What Now?

added 1/10/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Columnist's note: I would like to thank the person that informed that me that I had misspelled Drayton McLane’s name in my last column. I would thank them by name, but they did not leave their name.

We could spend a lot of time over what should have been done with the Carlos Beltran negotiations. From the outside looking in, it looks like the deal went dead after the Astros failed to offer Beltran an option for an eighth year and a iron-clad no-trade clause. Should this have been enough to kill the deal? At first glance, you wouldn’t think so, but at the end of the day it’s almost as if we’re talking about monopoly money.

For those of you who read one of my first columns, you saw that I put Beltran’s real value at somewhere between thirteen and fourteen million per season. At the end, the Mets gave Beltran seventeen million per season and an option for an eighth year. Ironically, the amount per season is the exact same rate that Bagwell gets (in simple per season calculation). Considering the fact that we are still kicking ourselves over that one, one can hardly blame Drayton McLane for bowing out. People on the internet chat sites are aghast that McLane would not offer the option year or the no-trade clause. How could he possibly balk at that when they were so close?

The simple answer to that question is that it is never that simple. Certainly, anyone that knows me knows how often I voice my displeasure with McLane, but even I have to admit that it is very easy for us to sit here and spend his money. We would be na%EFve to think that the Astros’ brass just sits around and dreams up numbers in their head. They do some research on this and determined an eighth year was out of the question. The topic of the no-trade clause is comical at best. I don’t think the Pirates, Brewers, Tigers, or Devil Rays are going to come clamoring for a seventeen million dollar a year player. If you’re offering him then there is something wrong with him, so there are only a handful of teams willing and able to take that risk. In other words, why have a no-trade clause on someone that is immobile?

We could argue about eighth years, no-trade clauses, missed phone calls, and how to bid on Park Place and Boardwalk, but it will get us nowhere. It got the Astros nowhere. We’ve seen now that they were talking to Lance Berkman on the side during the negotiations. Hopefully, that will yield a long-term deal before the arbitration hearings start, but the fact remains that no real business was done during this ordeal. That was the mistake because it wasn’t necessary.

In many ways, the courtship of Beltran was the same as other great courtships in the sense that you don’t anger the person you are courting by courting someone else. That’s perfectly understandable. Talking to Steve Finley or Moises Alou would have been a slap in the face during the Winter Meetings. I think we can all understand that. It is also understandable that you wouldn’t want any other big ticket items at other positions. Nobody disagrees with that part of the approach. If you’re asking the best looking girl in the school to the dance, you won’t get very far if she knows you have three backups lined up.

As we all know, building a baseball team is never that simple. The Astros made it that simple and that is where they failed. There is absolutely no reason why the Astros couldn’t have added a couple of relief pitchers along the way. Chris Hammond has agreed to a 750,000 dollar deal with the Padres. You can’t tell me that three quarters of a million would break the Beltran bank. The club could have let Orlando Palmeiro go and upgraded to someone like David Dellucci or Dustan Mohr. They could have brought in a Terry Adams, Jim Mecir, or Antonio Osuna for Hammond’s money (all three are still available).

The most peculiar oversight was allowing the pesky Padres to run off with Woody Williams as well. Williams wanted to come to Houston to return home as Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens did. He signed for 3.5 million (with a hefty option) in San Diego, but might have given the Astros a discount. Williams is not a top of the rotation starter anymore, but for two or three million he is a heck of a fourth starter. Having him would have allowed us to check off the rotation as a need at this point in the game.

All of these moves could have been made for about five or six million dollars. They would have accomplished a couple of things. First, it would have met all of our minor needs. Secondly, it might have convinced Beltran that we WOULD be more competitive than the Mets and it might have also helped Clemens make his decision. Even if Beltran had left, you would only be scrambling for a centerfielder instead of a centerfielder, reserve outfielder, two relievers, and a couple of starters.

Those are the mistakes that were made. Hopefully McLane and Tim Pupura will learn from them. Now, the club must regroup and make smart decisions from here on out. Richard Justice said the Astros would not be champions in 2005 in his column on Monday. He may or may not be right, but one thing is clear. There are very few moves that can be made to make the Astros the favorites in the Central. There are a few moves that could be made to put us in the first division (and thus in the hunt).

First, the Astros need to snatch up two of those three relievers (Steve Reed is also one to look at) at the very least so we will at least have a strong bullpen. Secondly, the Astros do need to explore deals for centerfielders, but they need to be careful here. Willy Taveras will be ready in 2006 (if not during 2005), so any player should be a one year option. I will have to disagree with Justice on the fact that Randy Winn is not a good option. It depends on the Mariners asking price. He is a good one-year stopgap while Taveras develops. Winn is a flawed offensive player, but he can cover centerfield with the best of them.

Any starting pitcher that is signed must be signed to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training or a low end contract. None of the available starters are good enough for long-term deals and we can’t do anything to jeopardize 2006. The same goes for any other crazy trade ideas that are beginning to float around (Chris Burke and Brandon Backe for Alfonso Soriano?)

The fun thing about rebuilding is that you get to see what the young kids can do. The problem with rebuilding is that you always get a dud or two. The Astros need to use 2005 to evaluate the futures of Chris Burke, Adam Everett, Morgan Ensberg, and Jason Lane. Young pitchers like Ezekiel Astacio and Taylor Buchholz need to be seen at some point in the year as well. Then, you can come out like gangbusters in the free agent market of 2006.

As for McLane and Pupura, they can use this as a learning experience. You cannot trust some people and you cannot allow them to dictate the way you conduct business. It may not be prudent to avoid all Scott Boras clients, but if you know a player is in his camp it should make you pause. How bad do you really want them? Is any one player worth this kind of aggravation?

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.” They can be found at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com; http://www.amazon.com; and http://www.barnesandnoble.com.