Are Trade Winds Blowing?

added 07/11/2011 by Bob Hulsey

As we enter the All-Star Break, the Astros resemble the motorist that just realized he's running out of gas, it's 98 degrees outside and the next gas station is ten miles ahead. In other words, they're running on fumes and it's about to get sticky.

It seems like the entire organization is paralyzed waiting for the sale to Jim Crane's group to go through although that may not happen now until mid-August, long after the July 31st trade deadline which represents the last real chance to change the ballclub for this year.

One of our forum posters put it this way:

"What makes this year seem more frustrating than I expected is that the team seems rudder-less. McLane has lost interest and is on his way out, but still owns the team while MLB takes its sweet time approving an ownership change. You get the feeling that the Astros are in some kind of twilight zone where nobody is in charge because of the murky ownership situation. The Astros' winning percentage just fell off a cliff after Crane and Drayton agreed to the sale. Yeah, that maybe (even probably) is a coincidence. But it makes me wonder if the murky "who's really in charge?" concern has seeped down to the players' level."

Since the sale announcement on May 16th, the Astros own a 13-34 record, not only the worst in the majors but, if projected to a 162-game season, would result in a 45-117 record or a winning percentage of .276. To put that into historical context, the expansion 1962 New York Mets, long regarded as the benchmark for baseball incompetence in the modern era, were only five games worse at 40-120 (.250). In other words, the Astros would need a winning streak just to be in Epic Fail territory.

Other than dumping Bill Hall and Nelson Figueroa, what have the Astros done about this? Nothing, really. They brought up Jordan Lyles who has pitched better than Brett Myers and J.A. Happ, for whatever that's worth. They're rolling the dice with David Carpenter.

A few weeks ago, I was in favor of holding onto the Astros' four most tradeable commodities - Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn - unless a great deal came to us. But it is becoming obvious that the Astros need a major shakeup and the sooner, the better.

The first thing to do is clear out the dead wood. Release Jason Michaels. There's no justification for keeping him on the roster. None. He's 35 years old and batting .208.

Trade Jeff Keppinger? Sure. He's hitting over .300 since returning from foot surgery. Surely there are teams interested in bench help that would give up a pitching prospect for him. We can give his playing time to Matt Downs or Angel Sanchez without missing much.

Those moves won't create much of a ripple but the next one will. It's time to release 35-year-old Carlos Lee. The Astros will never move forward until they drop El Caballo from the team. He hasn't been a bad fielder this year and his offense has crept back into respectability but that knack of hitting pop ups and double play grounders whenever a big hit is needed is going to haunt Houston until he's gone for good. I realize that means the Astros will eat $27 million in salary but it's what this team needs most. If the Astros aren't willing to eat the cost, at least sit him down for awhile.

This opens up left field for Brian Bogusevic, Jason Bourgeois and possibly J.D. Martinez to get a shot.

As to the four most tradeable I mentioned earlier, don't make any stupid deals but make them all available. We want guys in the high minors or early in their major league careers who project to be solid big leaguers or better in return. For Myers, we may make an exception. All four are still young enough and talented enough to be contributors going forward but a lot of contenders could use another starting pitcher or an upgrade in the outfield. If a good offer comes along, take it.

And could it hurt to find a couple of guys who are true leaders? "Nice guys" who "fit in" are good to have but the best teams also have a few guys who put the team on their backs when the the situation demands it and refuses to fail. Judging by recent events, no such players currently work for the Astros.

Richard Justice, who specializes in taking all positions on any given subject so he has the luxury later of claiming he was right all along, seems to believe the Crane group is getting some positive feedback on Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman taking the same post here.

Why would Friedman want to come to Houston? Besides being a Houston native, Friedman clearly knows now that the Rays will never be able to maintain their competitive position as long as the Tampa area fails to support the team or build it a new stadium. For all its warts, Friedman knows the Houston market will support a winning baseball team.

Secondly, if the Astros aren't foolish enough to move to the American League, Friedman will no longer have to compete toe-to-toe with baseball's two richest and most free-spending franchises. The Rays have had to match the Yankees and Red Sox with a far smaller payroll. They've been asked to race the Indy 500 in a Honda Civic. Having scaled that mountain twice, Friedman knows he's got nothing else to prove in Tampa. It can only get worse for him if he stays.

The beauty of joining a team at the very bottom is that there's nowhere to go but up and there will be plenty of credit coming his way if he can do for Houston what he did for Tampa, despite it being an easier challenge.

The country's fourth-largest city and 10th-largest media market has the resources to take Friedman to heights that the Rays cannot. The Astros are on the same level as the Phillies in terms of size and fan base. If run correctly, there's no reason they couldn't someday be as successful as the Phillies.

But it all has to start sometime and that time shouldn't be at the Winter Meetings. It should be prior to the trade deadline. The status quo isn't working and the only thing worse would be to stay with the status quo out of fear the new management might do things differently.

Even if they can't make a good trade materialize, the Astros can start to rebuild by sitting or releasing the older players who aren't putting any W's on the ledger now. Give the kids a chance to play and a chance to stick, no matter how horrible the results.

We've seen what the veterans are doing. They're the ones with their thumbs out, holding a gas can by the side of the road.