have climbed past the Cubs into fourth place in the NL Central, 2 games back of the Brewers for third and 12 back of Cincinnati for the lead. But as fun as the recent string of wins has been, I honestly hope they don’t climb much higher than this. Because if they somehow miraculously, ridiculously began to gain serious ground on the Cards and Reds, you can bet that Drayton will be tempted to move back into “buy” mode, where he’d spent his entire 17-year ownership until last week. This team is finally moving in the right direction, after four years seemingly without one, and turning “buyer” anytime before at least 2012 would only short circuit that.
Drayton has been reluctant to say that the Astros are in rebuilding mode now, even as it looks to everyone outside of his office that they are (or certainly should be), but I sincerely hope that’s just Drayton playing spin doctor for the press, trying to make things look better than they are as he struggles to repair a damaged franchise. Following last week’s trades, my off-season wishlist for the Astros is pretty simple:
1. Eat as much salary as you have to and trade Carlos Lee anywhere. I’m not even that picky about what they get in return. I like Carlos, but the Astros have outfield depth in the minors, and Carlos isn’t what he once was, so it’s time to move on.
2. Let Brian Bogusevic and Jason Bourgeois compete to win the starting LF job, with the other in the big leagues on the bench.
3. Bring back Jason Michaels and Geoff Blum strictly for bench roles. Do NOT bring back Pedro Feliz. Possibly bring back Berkman in Blum’s place, if he’ll accept a bench job, but I don’t see that happening. Otherwise fill out the bench with youngsters.
4. Bring back pretty much everybody else.
5. Let ’em play!
In a better year, my number one off-season desire would be to sign Carl Crawford. Even if that meant Michael Bourn’s departure; Crawford is another Houston native, and he’s my favorite non-Astros player. I would LOVE to see him play here. But adding Crawford, or any other big name free agent, doesn’t make sense for this team at this time; maybe in a couple of years, if the youngsters come of age by then, but not now. Plus adding any Type A free agent would cost the Astros what is still the #9 pick in next year’s draft, and for our still-weakened farm system, giving away draft picks and prospects is the last thing this team needs to do. So let the youngsters play in 2011, and see where you are after that.
One more immediate concern: Hey, Millsie? I like Geoff Blum. I do. But please, please, please keep him on the bench most games, and let Angel Sanchez have the shortstop job. Even before last night’s 6-RBI showcase, Sanchez has proven himself everything the Astros hoped Tommy Manzella would be, and more. He’s one of only two Houston regulars (along with Chris Johnson) hitting over .300, so for a team that has struggled so much offensively all year, why would you pull the plug on him in favor of Blum’s .252? And for a team that’s seemingly trying to get younger, why would you pull the plug on 26-year-old Sanchez for 37-year-old Blum? I enjoy watching the Astros much more when the youngsters are in the lineup, even when they make mistakes.
And Ed, while I’ve got your ear – when Tommy comes back, let Pedro go. I know you’re loyal to your former Phillies, and I know you still owe Pedro a pile of cash, but he’s played himself out of a role on this team. What I expect to happen is that either Manzella will be sent to Round Rock, or else Jason Bourgeois. But they’re both more likely to help the Astros next year than Feliz is. Maybe you’ll just wait until after September 1 to activate Tommy, then you can keep both guys on the big league roster, which is okay, I suppose. But if he comes back before then, give Pedro a chance to latch on somewhere else and finish his season strong, for his own sake as much as ours. His place is just not here.
Going for sweep #2 in St. Louis tonight, with tall Mr. Happ on the hill. Four rookies in the lineup around him. please. Seven is heaven, but eight would be great!