Tagged: pat burrell

To market, to market

This week’s series in Washington clearly didn’t go the way Brad Mills & Co. would have liked. The Astros came into town needing to win at least three of the four games to have a realistic shot at that .500 record – and really, they should have won three of these four – but they ended up losing three of four instead. Mathematically, they’ve still got a shot at .500 and/or catching the Cardinals, but realistically, it’s time to place the emphasis on gearing up for 2011. In 10 days, there will be no more Astros baseball until February 27 of next year.

Thus begins the long five-month wait without baseball. Every baseball fan’s favorite pastime during the winter is to play armchair GM and argue about the personnel moves they believe their team should make before the next season. I’m no different, and I’ve already talked about two potential big signings in previous posts. Putting on my Ed Wade hat, I present my off-season Astros shopping list:
  1. Trade Carlos Lee. I don’t hate the guy like some do, but the Astros are in a different place now than they were when they signed him, and they have other guys that could better fill his roster spot in the final two years of his contract. They’ll probably have to eat a good portion of his salary to move him, but so be it. If they can bring back a shortstop or a healthy big league starter in return, do it!
  2. Put in an offer on Carl Crawford. After they likely lose out on him, go put in an offer on Pat Burrell. Burrell has a 2.6 WAR for San Francisco in LF this season (versus Lee’s -1.6); he should provide at least as much offense as Lee has this season, for less money, on a two-year deal with no restrictions on trading him should youngsters develop faster or better than expected. If they lose out on Burrell too, keep the money and hand Brian Bogusevic the starting job in LF.
  3. Put in an offer on Jon Garland. Houston very nearly snagged him via trade before the 2007 season, only to end up with Jason Jennings instead. (Oops.) You have four rotation spots locked up in Myers, Rodriguez, Happ and Norris, but I’m still not sold enough on Bud’s consistency to hand him the #4 spot outright. Felipe Paulino was looking great before he got hurt, but he’s yet to stay healthy through an entire big league season. Brian Moehler could be a reliable #5 guy, but he’s also old and has been hurt a lot. Nelson Figueroa looked great through his first four starts and has looked not so great through his last four. And Jordan Lyles is still very young; I’d rather give him a full season at AAA. I’m more comfortable signing another innings eater like Garland and giving the #5 spot to Bud.
  4. Resign Humberto Quintero, Geoff Blum and Jason Michaels for the bench. They’ve mixed well with Houston’s youngsters so far, so if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
  5. Lock up Wandy on a long-term deal. Brett Myers got his extension; it’s Wandy’s turn! Hunter Pence deserves a long-term deal too, but he’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season, so they’ve got some time to work with him yet.
I realize that this team could use a shortstop too, but the free agent class there this year is underwhelming at best (Alex Gonzalez? Julio Lugo?), so I’d rather stick with Angel Sanchez if they can’t get a starting shortstop back in return for Lee. Given all of that, my ideal Opening Day 2011 roster would look like this:
C: Jason Castro
1B: Brett Wallace
2B: Jeff Keppinger
SS: trade/Angel Sanchez
3B: Chris Johnson
LF: Carl Crawford/Pat Burrell/Brian Bogusevic
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Hunter Pence
C: Humberto Quintero
IF: Geoff Blum
IF: Angel Sanchez/Tommy Manzella
OF: Jason Michaels
OF: Brian Bogusevic (or Jason Bourgeois if Bogusevic is starting)
SP: Brett Myers
SP: Wandy Rodriguez
SP: J.A. Happ
SP: Jon Garland/Bud Norris
SP: Bud Norris (or Paulino/Figueroa/Moehler)
RP: Wilton Lopez
RP: Fernando Abad
RP: Alberto Arias
RP: Mark Melancon
RP: Jeff Fulchino/Tim Byrdak
RP: Matt Lindstrom
CP: Brandon Lyon
What say you?

Carl’s Crawford Boxes?

crawford.catch_.jpg

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…