What could be in 2003

added 9/19/2002 by Raymond Desadier
Acquiring a speedster capable of manning the spacious centerfield in Astros Field has become the top priority for Astros management this off-season. Lance Berkman has certainly handled the job more than adequately but it seems like an itch that Gerry Hunsicker & Co. is determined to scratch.

So now the question is: whom should the Astros seek to acquire? Why not Reggie Taylor of the Cincinnati Reds?

Taylor is a perfect fit for the Houston club. He is a left-handed hitter with some power (9 HR in 255 AB) and can rob both batters and bases (11 steals). Since this is only his first full season in the majors he doesn’t draw a very large salary, which is music to Drayton McLane’s ears. Additionally, such a small investment would be worth a shot. If he doesn’t fit the bill then send him packing and move Berkman back to center.

There is a good chance that the Reds would be willing to part with Taylor considering their outfield is locked with Ego Griffey, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. Throw in the fact that Cincinnati is in dire need of decent pitching and that makes Houston the ideal trading partner.

Taylor would definitely be a better acquisition than Colorado Rocky Juan Pierre or Tampa Bay Devil Ray Randy Winn. Pierre offers no power and will come with a higher price tag, as will Winn, a 2001 American League All Star.

Other Changes

A core of young players that can only improve, and key players such as Berkman and Jeff Bagwell almost certain to have far better numbers next season leaves very few changes that need to be made to this Astros team. Only a few spots need to be filled:

1. Backup infielder – The Astros should make every effort to resign Mark Loretta. Loretta has a .290 career average, can play any position in the infield and has been revitalized since leaving the doldrums of Milwaukee. He could also be the starting third baseman or shortstop.

2. Fifth slot in starting rotation – The Astros should offer Shane Reynolds a contract for about $2-3 million to continue his veteran presence on the staff. This move would enable Pete Munro to move to the bullpen to be a long reliever/spot starter. If a deal cannot be reached with the long-time Astro, then the spot will need to be decided in spring training. Candidates include Munro, Brad Lidge, Jeriome Robertson, Mark Guerra and Tim Redding.

3. Solidify Bullpen – It is very unlikely that Tom Gordon will return to Houston next season so it would help to find one or two more relievers for tight games to go with Ricky Stone, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner. Brandon Puffer has earned a chance at cracking next year’s rotation, but the only other worthy candidates are Munro and Lidge, assuming they don’t make the rotation. With the only other options in the organization being Jim Mann and Tom Shearn, another reliever needs to be acquired to ensure relief depth.

There are three National League relievers who may be available after having disappointing 2002 seasons. Felix Rodriguez of the Giants and Kyle Farnsworth of the Cubs could flourish under the tutelage of Burt Hooton and in a less pressured role than the ones they currently hold. Scott Sullivan of the Reds has been one of the most durable relievers in the game over the last six seasons. A change of scenery may do for them what is has done for Dave Mlicki and Mark Loretta.

Other names to consider: New York Met Scott Strickland (from Klein Oak), Cincinnati Red Scott Williamson (from Friendswood), Milwaukee Brewer Chad Fox (played at Blinn JC and Tarleton State) and Seattle Mariner Ryan Franklin.

And of course what off-season would be complete without Gerry Hunsicker singing the left-handed specialist song. They are nice to have but are hardly a necessity. They are certainly not so vital that the club needs to get ANY pitcher who throws left-handed as they have made such a bad habit of doing (Yorkis Perez, C.J. Nitkowski, Pedro Borbon). They could always have Jason Lane pick up pitching again and when they want to get one batter out, move the pitcher to right field and have Lane pitch and then switch back afterward. It would save money and a roster spot and have the same results, perhaps better. But then again such improvisation is not found in “The Book” so it will never cross Jimy Williams’ mind.

If Hunsicker wants to truly improve the team, he should seek a left-handed pitcher not a left-handed thrower. If such a player cannot be obtained, they should remain content with above average right-handers because they will fare as well if not better than a sorry lefty. Examples of quality left-handers include Atlanta Braves Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond, Montreal Expo Scott Stewart and Milwaukee Brewer Valerio De Los Santos.

TRADE BAIT

Since Remlinger is the only free agent listed above, all of these players would have to be acquired via trade. Here is a list of players who would be worth trading for these suggested players:

Daryle Ward – IF and ONLY if the Astros get plenty in return. Trading Ward will most likely be another one that got away for the Astros, but Richard Hidalgo’s injury and ridiculous salary makes him virtually untradeable, and at least one of them has to go. An even better choice would be to trade Brain Hunter-the search continues, but the Astros probably would never consider it so Ward it is.

Nelson Cruz – time to send his mediocre repertoire and ineffectiveness somewhere else.

Tim Redding – it is taking him far too long to get the hang of pitching in the big leagues.

Also Jeriome Robertson, Mark Guerra, Jim Mann, Scott Linebrink, Eric Bruntlett, and David Matranga.

Review

So here is the ideal roster for the 2003 Houston Astros:

Starting Lineup:
CF Reggie Taylor
2B Craig Biggio
LF Lance Berkman
1B Jeff Bagwell
RF Richard Hidalgo/Orlando Merced
3B Mark Loretta/Morgan Ensberg
SS Julio Lugo/Adam Everett
C Brad Ausmus

Rotation:
Roy Oswalt
Wade Miller
Kirk Saarloos
Carlos Hernandez/Brad Lidge
Shane Reynolds

Bench:
C Gregg Zaun
IF Jose Vizcaino
IF Geoff Blum
OF Orlando Merced
OF Brian Hunter

Relievers:
CL Billy Wagner
SU Octavio Dotel
M Rodriguez/Farnsworth/Sullivan
M Ricky Stone
LR Pete Munro
LR Brandon Puffer
or LH Remlinger/Hammond/Stewart/D.L. Santos

rjdesadier@hotmail.com

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