added 1/9/2008 by Scott Barzilla
The Astros made a bevy of moves since the last time I wrote. At a certain point you almost have to wait for the dust storm to stop so you can catch your breath. Since they haven't made any signficant moves since before Christmas it seems like a good time to take that breath. As Lance Berkman said, he felt like he was traded to the Astros.
Ironically, the Astros off-season mirrors that of MLB. There has been a lot of news, a lot of talk, and no one is quite sure how it will end up. Ed Wade is either the biggest genius this town has ever seen or he will be fitted for the dunce cap. There really isn't a lot of room for in between. Since there have been a lot of stories I will have to cover them bullet style (so to speak).
Tejada comes to Houston
The five for one deal surprised everyone. The Astros surrendered a lot of pitching depth, but when you break it all down it amounts to the loss of two key pitchers (Troy Patten and Matt Albers) and a bunch of stuff they really weren't going to use. I actually hated losing Albers because I had high hopes for him, but if you want to make some cornbread you gotta break a few eggs (or something like that).
The big question about the deal is whether Tejada's defense will pass muster. Coming off the heals of Adam Everett makes this issue that much more crucial. The predictions are many, but most point to Tejada being average or better. Everett was legitimately the best in the business with the glove, so there will be a drop off. Even if Tejada produces only an 800 OPS, it will be nearly 200 points higher than Everett. Overall, it's a signficant upgrade.
Qualls and Burke go for Valverde
The documented need for a closer topped Ed Wade's wish list for the off-season. This was especially true following the Brad Lidge deal. One of the guest speakers at our last SABR meeting correctly questioned the importance of closers. A good one earns ten million or more a season for 60 to 70 innings of work. That being said, I suppose the confidence factor that a very good closer brings the rest of the staff is hard to define. Valverde is legitimately a good one.
Yet, the Astros surrender more pitching depth with Chad Qualls and Juan Guitterez going the other direction. Chris Burke was an afterthought following Mark Loretta's return. Guitterez probably won't amount to a great pitcher, but the Astros pitching depth is thinner than Kate Moss after a weekend of purging. Qualls would have been nice to have behind Valverde. As it stands, they have to hope Doug Brocail's 41 year old arm holds up.
Where do they go from here?
One thing is for sure, I wouldn't expect any significant trades. The Astros don't have anything significant to deal outside of their core. The answer to the above question depends on how much more Drayton McLane is willing to spend. The Astros can put themselves in playoff contention if he is willing to surpass the 100 million mark. An extra ten to fifteen million could buy an additional two pitchers for the staff. That could be the difference.
The list is uninspiring to say the least. Livan Hernandez will eat innings and little else. Jon Lieber is a Wade favorite, but hasn't been a good pitcher for a few years now. Kyle Lohse is the pitcher de jour, but I'm dumbfounded as to why. Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings, and Bartolo Colo are all coming off of arm injuries. If the Astros want to strengthen the pen, Octavio Dotel is still available. Jeremy Affeldt and Trever Miller are still out there from the left hand side. Alyson Footer correctly compared it to a game of musical chairs. No one wants to be the last pitcher without a job. In the next two to three weeks the prices will go down.
All the other stuff
No one can avoid the Mitchell Report this off-season. I hate talking about myself. Players that had the misfortune of playing for the California teams, both New York squads, and Toronto got the brunt of it. If you played in the Midwest you are golden. Daytime television has a commercial for the "Christian trial lawyers". I always thought it was an oxymoron, and if this whole thing has done anything it has made a ton of money for lawyers.
All joking aside, there are some very good lawyers out there and they would correctly use this as a prime teaching model for first year law students. 86 people are guilty before proven innocent and the rest of the league is innocent no matter what they may or may not have done. Cases against the likes of Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada are based on evidence so flimsy it would make the Puritans in Salem blush.
This brings us to Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee themselves. I just wish they would tape it all and pick out a time slot on the Soap Opera channel. Their lawyers are firing off back and forth. They are holding press conferences, taping phone conversations, and testifying before Congress. Who would like to be the representative that goes back to his or her district to tell a sick child they couldn't talk about health care for children because they had to deal with steroids in a kid's game? I sure wouldn't.
I don't pretend to like Roger Clemens and those players that confirmed their cheating have stained the game. Still, Bud Selig and George Mitchell accomplished something I didn't think possible. They made me feel sorry for the players. I think every intelligent person knows the chances are very good that Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, and most of the other 84 players were dirty. Yet, so was the commissioner, the organizations, and Players Association. What Bud is doing is saying, "ignore the mud on my clothes and look at the dirt on these guys." Some people praise Bud for his reign as commissioner. I will always see the guy that shrugged when league officials asked him what to do in the 2004 All-Star game. It was a tie. This situation is too. Sometimes, ties are acceptable. In this case it is quite like kissing your sister. That is if your sister had a cankor sore.