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2007 Houston Astros

The Astros are due for the next Team Outlook. 

Tim Purpura's contract obligations:

C - Brad Ausmus - $3.5MM
C - Eric Munson - $0.35MM
1B - Lance Berkman - $14.5MM
2B - Chris Burke - $0.3625MM
SS - Adam Everett - $1.9MM
3B - Morgan Ensberg - $3.8MM
1B/3B - Mike Lamb - $1.7MM
IF - Eric Bruntlett - $0.365MM
LF - Luke Scott - $0.327MM
CF - Willy Taveras - $0.4MM
RF - Jason Lane - $0.45MM
OF - Orlando Palmeiro - $0.95MM

SP - Roy Oswalt - $13MM
SP - Jason Hirsh - $0.327MM
SP - Wandy Rodriguez - $0.327MM
SP - Matt Albers - $0.327MM
SP - Taylor Buchholz - $0.327MM
SP - Chris Sampson - $0.327MM
SP - Ezequiel Astacio - $0.327MM
SP - Troy Patton - $0.327MM

RP - Brad Lidge - $3.975MM
RP - Trever Miller - $1.3MM
RP - Dan Wheeler - $0.93MM
RP - Chad Qualls - $0.376MM
RP - Fernando Nieve - $0.327MM
RP - Dave Borkowski - $0.33MM

Injured:
SP - Brandon Backe - $0.4425MM
1B - Jeff Bagwell - $7MM buyout

I have this payroll at approximately $60MM, maybe a little more if raises are large.  The Astros entered '06 with a $92MM payroll.  So where's the extra money going to go?

At second base, it's getting really hard to justify another year of Craig Biggio.  Objectively, he shouldn't be around unless he wants to take $1MM to play a utility role.  Burke will be 27 next year.  He showed progress this season and would be a nice low-cost solution in 2007.

Luke Scott's earned a chance to begin 2007 as the everyday left fielder, given his .350/.436/.650 line in 203 ABs.  He turned 28 this year and hit .299/.400/.541 in 87 Triple A games.  Maybe he's a late bloomer.

It's impossible to recommend Taveras as the starting CF, given his hitting.  The Astros should probably pursue Jim Edmonds, Gary Matthews Jr., or Dave Roberts.  The likely need for a CF is one way the Astros resemble their division rivals the Cubs this offseason.

It's also tough to see Lane as the starting RF given the kind of year he had.  I definitely didn't expect this given his decent 2005.  He still has a chance to put up a few league average seasons, but it'd be a gamble.  The Astros should set their sights on Jose Guillen to man the position.  The outfield will be a huge challenge for Purpura this winter.

Challenge #2, which also resembles the Cubs, is the lack of starting pitching.  Like Zambrano/Hill, the Astros have Oswalt/Hirsh as a pretty good start.  But the rest of the starters in that list either aren't ready or aren't good.  They'll need to sign two starters, and Woody Williams might be one of them.  Maybe Andy Pettitte comes back at a reasonable price; it's up in the air as far as I know.  And the Rocket?  Public perception seems to be that he'd play in Boston if he plays at all.

I could list the usual suspects among free agent starting pitchers, but you know all the names.  The Astros probably won't get Matsuzaka or Zito.  Jason Schmidt, a long shot but not a bad idea.  Maybe expect something more of the Wolf/Meche/Padilla speed.  Which is fine; you can't throw Wandy Rodriguez out there for 24 starts again and expect to win.

Trade rumors: Carl Crawford has been mentioned, and he'd be a nice jolt to the outfield.  Of course, the Astros aren't oozing with top shelf near-ready pitching talent to part with.  Luis Gonzalez could join the club assuming Scott could man right field.  But Gonzo isn't a difference maker.  Perhaps Purpura will re-engage the Tejada talks, although Brad Lidge's stock has fallen.    

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Do the Athletics next

You may want to add MAnny Ramirez to those trade rumors.I keep hearing that they will have interest and with Bagwells $$ off the books they can afford

Who do the Astros have to trade for Manny?

It's not that the Red Sox can't afford Manny, they can. And with the win-now attitude the Red Sox have in keeping up with the Yankees, it seems unlikely they'd deal him for prospects.

win now? If they had that additude they would have traded the "future" for veterans for now wouldnt they have?
Im just saying i keep hearing the Astros will have interest in Manny and they should

would Manny want to play for the Astros? You gotta figure wanting him is not enough, the Red Sox want him, but he does not seem to want to play for the Red Sox.

Gotta agree with the Biggio comment.

For the Astros i think getting some bats is far more important than pitching, its always been about pitching, and they will be ok, but Berkman cannot be the only one who can hit, because he sure is the only one now.

Yeah Biggio will prolly be the opening day 2B with a limited role, unless of course he has a monster year. He be playing often till he gets 3000 which he is like 70 or so hits away from.
Clemens I heard...
1) Likes the idea not going on road trips that he is not scheduled to pitch. (I know the Yankees will not offer this, not sure about the Sox though)
2) Has a good business relationship with McLane. (Astros owner)
3) Is signed to be with the Astros organization after he retires to work with young pitchers. (and Koby of course)
The possiblity of him returning to Boston is possible but I feel that he is comfortable that he will stay in Houston.
As for Pettitte, he is considering retirement since his elbow keeps bothering him, maybe he feels better after time the off-season.

What does anyone think of Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt for Dye/Crede and Contreras, and maybe Podsednik(or anything like that trade). I know Oswalt signed a big contract, but I don't see any way to give Berkman protection.

Another spot of problem is catching, the Astros not only share the problem of junky CF/SS with the cubs, they also share the problem of a junky "defensive" catcher like the Cardinals.

Tavarez still have some value if you don't bat him lead off, and he's not old, so if anything I'd pursue a C to platoon with Ausmus, Bengie Molina seems a reasonable guess. though I'd think this solution is far more likely to work for the Cardinals than the Astros. so I suppose with this in mind then yeah probably get a veteran CF like Roberts ...

I think Astro's offense next year might now be as horrid as percieved because I see Morgan Ensberg having a bounce back year, as long as Luke Scott shows he's the real deal than the Astro's offense should at least be better than this year's Berkman or bust.

I would seriously pursue Matsuzaka if I were the Astros, they have the cash, and they could really use a Japanese star. then try to see if I can get Pettitte to return on a 2 year cheaper deal, failing that they could go after a Randy Wolf guy and try to figure out the rotation from there.

Also, gambling and see if Dotel is willing to resign with them is a good idea, Dotel's terrible performance this year returning from TJ should have him out there at a relatively low price. worth a shot.

So here's my view.

Sign.

Roberts: 2 years 4M per year.

Matsuzaka: 10M per year 5 year.

Pettitte: 2 year 8-9M per year.

Biggio: 1 year. 1M

that's a total of 24M or so. less than last year but consider they might still make other minor moves and Matsuzaka will also require posting fees and other problems...


Roto, great job as always. Let me share my thoughts.
1. Biggio will sign a 1 year deal and he will reach 3000 hits as an astro. I see Chris Burke being the staring 2B on the road, while Biggio works the home games until 3000.
2. The outfield situation is not as bad as it looks. One team I think the 'Stros will be talking to this offseason will be the Braves. I think Andruw Jones could be moving to Houston. A deal of Willy T, Jason Lane and maybe a prospect could work. I think Carlos Lee could be signed at a good price for the LF spot with Luck Scott moving over to RF.
3. The infield is a sore spot though. Does Adam Everett have trade value? Do the O's have interest in a Lidge, Everett, ALbers deal for Tejeda? Would love to see it. I think Ensberg will be mid-season trade bait and platoon of Huff and Lamb at 3B will be Garner's game plan.
4. Starting Pitching. OUch!!! Ok, Roy and Hirsh, now what? Is Chris Sampson good enough to crack the rotation at the 4 or 5 spot, can we swing a deal for Woody Williams? Lots of BIG questions here.
5. Bullpen - Strongest part of the team. Springer will sign for one year, Wheeler is the new closer, Miller is ok as the Lefty Specialist, Qualls has bounced back. Nieve has a chance, and maybe Troy Patton is ready to move up a little.

I think the Astros are in the position to be smart buyers at the Winter Meetings and even smarter sellers. Next year this team, will not be the same.

i think Everett has no trade value the free agent short stops out there are just as good someone like Alex Gonzalaz, but thats just me

- GENERAL -

1. THE BORAS BAN
Take note of any player whose agent is Scott Boras.

That's because the Astros braintrust (McLane/Tal Smith/Purpura) will NOT be going after any of those.

Zito and Andruw start that list.

- POSITION PLAYERS -

1. CARLOS LEE, ASTROS LF

Carlos Lee is widely speculated in Astros-dom to be a FA target for 07. Lee is reported to own a ranch in TX.

(Btw, did you notice that Carlos Lee signed with Boras this season? Did you also notice that he rather abruptly backed out of that? All of that has just added to the speculation that Lee has Houston at the top of his list.)

2. LUKE SCOTT, TEAM X's LF

If Lee signs, Luke Scott becomes trade bait. Scott is a respectable fielder, but he will NOT be penciled in as the everyday RF for any team.

3. ADAM EVERETT, ASTROS SS (still)

As was in evidence by the incredible dangling of no less than Roy O to the O's, Tejada isn't going anywhere at a reasonable price.

Adam Everett is widely considered the best defensive SS in baseball, and saves runs even if he doesn't help produce many from the batters box. He'll be back unless the asking price for Tejada changes, which it won't.

4. AUBREY HUFF, ASTROS 3B

Aubrey Huff, though not the force it was hoped he would be, is widely thought to be a legitimate candidate to return. Both sides have made unmistakably positive remarks on that likelihood. And, it makes sense given his versatility in the field--which is something that Garner treasures.

5. IF HUFF, WHITHER ENSBERG? LANE?

If Huff, does he take Morgan Ensberg's place in the line-up? Or does he take up residence in RF instead of 2006 Opening Day starter Jason Lane?

The prediction here is that at least one (and less probably both) will be gone, in exchange for another team's players in need of the "change of scenery" treatment. Both are solid defensively, and rate as good risks for another team to take-on.

At the very least, look for the Astros to package Scott and Ensberg for someone who will go into Spring Training as Brandon Backe's replacement as the 4th pitcher.

6. RIGHT FIELD

The Astros had hoped Lane would be their RF for the next several seasons. That, obviously, got de-railed.

While Lance Berkman is a much better RF than most give him credit, his knee injury of last off-season makes 1B a smarter choice.

Huff could take RF, but the Astros covet more speed than Huff or Berkman can provide at that position.

They have been enamored with Mike Cameron for two off-seasons now, and will pursue that again if the Pads make it an option.

And if not Cameron, look for them to identify a player who is very Cameron-like.

7. IF EVERETT AGAIN, THEN CAN IT BE AUSMUS AGAIN TOO? UMMMM... AND TAVERAS???

Yes.

The team will attempt to load up on batters 1 through 6, and sacrifice slots 7-9 for pitching and defense.

Some may even say that they will sacrifice the lead-off slot, as well, but Willy Taveras continued to hit "good enough" this season. And what's more he learned to be much more of a base stealing threat than he'd been previously.

8. BURKE OR BIGGIO AT 2B?

It is a foregone conclusion that Craig Biggio will be back for 07. How much he will play is the more relevant discussion.

On this one, I agree with the possibility (likelihood?) that Biggio will play under certain conditions, and Chris Burke will play under the other conditions. Whether that is home/away, I'm less certain, but I do agree that Burke will get increased ABs, and unlike previous seasons, will rarely be put in the OF.

- PITCHING -

1. SAME ISSUE, DIFFERENT OFF-SEASON

Will Roger Clemens be back?

Yes.

I think he found out this season that the delayed season start (June) worked for him physically. This season didn't end like the last two, with him constantly stretching out his hamstrings, and beating himself up to make those last several starts.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but I think Rocket will finally make his comeback decision early enough to give the Astros a better chance to make the most of the off-season... and, again maybe wishful thinking, but I think he will... but it will again be a June return.

2. PETTITTE WILL BE BACK

At 34, Andy Pettitte's too young to not be back. Like Roger, he's in a good situation. And the Astros will be more than willing to re-sign him, knowing that Pettitte's conditioning is Clemens-like. Look for a 2 year contract with a team option for a third.

3. WHAT IF ROCKET AND/OR PETTITTE DO *NOT* RETURN?

The writer of this column really doesn't do the Astros young pitching justice.

While there are no can't-miss-mortal-locks, there is a literal parade of starters who cut their teeth this season, and will go to Kissimmee with cause for optimism:

- Jason Hirsh>/b> (PCL Pitcher of the Year)

- Matt Albers (TX League Pitcher of the Year)

- Taylor Bucholz (Had some success early this year, a couple of times even dominant)

- Fernando Nieve (Became a solid guy out of the HOU bullpen this season)

- Chris Sampson (Made key successful start vs. Phillies last week)

- Wandy Rodriguez (Good first half, and unless he's traded, he will continue to be an option)

- Zeke Astacio (Will be 28; after some solid outings in 05, was kept at RR for all of 06; will come to ST with something to prove)

- Troy Patton (Still likely a year away, but if he wow's them at Spring Training, Garner may convince Purpura to let him keep him)

If Rocket retires, look for the Stros to go big-time for Jason Schmidt.

Unlike the column writer here, I can't agree that he's a "long-shot." To the contrary, he would be a logical signing, and especially since Axelrod (agent for Bags and Bidge) is his agent.

5. BRAD LIDGE, CLOSER?

Phil Garner's confidence in Brad Lidge as the one-and-only closer has evaporated, and Lidge is at ground zero. The Lidge/Wheeler/Qualls combination will remain, but Garner will continue to alternate b/t Lidge and Wheeler unless and until Lidge re-establishes himself to his pre-Pujols form. (I think we all know what pre-Pujols means, don't we?)

Will Purpura trade Lidge? While it's a possibility, the July trade deadline made it apparent that the Astros value him more highly than other teams do, and nothing would seem to have changed there.

- OTHER ROSTER SLOTS -

Finishing the bullpen conversation, Trever Miller will return, and Russ Springer will be back unless another team offers a much better contract (which of course is possible). If Nieve doesn't land a starter's gig, he'll be back, and some believe he could get a chance to share save opps with Lidge and Wheeler.

The balance of the starting staff is simply a matter of who, from the list above, wins the jobs in Spring Training.

And the balance of the position player roster will look a lot like it did this season, with the likely exception that Humberto Quintero will get first-crack at taking Brad Ausmus' job. Q had a good September call-up both offensively and defensively.

Many Astros fans would like for Purpura to find someone other than Orlando Palmeiro as the lefty pinch hitter. Count me among them, in spite of his heroics of the last week or so. But you get the impression that they dearly like the fact that Palmeiro so rarely strikes out, and at least can be relied upon to put the ball in play.

So, without any further ado, the Opening Day 07 Houston Astros line-up will look something like this:

CF Taveras
2B Biggio
1B Berkman
LF Lee
3B Huff
RF Cameron
SS Everett
C Ausmus
P Oswalt

Right, right, Astros fans said they had Adam Dunn all locked up for the same reason. Lee will go where the dollars are.

Luke Scott: I can think of one team that would start him, and it's the Astros.

No amount of Adam Everett's defense makes up for .243/.292/.357. And you can't have multiple voids like that (Taveras, Ausmus). Kills an offense to have four easy outs.

The Biggio sentimentality is really dumb. Are you trying to win games or what?

Didn't the Rocket have starts pushed back towards the end?

Pettitte's age doesn't matter much, it's all about his elbow and passion.

If Clemens and Pettitte do not return, the Astros have big problems. Wandy Rodriguez? Are you serious? He is terrible. Almost every guy you named either isn't ready or is never going to be.

Nieve's not a free agent. Why wouldn't he be back?

Roto:

REGARDING CARLOS LEE

Roto, you're so smart, and us Astros fans are so stupid. Btw... Adam Dunn was a FA? (*smirk*)

If you want a historical example, perhaps you should look toward Jeff Kent, who like Lee, bought a ranch in TX, and who like Lee, found that Drayton could work out a contract to his liking.

But, at least we agree that Lee will go where the dollars are.

(Aside: I'm not a Dunn fan, fwiw.)

REGARDING LUKE SCOTT

You can do worse than trading for a young OF who put up the numbers that Scott has. Can he keep that up? I'm honest enough to admit that I'm not counting on it, but there's a GM out there who would take a chance.

REGARDING OZZIE SMITH

Perhaps we should take your advice and replace a SS whose fielding is his best asset and can only bat 240.

Oh... did I say Ozzie Smith? I meant Adam Everett.

REGARDING "MULTIPLE VOIDS"

"You can't..."

Perhaps you missed it, my friend, but those "voids" made were the starters on a team that 28 other teams were watching in October last season.

It is testimony to the fact that offense isn't all that matters in this great game.

REGARDING BIGGIO

Garner, who plays 25 guys anyway, will find adequate time for Burke and Biggio to be on the field. It's not the "either/or" proposition you make it out to be.

REGARDING CLEMENS

"Didn't the Rocket have starts pushed back towards the end?"

If he did, I missed it... educate me.

REGARDING PETTITTE

"Pettitte's age doesn't matter much, it's all about his elbow and passion."

Age... agreed.

Elbow... agreed.

Passion... there can be no question about Andy Pettitte's passion.

REGARDING ASTROS ROTATION

As I indicated, if Clemens and Pettitte do not return, the Stros will be in the market for a couple of veterans -- I think I indicated that when I mentioned Jason Schmidt and mentioned the option of trading Scott and Ensberg.

You make it out as if I said that Wandy Rodriguez is going to be the answer... I think your journalism degree just got revoked. I only called him "an option."

"Almost every guy you named either isn't ready or is never going to be."

Almost every guy I named is as ready now as they're ever going to be... and pardon me if I resist the urge to rely on the scouting predictions of an internet writer... instead, I'll wait to see how it all shakes out, thank you.

"Nieve's not a free agent. Why wouldn't he be back?"

"Back" as in... back in the bullpen.

REGARDING ADAM EVERETT AND HAVING FOUR AUTOMATIC OUTS

The game was different when Ozzie played. There's no excuse for having four automatic outs in the lineup. Having a great pitching staff doesn't somehow justify making bad decisions with the batting order. Overall success does not make all decisions correct.

REGARDING BIGGIO

Point being, if bringing him back is based even 1% on sentimentality, it's a bad idea. It's a business.

REGARDING CLEMENS

Missed a start in September with groin problems.

REGARDING PETTITTE

I am just speaking from what I read in Buster Olney's book, which painted Pettitte as a less than passionate player.

ON THE ROTATION

Don't have a journalism degree. :]

Hirsh - ready now
Albers - 4 starts in Triple A, he might need some seasoning
Buchholz - Not sure what to make of the guy, I like him but he's a wild card
Sampson - not much of a prospect, yes?
Wandy - I don't think he's cut out for the Majors
Zeke - Definitely a wild card
Patton - did OK in 8 Double A starts, needs seasoning

The internet writer barb...low blow...well done

Low blow? Don't feel bad... takes one (internet writer) to know one (internet writer), eh?

Can't let this one go, though...

"Overall success does not make all decisions correct."

???

Maybe that's the world of fantasy baseball, but in the real world, the bottom line is the bottom line is the bottom line.

Bad decisions will happen... practically by definition, it's whoever makes the fewest bad decisions overall that ends up winning and taking the trophy home... i.e., the bottom line, i.e., what actually matters.

Case in point: the White Sox won the WS with Podsednik leading off. They did it again in '06 and it probably cost them a win or two. So, the success of 2005 does not make that decision correct.

For the price, Willy Taveras is fine. You've grossly underrated his defense - he's the best defensive center fielder in the majors by far. On the offense side, he's sort of a Juan Pierre-lite. I'll take Taveras for less than a million over Dave Roberts and his awful center field defense for $4-5 million.

No, I know Taveras plays good defense. Best by far is something you really can't say though.

Given that Juan Pierre is not very helpful on offense, the lite version of that really sucks. Maybe Willy would work for the Yankees or someone, but the Astros are already sacrificing catcher and SS. And 2B isn't an All-Star either.

Man I missed all of this, and only getting to jump in now.

REGARDING BIGGIO
Garner continued to plug him in this year even though he was not producing. He did come up big a few times late in the season. Maybe he can get his 3,000th hit early in season before his age starts to catch up with him, and Burke can take over full time.

MIKE CAMERON IN RF?
Whoever came up with this is plain silly. He hated playin RF for the Mets, he'll hate doing in for the Astros. Plus he's not a free agent and the Padres don't look to be putting up a fire sale. Plus Cameron's offense is good for a CF, and about average for a RF. At +$9mil, he doesn't seem like a bargain anyways. I think I'd rather take my chances with Morgan Ensberg bouncing back. btw Ensberg posted a higher OPS than Cameron did in '06.

DAVE ROBERTS IN CF??
Although he's an upgrade over one of the worse hitters in baseball, Taveras, he's not a CF. Especially in one of the biggest CFs in baseball. This is about as bad as Luke Scott playing RF.

OZZIE VS EVERETT
umm, Ozzie posts a career OBP about 30something points higher than Everett. Through in that Ozzie could steal bases, he was much much more useful with the bat than Everett is. Posting a sub .650 OPS (which Everett did this year) is rediculous and pathetic, no matter how good the glove work is.

WILLY TAVERAS SUCKS!
He's not that good defensively. Fast, yes. good arm, yes. Makes good read on balls, no. Through in the fact that he is absolutely useless with the bat, he's not worth the league minimum. He can't hit for power, he can't take walks, and he can't steal bases. How is this guy useful? He's not.

CARLOS LEE
I think the Astros have a great shot at signing Lee. The Rangers want to keep him, and the Astros and Rangers have an in-state rivalry of trying to one-up each other (far from the days of the "agreement" they used to have). Through in that fact that Lee has a ranch outside of Houston, and the Astros have money to play with, Lee isn't an outside shot.

If this is the only move the Astros make, then I don't think they'll be any better next year than this year. They have to replace Everett and/or Willy T as well.

ROTATION / BULLPEN
Obviously Oswalt is the ace, and the present #2 is Hirsh. I think Buchholz will be penciled in at #5 again, and that leaves 2 holes to address. Woody Williams keeps being brought up and would make a good #3/4 pitcher, but they need a lefty to break up the monotony. I just hope it isn't Wandy. I see the Astros again having a strenghth with their bullpen:

Springer
Miller
Qualls
Wheeler
Nieve
Albers
Sampson
Lidge (weakest link?)

So a couple of these guys could be turned into the needed lefty starter....I hear Dontrelle's price might be too high next year, and though the Astros don't have top level pitching prospects, they are filled with lower level ones, plus a couple of decent position prospects as well.

BOTTOM LINE
If the Astros want to win, they have to upgrade offesnively at either CF and/or SS and bring in two quality starting pitchers. Then they have to cross their fingers that either Lidge or a closer by committee will be able to finish games.

Now that I've re-read my post, I'd like to mention: I say "Through in the fact" too much, and should have at least said "throw" instead of "through".....my bad.

You could certainly do worse than Willy T, who is completely capable of hitting .300. He is one of the fastest players in the game and creates a threat when he gets on. Sure his OBP is crap, but he being 25 and talented, I'd say give him a chance.

I don't see why Scott deserves LF over Burke, who has been long due for a full season. I don't see what you can do with Lane, but he certainly has the power to play RF. I'd be perfectly happy if I was Tim Purpura with my outfield situation. You need a power hitting 3B, so the Astros will need to pursue Miguel Tejada, Aramis Ramirez or Joe Crede this offseason.

--> Roto:

"Case in point: the White Sox won the WS with Podsednik leading off. They did it again in '06 and it probably cost them a win or two. So, the success of 2005 does not make that decision correct."

Hmmmm...

Roto, where 05 is concerned, the only concrete conclusion you can make is that (a) Guillen decided to lead-off w/ Podsednik in 05 and (b) they won a WS in 05 and (c) that we can know that there is a correlation but not that there necessarily was a causation between those two facts.

...and where 06 is concerned, you have the same factoids in reverse, except that, again, you cannot prove causation.

But you're welcome to your opinion.

The fact that remains that backs me up: it evidently IS possible that you can start Taveras, Everett, and Ausmus in the same line-up and make it to a World Series.

Your ONLY place to stand is that we don't know if a team can WIN a WS with those three in the line-up... but I'll take my chances. Not just one commentator remarked after last year's series about the razor thin margin by which the WSox beat the Stros each game, in spite of it being a sweep.

--> Darin:

1) VOTE CAMERON... OR A CAMERON CLONE

The fact is that Cameron DID play RF after all before the trade to SD... and if it's walks you want from a slot in the order, take Ensberg... but if it's slugging percentage and batting average that are more important, using 2006 as you've chosen to do, Mr. Cameron is about 20 (!) points better on SLG, and 30 (!) points better on BA. The latter gets my vote.

But to the larger point -- I'm not a "Cameron Crazy" so to speak, and mostly raise him up as an example of what we're looking for in terms of skill set.

(If you've read Dierker's recent HC column about the need for speed, I have the same rationale as he does, though I might value it just very slightly less than he does).

2) LET'S BE REAL ABOUT OZZIE AND EVERETT

Everett has four full seasons under his belt now, and his averages have been:

2003 > .256
2004 > .273
2005 > .248
2006 > .239

Ozzie's first four full seasons were:

1978 > .258
1979 > .211
1980 > .230
1981 > .222

Obviously, a futile point to pursue... Everett's offense, even as meager as it's been, is more than Ozzie could boast at the same stage of his career.

But just to be balanced, while Everett's offensive numbers are slightly better, Ozzie's defense would be evaluated by most to be superior to Everett's.

But the bottom line still holds... it's not just a game of pitching, not just a game of offense, nor just a game of defense... and to the dismay of fantasy GMs, a player's total worth cannot be easily quantified. At the risk of repeating myself, what we know is this: a team CAN make the World Series with a primarily defensive SS, and that is further affirmed by the fact that Everett's throw to complete a double play in Game 4 (?) was the turning point of the NLCS last year. Maybe a better hitting SS hits the HR that would have made that DP pointless... or maybe not... but the empirical evidence is that we KNOW a better fielding SS made a difference.

3) WILLY T'S D

Talk to anyone that watches Astros games regularly. I can't, so I have. The vast majority see a vast improvement in his ability to judge the ball. The criticisms of his D are past tense, though the criticisms of his O remain. On the batting front, he regressed some in his sophomore season, but what he did learn this year is to consistently steal bases--something that was painfully missing in his rookie year.

In 07, I look forward to Willy T being for the 1st time a full-fledged base stealing weapon, limited only by whether he adjusts and gets back up to the 290-300 BA territory.

4) AS THE ROTATION TURNS

Houston native Woody Williams will turn 41 next season. Don't know that that necessarily means anything, but thought I'd throw that out there.

Well, it does probably mean that he's not going to be asked to fill the #2 slot in the rotation sans Rocket and Andy. But he could be a more than adequate #4 guy.

I stick by my guns, though. Pettitte will be back unless there's nothing left but a nub to his elbow. And Clemens will return for a June-October appearance.

Failing that, look for Schmidt + a trade for a #3 guy. Hirsh (who, by the way, IS regarded as a top level pitching prospect) will NOT be asked to fill a role above the #4 slot, if he's even asked to do that. This team isn't going to go into 07 so pitching poor that they depend on a rookie for so much.

1.)CAMERON AGAIN
I probably wasn't clear so I'll try again....

Why would the Astros want Cameron to play RF, when they could move him to CF, where his output holds much more value? And he doesn't want to play RF. And he's not an upgrade over the likes of Scott, Huff or Ensberg for that matter offensively. The Padres also have an option on Cameron for '07, and don't seem to have any likely replacements.

2.)I AGREE ON EVERETT VS OZZIE

I think you and Rumor both made good points, and I think it was Rumor who said that baseball back in the early 80s was much more different than it is now. A sub .650 OPS is unacceptable no matter how good the defense is. Only 3 SS in all of baseball had worse OPS than Everett. All 3 teams fielding these SS's finished last in their division.

You've continually made the point that it is proven that a team can make it to the WS with Taveras, Everett and Ausmus all in the lineup. It has also been proven that having those 3 in the lineup will not get you to the playoffs. 2 have to go for this team to succeed. Ausmus would be my 1st pick, but I think he'll be gone in '07.

3.)WATCHING WILLY
I'm a Houstonian and probably watched at least half their games this year, if not more, including around 20 at the ball park. I can tell as good as Willy can be on some plays, he can be just as bad on others. He's got a gold glove caliber arm and speed to kill for (2 things you can't really teach) but he doesn't make the best decisions on the routes to balls, which negates his speed. He has potential to be a gold glove guy in a few years, but he has to learn to produce offensively. He's not a real stolen base threat (33? come on), and he can't drive the ball. He's ok, when he's 1st up to bat, but in any RBI situation he's almost useless (along with Everett and Ausmus). He's only guaranteed to bat 1st once each game and that's if Garner doesn't bat him 2nd. Maybe with a proven bat behind Berkman, Garner would run Taveras more, but then there's still that question on if he's going to strikeout 80 times and walk 30.

4.)PETTITTE AND THE REST

I figured Andy would come back for one more season, maybe two, but now with this steroid story coming out, I dunno. He'd be my 1st pick, if he'd play for around $8-$9mil a year. Schmidt is already rumored to be looking at a Oswalt size contract, which is out of the Astros price range. Plus there will be heated competition for his services.

I think they'll add someone, I'd just like to see the 1st 2 or 3 signings to see how the market is going to shape up. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a steep market.

Woody Williams wouldn't be a earth moving signing, and he is old, but he'd probably be serviceable and relatively cheap, and short term. Just a stop gap until some of the younger pitchers are ready. Unlike Schmidt who will want a 5 year contract for $15 a year.

1) The numbers are the numbers are the numbers.

If Ensberg had had Cameron's SLG or AVG, we probably would be watching the Stros play tomorrow (playoffs).

The team is much improved with a stronger pair of legs in RF than what Huff could do there.

I'm convinced that Willy T is more than adequate for now, and only going to get better.

And, Scott may be good enough for LF if we lose out on Carlos Lee, but he's not going to be our RF.

2. It's easy enough to say baseball was significantly statistically different in the 80s.

It's just not easy to prove.

I have no idea how you would make that case beyond anecdotal observations.

And...

"You've continually made the point that it is proven that a team can make it to the WS with Taveras, Everett and Ausmus all in the lineup. It has also been proven that having those 3 in the lineup will not get you to the playoffs."

It has also been proven that having Oswalt, Pettitte, and Clemens will not get you to the playoffs... so what?

You're skewing the debate by arguing the reverse, and it doesn't address the real premise.

Remember that what you and Roto are attempting to assert is that, by having those 3 "voids" in the line-up, the team cannot be successful.

That's been proven false.

It doesn't matter whether the converse is true or not... heck, you could come up with any combination from any of the 28 teams in MLB and say, "see, that combination of players in a line-up (or rotation) can't work."

No.

It may not have worked for a particular year. And/or, it may not ever work again.

But it is beyond argument that if the team has once gotten to the WS using that combination of players, that team CAN be successful with those guys in the line-up.

"Ausmus would be my 1st pick, but I think he'll be gone in '07."

He signed a two-year contract last off-season.

3. You've seen what you've seen... I mostly only know what I've been told.

But from what I've seen during this second half, there is evidence that Willy's confidence and skill for stealing bases has finally taken hold... I'm looking for SBs in the 60-70 range next season, fwiw.

4. Okay.

And the fact that it can and has been done definitely does not make it ideal.

Let's say I can drive home drunk and get home without incident. Let's say I do this ten times. Goal: drive home. Complete success. Does that mean I should get drunk every time I want to drive home?

As for offense being down in Ozzie Smith's era as compared to now, do you really want us to hunt down articles for you or something? I promise dude. It's fact.

Roto:

Okay, let's use your example.

Goal is to get home.

Did getting drunk aid you toward your goal?

Even though it evidently did not have a conseqence, of course it did not. There is *nothing* to getting drunk that could be construed as having aided you in getting home.

Right?

Okay...Goal is to get to the WS.

Did having Adam Everett in the line-up help the Astros get to the WS? Is there *anything* to having him as a starter that could be construed as having aided the Astros in getting to the WS?

Absolutely, and there's no denying it.

Everett is a baseball player with some skills that a team can use to reach their goal.

You in a drunk condition are not so skilled, and we have no reason to think you're in a better position to reach your goal.

NOW... to your point... is it more likely that the Astros would have had success with Tejada in the line-up than with Everett?

Of course.

While there are no metrics that can conclusively prove it, almost anyone would agree that Tejada's defense is more like Everett's than Everett's offense is like Tejada's.

But I'm not arguing Tejada... I'm merely offering that it is baseless to suggest that Everett, Ausmus, and Tavares constitute too large an offensive void to allow the Astros to be successful.

And, you just can't argue that point. It happened.

OK,but it's easy to rephrase. Having all three of Taveras, Everett, and Ausmus in the starting lineup is a detriment to the team.

Is there anything in being drunk that can be construed as helping one get home? Sure. Maybe it relaxes you when you're normally very tense on the road. Never mind the far more influential effect of impairing your coordination.

Sure, Everett is a defensive whiz. Never mind the far more influential effect on the team of his terrible offense.

Oops... on the question of whether baseball was a different game in the 80s?

Okay, how's this...

There was a greater concentration of pitching in the majors in the 80s, since Arizona and Colorado had not yet been born... instead of basically 280 slots for pitching employees, there is now essentially 300, an increase of 7.1%.

If one can assume that the U.S. population has not morphed some super-human traits in the last 25 or so years that would allow more highly-evolved, more highly-skilled DNA, and if one can assume that the population size has not grown such that more athletes with the highest of baseball talents would have increased appreciably, then it could be reasoned by one measure that the game has decreased in difficulty by 7.1% since the pool of pitchers grew by that amount.

But wait... while the pool of pitchers grew by 7%, the pool of position players (i.e., batters) grew from 238 (14 x 9 in the AL, 14 x 8 in the NL) to 255... an increase of 7.5%. That's not significantly more than 7.1%, but the point is that it more than neutralizes the effect of a less concentrated pool of the most highly skilled pitching employees.

It's a wash.

Next you'll want to bring steroids into the discussion.

But remember, your comparing Ozzie vs. his competitors in his era to Everett vs. his competitors in his era... that's the apples-to-apples comparison.

(For the record, though, it's a rather pointless discussion to bring into the debate anyway, since you can't be sure if, who, how many, or degree of effect that roids has had.)

Okay, this is getting almost perverse in the extremes you'll go to, Roto... in order to prove your point, you want us to go along with drunkeness as a contributor to good driving... I've heard it all now...

"Never mind the ***far more influential effect*** on the team of his terrible offense."

End of the day, your opinion is your opinion... nothing quantifiable we can look at to justify the "far more" in your assertion. At least be honest enough to admit that.

Contrary to that, it's not just my opinion that the Astros can be successful with Everett, Ausmus, and Taveras in the line-up.

And that's where I have to let it die.

People have quantified defensive vs. offensive contributions. Baseball Prospectus.

Name for me the definitive calculation from BP or elsewhere that you favor. By any critical analysis, there are holes and weaknesses in any that you choose. But I think you know that. Math can only take you so far... there is so much to this game, which is part of why it's so great.

Sturt,

I would suggest spending some time at Baseball Prospectus and check out some of their fantastic stats. They have historic batting stats for the league avg player, so you can go back and take a look at each year and what the offensive output would be like.

1980-89 - OPS was continually around the .720s for the average NL positional player.

in the 2000s - OPS has been in the .750s

that's a pretty decent difference. Multiple reasons are probably to blame: 4 expansion teams, smaller stadiums, better training and medicine, steriods(?), el nino, the invention of the pitch count and 5 man rotations which makes that complicated arguement about 7.1% increase a little inaccurate, oh, there's been over a 13% growth in population from 1990 to 2000, another reason your idea doesn't work, plus there's been an increase in foriegn born players in the MLB since the 80s, and I have no intention of researching all the Latin American popluation growth tonight...or ever, but keep stretching)

The fact that still remains is that the Astros field three sub .700 OPS players. In a time where the average NL SS posts a .737 OPS (Everett - .642). The NL C posts a .743 OPS (Ausmus - .593) and the NL CF posts a .753 OPS (Willy T - .672). Willy's the only one of the 3 with a positive VORP.

btw, thanks for the Ausmus contract update. I guess I was just throwing the "he'll be gone next year" out there with no basis.

I forgot to add over an 11% increase from '70-'80 and almost an 10% from '80 to '90...but I figure you get the idea.

Two things that struck me as kind of silly:

1) The idea that Jason Lane is legitimate trade bait in an Andruw Jones deal.

2) Mike Cameron playing for the Astros? Come on. The Pads are picking up his option and like him very much.

"1980-89 - OPS was continually around the .720s for the average NL positional player...
in the 2000s - OPS has been in the .750s... that's a pretty decent difference..."

4%

And actually, I never intended to be pushing an "idea," other than to see if I could help you justify the idea that the game is different.

Even by your own chosen calculation, which you could have chosen others, the effectiveness of a MLB batter has varied by 4%.

Is that a little or a lot?

And now, you're back to interpretation.

In many fields of study, we would consider a change to be "significant" at the .05 threshold.

But again... that's just a word label... interpretation.

Sturt,
Anyone with a basic understanding of statistics knows that a 4% growth is statistically significant. We are talking about all position player OPS for an entire decade. That is a huge sample size. If we don't think we can trust that number, then we can't use any numbers to compare data. That is more ABs than any player would ever approach during an entire career.

When we are looking at Ausmus, Taveras, and Everett, we are looking at around 100 OPS points below positional average over the course of a season. That is just digging a hole for the rest of your lineup that very few teams could overcome offensively.

A more interesting topic would be to think about how the ASTROS could trade for and sign Vernon Wells. No doubt he would help out the team!

It's not really 4%. OPS only ranges from, say, .600 to 1.000.

"It's not really 4%. OPS only ranges from, say, .600 to 1.000."

Unless you're Brad Ausmus. But you have a point. If you even shot high and low - 1.050 and .550 that's a spread of .500 points. Then deducing the .500 from the .725 and .750, you come up with .225 and .250, which makes a 10% increase.

Actually, ckremer, I took it to be that we were looking at an approximate mean of a sample size of 10 years of data vs. the mean of an approximate mean of another sample size of another 10 years of data. I realize that each of those pools of data contain thousands of ABs, though, so I acknowledge that your way is more correct.

Having said that, how does one translate that 4% difference into what we should expect of any given player in 2006 vs. 1981?

Let's look at the math... a 4% increase in Ozzie's OPS would translate to a .593 average for his first 4 years.

How does that compare to the wo-be-gone Everett's average OPS for his first 4 years?

.675

That's about 80 points higher, or about 14% better, even against a modern-day 2006-Edition of Ozzie.

Sheesh... even I was surprised.

Where do you steer the debate from here? I'm not sure.

But again, I come back to this: how responsible is AE for runs NOT scored. That's the key stat, but a problematic one to come up with no matter whose formula you choose to use.

The bias toward offensive stats is a short-coming of many, and with all due respect, and I say that sincerely, it's illustrated in this discussion.

How the Astros will improve for 2007:


CHRIS BURKE
Burke will be getting more playing time at 2B this coming season as Biggio will be sitting out more games. Biggio will come back for his final year to get 3000 hits, but the Astros will give Burke more playing time so that he will be able to take over 2B as a full time role. And Burke is a good replacement. He showed that he could hit and get hits when they were needed. A definite top of the order guy that gets on base and can drive in those 7,8,9 batters.

MORGAN ENSBERG
Ensberg will be back… to normal next season. He never really got a chance to prove the type of player he is following his remarkable 05 season. His injury made did not help the slump he was in at the time. Even though it was a rough season, he still managed to have a career high 101 walks and an OBP of .396. Definitely expect to have Ensberg batting up in the .260 to .280 range again next season with 20+ HR and plenty of RBI’s.

LUKE SCOTT
A very impressive showing. Showing something that the Astros saw in him in 05 spring training. He was a monster in the minors, and he is definitely prepared for the Majors. I would expect to see him to perform the same next season as a high AVG and power hitter. Even though he is 28, the Astros will be getting his best and need to play him everyday.

CARLOS LEE
Number one priority this off season. The Astros must sign him, and rumors are that he is very interested in Houston. He is the hitter that the Astros have been looking for since they lost Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran. He can hit, get on base, and get runners to score in crucial situations – pretty much everything the Astros lacked in 06. I expect the Astros to make the same efforts on Lee as they have been on other players: open up their pocket books.

AUBREY HUFF
Sign him up. Even though he did not perform to his normal self for his short time in Houston, that does not mean he is on the decline. He has been a very good hitter since his career began. Also a versatile player with ability to play at 3B, 1B, and OF.

BENGIE MOLINA??
Obviously Ausmus struggles at the plate. Molina, fairs a little better with an .280 AVG and a .786 OBP. The Blue Jays are talking as though they might not sign him again this year to put the money spent on him in other places. Molina would obviously upgrade the 7,8,9 spot. I think if the Astros were to spend the money on Molina, they will make him full time catcher and make a move with Ausmus.

VERNON WELLS
One year left on his contract with the Blue Jays, but in the past weeks there have been talks to trade him before he becomes a free agent. Blue Jays will look to extend his contract this winter, if not, expect the Blue Jays look to deal him (if they are not in contention) and the Astros to make an offer (if they believe they can sign Wells to a contract). Vernon Wells has commented that he would like to move back closer to his home (Louisiana) and he did grow up in Texas. But a trade for Vernon Wells would have to include a combination of the things the Blue Jays need: A CF to replace Wells (Taveras), a SS (Everett), a proven bat (Ensberg), or starting pitching (Rodriguez, Nieve, Albers, Bucholz). He will be costly, but a HUGE upgrade to the offense and outfield. Once again, if the trade and timing is right, it could happen.

ANDY PETTITTE
Andy is not done. He may give hints to it, but he is only 34 and still has a couple years to go. Even though his elbow can give him problems, he has showed that he is still a prominent pitcher. Astros will probably give him a 2 to 3 year contract with a little less money.

WOODY WILLIAMS
I think this year Woody will finally pitch for Houston. Last year it was between the Padres and Astros as to which team he would pitch for, but the Astros never made the move because they were waiting on Clemens. Even though he is 40+ he can still pitch a full season and be productive.

JASON SCHMIDT??
A long shot for the Astros. He is a dominant pitcher needless to say and one give the Astros the best starting rotation in the NL next season. However, he is 34 and only he and Barry Zito and the premier SP’s in this season free agency. So he will command a high dollar price. He was paid $10 mil this season, I don’t expect that to be any less. Especially if the Astros are going to sign Carlos Lee, Pettitte, Williams, and Huff there might not be enough money in the salary to sign Schmidt.

CLEMENS
I don’t expect him to come back next season, and I mean to baseball in general. I really don’t. And I don’t know if Roger is worth paying the high dollar value to start pitching in June. If he does decide to come back, and our pitching is in terrible shape, I would think the Astros would make an offer again.

JASON HIRSH
He is only going to get better. He dominated in AAA, had a little trouble in the majors, but he is only going to get better this off season. A definite starter for 07.

My Lineups:

(Without Vernon Wells)
1 – Willy Taveras (CF)
2 – Morgan Ensberg/Aubrey Huff (3B)
3 – Lance Berkman (1B)
4 – Carlos Lee (LF)
5 – Aubrey Huff/Luke Scott (RF)
6 – Craig Biggio/Chris Burke (2B)
7 – Brad Ausmus (Bengie Molina) (C)
8 – Adam Everett (SS)
9 – Pitcher

(Now With Vernon Wells)
1 - Chris Burke/ Craig Biggio (2B)
2 – Morgan Ensberg/Aubrey Huff (3B)
3 – Lance Berkman (1B)
4 – Carlos Lee (LF)
5 – Vernon Wells (CF)
6 – Aubrey Huff/Luke Scott (RF)
7 – Brad Ausmus (Bengie Molina) (C)
8 – Adam Everett (SS)
9 – Pitcher

Pitching Rotation:
1 – Roy Oswalt
2 – Andy Pettitte
3 – Woody Williams
4 – Jason Hirsh
5 – Fernando Nieve/ Wandy Rodriguez/ Taylor Bucholz/ Chris Sampson

Dan, I like the Vernon Wells pursuit. I like the Molina pursuit. And I think both of those are practical.

(I could nit-pick other pieces of the puzzle, but, then again, why?)

You really think the Astros are going to spend that much money? Earth to crazy guy.

Yes.

Aubrey Huff - around 4-6mil
Carlos Lee - 10 mil
Andy Pettitte - 7-9 mil
Woody Williams - 3-5 mil

Take us back up to about 90mil for 07.
I really think if the Astros dont't have a payroll around $90mil in 2007, then the Astros did not do enough in the off season or they got some bargain deals.

First Post Ever: Where would Mike Lamb fit into the Astros plans as the starting 3B? He seems to be worthy of a starting spot next year after coming back from a dismal 2005. Trading him seems like a possible option too since it seem like the outfield would get crowded soon if a free agent pick up is in the future. I think finding a good hitting shortstop or catcher should be the main focus and then starting pitching rather than a outfielder.

I agree, signing a hitting shortstop and catcher would be great, but there is slim pickings this year in that category, especially for the type of hitter that Houston needs. http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2000/04/possible-free-agents.html

Those free agent prices you listed are preposterous lowball numbers.

Lee looks a little off but calling them preposterous is a preposterous exaggeration.

Trade Plans maybe? Cleveland is looking to find a closer for quite sometime. The Astros have examined many possibles at the 3rd starting position role ex. Woody Williams...Would it be probable that A trade involving Brad Lidge($3.5 mil) amd the Indians SP Paul Byrd ( $7min )could ever take place )?. The astros could fill a much needer void in the middle of the rotaion not knowing if Pettite will return to pitch all..ETC....I believe that the astros could keep fewer of their young pitchers out of the rotation and allow are bullpen to be packed with good young pitchers that needed could also spot start if needed. Thsi is assuming Dan Wheeler is a long term solutiion to the closer role.

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