Saturday, November 8, 2008

What Mark Cuban's ownership of the Cubs would look like

Hey, thank God MLB doesn't really and truly care about the fan as there is "no chance" that Mark Cuban will own the Cubs.

So let's look Cuban's business model with the Mavericks under his watch as owner/booster....

1. Complete connection with the fans. To my knowledge no owner had ever put his e-mail address on his website to allow fans to contact him.

2. Total attention to the running of the team. With the Mavericks, Cuban hired special coaches for offense, defense and shooting.

3. Revenue actually gets put back into the team. No using revenue to improve the owner's quality of life, Cuban puts everything back into the team.

What this would mean for the Cubs:

1. The Cubs have dealt with a faceless corporation as their owner (this mythical, Hearstian "Tribune.") Having a very public, very charismatic, very transparent owner would only energize their limping, devastated fan base.

2. Remember Don Zimmer in a Cubs uniform? That was funny. You can bet there would be specialists and coaches for starters, relievers, infielders, outfielders and catchers. The coaches might even get coaches, who would then be coached themselves. The Cubs would be transformed into a sleek, aerodynamic machine.

3. The Cubs' revenue stream - which is massive - would no longer be solely devoted to Jay Mariotti's eyebrows (I actually can't remember if Mariotti was with the Sun-Times or the Tribune. It doesn't matter - that was funny) and keeping the dark specter of bankruptcy off of the media giant's doorstep. Cuban would sink all profits back into the Cubs, not into buying a plane, and I'm talking to you, Kansas City Royals. Which would be scary.

So what does this mean for the Astros and the rest of the National League? It would be bad. Under Cuban, the Mavs have managed to fill needs, not just get guys because they're (a) available and (b) expensive. We don't need to go in to how basketball is different than baseball (three guys can dominate a basketball team, the Cubs know that three pitchers can't help a baseball team when they can't hit (see: Playoffs: 2008). However, rather than throwing money at anybody available, you could count on the GM Jim Hendry having all resources at his disposal.

Now I thought that this might be the year the Cubs actually did it. What you're seeing from Cubs fans, for the first time, is fear of next season. They don't want next year because this postseason was devastating for them. Not that I mind. But Mark Cuban buying the Cubs would energize that fan base so that they could actually look forward to next season, rather than wish they had never been born.

So, thanks Bud!

Friday, November 7, 2008

2nd Signing of the (Day) Post-season!

The Astros announced this afternoon they have signed 22-year old Taiwanese reliever Chia-Jen Lo, who, I'm sorry, but can we please call him "JLo?" Easy Eddie Wade said this: "`A year ago, we talked about the importance of establishing a presence on the Pacific Rim in order to take advantage of another significant talent stream," general manager Ed Wade said. "At that time, we tasked Glen Barker with overseeing our scouting in Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea and Australia."

So hooray for Ed Wade and Glen Barker, Director of Pacific Rim Scouting, for establishing that presence with a young reliever. Back in March it was reported that the Red Sox offered Lo a $200,000 signing bonus, but he turned it down because it was considered too low. The Astros are believed to have offered $250,000.

The blog TaiwanBaseball listed Lo as being anywhere from 5'10" to 6'1" and he throws hard. Real specific, I know. His NBC Olympics bio has no pictures, but lists him at 5'11" and 176 lbs. But hey, at least he'll be a question mark for opponents. Back in October, TaiwanBaseball reported that Lo threw in a college tournament averaging 93-94 mph with good movement and topped out at 96 mph.

Pitching in the Olympics with Taiwan this summer it came out that he had a possible history of an injured shoulder (but so do I, when you think about it. And anything's possible. I have a possible history of an injured foot, too.) with as much command as a wedding reception right hook.

Regardless, Lo was signed to a minor league contract and this is a low-risk, high-reward deal for the Astros.

First signing of the post-season!

Go ahead and add ~$3.75 million to the 2009 payroll as the Astros will agree to terms with reliever LaTroy Hawkins on a 1-year deal.

LaHawk pitched in 57 games with a 3.92 ERA. Relievers' ERAs are a little misleading, as one run can blow up an average. So let's break this down a little more closely.

Acquired at the trade deadline in what I assumed would be a move simply to get an extra draft pick, as his contract expired at the end of '08 (and was thus wrong), LaHawk pitched in 24 games in August and September, but only gave up a run in one game - September 26 against Atlanta. When LaHawk pitched, the Astros went 19-5, and he threw an average of 4.2 pitches per batter faced. LaHawk's ERA with the Astros was 0.90.

This is a relatively expensive way to bolster the bullpen, but it will be nice to have someone in a 7th or 8th inning role who can get guys out on a consistent basis.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On the hook for 2009...

Before we get into the potential free agent market for the Astros to dip into this off-season, we need to see exactly what they're on the hook for already...

General Manager Ed Wade is in the 2nd year of a three-year deal, expiring after 2010.

Manager Cecil Cooper is in the 2nd year of a two-year deal, expiring following next season.

SS Miguel Tejada is in the last year of a 6-year, $72 million deal he signed with Baltimore and is owed $13 million in 2009.

1B Lance Berkman is in the 4th year of a 6-year (club option in 2011), $85 million deal he signed in 2004 and is owed $14.5 million in 2009.

P Roy Oswalt is in the 3rd year of a 5-year, $73 million deal he signed in 2006 and is owed $14 million in 2009.

OF Carlos Lee is in the 3rd year of a 6-year, $100 million deal he signed at the beginning of 2007 and is owed $18.5 million (up from $12 million in 2008).

2B Kaz Matsui is in the 2nd year of a 3-year, $16.5 million deal and is owed $5 million in 2009.

3B Geoff Blum has a club option for 2009.

OF Darin Erstad is in the 2nd year of a 2-year deal he signed and is owed $1.75 million.

P Brian Moehler is in the 2nd year of a 2-year deal (with a mutual option for 2010) and is owed $2.3 million.

So that brings the Astros' payroll for 2009 to a guaranteed: $68 million and change.

Players under contract are, by position:
1B: Lance Berkman
2B: Kaz Matsui
SS: Miguel Tejada
3B: Geoff Blum
OF: Carlos Lee
OF: Darin Erstad

P: Roy Oswalt
P: Brian Moehler

Here are members of the everyday 08 roster no longer under contract (with their 08 cash):

C Humberto Quintero ($405,000)
C J.R. Towles ($396,000)

3B Ty Wigginton ($4.35 million)

OF Michael Bourn ($396,000)
OF Hunter Pence ($396,000)

The aforementioned P Brandon Backe ($800,000)
P Geoff Geary ($1.125 million)
P Jose Valverde, who lost an arbitration hearing against the Astros at the beginning of last season, and is probably pissed off about that $1.5 million he got ripped from him. So his $4.7 million will go up. By a lot, given that he was 2nd in the Majors in Saves last year.
P Tim Byrdak ($712,500)
P Wandy Rodriguez ($451,000)
P Chris Sampson ($401,000)
P Felipe Paulino ($396,000)
P Wesley Wright ($396,000), a December 07 Rule V draftee.

Now, before you get hasty, the Astros are not going to trade for Jake Peavy: Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee has a full no-trade clause. Kaz Matsui has a limited no-trade clause. The pieces just aren't there. Count on the Astros trying to resign Randy Wolf. GM Ed Wade said today that payroll will increase, but stay below $110 million.

You do the math - you have under $40 million. What do you do?

Breaking down...Brandon Backe

Starting at the top of the alphabetical roster, we have everyone's favorite wedding guest...Brandon Backe!

2008 review: Backe has been, to be very kind, inconsistent in his time with the Astros. In seven seasons in the Majors, Backe is 31-29. He has only been used as a starter primarily since 2005 and missed significant time in '06 and '07 thanks to Tommy John surgery.

But the problem has pretty much been his location. No one gave up more home runs in 2008 in the Majors than Backe, with 36 in 166.2 innings (!). That's one for every 21 batters faced in 2008.

In addition to the dingers, Backe lets guys get on base - a career 1.53 WHIP (1.67 in 2008). A lot of this can be attributed to re-learning how to pitch after having elbow surgery, but he's never exactly kept the bases clear and his 112 earned runs in 2008 were most in the NL while batters hit .302 against him.

July was the kindest month for Backe in '08, as he gave up 27 hits in 28.2 innings pitched with a 3.45 ERA - but the Astros were so bad that he went 1-2 in those games and the rest of the season went downhill from there (a 7.82 ERA in August and a 19.64 ERA in September.

Backe was actually better on the road than at home in 2008 with a 5.94 / 6.16 (road / home ) ERA split. Against division opponents, Backe's 2008 is as follows:

CIN: 1-0, 2.70 ERA
CHC: 0-2, 8.85 ERA
MIL: 1-2, 6.30 ERA
PIT: 0-1, 4.00 ERA
STL: 0-1, 7.20 ERA

If you're keeping score at home (and we always are), in 12 starts, Backe was 2-6 against divisional foes. And when he was behind in the count, batters hit .354 against him. And another thing: the first four spots in the lineup combined to hit .335.

Backe basically has four pitches: fastball, curve, slider and a changeup. The problem is that he relies too much on that fastball - again, probably owing to the Tommy John surgery. 60% of his first pitches to a batter in '08 were fastballs, and he throws it 70% of the time when he's behind. But batters only got hits on his fastball 25.8% of the time. It's those breaking pitches that got him, with batters hitting .340 when he threw the Uncle Charlie and .368 off his changeup.

How did he get here? Traded in December 2003 to the Astros for Geoff Blum - who in an unfortunate stroke of bad luck hit the GWHR off Brad Lidge in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series for Chicago.

Forecast for 2009: Here's the thing about pitchers: You're paying for 35 starts. Roy Oswalt carries the same weight in the rotation as Backe, as they both make up 20% of the rotation. So Backe pitched like a #5 starter - or like he should have been in Corpus Christi, except he was #3 or #4 in the rotation. He is not under contract for 2009, signing last January to avoid arbitration, but "only" made $800,000. With the dearth of pitching in the Astros' system, you have to imagine the Astros will keep Backe. They gave him half a million dollars to have TJ surgery, they'll keep him around to see how he turns out. The Crawfish Boxes - the other Astros blog, and the one we're trying to oust as THE Astros blog - makes the point that pitchers tend to do better the second year after Tommy John surgery.

Welcome to Astros County

The Yankees have their Universe. The Red Sox have their Nation. We Astros fans have our market share - the equivalent of a county's worth. Welcome to Astros County. I'm your Constable. We will discuss any and all things Astros, National League and Major League Baseball in general. Feel free to contribute. Feel free to respond.