Wading In Deep

added 3/22/2010 by Bob Hulsey

If there's anyone in baseball who compares to Sarah Palin, it must be Astros' General Manager Ed Wade. Everything he does or says causes a thousand self-appointed internet hacks to launch hateful tirades proclaiming him an idiot and a moron.

ESPN.com recently ranked him 29th out of 30 Major League GMs. And that's one of the kinder things anyone on the net says about him. When one of the few people in cyberspace to say anything nice about him is Chronicle chameleon Richard Justice, the man has got some serious image problems.

Actual baseball people know differently. When the 2008 Phillies won it all, their GM Pat Gillick went out of his way to publicly thank Wade for putting many of the pieces together that led to the title. It was under Wade's watch that Philadelphia drafted and signed Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Chase Utley - the nucleus of the current N.L. champs. You may have noticed a few MVP Award winners in that roll call.

I've been scanning news articles about him now for over two years and I've yet to read disparaging words regarding Wade from his baseball brethren (well, one disgruntled pitcher aside). The shrill condemnations come largely from websites where GM wannabes trash his every step.

The hate started before he got to Houston. What were the complaints?:

  • He traded Scott Rolen. Well, boo. Rolen was a soon-to-be free agent with the outlandish Scott Boras as an agent. Wade's not the only one to trade a Boras client rather than be held up for ransom. And while Bud Smith turned out to be a dud, Placido Polanco turned out to be an All-Star. Unfortunately for Wade, Polanco's talent didn't peak until after Polanco was dealt to Detroit for Ugueth Urbina.

  • He traded Curt Schilling. Another deadline deal that was more about money than talent. Wade received four players from the Diamondbacks for Schilling. He got a decent return out of Omar Daal but Travis Lee, the expected stud of the trade, failed to pan out.

    Oh, by the way, the Astros once traded Schilling too and all they got in return was Jason Grimsley who couldn't even make the squad. Grimsley was last seen cooperating with the feds after purchasing human growth hormones through the mail.

  • He signed David Bell to a huge contract. Guilty as charged! Handing a big paycheck to a career .256 hitter at the time didn't make any more sense now than it did then.

    After taking a team from a bad first three years under his helm to a .527-winning team over his last five, Wade was fired in Philadelphia because his teams couldn't squeeze out those last few wins each year to reach the playoffs.

    So when he was hired in Houston late in the 2007 season, the venom took little time to surface from his detractors. His first major move was to deal Brad Lidge to Philadelphia, ironically sealing the closer role the Phillies often lacked while he ran the show there.

    Outfielder Michael Bourn and reliever Geoff Geary were received in return. Bourn was terrible in 2008; much improved in 2009. Geary was fine in 2008; terrible in 2009.

    Then came the Miguel Tejada trade which sent five bodies back to Baltimore. Only Luke Scott has paid dividends for the Orioles while Tejada had two solid but expensive seasons before leaving in free agency. The timing of the swap was bad, coming the day before Tejada's name came out in the Mitchell Report but, in retrospect, Wade probably still got the better end of the deal.

    The netizens savaged Wade for signing outfielder Darin Erstad as a reserve. Erstad only hit .276 while backing up a faltering Bourn in 2008.

    During the season came the Shawn Chacon incident which proved the small, slender Wade was no match for an angry 6-3, 230-lb pitcher. But I've always believed that it was Cecil Cooper's lack of leadership that put Wade in that situation. The Chacon problem never should have reached the General Manager, and in 29 other clubhouses, it wouldn't have.

    The next major Wade bashing came at the 2008 trade deadline when he acquired Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins. That was Randy (6-2, 3.57 ERA in 12 starts) Wolf and LaTroy (1.41 ERA and 12 saves in 84 innings over two seasons) Hawkins. What a total idiot Wade must have been to acquire those two (not to mention the little he gave up in return)!

    Just as with Palin Derangement Syndrome, Wade even catches hell for things he didn't do. He didn't hire Cooper as manager (that was Wade's predecessor, Tim Purpura). He didn't sign Carlos Lee to a monster contract with a no-trade clause (Purpura again). He didn't let the farm system go to seed (Purpura, with a big assist from Drayton McLane). He didn't trade away Ben Zobrist (yes, Purpura again).

    Like the Philadelphia job, Wade's taken on a mid-market franchise that ought to be in better shape than it is and tried to grow it into a perennial winner. But it isn't easy taking an old club with a run-down farm system and an owner bent on downsizing and try to please everybody, especially the guy who signs the paychecks.

    I haven't been in love with Wade's every step either. His fascination with former Phillies is troubling. His strategy of signing role players each winter and then being short of money to sign starting players seems ill-considered. I feel there's been a lack of effort to promote from the minors unless out of dire necessity.

    Wade seems to hit on about 50% of his personnel moves. For every Tyler Lumsden, there's a Jeff Fulchino. For every Kaz Matsui, there's a Jeff Keppinger. For every Oscar Villarreal, there's a LaTroy Hawkins. I'd love to see Wade do better than hit .500, but better personnel moves may come with better chess pieces to play.

    Part of the problem is that Wade doesn't have the large payroll to gloss over mistakes like the big boys do and doesn't have the tiny payroll to evoke sympathy for cobbling together a roster on a shoestring.

    As for terrible personnel moves, Wade didn't sign the combustable Milton Bradley to a 3-year/$30 million contract last year. Wade didn't sign Jason Schmidt to a 3-year/$46 million deal for which the Dodgers received exactly three wins and 43-1/3rd innings for that investment. Those type of deals make Wade look like a genius for signing Mike Hampton and getting seven wins for $2 million. But who out there is ranking the Cubs and Dodgers, respectively, as the worst organizations is baseball the way Wade and the Astros are reflexively buried online?

    As to the farm situation, Wade and Scouting Director Bobby Heck have had two draft classes so far and the early line is that they did a good job picking Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles and others. They have four top picks lined up early in 2010 draft. They've reached out in new territories, including the Pacific Rim, to find talent. It's too early to judge the results but they appear headed in the right direction.

    Yet, I realize that none of this will change the minds of the internet wags. The "Wade's a moron" meme is so thoroughly entrenched into their dogma that five World Series rings wouldn't make a dent in their illogic. Like with Palin, to admit that Wade might not be all that bad is verbotten if you want to maintain credibility within their clique.

    Ed Wade is an average General Manager who runs an average organization in an average-sized market. He's not great at what he does but he's not terrible either. Unfortunately, his reputation has preceded him in many parts and survived so long that no amount of evidence at this point will quiet the critics. I'll have to endure the mindless bashing as long as Wade is in Houston.

    But it doesn't mean I have to drink their Haterade.