As the snow comes down here in Arkansas, rumors about Michael Young continue to swirl. Both Brian McTaggart and Richard Justice have tried to shoot down the Young-to-Houston racket, but not so fast, says I.
We know that Young has a list of eight teams he likes. We know that the Rangers are trying to work out a deal with one of those eight teams first. While Young has said that he would evaluate other possible destinations on a case-by-case basis, the most likely outcome remains that he’ll end up going to one of those eight. And if you look objectively at that list of eight teams, suddenly Young-to-Houston doesn’t seem like as much of a longshot as most are trying to claim.
Take a look at that rumors link above: Young’s list consists of the Cardinals, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Rockies, Dodgers, Angels and Padres. The Rockies seemed like the most likely destination up until now, but they’ve taken themselves out of the running. The Cardinals, Twins and Yankees are also reportedly uninterested, so that leaves Houston and the three SoCal teams. The Padres already traded Adrian Gonzalez this winter because they couldn’t afford him, so it would be shocking if they were willing to take on a contract like Young’s. The Angels could definitely use Young, but I don’t foresee Texas trading him to a division rival, and the L.A. Times says that the Angels can’t/won’t put together a satisfactory package for the Rangers anyway. That same article implies that the Dodgers would want Texas to pick up most of Young’s contract, which seems unlikely, and the Dodgers themselves have already spent a lot this winter. Their ownership situation is even more uncertain than Houston’s, with Frank McCourt’s divorce case still pending, so it wouldn’t follow that the Dodgers would be willing to open their wallet even wider.
Seven suitors down. Who does that leave?
True, under normal circumstances, the Astros would never willingly take on a contract like Young’s either. Even if the team wasn’t for sale, adding that kind of payroll wouldn’t make sense for this squad. But if Carlos Lee goes back to Texas the other way, Houston’s payroll would actually be less this year and next. The Rangers could send money to Houston with Young to offset at least part of his 2013 salary, without taking on most of his contract as any SoCal team would require, so it wouldn’t really break the Astros’ (and their new owner’s) budget either. Texas would get the power hitting DH-type that is unavailable to them on the open market now, Houston would get a much more versatile and well-rounded player in return, and both teams could be the better for it without significant new financial burden that would normally affect any team in dealing with contracts of this size.
Carlos Lee would still have to approve a trade to the Rangers, which Richard Justice claims is unlikely, but I disagree. I outlined in my post yesterday why it seems that Texas would actually be an appealing destination to Caballo, so I don’t think that would break the deal. Young’s overall stats look better than Lee’s, so Texas might ask for more than just Carlos in return, but supposedly they’d like utility infield help. Houston happens to have a surplus of reserve infielders after their moves this winter – including Jeff Keppinger, Angel Sanchez, Tommy Manzella and Matt Downs – so they could easily include any of those guys in the package. Ed Wade was reportedly shopping Kepp until he came up injured anyway, and with Kepp’s own salary likely to increase through arbitration the next couple of seasons, that could offset Young’s added salary even more. Texas would want medical assurances before accepting Keppinger, of course, but he’s one of the best all-around utility infielders in the game, in my opinion. If I was Nolan Ryan, I’d make that trade even if I knew that I’d be without him for April.
I won’t say yet that I expect the trade to happen. Several people will have to sign off on the deal before it could ever become reality. But I will say that I won’t be surprised if it happens, either, as I don’t think it’s half as unlikely as it’s been made out to be. All of the speculation against so far has been just that – speculation – so until we hear from Ed Wade or Drayton McLane or Carlos Lee directly, I’m counting nothing out.
Every other non-Pirates team in the division made significant strides forward this winter except for Houston. Looking at WAR alone, Michael Young over Carlos Lee would be a 4.3 game upswing for the Astros, based on last year’s stats. Unless Wade & McLane are completely content with hanging onto Carlos until his contract expires, they have to be exploring possibilities to move him this year, before his full no-trade clause goes into effect as a 10/5 veteran. This could be the opportunity they’ve been looking for, and they very well may not get another chance to receive back as much value as Young could provide.
One commenter on Brian McTaggart’s blog speculated this batting order for the Astros in 2011:
1. Bourn (CF)
2. Young (2B)
3. Pence (RF)
4. Wallace (1B) or Johnson (3B)
5. Hall (LF)
6. Johnson (3B) or Wallace (1B)
7. Barmes (SS)
8. Castro (C)
Does that really look so bad?
Swapping jerseys for 2011?
Cliff Lee to the Yankees? Really? If that turns out to be true… I’m disappointed. Not that I’m a huge Cliff Lee fan, or that I’ve been hoping he would end up some place in particular; it really doesn’t matter much to me. But Lee-to-Yanks is another “rich get richer” deal, and unless you’re a Yankees fan, how can you really get excited over that? It would be noteworthy here in Arkansas, uniting Lee with A.J. Burnett, the two local pitchers that squared off in Game 5 of last year’s World Series. I really don’t think that Lee would make the Yankees significantly better, just because they’re already so good. I do think that his greatest impact in going to New York would be in his not going to division rival Tampa Bay. I kind of feel bad for him, too – four teams in two years? Most pitchers that play for four teams in two years are marginal major leaguers, not Cy Young candidates!
Both the Astros and I left Texas following their game Sunday night. The Rangers Ballpark was everything that I’d been told to expect – a beautiful facility, and we had great seats. I got my wish, as both Roy and Lance were in the starting lineup, and the weather was actually quite pleasant with the breeze, so I couldn’t have scripted a better night to see the boys again. I only wish that the game had turned out differently, or at least more competitively; it was a great night for Rangers fans, but it was an ugly game for Houston. Disappointing that Roy was at his most un-Wizard-like on the night when I finally got to see him pitch. Disappointing that Hunter Pence never got into the game, although Oswalt and Berkman were those I cared most about. Josh Hamilton did his best Jim Edmonds impersonation, killing the Astros on both sides of the ball – if he maintains numbers anything like what he’s done so far, he absolutely has my vote for AL MVP. At least the pigeon provided some comic relief as the game drew to its inevitable conclusion.
Swept by the New York Yankees. That’s a fate that has been suffered by many, many teams over the years, so there’s no special shame in it. But this is likely where you will see the 2005 and 2010 Astros part ways. In order to keep up with the 2005 pace, this 2010 edition will have to go 9-1 over their next 10 games, against Kansas City, Texas and San Francisco – unlikely. And even if they did somehow manage to pull it off, the Yankee series exposed a reality that’s been ignored each year since 2005: the Astros are not an elite-level team. Granted, that was clear this year before their visit to New York, but this series should have removed any remaining doubts from the heads of Houston management. We’re still a game and a half up from last place, and I believe that’s no temporary arrangement; this is not a basement-bad team. But they’ll struggle to climb much higher than this, and even on a hot streak, they stand no chance of competing for long against true top-tier teams. So, for the first time in two decades, it’s time that the Astros become sellers.