Tagged: yankees

Bargain Basement Baseball


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?

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.

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…

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.

Movin’ on up

Astros win again! And Pirates lost again, so Houston is now 1.5 games up from last place, and only half a game behind Milwaukee for 4th in the NL Central. Small steps. Crazy stats: previously punchless Houston is #2 in NL team batting average for the month of June. And the Astros are tied with the Dodgers as the hottest teams in baseball right now (both 9-3 over their last 12 games). This evening it’s Brett Myers against should-still-be-an-Astro Andy Pettitte; a win in any of these three games against the Yanks will put the 2010 Astros back on pace with the 2005 team. At this point five years ago, the World Series-bound Astros were busy getting swept by Baltimore. (Yeah… it was ugly.)

Brad Mills has stated that he’s excited for the opportunity to get some of his bench guys more at bats over the next six games (3 @ NY & 3 @ KC), thanks to the AL’s DH rule. The implication is that Jason Michaels or Cory Sullivan will be used as the DH, but why not stick J-Mike or Cory in left field and DH Carlos Lee? It would improve the club’s offense and defense at the same time. Makes sense to me.
Unfortunately, due to weekend plans, it seems that I’ll have to miss all of the Astros/Yankees games this weekend… ah well. Excited about tonight regardless, because we’re going to the Arkansas Travelers game against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (AA Texas League). The game was originally scheduled to start at 7:00, but they were rained out last night, so they’re starting the first game at 6:00 tonight and playing a double header. Growing up in Houston with the Astrodome, I never experienced a rainout, er go I never got to attend a double header either. And tonight’s second game is to be started for the Travs by Ryan Brasier, whom I had the extremely good fortune to witness throw a no-hitter against the Tulsa Drillers back in April. We’re celebrating a friend’s birthday at the ballpark, so it will be a fun night. In the immortal words of Ernie Banks, “Let’s play two!”