added 3/15/2009 by Scott Barzilla
In case you were thinking that the Astros Spring Training is serving no positive purpose, you can rest easy now. Rumor has it that Major League IV is saving on casting by simply taping Astros games and practices for the bloopers element. In fact the running title is Major League IV: Independent A ball performance and eight dollar beers. Sure, it might have seemed like they made two too many major league movies anyway, but the extra money going to Jason Smith will keep him from collecting a government check.
Okay, maybe that's a big harsh. Yet, you can only spin this "spring records have no bearing on the regular season" tale for so long. When you are looking up a 1-14 you begin to start googling Grapefruit League results to see what the worst Grapefruit record in history was. Cecil Cooper might not have the best poker face in the world. In fact, he seems more schizophrenic than riverboat gambler, but who's to say what anyone would do when in charge of this ship.
On the one hand, you have Coop saying that this is the worst baseball he has seen played in 41 years in professional baseball. I believe him then. When he says that all five of the Astros catchers in camp make him feel comfortable about the catching in the Astros system I tend to believe he's lying through his pie hole. When Ed Wade keeps reiterating that they have no interest in Pudge Rodriguez I tend not to believe him. When you combine the two you get an organization that is desperate to cover something up.
This is where we get the expression "save your watches". The expression comes from the fact that when you are knee deep in BS you better make sure you keep it off of your valuables. The Astros seem to be shoveling more than their fair share this off-season. You get the owner talking about winning a championship with a roster that seems anything but championship worthy. You get Ed Wade talking about wanting to compete and yet wanting to go with young players at key positions. Cooper seems to fly off the handle and wax philosophical on alternate days. Where will it all end?
Maybe it is all a part of a grand plan to keep Pudge Rodriguez's price down. The fact that Pudge has more hits in four WBC games than all of the Astros catchers combined in sixteen Grapefruit League games is enough to create a public demonstration of need. The Astros comments on Friday might have been an effort to stem the tide, but everyone knows the score. Can it hold off Pudge enough to keep the price reasonable? I suppose it is worth the organization looking stupid if that ends up being the case. Of course, if their lack of interest is genuine then we have another story entirely.
One can hardly look at the problems behind the plate, third base, and in centerfield and conclude that this will be a good lineup. One can hardly look at the problems behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation and conclude that they have a good starting staff. Yet, management continues to claim we will be in the hunt and that they are trying to field a competitive team. Who are they trying to kid? The impending doom comes from an organization that doesn't seem to know whether they are coming or going.
When you look at the Astros' roster you see two regulars that are under thirty, no starting pitchers under thirty, and only one reliever. A couple of guys on the bench might be as well. That's hardly the kind of roster designed to develop young talent or win a pennant. When you get right down to it, the Astros 1-14 record is not an indication of how things will go in 2009. It is an indication of 2010 and beyond. Most of the guys getting regular time won't be on the team this year. Yet, it's not as if we are playing the regulars from the other teams. In fact, we were hit a lot less hard than most teams by the WBC. So, our AA and AAA guys are getting torched by their minor league guys. This is not a good thing.
In 2008, Baseball Prospectus said this about the Mets. They repeated it in this version about the Yankees. It can easily be said about the hometown nine: "Older teams run an increased risk of injury or sudden erosion of skill, and that risk compounds with each additional elder added to the ranks. This is true if the players are coming off good or great seasons, if they are perennial all-stars, or are just earning time toward their pension. Age doesn't care what a player did last year; past accomplishments are unable to slow the forward march of time that carries an athlete toward his competitive demise." Those guys are certainly more capable of colorful prose than I am. It has the added element of being true.
The art of the science is knowing when it will all come tumbling down. In many ways, the aging club is the downside of the baseball coin. The Tampa Bay Rays were the ultimate example of not knowing when a young team would gel. In many cases, you don't know if it will ever happen. The Pirates and Royals are great examples of that. Yet, old teams always grow old. Whether it happens in 2009 or 2010 remains to be seen. Heck, they could stave off death until 2011. The question here is whether you want to really risk it. If you do, then damn the torpedoes and get as many old veterans (Ivan and Pedro?) and make a run as best you can. If you don't, then trade as many aging veterans before they turn into vinegar.