Abandon Ship?

added 4/30/2005 by Scott Barzilla

One of my favorite scenes in Bull Durham is when Crash Davis convinces the youngsters he can force a rainout on a wretched road trip early in the season. When I heard of the rain out on Tuesday I suddenly had a picture in my head of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens sneaking into the PNC Park and winning a $100 bet with Chris Burke, Luke Scott, and Willy Taveras that they could indeed force a rainout. Certainly, when you look at that road trip, the only positive was that it ended 0-5 instead of 0-6.

Of course, these days zero seems to be the number of choice for the Astros. Zero runs. Zero offense. Zero confidence from the fans. Perhaps the biggest victim in all of this is Astros general manager Tim Purpura. I listened to the tenth inning show following Wednesday’s game and heard at least one fan verbally threaten Purpura with non-support. Sometimes I chuckle at how polite Houston fans are. In Boston, New York, or Philadelphia they would have a menacing “legitimate businessmen” leave a threatening message on the answering machine. Thank god for civility.

Baseball doesn’t lend itself to perspective in April. A sudden five game winning streak or losing streak has fans jumping ship or reserving their World Series tickets. The Astros have had both this season. Purpura has gone from idiot to genius and back to idiot again in the span of two weeks. Of course, it’s one thing to take abuse from Wedge Fickus from Spring Branch, but it’s something else to take it from the good folks at Baseball Tonight.

My learned colleague Willie has already exposed the hypocrisy that is John Kruk, so I don’t need to pile on. Unfortunately, Kruk is not the only idiot over there. Harold Reynolds told us last season that on base percentage wasn’t important and that guys like Frank Thomas only clog the bases when they walk. Yes, these are words of wisdom coming from a guy that didn’t even have a .320 OBP in his career. When Reynolds and Thomas are both being considered for Cooperstown we’ll see how far OBP gets both of them.

Steve Phillips is finished with his crackdown of the Astros organization. Yes, Steve we all miss Gerry, but none of us really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Besides, do I want you (a failed GM), Larry Bowa (a failed hitter), and Dave Campbell (maybe the worst hitter of the 1970s) telling us what is up from down? My fear is that a lot of casual fans take their cues from these guys. Certainly, there are some good analysts out there on the internet, but most fans don’t know where to find them.

I think the biggest criticism to date is that the Astros did nothing this off-season because they blew the Beltran negotiations. Yes, they did. I cannot deny that because of the simple fact that I was yelling it louder than anyone here and everywhere else. An analyst looking for cheap points could continue to point out the obvious, but is that really our job?

Keeping this in mind, I think it is better for all of us to move on. Yes, we would be a better club in 2005 with Carlos Beltran. No one can deny that, but I would have had serious reservations about 2006 and beyond if we had loaded ourselves down with that contract. One of the luxuries of being a competitive is that you can keep your eye on the prize every season. It might be time to readjust our sights. It happens to every club. The Boys of Summer got old, the Yankees of Mantle, Maris, and Berra got old, and even the Big Red Machine started to sputter after awhile. The Killer Bs too will go the way of the dodo bird too. Father Time is undefeated as they say. I hate to be morbid, but death is as much a part of baseball life as life itself. Death contributes to the cycle of life and the ashes from this dynasty can serve to build the next one.

Of course, many of you out there are wondering when I will stop being metaphor happy and get to the point. Unfortunately, as an English teacher I am contractually required to use metaphors. It’s in the job description. My point is that these veterans are making a quite a big of money. All of that money clears (except for Berkman) after the 2006 season at the latest. Let’s take a look at the per season totals (I hate calculating back-loaded contracts).

Brad Ausmus 2.0 (2005) Jeff Bagwell 17.0 (2006) Craig Biggio 4.0 (2005) Andy Pettitte 10.5 (2006) Roger Clemens 18.0 (2005) 2005 Salaries Cleared 24.0 2006 Salaries Cleared 27.5 Total Salaries Cleared 51.5

So, what do we do in the meantime? Obviously, we are deficient offensively, but there is hope on the horizon. The key is not to panic and not to think in the same terms that we have always thought. We probably shouldn’t look hard for that one deal that will throw us over the top. We probably shouldn’t yank the youngsters when they go through a zero for twenty slump. We need to give all of these kids a full season to see what they’re capable of doing.

When you look at the players being cleared this year I think we can all agree that we need to find a regular catcher on the free agent market next season. Brad Ausmus has been a liability at the plate for years and I don’t think any of us should hold out too much hope that Humberto Quintero can be a regular catcher. However, no catcher has cost even as much as half of what we’re saving this off-season. That still leaves at least ten million dollars to spend on additional talent.

Currently, we don’t know where the holes in the rest of the lineup are going to be. Is Morgan Ensberg really the guy at third base? Can Adam Everett hit enough to justify making him the long-term answer at short? Can Willy Taveras and Jason Lane continue to produce in the outfield? Then of course we have to look at the rest of the rotation and bullpen. Can Astacio and Wandy Rodriguez hold down the last two spots in the rotation? Will Chad Qualls continue to be a productive setup man? These are the questions that need to be answered over the next two years.

So, don’t judge Tim Purpura on what he did this last off-season. I honestly believe his hands were tied. The key for Purpura will be how he handles these decisions as they come up. Who does he choose to keep? Who does he bring in to fill these holes and how much does he spend on them? Those are the questions that should occupy our minds for the rest of the season.

You can listen to the ESPN guys all you want. They give into to the culture of instant gratification more than everyone else. Just remember that Father Time always wins and that the Killer Bs can’t play forever. We have to eventually get to the future and the future is now. Yes, there will be bumpy moments (like three shutouts in five games), but there will also be some exciting times. Perspective is the key.

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management”.