Saturday, February 21, 2009

Castro adjusting to the Majors and the first two spring games almost set

Bullpen coach Mark Bailey thinks that Jason Castro has all the tools necessary to succeed as a Major Leaguer:

"A catcher's body with a strong arm, soft hands and a big swing. Obviously you look at the physical tools," Bailey said. "But you look at the way he handles himself mentally and the way he carriers himself. I think with the talent that he has it will be a smooth transition. From everything I've seen so far he looks like a major league catcher in waiting."

And it also looks like Mike Hampton is set to go on Wednesday followed by Oswalt on Thursday.

Hall out a month

Toby Hall finally heard from the doctor who decided that maybe this was important enough to leave the NFL combine to take a look at his MRI.

The verdict? Torn labrum and an "unstable right shoulder."

He'll remain in camp and go through a separate rehab. Lintner read Hall’s MRI exam, and it doesn’t appear the veteran catcher can cause further damage to the shoulder.

“You can’t do anymore damage, but it’s one of those things where it’s a good feeling to be here being an Astro,” he said. “I want to go out there. The opportunity is there so I’m going to go see how it unfolds.”

If a doctor told me that I was so jacked up I "couldn't do anymore damage," I wouldn't have much in the way of good feelings.

Max Sapp found a quick (though ridiculously awful) way to lose 50 pounds

I’m just really waiting to see what the doctor says in terms of what he can and cannot do, but he’s going to be on a separate program,” Bennett said. “It’s going to take him some time for him to get back. I don’t anticipate him starting the season on time. I mean, it’s going to take at least a month, if not longer.

“Actually he’s going to report sometime next week to start working in the weight room and just start doing some baseball stuff. But it’s going to be some time until he’s back in the regular swing of things with the other guys.”

Sapp, who weighed about 240 pounds before tangling with viral meningitis, now weighs about 195.

“And at that point we’re going to put a plan together to try to get him back on a program,” Bennett said. “He’s lost probably 40 pounds. He’s still on medication. He’s still getting his memory. There’s a lot of things that he has to relearn, a lot of baseball stuff that he has to relearn. Memory is starting to come back to him, but it’s going to take some time.”

Yeah, before we go over footwork, let's make sure he remembers things like...I don't know...birthdays and family names.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Blast Magazine predicts the National League Houston Astros to finish fifth. Enough said.

In an oh-so-thoughtful article, Blast Magazine made some predictions. They picked the Astros to finish fifth, and then had this to say:

Who plays for the Astros these days? No, really. With the names on this roster, Houston might as well be the International League Toledo Mud Hens. Enough said.

Are they kidding? Maybe they got Max Sapp and Max St-Pierre confused.

Ranking the off-season

Dayn Perry and FoxSports has one of those stupid slideshows ranking the worst off-seasons of 2008-09. But the content is great - I just don't like the format, though no one really cares what I think. However, Perry lists the Cubs and Cardinals as having two of the six worst off-seasons.

The Cubs:
Over the winter, the Cubs parted ways with Mark DeRosa for very little, traded away one of their better setup men (Michael Wuertz), and "sold low" on Rich Hill and Felix Pie. As well, they signed Milton Bradley, a player who's demonstrated no ability to stay healthy (even when DH-ing) to be their everyday right fielder, and they re-signed Ryan Dempster (pictured) to a contract that looks excessive in light of the corrected market. They're still the favorites in the NL Central, but they'll be lucky to get 90 wins in 2009.

The Cardinals:
The Cardinals have on their roster the best player in baseball -- Albert Pujols. Stated another way, there's no finer starting point toward a contending team than Albert Pujols. But the Cardinals are not doing an optimal job in surrounding Pujols with worthy teammates. They have a foundation and some young talent on the way, and the Cubs and Brewers figure to regress in 2009. But St. Louis isn't doing much with this opportunity. Manager Tony La Russa (pictured) needs help in the rotation and the bullpen, but little was done to address those needs. And then, in a puzzling move, the Cardinals released Adam Kennedy, who's still among the best defensive second basemen in the game. Will their penny-pinching cost them a division title?

Interesting that Perry thinks 89 wins could take the NL Central. If the Astros overachieve (and that's, admittedly, a pretty big "if"), maybe it's our year to get swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS!

The Unofficial Scorer is awesome

He has a post that's so good, I'm not even going to pull quotes. The whole thing is good - about the schedule the Astros face in 2009. Read it.

Apparently Doug Brocail goes through career-threatening pain in his shoulder every February

I tore a muscle in my hip a year and a half ago, and it bothers me pretty much when I sit, stand or walk. But the pain Doug Brocail feels? That burning? That's just February talking:

"I get it every year," Brocail said. "It's just that I got it later than normal. Usually I get it about the second weekend of January. And this year, I got it the first week of February. Usually it takes about 2 ½ or three weeks to get rid of and I'm always done with it by spring training."

And then, one of the greatest quotes (in keeping with the juvenile vein of balls and fingers) of the Spring:

"It's starting to go away so I decided I didn't want to get out there and face hitters and get to the point where somebody racked one back at my face and me get a little pissed off and throw one and hump up and get in a bad arm position and slot."

You better believe if you can use "hump up" in a complete sentence, you'll get a +1.

Want to know about Toby Hall's shoulder? So does Toby Hall

"Dr. Lintner is at the NFL combine, so we won't have anything on Hall until tomorrow," general manager Ed Wade said. I just spoke with Hall, and it's quite clear that he's bracing for a potential surgery.

Well that's not good. Obviously when a catcher has problems with his shoulder it's bad. Depending on the type of surgery needed, it's possible that Hall could be out long-term. Jorge Posada missed the second half of 2008 (and is just now 100%) following shoulder surgery.

A Fantasy Baseball Guy talks about Hunter Pence

Let's just get one thing clear here, okay? Nobody talks about their fantasy baseball team to anyboddy else. That said, I'm okay with using fantasy baseball as a platform for talking about the Astros, because I see the value in fantasy baseball - I just swear to you right here and now that I will not be telling you about my team.

So Jason Grey of ESPN offered up what we might expect from Hunter Pence in 2009.

Although Pence's contact rate remained stable, it wasn't always quality contact. Too often, he chased after pitches, especially breaking balls out of the strike zone, on which he could merely put his bat on the ball. Instead, he could've waited for offerings he could drive. The scouting reports made their rounds, and as a result, he saw sliders at a higher rate than any other hitter in the big leagues, according to data from Baseball Info Solutions. He could still catch up with the sliders, but he didn't always make hard contact. Combine that with a first-pitch swing percentage (37.9 percent) that was the fifth-highest in the National League, and you can see why Pence struggled a bit, even as he still put up some solid fantasy stats.

With a selectively aggressive approach, Grey goes on to say, Pence can improve.

Pence drew more walks as the season progressed, and his slugging percentage was more than 100 points higher after the All-Star break than before it. Second-half numbers have far less predictive value than most think, but there is some merit to them for players who have little big league experience, as they can show how a player is adapting.

Astros sign Nieve

Fernando Nieve signed one-year deal for $414,000.

Carlos Lee to play for Panama

"I still want to play a few games and work out. I haven’t faced live pitching in a game. So I want to play a few games and work out and see." says Lee.

So he wants to play a few games and work out, I take it. Any chance Rod Carew suits up for Panama, as well?

And Toby Hall will meet with physicians today before the Astros announce the results of Hall's MRI from Tuesday.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mike Hampton sets a personal record.

"I've thrown two days in a row twice, so I just have to make sure i get through it. I'm trying to catch up for the days I missed." saith Hampton.

I think to make up for all the days Hampton missed, he should be throwing from now until 10 days after the earth crashes into the sun. I jest.

Says Berkman:
"With Hampton, it doesn't matter, as long as he stays healthy. If he's healthy, he's going to be good. The ball was coming out of his hand nicely."

So two days in a row, and no major medical catastrophe (except for the heart thing)? Success!

Ha ha ha! Carlos Lee is fat! Ha ha!

Details are emerging as Carlos Lee enjoys his first day in camp.

Manager Cecil Cooper met with Lee immediately, behind closed doors, and has decided to keep the details of most of the conversation "in-house."

But Cooper did offer a couple of details.

"I said, 'You owe me,'" Cooper offered. Asked if the payback was 150 RBIs during the upcoming season, Cooper chuckled.

"That is one of the things I did lay on him, I will say that,'" Cooper said. "But I didn't go 150. I said 140."

Ahhh, Spring Training - when hope springs eternal and players and managers dream of 140 RBI seasons. When asked if he planned on keeping his promise to make him run, Cooper had this gem:

"What good would it do?" Cooper quipped. "Five minutes, he'd be done."

Ha ha! Fatty Lee! So to recap: Carlos Lee was late. He's here. He can't run for more than five minutes. Add to that Valverde's arm is infected with insect eggs (or something like that), and Hampton has the heart of a Kentucky smoker (or something like that) and that's a good spring right there.

Happy Tuesday, Carlos Lee!

So Carlos Lee arrived in camp, three days before Mandatory Reporting Day, but two days after Non-Mandatory Mandatory Meeting Day.

Also note that Toby Hall is experiencing pain never before experienced (for him):
"It's not good. It's just stiff. I haven't had that before."

Lance leads first basemen in, wait, stolen bases?

Got a comment on the Bud Norris post linking to More Hardball breaking down the stolen base leaders by position in 2008.

Might you believe that Lance led first basemen in stolen bases last year with 18 (and only caught stealing four times)? And not even close - by, like, 10 stolen bases.

Here's how the 1Bs broke down:
1. Lance (18)
2. Derrek Lee (8)
3. Albert Pujols (7)
3. James Loney (7)
3. Joey Votto (7)
6. Miguel Cairo (5)

And then a bunch of guys who probably got the signals mixed up and just started running hard.

I don't know why, but that really surprised me. And you?

Astros Notes from Wednesday

I love JJO's Notes section. Here's what's new from yesterday that we didn't get to:

-Toby Hall has been shut down from throwing until results from an MRI are returned - not for the Spring.
-Brad James, Edwin Maysonet, Tyler Lumsden and Yordany Ramirez all signed one-year contracts for $400,000.

That brings payroll to $103.41 million

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bud Norris thinks your unkind words about the farm system are...unkind.

Great article on Bud Norris by Alyson Footer.

"Maybe we don't win a lot of games, but the fact is there is a lot of talent. We have young guys that just need to learn."

Footer explains that Norris is the closest prospect to the Majors, and was projected to be a starter, but was pretty lights out in the Arizona Fall League with a fastball at 96-97 and a plus slider (remind you of a guy who used to wear "54?").

For the time being, Norris is working out of the bullpen but if/when he gets back to minor-league camp he'll be worked into a starter's role. Remember this: Wandy, Backe and Hampton only have deals through 2009, as does Valverde. And Moehler has a mutual option for 2010. There's room for Norris on the club in 2010, let's see what happens.

The Bleacher Report speaks

In a preview for the Astros, the Bleacher Report asks if the Astros are the NLC sleeper. Then they answer their own question in relatively short fashion by predicting a 79-83 finish.

Then this:

The biggest effect the Houston Astros will have in 2009 will be at the trade deadline. I really don't see the Astros competing this year, and it's essential to their future that they move some of their bigger named players.

It wouldn't shock me to see Matsui, Valverde, Tejada, Hawkins, Ersted, and many more traded by July 31st.

That's disheartening. Basically saying the Astros will be so far out of the race by July 31 that they'll be like swingers looking for partners: anyone or everyone. Let's look, though, and this is where I give credit to C70 at the Bat - rather than give opinions on which there's not much credibility to report (author says this: Baseball is clearly my favorite sport. Growing up in Chicago, I have always been a huge Cubs fan. I love watching and analyzing Chicago Cubs baseball.) Okay.

Who in the hell is going to trade for Miguel Tejada at the deadline? And many more? Just say it - Oswalt. If you want to make predictions on sleepers (then say they'll be 4 games below .500), then go balls out and make some predictions.

Bourn to be more like a lead-off hitter, less like a #8 hitter

Michael Bourn wants to draw more walks, and strike out less.

The 26-year-old is still the starting center fielder, but he'll hit lower in the order, where on-base percentage and batting average aren't as closely scrutinized. Eventually, Cooper hopes Bourn will make his way back up to the top spot, but for now, that job goes to Kazuo Matsui.

Then this:

Houston's front office sees Bourn as a work in progress, one who needs more Major League at-bats before a true evaluation can be finalized.

But despite Bourn's good standing with the Astros, he's taking nothing for granted. He doesn't assume he has a job, opting instead to approach it as something he needs to win every year, regardless of the previous year's results.

Here's how Bourn stacked up among statistically qualified center-fielders:
.229 Avg - 20th out of 21
.288 OBP - 21st/21
.300 SLG - 20/21 (Willy Taveras was last. Ironic, huh?)
.588 OPS - 21/21

This should come as no surprise to us fans. Bourn knows what he needs to get better at, and if he made it to the Majors, he just might do it.

It burns when Toby Hall swings

Toby Hall, who has an inside track on C2, has been shut down due to shoulder problems.

“I think the second day he started having some issues with his shoulder,” Cooper said of Hall. “I think he actually had problems with it last year. At the end of the year he got injured playing first base, I think, and apparently it just started bothering him here the last few days, so we had an MRI done.”

"Your adrenaline goes out there and you're swinging hard," Hall said. "It was a pitch down and away and I went and got it and felt a weird burn."

Should this be permanent, it would indicate Q is C1, leaving Towles and Palmisano to fight it out for C2 (and remember Palmisano's Rule 5 status).

"We have some kids who can actually do it if it doesn’t pan out for Toby. We’re hoping he’s going to be fine and be able to get some work in here maybe later on in the spring and really have an opportunity to be with us.”

One also might think this would be a perfect time to sign a veteran catcher, albeit a veteran catcher who looked like a Backstreet Boy the spring after the drug testing program was revamped. But you would not be thinking like Ed Wade:

"We're not signing Pudge," Wade said. "Put that one to rest. We have no expectation to sign Pudge."

Highlights from chat with David Gottfried

Assistant GM David Gottfried (does anyone get the idea that, should Easy Eddie be shown the door, there will be a steel-cage match for the GM spot among our 17 assistant GMs?) held a live chat on the Chronicle's site today. Here are some highlights:

-The Astros fully expect Miggs to be around all year long.
-The Astros won't be signing anymore non-roster invitees. Jason Michaels and Darin Erstad will platoon the 4th outfielder spot (JM is a righty, Erstad a lefty)
-(Bud Norris) will be in the bullpen this spring, but Ortiz, Jose Capellan, Felipe Paulino, Fernando Nieve, Clay Hensley and Sergio Perez will all be stretched out as starters.
-Bogusevic shouldn't be planning on playing the Cubs on April 6.
-I think our rotation is underrated. Our offense is very strong. Our bullpen is solid Our bench has players who could play every day if needed.
-Manzella, Smith and Maysonet are potential SS2s. Newhan, Kata and Sutton can play 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
-Backe has the inside edge on SP5.

JJO's notes: Yordany, Blum

Notes from Wednesday morning:

-Yordany Ramirez is already working out.
-Blum was sent home with flu-like symptoms, but it was apparently an 18-hour flu (?) and is back.

Note to self: Get Lance all pissed off and then ask him questions

From Alyson Footer's "Footnotes" blog:

"[The Yankees] are sort of operating in a dream world up there, where their revenue stream is certainly a lot different than ours is," Berkman said. "You can't fault Drayton for being responsible with his finances, and he owns the team and he can whatever he wants with it."

Berkman then pointed out that McLane is always willing to add a part mid-season, "whether it be a Randy Johnson or a Carlos Beltran" or someone else to help them get to the playoffs.

"Do I feel like Drayton is doing everything he can in the free agent market to bring a championship to Houston?" Berkman asked. "Maybe not. But do I feel like he's more than willing to pull the trigger on a trade if he thinks it'll help us win? Absolutely. He's a good balance."

More Power Rankings

Heads up to Chip Bailey for posting a link to CBS Sportsline's first MLB Power Rankings.

Here we go:
Cecil Cooper will be the first manager to bite the dust, a casualty of the high-salary, low-functioning roster handed to him. ... In case you haven't noticed, the Astros plan on giving significant time to bench effluvia like Geoff Blum, J.R. Towles and Michael Bourn. Their rotation lacks legit third, fourth and fifth starters; the bullpen features a scattershot closer and a bunch of middle-relief retreads. ... There's front-line talent here -- Berkman, Oswalt, Pence, Lee -- but not enough to compensate for the dreck occupying roster spots 9 through 25.

Oh, and that's the Astros in your 29th spot. Only the Pirates were ranked lower. The whole article/column is filled with sarcasm (read it, it's pretty funny), so take it for what it's worth.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lance takes it out on A-Rod

Lance, who is still probably pissed at Lee for mixing up Tuesday and Thursday (and who among you never went to class on the wrong day? Never mind that you were never paid $18 million to go), absolutely took it out on A-Rod and his press conference today:

"I don't feel the least bit sorry for him. If you do something like that, you're going to pay the piper eventually. I'm sure his teammates will be right there for him like we would for anybody on our team. But you make your bed, you've got to lay in it."

Then on Papi's call for a one-year suspension for positive tests:
"I'd make it a blood test. Guys are still doing stuff, I don't think there's any doubt about that. There's stuff that can't be tested for that guys are probably doing. Obviously, that's the whole goal of getting rid of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport. As a player that has never done that, you certainly want to have a level playing field."

Huzzah! Then, even better, in the Times Herald-Record:
“How many guys have I faced that are throwing 95 that should be throwing 89? It makes a huge difference. Or how many guys have hit more home runs and won more MVPs or whatever it might be that have been on that stuff and you’re trying to do it naturally. It just makes you mad.”

Other players not sugar-coating it included Padres' pitcher (and former Ranger) Chris Young:
“It didn’t affect me personally, but I look at some of the moral decisions. To me, it’s not really gray, it’s right or wrong. It’s not only cheating the fans and the game and yourself but also all the players.”

Cubs' third baseman Aramis Ramirez:
“You know you can’t judge everybody based on one guy. And in every sport people cheat. And people try to get an edge over the other players. I don’t think that’s right, but everybody has a different mentality. I guess he quit doing it in ‘03. ... I can’t really say much about it because I don’t really know A-Rod.”

Astros County makes friends with C70

A few weeks ago Astros County traded questions with C70 at the Bat, a Cardinals blog I like to read. They sent questions, I sent answers. I sent questions, they sent answers.

Click here to read Astros County's response to five questions from the Cardinals.

Big Puma...maaaaaad!

February 17...February 19...what's the difference?

"On one hand, it's Carlos," Berkman said. "That's just the way he is. He's a great teammate, we love having him in here and obviously he's a tremendous RBI guy. He and myself and Miggy [Tejada] and maybe a couple other guys, we're going to be looked [upon] to carry the load. I think it's a good example for the young guys and everybody else to be here when everybody gets here."

Then this:
No one had heard from Lee regarding his absence until later in the day Tuesday, when club officials brought it to the outfielder's attention that he was supposed to be in Kissimmee. Lee apparently had the report date confused, as he conveyed in a statement released by the club.

Can you imagine that conversation? Shawn Chacon is one guy, but imagine Carlos Lee getting mad at Ed Wade? I can see Easy Eddie standing there watching some intern with the phone telling Lee he was supposed to have been in camp today, chewing on his nails. Sweating profusely, I bet. And then here's Lee's response:

"I'm very remorseful. I got confused with the start date. I made a mistake and will assume responsibility. I'll be there first thing in the morning Thursday to work out and I'm excited about getting going again."

So it's "Oh. Tuesday? I'll be there first thing Thursday morning..." Who would win a fight between Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman? Let's keep on this, shall we?

Beware the honey trap

I know it's not Astros (or even MLB) related, but I had to share with you, dear readers...

Beware the Honey Trap.

Hanging out at a roadside snack establishments that can be commonly found in Okinawa’s rural towns, they spot players and set themselves up for seduction. One dependable technique is to reach over and grope the man’s... You're going to have to click the link for yourself.

Oh, and Happy Post #300.

Wait, so it was mandatory?

From Alyson Footer's article on Tejada's own "I'm not here to talk about the past" moment:

During a mandatory team meeting prior to practice on Tuesday morning, Miguel Tejada stood up and apologized to his Astros teammates for the distraction he has caused through his involvement with the ongoing performance-enhancing drug controversy.

So it's not mandatory that position players arrive before Sunday, but there's a mandatory team meeting on Tuesday? Carlos Lee's bull has some explaining to do...

Mike Hampton's heart needs no shocking, thank you very much

Maybe Hampton just wanted to go check on his house. A day after being sent to Houston to have his heart shocked back into rhythm, everything went back to normal, and he's on his way back to Kissimmee.

And still no Lee, or Yordany Ramirez. Ramirez' late arrival was expected, but nope, still no Caballo. Though Easy Eddie offered a somewhat troubling (on so many levels) explanation as to why Carlos Lee was not at the first non-mandatory mandatory practice:

"He’s probably riding the bull from Panama as we speak."

Ed Wade prepares you to feel good about Drayton

In an article about how the Astros were among 29 teams in baseball (minus the Yankees) who had to trim payroll.

"At the end of the 2008 season we determined that in order to keep our club together, our payroll would have to move from about $98 million to $120 million, and for about a week we thought we would be able to do that," said Wade.

"Then the 'real world' economic woes started to clarify. Sponsors went away, some via bankruptcy, and our budget went south. At one point we thought the payroll would have to be at about $95 million. And it was at that point that we had to completely shut down our negotiations to bring back Randy Wolf, something that I never had to do before.

"We also reconciled that we wouldn't be able to afford Ty Wigginton's salary arbitration number, and we were actually plotting other ways to trim payroll when [team owner] Drayton McLane allowed us to stretch to a number between $105 and $107 million, budgeting at a loss for the first time in his ownership history. Even at that level, Wolf and Wigginton ran beyond our means."

Projecting a loss! God bless us, everyone. Go to Academy and buy a shirt, dadgummit.

Tejada, however, has arrived

If you asked me who wouldn't show up on time: Carlos Lee or Miguel Tejada, I would have gotten this one wrong.

Miggs showed up today, and this time, it was Run-DMc who got emotional.

"I just gave him a hug,” McLane said. “I had seen him a week ago and he and I had a long talk and he explained the entire issue with me. He had his agent and then his attorney and we talked through the entire process. I told him that he's an important part of our team, not only as a player but as a leader and to keep his chin up and keep going. Saw him this morning, gave him a hug again and repeated it to him."

And then Tejada talked:

“I work hard all my life,” he said. “This I know. And everything that I got it’s just because I work hard. For people who know me, they got to know how much I respect the game. I cannot think in nobody’s head right now. What I think is my family really believes me. My family really supports me. I know there’s a lot of people, and that’s going to go away. I apologize for what just happen and I hope that’s it.”

Hey, here's an easy way to save $18 million

Carlos Lee ain't showed up yet.

"He has not reported and we are still trying to track him down," said Astros General Manager Ed Wade in an interview with FOX 26 Sports.

It is worth noting that attendance today is not mandatory - just strongly recommended.

Ortiz and Paulino are secretly rooting for insect bites and heart glitches

JJO's Astros Notes article filed early this morning says this:

“I thought Ortiz threw really well today,” Cooper said. “He was down in the strike zone really good. I watched Paulino. Paulino had some real snap to his breaking ball, and he was down actually as well.

“Those two guys are real keys for us. If they can pitch well here and make it some really heavy competition, that’s good for us.”

JJO closes out the article with this nugget:
Considering the health scares the Astros had Monday with Mike Hampton and Jose Valverde, there’s no doubt Ortiz and Paulino will be given opportunities to earn spots on the staff.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Justice: Just sign Pudge. Why the heck not?

Justice's blog post today says this:

Maybe it wouldn't work out. Maybe Roy Oswalt, Mike Hampton and the others simply would not get comfortable with Pudge.

But he's worth a shot. The Astros are in a win-now mode with the age of their core players. Jason Castro is at least a year away from the big leagues, and there's no way to know how good any of the young catchers are going to be.

If Pudge could catch, say, 100 games, if he could duplicate his 2008 numbers--.276 BA, 7 HRs, 35 RBIs--he'd keep that spot in the batting order from being a black hole.

He's a Scott Boras client, so there's no way to gauge what the market is for him, or if there's a market at all. If he'd take a one-year deal at $1 million, he'd be worth a gamble. And it definitely would be a gamble.

After listing a number of reasons why the Astros shouldn't sign Pudge, he then says "for a million dollars, he's worth it." While he may be worth it at $1 million, he's also a Boras guy and is expecting $3 million. Scott Boras' clients don't sign for less than they think they're worth (see: Ramirez, Manny), and they won't play if they "get disrespected."

While signing aging, declining players (to expensive, long-term contracts) has been popular among Astros' GMs, I think it's time we let the young guys play. Allowing the players to push each other in competition is a pretty great way to improve.

McTaggart wants Oswalt to be a conscientious objector

Tags throws down a blog post on what an awful idea it is for Roy to play for Team USA - and I happen to agree.

That's why I don't like the idea of Oswalt pitching in the WBC, and if I were the Astros I wouldn't like it either. General manager Ed Wade said he wouldn't stand in anyone's way of competing in the WBC, and that's understandable. But for me, the risk of winning a championship for the U.S. isn't worth the cost of a possible injury and hurting the Astros. I completely understand Oswalt's decision to play. I admire anyone who loves this country and wants to compete for it. Oswalt won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, so he's had a taste of what this is all about. But the WBC is certainly nowhere near the Olympics as far as prestige. Frankly, I hate the event and really don't care much about it.

Click here to read an Astros County post on USA's World Baseball Classic pitchers and their respective 2006 stats.

The World Baseball Classic is not the Olympics. It's definitely not the World Cup. If Roy gets hurt during the WBC I'm going to first blame Dusty Baker (just because), and then I'm going to crawl in bed and read all of my wife's "Lucky" magazines in protest.

This happened to Mark DeRosa last season

Last year, round about this time Mark DeRosa had the same issue with the irregular heartbeat.

February 24, 2008, Mark DeRosa was rushed by ambulance to the hospital and spent the night, resulting in his being held out for a few days. Of course DeRosa had a good season last year, and...

"The Cubs stress they’ve been informed at this point there are no long-term concerns about DeRosa’s condition or playing status."

Hampton, obviously wasn't rushed to the hospital, so this doesn't appear to be as serious.

Cooper says Nieve's best shot is in the rotation

Fernando Nieve is gunning for the 5th spot.

Cecil Cooper says:
"Where is his opportunity? You can always move a guy from the rotation to the bullpen. This [the rotation] is where his chance is."

Remember, Nieve is out of options, so it's either Houston or waivers.

"That's why [general manager] Ed [Wade] keeps hollering that it's high noon."

Hooray for Monday! Forearm infections, Heart Glitches - what does the rest of the spring have in store!

Someone needs to check out what the heck they're doing to Astros pitchers (I blame Tony LaRussa) at OCS. Mike Hampton is returning to Houston to have his heart shocked. Not kidding.

Astros lefthander Mike Hampton, whose promising career was stalled by multiple injuries since 2001, is returning to Houston today after some questions arose during an EKG exam.

"Hampton’s EKG the other day showed some little glitch ... we will do a procedure to shock the heart (Tuesday) and get it back in rhythm,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "From what I understand it’s not an uncommon condition, and it’s not an uncommon procedure that he’s going to go through. They cleared him to work out today without any problem. Other than the travel time back and forth between here and Houston we really don’t expect him to miss any time as a result of it.”

UPDATE: Hampton has an irregular heartbeat, and is not expected to miss much time.

Pence arrives in camp

Hunter Pence, Reggie Abercrombie and Darin Erstad arrived in camp this morning.

The Era of Good Feelings comes swiftly to an end

Well, the optimism was fun while it lasted.

Jose Valverde is being treated for a forearm infection.

It actually doesn't seem that serious, as he was back in uniform after receiving antibiotics. Sorry for the alarm.

Fulchino signs deal, Castro is big, Capellan missed his flight

JJO's notes from yesterday:

-Capellan missed his flight to Florida and missed the first workout Saturday. Good start, buddy.
-“I didn’t realize Castro was as big as he was,” said Cooper, who met Castro last July in Washington, D.C., after the catcher was signed. “He’s a tall kid, has a good body.
-de la Vara and Tyler Lumsden have made a good early impression. “I know one thing: He’s got a pretty good arm,” Cooper said of Lumsden. “I saw the ball come out of his hand really good.” I don't even know what that means, other than the very, very obvious thing. That's two stellar quotes in the same article.
-Jeff Fulchino signed a one-year, $400,000 deal.
-Kaz Matsui gets the worm, becoming the first starter to report and workout. Aaron Boone, Jason Michaels, Brian Bogusevic, Chris Johnson, Tommy Manzella, Edwin Maysonet and Jason Smith are already in camp.

Quintero's tears of rage got him to where he is today

JJO's article last night says if the season started today, Humberto Quintero would be C1.

“He’s put himself on pretty solid footing,” Cooper said. “He’s going to probably be one of our two guys. Right now I’d have to say his nose is a little ahead of the pack in regard to being the starter. At this point in time, in my mind he’d have to basically have a terrible spring, and somebody has to really, really step up and take it away from him. Not to say that he’s the lockdown, he’s the starter, he’s the guy.”

Pudge narrows his Teams of Interest to three

According to an article, Pudge has specifically named the Marlins, Astros and Mets as the teams who have shown interest in his services behind the plate.

"I don't know where I'm going to play, but a team is going to win the lotto when I sign. I still feel I can play three or four more years, to be honest, because of the way I take care of myself."

The Marlins and Astros are at their budget (obviously), while Pudge is looking for $3 million. I guess that takes the Astros out of it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Alternatives to Tejada, should he be, uh...inconvenienced.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe is reporting the Astros are searching for alternatives should Tejada have to be designated for assignment by the government to the Dominican Republic. Or if he is playing for the San Quentin All-Stars:

Legal experts believe Tejada won't be going to prison after admitting he lied to Congress about his steroid use, but that hasn't stopped the Astros from exploring shortstop options. One name on the list is Oakland's Bobby Crosby, a former Rookie of the Year. The A's are serious about bringing free agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera into the fold. They would use Crosby as their super-sub if that should occur, but there is likely to be a market for him.

Still believe there's no way, with the money the Astros are paying Tejada, he doesn't spend all season (albeit with more rest during the week) at short. Bobby Crosby is in the last year of a 5-year, $12.75 million deal where he'll make $5.25 million this season and be eligible for free agency following 2009. Should Tejada go to jail or get deported, I'm not sure what the Astros' legal obligations would be regarding his 2009 salary. But I wouldn't be in favor of trading any more pieces for impending free agents.

I still think their best opportunity to get out of his deal was last year, when ESPN ambushed Miggs and made him admit he was 34 and not 32. With two years left on his deal, I think Easy Eddie could have said "Wait, that moves your contract up two years. See you later." But remember, he had just traded all of Round Rock to Baltimore for Miggs, so he wouldn't have done it, anyway.

Astros 16th in first Power Rankings poll

Nestled in the middle of the pack sit your Houston Astros in Fox Sports' first power rankings poll of the 2009 season. 16th overall, 8th in the NL, 3rd in the NL Central.

Here's their capsule:
Houston needed to improve its rotation. If you call taking shots on Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton an improvement, then you have to love the Astros' offseason. The offense remains stout, though.

Meet your candidates for SP5

JJO's article today shows what the rotation looks like heading to Spring Training:

It reads: Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler. Then the list skips a slot before continuing to Brandon Backe, Jose Capellan, Russ Ortiz, Clay Hensley, Felipe Paulino and Fernando Nieve.

JJO goes on to say that the first five would be your rotation if the season started today, but you never know. If this list is actually ranked like a depth chart, as it seems to be, then Fernando Nieve needs to be prepared to head to waivers, and possibly not pitch for Houston.

Says Coop:
"It’s a big camp for several people. We got some young kids that need to step to the forefront. They’ve been on the brink for two or three years, and they need to step up. Fernando Nieve, Paulino, these guys need to. It’s time for them to step forward. Even for that matter, Wandy Rodriguez. Wandy needs to continue to progress like he did a year ago. Some of these guys need to do the same."

Backe then looked into the camera and said:
“But ultimately I hope I’m the one because I really feel like I’m the one that can mesh with the rest of the team. I’m good with the team. And I just … feel like being healthy I can do what they need me to do, 180 or 200 innings, above .500. I can make all those numbers match.”

Then he encouraged all the little Backemaniacs to take their vitamins. But I do hope he's right. 200 innings and above .500 is a best-case scenario for the Best Man. Because three projections at Backe's Fangraphs page aren't so kind. Regard:

Bill James: 24 GS, 130 innings, 5-9 with a 5.49 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP.
CHONE: 20 GS, 104 innings, 4-7 with a 5.37 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP.
Marcel: 146 innings, 8-10 with a 5.33 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP.

What else can we learn from Fangraphs? Backe threw his slider more in 2008 than he had at any point in his career and he also used a cutter, which is basically new for him.

If the Astros hadn't missed out (or mailed it in) on Randy Wolf and apparently Braden Looper, there's no way they bring Backe back - but they did, and now Backe - who got tired late last season - has to hope that an off-season full of rest (except for that little thing in Galveston, and I don't mean Ike) brings him back.