added 8/18/2009 by Bob Hulsey
With the 2009 season practically out of reach, let's turn our attention to what the 2010 Astros might look like. Houston spent around $105 million in payroll this year but a bad economy and sagging attendance, sure to dip even further in September, mean Drayton McLane will likely cut his budget and begin the transition from pricey veterans to cheaper kids. It's not going to happen overnight and it won't be pretty. But the Astros are probably beginning the overdue plan to make a valid pennant push a few years from now.
I don't know what McLane's target budget will be. Richard Justice, in a recent column, thought $85 million would be that target. That would mean drastic cuts that I don't think the Astros are ready to make. I think $95 million is a more realistic figure. But, then, it's not my money.
For most of the salary numbers discussed here, I am leaning on the website Cot's Baseball Contracts which provides a good breakdown of what each club spends and what the payout is for multi-year deals. Keep in mind there are assorted bonus clauses that might be factored in to the grand total.
Also note that, for all players not presently under contract for 2010, I'm giving you my estimate of what I think their 2010 salary will be. Notice also that the salaries for players under club control prior to being eligible for arbitration are based as much on time served in the majors as it is their on-field performance.
With the ground rules out of the way, let's start with the Astros under contract already for next year:
OF Carlos Lee $18.5 mil ($18.5 mil in 2011 and 2012)
SP Roy Oswalt $15.0 mil ($15.0 mil in 2011 and option for 2012)
1B Lance Berkman $14.5 mil (option for 2011)
2B Kazuo Matsui $5.0 mil
Subtotal: $53.0 million for four players.
Brian Moehler has a mutual option for 2010. I don't know the money figures but my guess is it will be close to the same amount he is getting this year, which is $500.000. I think one or the other will pick up the option.
SP Brian Moehler $0.5 mil
The team has Doug Brocial under contract for 2010 with a buyout option of $250,000. I think the Astros will use this option, making Brocail a free agent.
Subtotal: $53.75 million for five players.
Now let's focus on the arbitration-eligible players. I may be off on some of my estimates here but, in the end, I expect it to balance out:
SP Wandy Rodriguez $5.0 mil
OF Hunter Pence $4.0 mil
OF Michael Bourn $3.0 mil
IF Jeff Keppinger $1.5 mil
RP Tim Byrdak $1.2 mil
RP Chris Sampson $1 mil
C Humberto Quintero $0.5 mil
C Chris Coste $0.5 mil
Geoff Geary is also arbitration-eligible. He signed for $1.7 million in 2009 and I suspect that he'll be waived unless he accepts a substantial pay cut to stay, so I believe he'll become a free agent.
This adds $16.7 million and eight players to our total.
Subtotal: $70.45 million for 13 players.
Next, let's add in the players under club control who I expect to be with the parent club next year:
SP Bud Norris $0.4 mil
SP Yorman Bazardo $0.425 mil
SP Felipe Paulino $0.425 mil
RP Wesley Wright $0.45 mil
RP Jeff Fulchino $0.425 mil
RP Alberto Arias $0.425 mil
This adds $2.55 million and six players to our total.
Subtotal: $73 million for 19 players.
We now have 11 pitchers and eight position players. Assuming a 12-man staff, we now need one reliever and five hitters to round out a 25-man roster.
These are the free agents once the season ends: SS Miguel Tejada, RP Jose Valverde, RP LaTroy Hawkins, SP Mike Hampton, RP Doug Brocail, 3B Geoff Blum, OF Darin Erstad, C Ivan Rodriguez, OF Jason Micahels, IF Aaron Boone, IF Matt Kata.
For a moment, let's imagine what happens if Ed Wade were told to be minimalist and spend no more than necessary to complete the roster. He'd then fill out the squad with folks in our minor league system, all at minimum wage:
RP Sammy Gervacio $0.4 mil
SS Tommy Manzella $0.4 mil
3B Chris Johnson $0.4 mil
OF Brian Bogusevic $0.4 mil
OF Yordany Ramirez $0.4 mil
IF Edwin Maysonet $0.4 mil
This would make a complete 25-man roster for $75.4 million. The regular lineup might look like this:
If my $95 million payroll target is accurate, that leaves roughly $20 million to sign or re-sign free agents. I'm sure Wade will want to bring back some of the players he is losing and I would too.
First on my list is Hawkins, whom I estimate can be re-signed for $3.75 mil. Subtract Gervacio and it bumps my subtotal to $78.75 million. The next guy I bring back is Pudge Rodriguez. He came cheap last year but he's a Scott Boras client and I expect he'll get a substantial raise to $4 million. Subtract Quintero and we are now at $82.25 million. I'm not a Geoff Blum fan but Chris Johnson isn't ready and Blum adds a needed lefty bat to the lineup. I'd sign him for $1.5 mil. To recap:
RP LaTroy Hawkins $3.75 mil
C Ivan Rodriguez $4 mil
3B Geoff Blum $1.5 mil
Three players for $9.25 million. If you subtract $1.3 mil in players I've bumped from the roster, that makes:
Subtotal: $83.35 million for 25 players.
Now comes the hardest question. Do you re-sign Tejada, Valverde or neither? Either might cost around $9 mil or $10 mil to have back. You could also split the difference and sign, say, free agents Jack Wilson and J.J. Putz for $5 mil apiece.
Hawkins filled in adequately for Valverde when he was injured but his past career when asked to close is spotty.
Tejada is a plus bat at the SS position, is durable and a team leader. He also seems to be genuinely thankful that the Astros stood by him during his recent legal troubles and might be willing to take less in order to stay. I'd take him back at roughly $9 million. Subtract Manzella and that puts us at:
SS Miguel Tejada $9 mil
Total: $92.35 million for 25 players.
This leaves room for some other minor free agent signings, paying bonuses or doing a deadline deal but, for now, this would give me the following 25-man roster for 2010:
C I. Rodriguez
Bench: Coste, Keppinger, Maysonet, Bogusevic, Ramirez.
12-man pitching staff:
SP W. Rodriguez
Of course, this is a very conservative approach to crafting next year's Astros which will likely produce the same results as this year's team. Any fan can imagine trades or other transactions they think would make the Astros more competitive. The purpose for this column is to let fans see the foundation with which to build on while understanding where the options are for next year's roster.
If the Astros really want to make a major shake-up, the only significant way to do it is to deal one of their three highest contracts. The problem is that they all have no-trade clauses and the only one who has even hinted at accepting a trade is Oswalt. After a disappointing season, would he bring back what he's worth to the Astros? I doubt it, plus the number of trading partners would likely be small given his salary and his right to veto a trade.
Therefore, I expect the Astros to stand pat this offseason, making only token moves to tweak the roster - nothing that's going to bring a stampede of paying customers to the turnstiles. But that's okay. Astro fans are going to need to endure some off years before the pieces are in place to make another title run.