Back to the Future

added 1/16/2009 by Scott Barzilla

"Take me away. I don't mind. I think rather be back in time."

If you see the train replaced with a Delorean this season don't be surprised. The Astros have had a very productive off-season so far. They've signed two twenty game winners, a closer, a starting catcher, and the hero of the ALCS. The problem is none of these guys had these roles (or achieved these heroics) after 2003. In fact, most of the success of these players came in the prior century.

Of course, many of you wouldn't be surprised if I harken back to a different movie for these signings. I have half a mind to expect a couple of mid-management types exclaiming, "I haven't heard of half of these guys and the ones I have heard of are way past their prime." Another executive might even inform Ed Wade or Tal Smith that one of their signees is dead. I guess we better mark him off the list.

This is the kind of comical nature that comes when you can neither spend money, nor rebuild. You have a farm system that has few prospects and a parent club with little cash. The solution is to stack Round Rock with as many faded heroes as possible. Maybe Smith and Wade were being nostalgic and thought Dave Clark was ringing in the New Year circa 2000. Let's take a look at these cast of characters that are coming into town:

I guess time flies when you're Danny Graves. Someone on Speedy's board asked if he was still pitching. I suppose so on some minimal level, but he hasn't had a decent season since 2004. He didn't pitch in the Major Leagues at all last season continuing their efforts to doggedly sign no one from the current free agency class (after determining there was no more money to spend). Technically, he will be 34, but Graves has never looked a day older than 16, so maybe he will find the fountain of youth. Sure, and maybe a Nigerian national will make good on the ten million he's promising me.

Then, you have Russ Ortiz. Yes, the same Russ Ortiz that Dusty Baker pitched into oblivion. Ironically (or not), he was also last good in 2004. As a Giant, Baker threw him well over 100 pitches about two dozen times too many (or more). Predictably, his arm broke down to the point where he had to have shoulder surgery. Now, he is trying for a fresh start. Actually, when you look at the list of guys we signed, he has the best chance of making good.

Toby Hall spent three seasons as the Rays' regular catcher. Funny, but they had their most success after he left. He hit 12 home runs in 2003 and looked like he would become a decent regular. His numbers in those years (2003-2005) were better than Brad Ausmus', but then again so were Jethro the Toothless on the corner of San Jacinto and Jefferson. Hall did play in the big leagues last year (White Sox) which makes him better than just about everyone else on this list.

Finally, you get Jose Capellan. He threw 71 innings for the Brewers in 2006, but hasn't had a full season in the majors since. This is somewhat puzzling considering he has a career ERA+ of 92. That's not good, but there are definitely some hurlers that are worse than that in a bullpen somewhere. Supposedly, Capellan will battle with Ortiz, Backe, and Hensley for the fifth starter's spot. Anyone else rooting for Felipe Paulino?

Put these up against the signings of Aaron Boone and Jason Michaels and it makes them look like they were coming off of career years. So, why do the Astros waste money on these people? The answer is simple: it's hardly not any money. All but Boone and Michaels were signed to minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training. Those guys aren't on the 40 man roster and will not be unless they make the team. In other words, they get the same AAA pay everyone else does. Heck, maybe they can organize a "Take Danny to the prom" Night in Round Rock. Maybe they could have a "Show your scar to Russ Ortiz" Night as well.

Spring Training will be interesting nonetheless. There are four catchers ostensibly competing for two slots. Let's not even bring up the fact that Jason Castro was invited to camp. Then again, if you sign every pitcher that's pitched since the National Association days, you need multiple catchers to get their throwing in. Maybe they can give Bob Knepper a call.