Stating the Obvious

added 5/18/2005 by Scott Barzilla

There is a reason why surgeons make more than medical examiners. I suppose with the collection of CSIs on TV (New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Des Moines, Spokane, et al) it is trendy to like the medical examiner. Remember this: no matter how sexy the plot, the client is still dead. Any jackass can walk into the barn and proclaim that the horse is dead. It takes someone with a little going on upstairs to prevent the horse from dying in the first place.

Many of you are wondering what in the heck this has to do with baseball. The quick answer is to refer you to Richard Justice’s column in Tuesday’s Chronicle. In that column, he essentially blamed Drayton McLane for everything that went wrong this off-season. Apparently, he waved his magic wand and tore Berkman’s ACL and forced Bagwell’s arthritis to act up too. All the while, Justice told us he knew this all along and said so in his columns.

That’s funny, but I seem to remember him flip-flopping on the issue, but my memory is fuzzy at times. Like most sports columnists, Justice is adept at getting ahead of the herd and convincing us that he is in the know. Unfortunately, that leaves the rest of us to catch full wind of the stench that is left behind. Now, I do have to admit that I’ve been accused of having an ego and a little “know-it-all-ism”, but Justice takes this to the nth degree.

Perhaps, all of his appearances on “Pardon the Interruption” have gone to his head. Certainly, the nationalization of the local sports writer has probably done more damage than good to the industry. Anyone that watches ESPN on a regular basis has seen this explosion over the years. From PTI to the Sports Reporters to Around the Horn you can see a bunch of local reporters heads expand before your very eyes. God only knows how guys like Jay Mariati, Mike Lupica, and Mitch Albom are to deal with. Well, Justice is our “media darling” so we have to deal with him nearly every day.

Of course, I don’t get the big bucks here simply to badmouth my colleagues and you don’t pay the big bucks to get to this site just to see me do that. So, let’s take what he has said and analyze it piece by piece. I’m not much of a medical examiner. In my second book I tried to analyze the available data at the time instead of playing Monday morning quarterback. So, I will try to apply what happened to future dealings.

Shouldn’t have waited on Beltran

I don’t even know if I have to address this. It would be like two of the three little pigs saying they should have used brick. Well duh! The key is to take the event and turn it into a lifelong lesson. I think there are three lessons to be learned from that experience that could serve the team in the future.

Lesson One: Think long and hard before you deal with Boras again. If you have a Boras client you really need to take what this guy says with a grain of salt. If you are bidding for someone else’s Boras client then keep in mind that this guy flat out lies about what his client has been offered.

Lesson Two: Whenever you have any huge dollar client you have to make sure they’re worth the money. I have two cardinal rules to signing free agents. First, the player has to play at a position that you need and second he has to be a rare commodity in the marketplace. Beltran was neither, so we are better off without him. This off-season we have some money to spend so the club would be wise to consider there. Think about where the holes are (clue: neither have had an OPS above .700 in a very long time)

Lesson Three: Business cannot stop for one player ever again. The least you could do is fill out of the bullpen and the bench while you are waiting.

The club shouldn’t have let Kent go

I disagreed with this statement then and I still do. This club has Chris Burke ready to go and he is still waiting. Craig Biggio moved to second and that has allowed the club to see what Jason Lane and Willy Taveras can do. Justice talked about good will, but it shows that he thinks this is rotisserie baseball and not real baseball. Every team must renew at one time or another.

The Astros have young kids that they have to play. If we would have re-signed Kent and put Biggio in left then either Willy T. or Lane would have been relegated to the bench or the minors. A year later you are looking at no Kent, Bagwell, Biggio, Clemens, and Ausmus all at the same time. Then, you’re forced to put four new regulars in the lineup at the same time. Can you imagine how bleak 2006 would have been?

This also doesn’t bring Kent’s actual production level into account. He produced 100 RBIs+ a season in San Francisco but never reached that mark here. You talk about that with his .<.350 OBP and you see that he wasn’t nearly as valuable as we thought. Basing a bad decision on six weeks of statistics is foolish. Kent will be himself before the end of the season and we will know a lot more about 2006 than we would have had he been here.

McLane doesn’t get it

I have to admit that I thought this before myself. I said so in my book. I think 2004 was a profound experience for McLane. This is where Justice doesn’t get it. Let’s assume we would have brought the same roster back including Beltran. I maintain that we still wouldn’t have won. Why do I say that? The run that occurred (36-10) doesn’t fully erase the four months of scuffling that took place. Not recognizing that a large part of 2004 was serendipity would have been the bigger mistake.

After all, we know that Bagwell is out for the season and we know that Berkman will probably have to wait until June until he gets his stroke back. The bullpen would have still been shaky because we wouldn’t have been able to afford more than we have now. Of course, the pitching has been strong, but anyone in the heart of hearts must have seen the holes in the team during the NLCS. The lineup had only five productive hitters and the pitching staff was in a bad way when it had to go to anyone but Lidge in the bullpen. The club really didn’t do much to correct that and wouldn’t have if they had brought Kent and Beltran back into the fold.

The Silver Lining

I realize it is hard to look for positives when you are in last place and your Hall of Fame first baseman is likely out for the season, but this is where Justice should have gone with his massive power. What’s done is done. The decisions made from here will affect the general good will of the fans more than anything done this past off-season. The Astros have a golden opportunity to see what they have for the future. That should begin with Todd Self at first base.

The club obviously doesn’t think much of Self and neither does Justice because neither have mentioned him. All he does is get on base. Unfortunately, most teams don’t put a lot of stock in numbers because they prefer to look at tools. This would be a huge mistake on the Astros part.

The key is to remember my two cardinal rules for free agency. We need to find out where the holes are. My gut tells me right now that catcher and shortstop will be the holes, but we need to give Adam Everett the full season to prove whether or not he can be a productive player. The same is true for Jason Lane, Todd Self, Morgan Ensberg, Ezekiel Astacio and Chad Qualls. Then, you use the money from Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus, and Craig Biggio to plug some of the holes.

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