Tagged: rangers

Lee for Young unlikely? Not so fast.

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?

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Lee-for-Young? Yes, please.

lee_young.jpgSwapping jerseys for 2011?

So for the first time since that fateful weekend at the end last July, the Astros are linked to a potential high profile move. (That’s not counting one wild rumor that said Houston was in on Cliff Lee, but obviously that went nowhere if it was ever true at all.) Zach Levine and Ken Rosenthal both say that Carlos Lee-for-Michael Young is a longshot at best, and they’re likely right. But. Roy Oswalt was supposed to be a Cardinal last July, remember? Lance Berkman was supposedly going to Oakland this winter. The Dodgers were about to sign Bill Hall. And Cliff Lee was darn sure going to either the Rangers or the Yankees before he suddenly inked his name in Independence Hall. Take every rumor (including this one) with a significantly sized spoonful of salt.

I was going to offer my analysis of this potential deal, but FanGraphs has already done it better. The Crawfish Boxes also have a nice analysis. TCB’s biggest concern seems to be “the inevitable loss of power in the lineup,” but… really? Young has outslugged El Caballo each of the last two seasons, and while Lee has more homers, the difference is not huge – 50 v. 43. Add in Barmes & Hall’s plus power over Keppinger & Manzella/Sanchez, and this team would certainly hit more homers this year than last.
The biggest obstacle I foresee, besides Texas deciding whether or not they actually want Lee, is Carlos’ willingness to waive his no-trade clause to go to Arlington. But if he was to go anywhere besides Houston, there’s nowhere else in MLB closer to his ranch than Arlington. He’d be getting the chance to play for the defending AL champs, on a team that is more than likely playoff bound, instead of a team that’s rebuilding and very likely won’t see the postseason again until after his contract expires. At which point Houston almost certainly would not re-sign him and he’d be forced to go elsewhere anyway, older and with an even smaller remaining window for a World Series. Caballo’s only sniff of the playoffs so far was way back in 2000, when his White Sox got swept in the ALDS by Seattle. Unless he really cares that much about being as close as possible to his ranch, I don’t see him having any problem agreeing to Arlington.
I’ve said it before, and it’s still true – I’m not nearly as eager as most Astros fans to run Lee out of town after an ugly 2010. He’s very likely to rebound this year, and if he stays in Houston until his contract expires – fine. I like Carlos. But it’s not fine if he blocks Brett Wallace, or J.D. Martinez, or even Koby Clemens. Michael Young is under contract for a year longer, true, but his versatility would allow the Astros to move him around much more easily than Lee based on what their young guys are doing, so they wouldn’t have to block anybody that’s big-league ready.
I like the move – unless Texas demands much more than Lee in exchange. Would they take an injured Jeff Keppinger? I might be okay with that, since Wade was evidently wanting to trade Kepp anyway, though I’d rather Houston hang onto him as a super-utility guy. If the Rangers want either Manzella or Sanchez for infield depth, then fine, throw them in. But absolutely NO if they also want someone – anyone – among Houston’s prospects in return.
Lee-for-Young. Work out the details and pull the trigger, Ed. Give Astros fans something to be excited about until the young guys steal our hearts.

Bargain Basement Baseball

codyross_baseballplayer.jpg

This is what a baseball player looks like.
The regular season didn’t quite end up the way the Astros would have liked, but that takes a back seat now to the grand theater that is October baseball. The Rangers could bring only the second ever World Series to the State of Texas with a win in Arlington tonight. Astros fans, you remember the first, don’t you?
I began these playoffs cheering for Billy Wagner, Bobby Cox and the Braves, but unfortunately that didn’t work out. I was cheering for the Rangers, though I hated cheering against the Rays in what may be their last postseason for a while. I liked the underdog Reds, but Roy Oswalt was enough to persuade me and I was cheering for the Phillies. I went in expecting that Lance Berkman would do the same and I would cheer for the Yankees, but as I watched their first game, I just couldn’t do it – I found myself cheering for the Twins. Game 2, starring Puma and Pettitte, was a nice gift for Houston baseball fans, but I’m sorry, Lance – I love you no less than Roy, but I hate the Yankees more.
So only the Rangers worked out among my original four favorites, but now my loyalties are clearly defined. And those loyalees are both up 3 games to 2 with Game Sixes on the horizon. As much as I would morbidly love to see Berkman v. Oswalt in the World Series, I would only care about that series whenever Lance was batting or Roy – OUR Roy – was on the mound. I want a Giants/Rangers World Series, and I would be glued to every pitch.
The Rangers had the lowest payroll in the American League this season, and the third lowest in MLB, at $55.25 million. While it’s true that the Giants have the ninth highest payroll in baseball, their highest paid player (Barry Zito) is not even on their playoff roster. Subtract his $18.5 million, and San Francisco drops to 18th in payroll. Subtract their next two highest paid players – Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria, who are both bench guys – and their payroll would be $56.5 million, fifth lowest in both leagues and only just ahead of Texas. These are teams built more with brains than with banks.
It’s not all about the Benjamins, either. As a fan of a team that has never won a World Series, my loyalties (and sympathies) switch first to join fans of other teams in the same purgatory as I. With a Texas/San Francisco Series, we’d be guaranteed one city that has never experienced a MLB championship would be hosting a victory parade in November. And incidentally, AT&T Park and Rangers Ballpark are the only two active big league stadiums that I’ve visited – both this year.
I’ll be all about Colby Lewis & Co. at 7:07 Central tonight. NLCS Game 6 presents a problem, though. In my mind, I want the Giants to win Game 6. I do. I don’t want them to face a Game 7 versus Cole Hamels and potential elimination. But even as my head stayed behind the Giants when Roy O came in to close out Game 4, my heart sank when he picked up the loss. I’d have been fine with any other Phillies pitcher on the mound, even Brad Lidge, but Roy, I can’t quit you. I really do want the Giants to win Game 6, but can someone not #44 take the loss?
Two final tidbits: Watching Oswalt and Lidge warming up side by side on Wednesday night was surreal. Even moreso in Phillies uniforms. Dangit, Philadelphia, I hope you appreciate our boys. And Cody Ross – holy crap, man! He has to be the greatest waiver claim ever, like Johan Santana is the ultimate Rule 5 draftee. Oh, Santana should have been ours?
Ouch.

Changing addresses

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!

Of course I’m interested in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes mostly as it affects Roy Oswalt’s situation. As much as I’m not thrilled with Lee-to-Yanks, I would like if that deal – or some deal – gets done soon. Because the sooner that Lee is off the market, the sooner his potential suitors can turn their attention to Oswalt, and the better the potential package for the Astros in return. Even after yesterday’s sensational outing, I’ll confess… I want to see Roy get traded. IF the Astros can get a really good pair or package of prospects in return. I want to see Roy get a chance at the World Series title that Brad Lidge already has, and that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio never won. Barring divine intervention, it’s clear that he won’t get that chance in Houston before his current contract is up, after which he’s still talking about retiring. Would I like to see him retire as a career Astro, like Bagwell and Biggio? Yes, absolutely! But the most that any fan wants is to see his or her team win a championship, and honestly, Roy can help the Astros toward that goal now more by leaving than by staying. Even with guys named Clemens and Pettitte in town, it was Roy who lifted this franchise into their first (and so far, only) World Series; he’s still capable today of doing exactly that for some team one pitcher away, but… the 2010 Houston Astros are not that team. The 2011 Astros won’t be, either, and Roy may be retired to his tractor and restaurant in Mississippi after that. Adding at least a couple of young guys now who can help the Astros for 2012 and beyond is the faster road back to the World Series – faster than hanging onto Roy for sentiment’s sake, as appealing as that might be. Roy understands this – so does Lance Berkman – and he’s not a “King James” traitor for wanting another World Series shot for himself in the meantime. I’d be okay if the Lance-to-Yanks rumors came true, for the same reason, too.
In the world outside of baseball – I would be livid if I was in Cleveland today. I would be thrilled if I was in Miami. I’m glad that I am neither. Dan Gilbert’s letter expresses exactly the kind of passion that most fans would love to see from their team’s owner – he sounds more like a fan than a financier. I’m only a casual basketball fan at best, but I would smile to see Cleveland end their title drought next year.
Bud Norris v. the Cardinals tonight, so Houston can expect a win! I kid, but it would be nice. They just finished their second sweep of the Pirates this year. How about likewise repeating the feat against the Cards and sweeping St. Louis into the All-Star Break?
EDIT: Cliff Lee to Rangers! I oddly heard this first via C.J. Wilson’s Twitter, so I wasn’t sure that it was true, but ESPN confirms. I’m surprised that Texas was willing to give up Justin Smoak, but I guess they’ll go back to Chris Davis at 1B. I’m also surprised that they made a deal this early in the month, given their ownership/bankruptcy hullabaloo, but I suppose that Lee’s lower salary made him more attainable for Texas than Oswalt. So this means that Roy will not be a Ranger, but by all accounts, he’s next on every other pitching shopper’s wishlist. We shall see, we shall see…

Escape from Arlington

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.

But still, I can’t honestly complain. We had a great weekend in Arlington apart from the Astros game, which was intended to be the weekend’s highlight. And really, it was, in spite of the less-that-ideal outcome. I consoled myself with the fact that Texas needed the win more than Houston did; it’s clear that the Astros are going nowhere this year, but the Rangers and Angels will likely be locked in a pennant race for the rest of the summer. Texas was always my #2 team as a kid, and that’s never really changed, so I can’t begrudge them their success. We also got the unexpected bonus of seeing the TCU baseball team on the field before the game, to congratulate them on their first CWS appearance, and their coach threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Astros signed Paul Gerrish today, so I hope we’ll see more of him again.
Houston pulled off the big comeback on Monday that I’d been hoping for the previous night. It was nice seeing Michael Bourn pull a Jim Edmonds on Jim Edmonds last night. The Astros are going this afternoon for another series win, and for a .500 record in June. July will bring the All-Star Game, Roy’s continued pursuit of Joe Niekro (still two wins back), and all of the questions about how different the roster will look on July 31 v. July 1. A fellow Astros fan in Arlington – one of many, as it turned out – commented to me that it’s been a long year already. And I agree, but I hope this next month sets the stage for a brighter future. 

Movin’ on down

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.

This NBC report yesterday is refuted by this Fort Worth Star-Telegram response, and of course no rumor should ever be taken all too seriously. But the Rangers GM didn’t explicitly deny the report, and we’ve heard GMs say “no chance” before on a deal that eventually happened (*cough*Pudge*cough*). Whether it’s the Rangers or anyone else shouldn’t ultimately matter to the Astros, as long as Roy O approves the deal and they get good prospects in return. Honestly, I hope at this point that Roy gets his wish, as I believe it’s best for all concerned. I hope that Lance continues to pick it up so that the Astros can get good value in return for him, too. I want to see Chris Johnson get a starting shot at third – he’s big league ready right now – and I want to see Jason Castro behind the plate before September. I still hope that Roy remains an Astro at least until July 1, both so that I’ll get the chance to see him, and so that he gets three more starts and the chance to match Joe Niekro atop Houston’s all-time wins list. But it’s time to tear down after that.
In brighter news, a popular topic these days is discussion of the 2010 All-Star Game, and whom the Astros’ representative should be. With the rough season that Houston has had so far, it’s unsurprising that no clear candidate exists, and indeed they might not have an All-Star this year if it wasn’t for the rule requiring that each team have at least one. It seems that most of the Houston fans I’ve seen have said that “only Bourn and Oswalt are deserving,” but… no and no. It’s true that Michael Bourn leads the National League in stolen bases again, which is Houston’s only league leader in any noteworthy statistic. But a .266 batting average will keep him off the team. And while it’s been great to see Roy pitching consistently well again, his 3.16 ERA is only good for 22nd among NL starters right now… and 4-8 starters do not make All-Star teams. Hunter Pence is a no, with a batting average still lower than Bourn’s. Alyson Footer suggested Jeff Keppinger, and I can’t say I wouldn’t love to see that – a guy who started the year as a bench player fighting his way into an everyday job, and then into his first All-Star Game? Plus his .292 batting average does look the most All-Star-y of any Astros regular. (I’ll confess I gave both him and Humberto Quintero a number of write-in votes.)
But I’m going to advocate Matt Lindstrom. Picked up from the Marlins to fill the big shoes of Jose Valverde, Lindstrom has been pretty much everything that Houston hoped so far. Pitching for a team that has been worst in the NL most of the year, his 14 saves (in 17 chances) are good for 6th in the league, behind four guys on teams in or near first place, plus league leader Matt Capps of the Nats. His 3.08 ERA is better than two of those guys, including Capps. His 82% save percentage ranks 5th among guys with at least as many save opportunities as he’s had. He hasn’t entirely been “lights out,” but he’s been reliable, and if you figure that the NL team takes six closers as they did last year, it’s not too hard to imagine Lindstrom among them. He’s been one of the bright spots of the year to date for Houston.