Saturday, January 16, 2010

Astros give $1m to Haiti relief

In this article we read that the Astros have joined the Yankees in donating $1 million to relief efforts in Haiti.

Winter Caravan all set

Bernardo Fallas has information on the Astros Caravan, kicking off Monday:

Monday
10-11 a.m.: MLK Day Grande Parade, Allen Parway and Taft
11 a.m.-noon: Houston City Hall rotunda, 901 Bagby
4:30-6 p.m.: Academy Sports and Outdoors, 2404 Southwest Freeway

Tuesday
4-5:30 p.m.: Academy, 19720 Northwest Freeway

Wednesday
4:30-6 p.m.: Academy, 21351 Gulf Freeway, Webster

Thursday
3-4:30 p.m.: Academy, 9734 Katy Freeway

Friday
5-6:30 p.m.: Academy, 16610 U.S. 59 South, Sugar Land

Same as last year, get a picture with an Astro holding a Proof of Citizenship, and get a prize.

Maybe Jeff Passan shouldn't say anything at all

Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan breaks down the Astros' off-season, and it's not pleasant.

Passan lists four ways to not improve a team, and coincidentally, the Astros made all four moves (two are valid, two are asinine). But his main beef is with the draft:

Houston’s track record in the amateur draft is not just embarrassing. It’s stupefying, short-sighted, blatantly stupid, hilarious in a what-in-the-Sam-Hill-are-they-doing fashion and, well, if there’s one word for it, then it’s ironically appropriate: amateurish.

Since 2006, the Astros have spent $15.4 million on four amateur drafts. It is the lowest figure in baseball. Though they have coughed up $10.7 million in the last two drafts, the spoils won’t show for at least another two years...

...The 2006 and 2007 drafts are among the decade’s worst. No player from 2006 has made the major leagues, and the Astros spent only $1.4 million in 2007, which hasn’t graduated anyone, either. Houston’s insistence on hewing to slot recommendations at the behest of commissioner Bud Selig while most of the 29 other teams ignore them shows that playing company man isn’t always the best route.

The Astros are old. They are financially hamstrung. Their owner, Drayton McLane, is trying to sell. There is no quick fix here, not with Myers or Lindstrom or Lyon or Feliz, and they’re the only ones who didn’t see it coming.


And then there's a clever little haiku.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Castro, C-Lo invited to Major-League Spring Training

Not much of a shocker here, but Castro and C-Lo have been invited to Big Team Spring Training, along with catchers Brian Esposito, Lou Santangelo, and pitcher Shane Loux.

Wade, on Castro:
"He's going to get every opportunity to make the club,"

On C-Lo:
"We think he's got a legitimate chance to make our club. We're very pleased with what we've seen in a short period of time in our organization."

I feel an affinity for C-Lo, as he was the first signing that Astros County reported, back in November 2008.

Shane Loux, however, is a recent signee, says McTaggart:
Loux spent the 2009 season in the Angels organization and split time between the Majors and Minors. In 18 appearances (six starts) with the Angels, he was 2-3 with a 5.86 ERA. He had a 3.81 ERA in a combined nine games (six starts) between Triple-A Salt Lake City and Class A Rancho Cucamonga.

And if you're keeping score at home, the Astros have hired Dave Borkowski to be the pitching coach at Greeneville, spending his last three seasons in the Astros' organization.

Keppinger, Sampson agree on deals

Two down. Six to go. What? You think Date Night can stop me? Hell and no, it can't. I'm in the bathroom of the movie theatre, because Jeff Keppinger and Chris Sampson have avoided arbitration hearings, by signing...

Keppinger - $1.15 million
Sampson - $815,000 + incentives

Wade:
"We're pleased to get these two guys done, and we hope to continue to make progress on the others...We'd love to get them done sooner rather than later and have the focus on getting to Spring Training and preparing for the season, but this is the time of year these things occur, and Ricky Bennett and David Gottfried want to stay focused on trying to get negotiated settlements, and if that doesn't work out Tal is working on the cases."

Keppinger got himself a $600K+ raise, while Sampson enjoyed an almost $400K raise. Not bad considering he got hurt, got in an argument with the manager, and got demoted last year. I'd take it.

And let me tell you what, you don't want Tal Smith working on your case.

Comparing Kemp/Ethier to Pence

So I had the pleasure of twitteracting with Maury Brown, of the Biz of Baseball (invaluable resource), regarding the impact of Kemp's deal on Hunter Pence:

He said:
I'll say no higher that $3M for Pence. Super 2. And, Tal Smith is good at this stuff. Legendary.

Peanut agrees (check the comments of that Kemp/Pence post), and says Ethier's 08-offseason deal is more appropriate. Let's check them out:







PlayerABBA/OBP/SLGK:BBXBH-RBIOPS+SB-Att
Pence (09)585.282/.346/.472109:5856-7211514-25
Ethier (in '08)525.305/.375/.51088:5976-1061326-9
Kemp (09)606.297/.352/.490139:5258-10112534-42


So it seems as though I should stand corrected. Kemp had a better year, finished 10th in the MVP balloting, won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. I'll go ahead and back off the "Hunter gets $5m" thought process, and bring it back down to $3m (you don't argue with the Biz of Baseball).

McTaggart's inbox

As usual, there are a few things we can learn from McTaggart's inbox. Such as...

-This leaves Moehler's chances of sticking in the rotation hinging on how well Paulino performs. Ed Wade doesn't want a veteran standing in the way of a prospect, but he loves Moehler and the workmanlike attitude he's brought to the club the past few years. Moehler does have experience in long relief and would certainly take that role and do the best for the team if the club deemed Paulino worthy of a shot in the rotation.

On the 5th OF:
-Bogusevic is left-handed and could fill that role, but he's still only a couple of years into his development as a hitter...The kind of player Wade has in mind is a veteran, professional hitter who's comfortable coming off the bench and maybe starting every now and then. Certainly (Brian) Giles is still out there, along with perhaps a guy such as Rick Ankiel, who provides some power. Whomever the Astros bring in for that role would have to take a non-roster deal and try to make the club in Spring Training, though.

On Jason Castro:
Castro will be the starter at some point this year and perhaps for the foreseeable future, but I guess it wouldn't surprise me if the Astros brought a veteran to camp on a non-roster deal to add to the competition.

On Koby Clemens:
He really doesn't have a defensive position (he'll try the outfield this year), so he's going to have to hit his way to the Major Leagues. But keep in mind he's a great kid and has kept his head on straight and handled his business through tough times. Don't count him out.

$5m not out of the question for Pence

Matt Kemp has reportedly agreed to a 2-year, $10.95m deal with the Dodgers. So what? Well, it just so happens that the batter most similar to Matt Kemp is Hunter Pence (thanks to Baseball Reference's similarity scores). And, like Pence, Kemp is (was) arbitration-eligible for the first time.

On November 11 we took us a gander at Pence's potential earnings in arbitration, and figured he would get around Andre Ethier's $3.1m deal. But with Matt Kemp getting an average of almost $5.5m over the next two years, I would think Pence would be up in that range.

Arbitration filing deadline is today

Not for the Astros, yet. A note on the timeline of how this works in the coming weeks:

Today: Deadline for filing for arbitration
Jan 20: Players and clubs exchange offers
Feb 1-21: Formal hearings, if an agreement is not reached.

But there are some teams who have avoided arbitration by signing some players. Such as:

The Diamondbacks re-signed Conor Jackson:
Jackson signed a deal worth $3.1m, a slight increase over the $3.05m he made in 2009.

The Braves re-signed Melky Cabrera:
Signed $3.1m deal, after making $1.4m in 2009.

The Rockies re-signed relievers Randy Flores and Matt Belisle:
Flores signed a $650,000 deal
Belisle signed an $850,000 deal

Further arbitration "settlements":

Dodgers' Chad Billingsley (note: Wandy alert!): $3.85m
Rockies' Jorge de la Rosa: $5.6m
Rockies' Taylor Buchholz: $1.055m

The Rangers settled with Brandon McCarthy for $1.32m.

As more arbitration figures come in for players in positions similar to the Astros' arbitration-eligibles, we'll post them here...

Draft Pick rundown

With the wonderful news that Valverde will be high-stepping all over Detroit, let's do a little recap of the order of the June 2010 draft:

#8 Overall
#19 (from Tigers)
#36 (supplemental, according to McTaggart, though, it could be as high as #34. And Keith Law says it's #32. Of course, Law also says the Tigers' pick is #18.)

And the 8th pick in each of the subsequent rounds.

Dave Cameron / Rob Neyer react to Valverde

From FanGraphs' Dave Cameron:
Seriously, in a market where everyone else is finding bargains, the Tigers pay $7 million a year for a good-but-not-great relief pitcher, and give up a draft pick for the right to do so. Were they not paying attention to the rest of the contracts being handed out? Did they not realize they were bidding against themselves? How do you justify dumping Curtis Granderson to save money, and then use that money (and more!) to sign a flyball reliever with command problems who has never pitched in the AL?...

...For one year and a team that had money to spend, the salary wouldn’t be that bad. But two years and a loss of a draft pick? Really? In this market? On a team that is going cheap at second base and in center field?

Sorry, but this is a bad use of resources.


And reaction to that, and the deal, from Rob Neyer:
But a pitcher like Valverde -- any relief pitcher, really -- should be the final ingredient. You fill all the other holes you can fill, and when you're satisfied with your catchers and your first baseman and your second baseman and your shortstop and your third baseman and your three outfielders and your four best starting pitchers ... When you're satisfied that you've done everything you can possibly do at all those spots, then you start worrying about the guy who's going to pitch 65 or 70 innings.

If you've done all that and you've still got $14 million rattling around in your pocket, sure, by all means, go sign Jose Valverde and fork over a draft pick. But the Tigers haven't done all that. In a year or two, this may be a really, really tough move to justify.


Can I just mention how happy I am that everyone is questioning the wisdom of an organization, and for once it's not the Astros?

Wade on sale: Much ado about nothing

Bernardo Fallas has a new article regarding the preparation for Spring Training amid reports of the sale of the Astros.

Brad Mills:
"News like this, it's not going to — and it shouldn't — affect us in getting ready for the season. It's something we have no control over. It doesn't matter who is owning the club or whatever. There are things we have to cover and things that we have to get done to prepare for this season, and that's exactly what we're going to do. It's not going to affect us in any way.”

And Ed Wade drops Shakespeare on us:
Drayton's come out and said it's really much ado about nothing at this point in time. And even if it had substance or legs to it, we're mandated and given the responsibility to conduct business as usual.”

The Apparatus could not be happier for the Tigers

(If you're new to Astros County, "The Apparatus" is what we call the Front Office)

Some reactions from The Apparatus regarding the Tigers' signing of Jose Valverde... (both the Chronicle and Astros.com quotes are in here)

Bobby Heck:
It helps expedite the restocking of our farm system, which is an ongoing business. We’re excited to have this type of opportunity.”

Ed Wade:
We saw the Valverde situation as a win-win. If Jose had accepted arbitration, we would have been very pleased. Once that possibility ran away from us, the next best thing would be to secure additional draft picks, and this worked out as well as we could possibly have anticipated. As it turned out, we were able to satisfy the back end of the bullpen with Lyon and Lindstrom, and to score Draft picks -- particularly a first-round Draft pick -- is very satisfying. I like what he did for us and we would have loved to have him back, but at end of the day we have to look at end results, and we felt that being able to add two additional Draft picks in 2010 is a pretty favorable conclusion for us."

Grace and peace from Levine

Zach Levine's new blog post has a few things to say about Brett Myers and Jose de Jesus Ortiz:

On Brett Myers:
He's been described as pitching with an edge. As a person who usually goes to the stats first, it's difficult for me to comprehend how that will translate to the standings. The only "edge" that I see is the need for him to get the Astros off the edge of last place in the pitching categories. There's no doubt an edge can be a good thing; it translates to fearlessness, though we've seen that it can lead to home runs if fearlessness is misplaced. It can also mean a kick in the pants to the team.

This team needed a kick in the pants, and in part, that's why they made a change in the manager's office. But you could fill a clubhouse with preachers, cheerleaders and other portraits of enthusiasm, and come 7:05 p.m., you'd still need them to get the right grip on the seams or have enough bat speed to catch up to the fastball.


And on JJO:
First, I would like to thank Jose de Jesus Ortiz for his excellence on the Astros beat, but more personally, for being exactly the right combination of a father figure and a big brother figure to a young writer.

In the two years that I got to work by his side, he often talked about the influences in his writing career from the various papers at which he's worked and other friends in the business. Some day, if I'm lucky enough, I'll get a chance to tell a young writer about what a tremendous influence Jesus Ortiz was in getting my writing career started...

...I would also like to congratulate Bernardo Fallas on becoming our new Astros beat writer. He's another one whom I'm lucky to be able to call a friend, and he'll do a tremendous job on the team. I'll continue to lend a hand to the Astros beat as needed and I'll keep doing some writing on the minor league system as well as my "day job" on the Web site.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

#19, baby!

Yahoo's Tim Brown is reporting that Valverde has agreed to a deal with the Tigers. What is this deal?

2 years, $14 mil. Third year option for $9 mil.

So a $7 mil/year average, with an option that could push it to almost $8m/year over the life of the contract. Valverde got his multi-year deal, not as much as he would have received through arbitration, but more guaranteed money. Good for him. His agent may have just saved his job. But mainly, good for the Astros. It was a gamble that ultimately paid off.

We'll have two of the first 19 picks in the 2010 draft, and a supplemental pick between the 1st and 2nd Round (which McTaggart says will be #34).

Jim Bowden's reaction:
The Houston Astros best move this off-season? When the Tigers agreed with Valverde giving Houston the 19th overall pick in round 1 of draft

Haitian-born Astros prospect okay

Good news from McTaggart today:

Dieudone Paul, a 22-year-old left-handed pitcher in the Astros' system who was born in Haiti, was in the Dominican Republic with his family and was unharmed during Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake that crippled the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Paul, who pitched in the DSL last season, posted a 1.65 ERA / 1.12 WHIP in 54.2IP, with 66K:24BB.

My, what big words you have, Brian McTaggart

McTaggart's new article is up, and it is bulging with hope from the opening paragraph:

Brad Arnsberg doesn't promise to turn the Astros' pitching staff into the best in the National League. He doesn't pretend he's the key to turning Felipe Paulino into a bona fide big league starter or put Roy Oswalt back on track. But don't be surprised if he does.

Arnsberg:
"The biggest thing I've always said is the key for a pitching coach is earning their trust. Letting them know that basically I am an extension of them and vice versa. The trust factor is so key. It works that way in everyday life, and when you have trust of the pitchers, you can tell them to stand on top of their heads and try something and they will give it a try...

...It's my job to express the level of importance and being good at the little things, the bunting and moving guys over and all the things that go into it, especially with a starting pitcher. A starting pitcher could pitch an extra 15 to 20 innings or as many as 30 or 40 innings, if he was a decent hitter or good at getting bunts down...

...I know with the guys I've worked with in the past, we've prepared to go out there and throw 95 to 115 pitches every fifth day, and I really want to instill that into our guys. I want them to understand we're going to try to work as deep as we can, and the more innings we compile as a starting pitching staff the less we ask of our bullpen, which means guys are more rested. Instead of appearing in four or five games a week, they [relievers] can appear in three or four or two or three. It makes it easier for them to go out there and work their magic."


That's a whole lot of awesome, right there.

It's Bray Day! Episode 14

Aaron Bray was the 27th round draft pick for the Astros in last June's amateur draft. He was also the winner of the Astros County Adopt-a-Player contest. Each week, Aaron will write a column for Astros County detailing his off-season. Check the sidebar for archives.

Astros fans,
Hope all is well. I'm sure everyone is all caught up in the Mark McGwire news. So I'm going to stray away from that topic. I hope all of you are ready for a new season up ahead. I know that the talent we had on our team in Greeneville last year is good and looks promising. I know all this hard work I have put in the last few months will pay off. So, be excited for the future if the organization.

You mentioned talking to some people about Spring Training, what was some of the advice they gave you?

As for my question, advice that I received was advice you get all the time. Spring Training is not easy and you need to bust your butt. Showing up to spring training in shape means make sure you're more than in shape. So I've used the advice of guys who have been successful in the minor leagues. They also told me that when you get the opportunity to show what you have, you make the best of the situation. Spring training could be discouraging to some because you feel you don't get enough at bats or enough innings on the mound.

I hope you all have a great week.
Aaron

Spring Training is a little over a month away! There's no way I'm getting through all the minor leaguers!

The $100 million men: A breakdown (literally)

Hey, remember when Carlos Beltran almost single-handedly propelled the Astros to World Series in 2004 (I will always contend that the 2004 team was better than the 2005 team)? Of course 2004 was a contract year, and Beltran hit eight home runs and hit .980 (approximately) in the 2004 post-season. This resulted in the Astros offering Beltran six years and $102 million, which Scott Boras then scampered off to New York, and got Omar Minaya to give him seven years and $119 million (which, interestingly enough, Beltran would have made more money in Texas due to the lack of a state income tax. Did this matter to Boras? Does a rat care where his cheese comes from? Hell and no, it doesn't.)

This turn of events led Tim Purpura to decide, "Well, we have to give $100 million to somebody!" And that man was Carlos Lee, one season later.

Let's see how the investment has stacked up, comparing the same years (2005-2009). Of course, Lee's numbers will include one season with the Brewers and half a season with the Rangers, but still...






PlayerGamesBA/OBP/SLGK:BBXBH-RBIOPS+
Beltran677.281/.368/.505445:359306-466127
Lee760.295/.348/.520315:246341-551123


Cases can be made for the ridiculousness of both contracts: Beltran's horrific face plant into Mike Cameron, 2009's injury-plagued season, the fact that he has an arthritic knee, and just had a surgery that could keep him out of the lineup until May, possibly against the wishes of his team. But when he's in the lineup, at least he can play defense - something that Lee is sketchy at doing, at best. But looking at the numbers, and the fact that in the same amount of time, Lee has played in 83 more games and put up similar numbers...maybe we should thank Scott Boras for running off to New York.

Ed Wade thinks this week is better than last week

Brian McTaggart's new article has some new-found optimism from Ed Wade, as well as an update on any more potential moves this off-season:

Wade:
"If there's an opportunity to pull some more guys off the list of free agents or do something from a trade standpoint that makes sense, we'll do it. Anything we do going forward will have to have roster ramifications, and in all likelihood the types of offers we make between now and the beginning of Spring Training will be of the non-roster variety. There's still a couple of guys that we have been interested in all winter, and there's a chance we'll add one or two of them to add more depth. We've been aggressive in the six-year free-agent market and brought in some guys, not only to help the Round Rock club, but also to possibly help the big league club as well."

The biggest change in personnel is going to be at Round Rock, says Wade:
"There's a good chance over half the Triple-A club could be different, coming from outside the organization."

Ricky Bennett:
Most of them have Major League experience, and you mix that with some of the guys we had in Triple-A last year like Ramirez, Bogusevic -- and Collin Delome could be in the mix depending on what happens at the Major League level -- we've got a chance to have a very a competitive club. We have some depth we haven't had in recent years."

Within this piece, we also see that the Astros have re-signed Roy Corcoran and Jeremy Johnson.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Phillies fans should be rooting for Brett Myers (and why this just might be a great signing)

My favorite Phillies blog is pretty easily Crashburn Alley, so whenever Ed Wade completes his weekly signing of an ex-Phillie, I'll generally see what they have to say.

With the blurb from Myers' press conference that he'd like to "stick it" to the Phillies, I was curious what Crashburn Alley thought. They didn't disappoint:

I don’t have a problem with what Myers said. In fact, I like it and we should expect no less from a player as competitive as him. And I’ll be honest: I’ll be rooting for the guy when he’s not pitching against the Phillies.

On the domestic abuse incident:
First of all, his wife has forgiven him and has stayed with him through it all. Secondly, he showed genuine remorse and went to marriage counseling to try to resolve his issues. I figure that if his wife can forgive him, so can I.

On his work ethic:
He has worked his tail off to return to the baseball diamond not once but twice ahead of schedule. Last season, Myers could have taken it easy and played it safe, but he wanted to help ensure the Phillies’ success in September.

On his teammatability:
Myers went from a position of comfort to a position of uncertainty to help the team out. There was no guarantee that Myers would have been as successful as he was, and it was more likely than not that Myers would fail, potentially costing himself millions of dollars. He did it anyway.

These are just snippets, and you should head over and read the entire thing. But this could be the signing that pushes the Astros to, say, 76 wins.

Valverde to Cardinals? It's a possibility...

Yahoo's Tim Brown reports that Valverde has offers from the Cardinals, Tigers, and "one other."

UPDATE: Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Cardinals are "not actively involved" in talks with Valverde. You know how often being passively involved results in big bucks...
-
However, the Detroit Free-Press says the Tigers have the biggest offer for Valverde's services.

Obviously it would be nice to get Valverde out of the National League, let alone the Central. And the Tigers hold the 19th overall pick, while the Cardinals hold the 24th overall pick. The Tigers have had an offer on the table for a few days, at least, and you get the idea that if it was a good deal, Valverde's agent would have taken it. Or perhaps Valverde's agent still figures that he has some bed-crapping yet to finish. But the fact that Valverde hasn't taken that deal yet means there's still some life for the Cardinals, and every hour that passes looks worse for the Tigers.

With the Holliday signing, the NL Central is the Cardinals' to lose in 2010, so them adding Valverde would only strengthen their likely grip on the division. But the Astros aren't going to do a whole lot, so regardless, we're getting an extra 1st round pick out of this. If I could pick, I would want Valverde in Detroit, but staying in the NL Central means that Valverde doesn't have to learn a new league.

Heyman on potential sale: It's more serious than Drayton lets on

Jon Heyman's new column talks mostly about Mark McGwire, but has a note on the potential sale of the Astros:

Astros owner Drayton McLane did sign a letter of intent to sell the Astros to a group headed by former U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Harvey Schiller and Mark Isaacson, as Houston TV station Fox 26 reported. While McLane has been quoted as saying there's "less than a 50-50 chance'' that a deal will occur for "various reasons,'' this is a serious group.

What the heck?

McTaggart has something of a surprise for us, as new pickup Jason Bourgeois has been designated for assignment to make room for Brett Myers on the 40-man roster.

Why is this surprising? Because unlike Nevarez, Sutil, Abad, Englebrook, and Vallejo (all on the 40-man roster), Bourgeois was expected to make the team out of Spring Training.

The Astros now have 22 pitchers and 18 position players on their 40-man roster.

Someone help me out - how does this make sense?

UPDATE: Going back through the archives, upon Bourgeois' signing, Wade did mention that he had an option left. So it does make sense.

Tags updated 25-man roster

McTaggart has posted his prediction for 2010 Opening Day 25-man roster. Some notables:

C1 - Towles
C2 - Quintero

Bullpen:
Matt Lindstrom
Brandon Lyon
Jeff Fulchino
Alberto Arias
Tim Byrdak (L)
Chris Sampson
Brian Moehler

Statement from Harvey Schiller

McTaggart's article on the group in talks to purchase the Astros is up, and we get a statement from Schiller, through spokesman Joe Favorito:

"Dr. Schiller has known Drayton McLane a number of years, and he has nothing but the utmost respect for what he's done with the Astros and the Houston community. With regards to negotiations of a sale or a potential sale, it's not appropriate for us to comment."

The comments on the team being moved don't really concern me. Even though Drayton did threaten to move the Astros to northern Virginia, I'm guessing (and only guessing) that if Drayton did sell the team, it would be contingent to the team staying in Houston. But I could be way off.

Minor League Ball's Top 20 Astros prospects

Minor League Ball's John Sickels posted his Top 20 prospects for the Astros. Here's the list, with some of Sickels' comments:

1. Jason Castro
2. Jordan Lyles - I almost ranked him #1
3. Jiovanni Mier - Chance to be a national top 20 prospect a year from now
4. Sam Gervacio - Could be a future closer if it all comes together
5. Chia-Jen Lo
6. Tanner Bushue - Could pull a Lyles in '10
7. T.J. Steele - Could explode in '10
8. Jay Austin
9. Jon Gaston - Has better tools than he is given credit for
10. Ross Seaton - Reports of dropping velocity concern me
11. Matt Nevarez - Good trade pickup. Underrated
12. Fernando Abad
13. Juri Perez
14. Chris Johnson - Looks more like a decent contributor than a future starter to me
15. Polin Trinidad
16. Collin DeLome - Command of the strike zone is a big problem
17. Brian Bogusevic - I can still see him as a useful fourth outfielder
18. Enrique Hernandez - I have a good intuitive feeling about him
19. Brad Dydalewicz
20. J.D. Martinez

The Astros system has improved over the last two years. Jason Castro, Lyles, and Mier are a strong front three, and after them there's a nice mixture of upside (Bushue, Austin, Seaton), guys ready for or on the verge of the majors (Gervacio, Lo), and people in the middle with questions but potential (Gaston, Steele). As stated, there are some interesting Grade Cs beyond them. But the organization falls short in terms of depth, a hangover from botched drafts earlier this decade.

The system does have some strengths. The Latin American operation quietly continues to pump Grade C guys into the system, and some of the younger ones have upside beyond that. The scouting staff has done well in the last two drafts. The problems with this organization go back to short-sighted ownership decisions. If the baseball folks can maintain the momentum from the last two drafts, things will look up eventually.

Valverde-to-Detroit thing getting some traction

This is moving along rather quickly. The Detroit News is pushing the Tigers to sign Valverde.

What's borderline amusing about the Tigers is that they have a sellout crowd of pitchers five weeks before spring camp opens in Lakeland, Fla., and no real closer.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers general manager who seems not to find this situation at all humorous, understands the need to lash down a genuine ninth-inning shutdown reliever in the aftermath of Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon signing with new teams for 2010.


Reporter Lynn Henning also quotes an anonymous NL scout:
"As far as I'm concerned, he was the best closer available this year," the scout said. "He throws strikes, he knows his role, and he understands his job is to get people out as quick as he can. I would never have a problem with Valverde as a closer. He's basically a fastball pitcher whose ball has a lot of life at the plate. It will either bore in, or rise, and he really doesn't need anything else. The split (split-finger fastball) is fine, and if he gets into a situation where he needs it, he'll use it. But I'm actually sometimes amazed at how he can throw 15 fastballs in a row and get three guys out. He repeats his delivery very well. And, if you do that, you're going to throw more strikes. Most pitchers can't do that -- somebody (hitter) is going to time him. But when he comes into a game, it's over."

Henning:
And so Valverde is being romanced by a Tigers team that otherwise loves its potential pitching depth heading into spring camp.

I'm betting that Valverde is a long-walks-on-the-beach kind of guy...

And MLB.com's Jason Beck has some info on the Tigers and Valverde:
The Tigers currently stand as the most interested and most logical destination for free-agent closer Jose Valverde, if they can find common ground on a contract. Not all of the price Detroit would pay, however, would be written in the fine print.

When it comes to giving up a Draft pick to sign Valverde, though, the Tigers are set up to handle it better this year than most.

Buying a baseball team like buying a house. A $650 million house. Where the residents complain in blogs. All the time.

Building on yesterday's Forbes report that the Astros aren't going to go for $650 million, Bernardo Fallas writes more words:


Scott Rosner, associate director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania:
“They don't go by the same metrics or many of the same methods. Really, the best way to think about how one would value a professional sports franchise is to compare it to a piece of art in the sense that ultimately it is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it. There are ways to think about this, and one is to think about it in terms of real estate, where when we think of valuation of a piece of property, it is helpful to know what has been sold in that marketplace.”

The last teams to be sold, with their price:
Rangers: $500m+
Padres: Don't know for sure, but probably $500m+
Braves: $450m

Rosner:
Ultimately, (the team) is going to be worth what somebody is willing to pay for it.”

Yep. Drayton doesn't need the world to think the Astros are worth $650m. He needs one guy to think the Astros are worth $650m. (And then it would help if that one guy had $650m of disposable income.)

More notes on the potential sale

A new article from Bernardo Fallas (it's just not going to be the same without JJO) discusses some particulars of the financial impact of a new owner moving the Astros out of Houston:

The first article offers up the cost of moving the Astros out of Houston:
In moving to Minute Maid Park in 2000, the Astros, under current ownership, signed a 30-year lease agreement and a non-relocation agreement with the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, the entity that owns the 41,000-seat stadium...

...The cost? $150 million payable to the Sports Authority “as reasonable liquidated damages and not as a penalty,” according to wording of the agreement. That would be on top of the $650 million Astros owner Drayton McLane is asking for the team.


This cost would drop $25 million every five years, beginning in 2013.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jose de Jesus Ortiz lives! (Just not with the Astros)

Earlier this afternoon I posed a question regarding the status of erstwhile Chronicle reporter Jose de Jesus Ortiz. It had been since December 15 that he filed a blog post, December 12 since he had tweeted. What the heck happened to him?

Houston Press' John Royal fills us in:

Jose de Jesus Ortiz has been moved to the Houston Dynamo beat. It's rumored that soccer guy Bernardo Fallas will be taking over the Astros beat, but he doesn't seem to be actively covering the team at the moment.

Wow. Who are we going to yell at?

Interesting news (with a captip to Newcomer) from BlogHouston, referencing a Slampo piece (enough links for you?):
Dynamo beat writer Bernardo Fallas' sister works for the Dynamo. Could be a conflict of interest, and the reason for the ol' switcheroo.

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A short recap of the trials and tribulations JJO endured last season:

October 29: Alyson Footer calls him icompetent (there's two links there, don't miss them.

October 14: JJO gets weirdly/righteously indignant about Jose Cruz and drugs and the Astros

October 1: Alyson Footer, at it again, clearing up confusion JJO caused regarding Milo Hamilton's health.

October 1 (bad day for JJO): Astros County wears JJO out as he says Wilton Lopez should have defied Dewey Robinson and thrown a different pitch.

August 27: JJO slams his fist on the table and demands that you remember his loyalty to the Astros

August 20: JJO wonders aloud if the Astros have an organization-wide drug problem.

July 14: JJO's blog post discussed an inappropriate relationship with an unnamed intern with a Houston media outlet and a married player on the Nationals, which set off a fecal storm. Ortiz' blog post has since been deleted.

May 16: JJO says that Cecil Cooper is the Hugo Chavez of baseball.

Enjoy those Dynamo games, JJO!

Forbes: No way the Astros go for $650m

A blog post from Michael Ozanian, National Editor at Forbes, takes on the report that Drayton wants $650 million:

There is no way the Astros are worth that much when the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and 25% of Comcast SportsNet just went for $840 million and the Cubs generated $45 million more in revenue than the Astros last season. The 73 year old McLane wants to cash out some of the equity he has in the team he paid $103 million for in 1992 and is using interest by Schiller to see how many fish are in the pond. Top price for Astros in this economy: $525 million.

Ozanian, if this goes through, and you cost Drayton $125 million, that's a lot of groceries that are going to be taken out of your backside...

Justice's (pretty decent) case for McLane

Do you want another owner? Change is always exciting, but is it necessarily good? In Justice's new column we hear a pretty good case being made for keeping McLane as owner.

He has led the Astros through their best times — a nine-year stretch in which they went to the playoffs six times and were in contention until the final days of the season two other times. Few other baseball franchises were more successful during those years, and if it's fair to criticize him for the recent failures, it's appropriate to praise him for the successes.

He has been hammered as the Astros have fallen from contention and as they've made poor decisions. Some of those decisions can be traced to McLane.

If you take two steps back and a deep breath, you probably will agree the Astros have been a well-run operation in the 17 seasons since McLane arrived...

...They're being rebuilt from the ground up as general manager Ed Wade attempts to piece together a competitive franchise until the minor league pipeline begins to flow again.

How could a new owner do better? Will he raise the payroll? The Astros had baseball's eighth-highest payroll in 2009, so it's unlikely the new owner is going to spend more.

Will a new owner know what McLane doesn't know? Will he understand that spending $1 million on five five-tool draft prospects is smarter than spending $100 million on a two-tool outfielder?

No, he won't. He'll come in and want to make a splash, and he'll end up committing hundreds of millions to aging players. And then he'll realize he's losing his shirt and end up cutting the player development budget.

Soon, the Astros will be right back in the mess they're in now. We've spent so much time training this owner it would be frustrating to have to train another one.


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Personally, I enjoy going to Astros games and seeing Drayton walking around the concourse. If the Faceless New York Conglomerate takes over ownership of the Astros, who will we know who to throw baseballs at? I don't have a problem taking shots at Drayton from the comfort and anonymity of this blog, but with a Conglomerate running things, I'll be less comfortable. I'll be afraid that hooded, creatures shrouded in a cloud of fog will bust my door down and pour boiling hot acid down my throat. Or on my hands, whatever. Drayton brings a sort of comfort to the Astros, and I'm not sure another owner would do a better job.

Can blame be laid at Drayton's feet for seasons 2006-2008? Sure. But will we be as critical in 2011 and beyond when this franchise has (hopefully) turned it around?

Update on Myers' financials + Brian Moehler

A tweet stream from tells us some details about the financials on Brett Myers' signing:

2010: $3.1m + performance incentives
2011: $8m if the two sides exercise the mutual option, or a $2m buyout.

Within Footer's tweets, she also says that:

-Ed Wade called Brian Moehler to tell him not to worry about his place on the team.
-Moehler will get a chance to stay in the rotation, though a move to the bullpen is a possibility
-Wade has yet to discuss in depth the rotation situation with Mills and Arnsberg, and that "things are far from decided)

Monday, January 11, 2010

McLane getting ready to sell Astros?

There are a few reports tonight that Drayton McLane is getting ready to sell the Astros. This has been re-organized so that newest information is at the top.
---

The updated Chronicle article has a little more for us:
The investment group is Great Court Capital, based out of New York, and Marc Isaacson is the lead negotiator.

Schiller:
“It’s really inappropriate to make any comment other than Drayton has been a friend of mine for a number of years, and I think the world of him. That is the appropriate thing to say at this time. There are a lot of people interested in acquiring baseball teams.”

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Circling the Bases speculates that Houston businessman Jim Crane, who also failed in bidding for the Rangers, is a part of this group. Calcaterra also notes that Drayton McLane has signed a "working letter of intent" to enter negotiations to sell.
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The updated Chronicle article lists former USOC chief Harvey Schiller and an unidentified New York investment banker (I bet we could narrow that down), and that McLane's asking price is believed to be $650 million, a price that "industry experts" are skeptical can be reached.

Schiller was briefly in on the sale of the Rangers and, of course, couldn't be reached for comment.
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Update from the Chronicle says that Bud Selig doesn't think McLane will sell:
Drayton told me he hasn't heard a peep since the original inquiry. This is a bogus story."

McLane:
I don’t think in a difficult economy there's going to be a sale. How many franchises have been sold recently? I doubt seriously if anything is going to occur.
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That said, Mark Berkman of Fox 26 has some words from Drayton, who says the investors are from New York:
"An investment banking company said, 'If we can raise the money, would you talk to us about us buying the team?' and they said, 'Would you give us 30 days?' and we said, 'Sure.'

"We've done that before. So they are trying to see if they can raise the money."


Berman says Drayton doesn't consider this any more serious than any other time he has been approached about a potential sale. What are the chances a deal gets done?

There's probably less than a 50-50 chance, even if they could, that we wouldn't do it for various reasons. You know this is kind of a sacred trust."
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Brian McTaggart is tweeting:
McLane says he's not trying to sell the team and the situation isn't an indicator he's about to sell team.
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Around the same time as McTaggart's tweet, KTRK's Bob Allen said that:
The names haven't come forward yet, but we have found out that the big money is from out of town, where three to five investors would be involved, and there would be 10 to 12 smaller level local investors.

Bob Allen goes on to say that the high end of the price could be as high as $700 million, and this group has until the end of the month to come up with the money.

Drayton, on the buyers:
"(They would) have to show us that they have the financial capability to do the deal and they have to show us the people, because we'd only do something if it were really, highly reputable people and that there were a lot of Houston people that were involved in it."

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It is now an inevitability that Drayton will sell at some point. Any businessman who can turn a $117 million investment into $700 million will do it. I don't care how much he loves the Astros, for a $530 million profit off my original investment, I would never watch the Astros again, too.

Myers in Houston for physical

Fox 26 got all weird and met Brett Myers at the airport, as he arrived for his physical.

What did he have to say?
"I'm working out. I'm busting my rear end to get out and win twenty games. That's been my goal every year and I've come up short. But just need a little luck and hopefully just go from there. I've been battling this hip injury that I just had fixed last season. I think that that held me back for a couple of years. But it's all healthy now...

...They have faces that I know - Pedro Feliz, Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels. And of course Ed Wade. I think it's going to be a fun season. It's somewhere I've wanted to play for a while because you feel comfortable when you come to Texas. Hopefully we can put something together and make it fun for everybody...

...They (the Astros) have a good team. They were able to beat us (6-2 record in 2009) and put it on us pretty good. That was one of the indicators right there they can play with the best. We went to the World Series last year and they were able to beat us with no problem."


While trying to butter me up with how awesome Texas is smacks of lamity, it totally worked.

Valverde to Detroit?

Good news for Astros fans as MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez references a Fox Sports report that Valverde is closing in on a deal with Detroit, and says Arizona's interest "has waned."

The Web site added, however, that it's not likely that the Tigers met Valverde's asking price -- not even on a one-year deal.

I don't care what number they settle on. The only one that matters to me is #19.

How do you think Valverde's agent feels, knowing he probably cost his client - the same client who hired him to represent his interests - up to $5 million?

McTaggart, on the rotation

In McTaggart's article on the rotation, there is information for the canny reader to glean:

-It appears Myers, 29, will be plugged into the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, who are a bona fide 1-2 punch. Youngsters Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino will likely compete for a rotation spot, along with veteran Brian Moehler, whose $3 million option for 2010 was picked up shortly after the '09 season ended.

-Astros general manager Ed Wade...said early last week the club didn't want to add a pitcher with name recognition who would impede the development of a younger pitcher. Wade also didn't want to add a starting pitcher who was coming off a significant health issue.

(What?)

Wade (prior to the Myers signing):
"At some point in time, we do need to begin a transition into a younger club and be mindful of the fact we do have prospects coming and we have to create opportunities for them to get their feet on the ground at the big league level...

...People say you've given a lot of chances to Felipe Paulino, and the results haven't been good, but when you look at his age and the weapons and what he brings to the game and if you're opened-minded about it, you'd say this kid deserves every opportunity to show what he's capable of doing if handed the ball every fifth day. Bud Norris falls into a different category. He's established a good record of success at every level coming through the organization, and I wouldn't want to get into the position of slowing that progress down.

"If the right guy comes along and Felipe Paulino or Bud Norris has to wait his turn, then so be it. We don't want to create another health issue and/or create an impediment that doesn't allow these kids to progress."


From these quotes it does look like it'll be Moehler who will earn his $3 million from the bullpen, and that's just the way I like it.

Berkman proud of McGwire

Berkman, who has been an outspoken critic against the role of performance-enhancing drugs, is not surprised regarding Mark McGwire's shocking (SHOCKING!) news that he took steroids (Note: Lance wasn't surprised when Sosa's name was leaked. Nor was he surprised when Manny was suspended. And he was pissed when A-Rod's name was leaked. Why don't we just ask Lance who else he thinks is on the juice?):

On McGwire
“That doesn't surprise me. I don't think it will surprise anybody. I think everybody knew that. I think it's good that he came out and admitted it. It's good for him and good for the sport. It hopefully will help us get over this steroid mess. It's been a black eye for the sport. Fortunately we've been able to move past it and it hasn't been held against the sport as a whole. It's certainly a regrettable era. Clearly the quicker you can move away, the better it will be for everybody."

And what about the Hall of Fame?
"The voters can do whatever they want. But if you're going to keep McGwire out of the Hall of Fame, then A-Rod can't be in the Hall of Fame. Manny Ramirez can't be in the Hall of Fame. If you don't put Mac in the Hall of Fame on the fact you feel his career was tainted by steroids, none of those can be in the Hall of Fame. They need to apply it evenhandedly. I'd hate to see Mac take the fall for the entire steroid era.”

I agree with the first part, and totally disagree with the second. And it doesn't sound like from the link dump at the top that Lance wouldn't really care if A-Rod and Manny didn't get in to the Hall.

Mills to speak at SHSU baseball banquet

Brad Mills will be the featured speaker at the Meet the Players banquet in Huntsville on January 29.

The event will be held at the Lowman Student Center Ballroom on the SHSU campus with prime rib provided by Nolan Ryan Guaranteed Tender Meats.

Tickets can be purchased as a table of nine for $400, a couple for $100 or $75 per person. Contact Rhonda Curry by e-mail at rcurry@shsu.edu, call at 936-294-4205 or stop by the Mafrige Fieldhouse in Room 301 for tickets.

The Huffington Post agrees with us

I don't think any of us are real excited about the idea of Moehler bumping Paulino from the rotation. I think we can agree that Moehler is the one who should be bumped from the rotation by the Myers signing, and the Huffington Post agrees.

It's not just that Norris (4.38 xFIP, 4.25 tERA) and Paulino (4.10 xFIP, 4.07 tERA) are likely better than Moehler (4.67 xFIP, 4.49 tERA), but also that, if Houston has any sense of building for the future, it would make a priority of developing the two young pitchers with upside. Brian Moehler is the absolute knownest of the known quantities.

I'm worried, though. I'm worried that the Astros will somehow see fit to go with Moehler. Yes, there's a chance that they're creating the illusion of a competition so's to prevent their young starters from becoming complacent, but I'm worried that's not the case. I'm worried they like Brian Moehler. I'm worried he'll be their fifth starter heading into the season.

Here's how I'll feel if such a thing were to happen: sad. Not joking-around sad, but legitimately sad.


Me too.

Afternoon Hilarity

The Fightins figured out that you're a right-fielder short of an entire baseball team of ex-Phillies that Ed Wade has signed.

Want to see the Astros on tv during Spring Training? Don't watch ESPN

Because it ain't happening.

The Worldwide Leader will be showing the Braves, Yankees, Twins three times, though...

Stan McNeal lives in a world in which Mayor McCheese actually holds office

That was a very long, complicated way of saying that the Sporting News' Stan McNeal doesn't have a firm grasp on reality, especially if he really believes that Orlando Cabrera should end up in Houston.

Switch-hitting veteran hit .284 in 160 games for the A's and Twins. Best fit: Astros need to replace Miguel Tejada and Cabrera played under new manager Brad Mills in Boston and Montreal. Cabrera is used to the waiting game after not signing until March last season.

With the payroll already projected at $92m+, I can't see a way in which the Astros pay up for Cabrera.

More on the "hypocrisy" of the Myers signing

NBC.com's Circling the Bases blog furthers the question posed by Richard Justice (and a nice shout-out to the Crawfish Boxes) on whether or not the Astros are hypocrites by signing Brett Myers (and his wife-beatery), when they once dropped Julio Lugo like 3rd-period French before charges had even been filed.

Craig Calcaterra:
In the case of Lugo and Myers I can see a distinction in that Lugo's thing was happening in real time while Myers' was some time ago and maybe, just maybe, he's made some kind of showing of rehabilitation or whatever that Lugo had not yet had a chance to do. And it's probably worth noting that, though no one ever disputed what happened with Myers and his wife, the charges were dropped...

...But it's one thing to cast judgment from afar and another thing altogether to run a ballclub. If I had to make a choice right now I'd probably cut Lugo, say no to Myers and steer clear of anyone else with that kind of history. But I think the issue is a bit too complicated in practice for the Astros to be accused of hypocrisy on this point.


You can't accuse Ed Wade of hypocrisy. After all, he's not the one who cut Lugo. The only one who could be accused of this is Drayton, and he should at least have to answer what the difference is between Lugo and Myers.

But let's say for argument's sake that the Astros cut Lugo on Monday and signed Myers on Tuesday. That would be hypocrisy. For the two events to have happened almost seven years apart, it's hard to make that same allegation. Lugo's offense happened in the Minute Maid Park's parking lot. Myers' happened late one night in Boston. There's no way to excuse either of their actions, but Lugo's was a much more fire-able offense. Lugo went to trial (after the Astros cut him), Myers' wife declined to press charges. There are a lot of differences between Lugo and Myers, and there are a lot of similarities. There are just a few more differences.

McLane's (alleged) double standard

Interesting note from Justice's new blog post this morning in the wake of the Brett Myers signing:

There'd never been a hint of domestic abuse with Myers before the incident. There hasn't been one since. Again, this is no excuse for what he did that one night.

When MLB.com reported that Myers had agreed to terms with the Astros on Friday, I sent Ed Wade an email that said: ''Isn't this the guy that beat up his wife? Isn't he a first-class jerk? Can you help me understand why you would want this guy on your club?''

Wade and I had a long telephone chat about Myers. I also communicated with four friends who know Myers well. To a man, they said they liked him...

...Drayton McLane ordered Julio Lugo released the day he was arrested for beating up his wife. He didn't want for the case to be resolved or for Lugo to have his day in court. He agreed to pay the remainder of his contract and send him packing.

Is McLane showing one standard for a Latino player and another for a white guy? That's a fair interpretation.

My read on the two incidents is that McLane reacted angrily, feeling he had enough of the facts and didn't want for the lawyers to get involved...

...Once the deal is signed, McLane can explain for himself there's a double-standard regarding Lugo and Myers.


Wow.

Zach Levine on Myers

Levine has a new post up on the Myers signing.

In total, Myers has allowed 76 home runs at home and 71 on the road since Citizens Bank Park opened. It's probably not the gulf you're looking for if you're an Astros fan, but there is a little room for improvement since you should be allowing more on the road naturally with home field advantage...

...A very large percentage, therefore, of his fly balls are leaving the yard, and the ballpark might be the answer, but with the home-road split not really that extreme, it's likely not the only answer...

...Myers' history also consists of an accusation of domestic violence, no charges from his wife and a relationship that was either repaired or never impaired. It also, famously in some circles, consists of a blow-up at a newspaper writer in which Myers used the word "retard" and then was asked to spell it before the whole thing escalated and eventually went viral.

I hope those incidents, alleged and recorded, respectively, will not be his legacy, and I really don't think they will. I eagerly anticipate seeing the next chapter from Brett Myers, abrasive or not, injured or not, blasted into the Crawford Boxes or not.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Did Chapman reach a deal with Reds?

It's being reported that Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman has reached a $30 million deal with an NL team.

Until this gets cleared up, AC will be updating. You know, just on the off-chance that the Astros threw $30m at him... (But remember on Wednesday The Apparatus said the Astros weren't really interested.)

Jon Paul Morosi says it's not the Nationals. 1 down, 15 teams to go.

Jeff Passan narrows it down to an NL Central club, and notes the Reds look like the best bet.

MLB.com's Joe Frisaro says it's not the Marlins, and agrees on the Reds possibility.

Buster Olney says it ain't the Padres or Dodgers, nor is it the Rockies or Braves. And the Mets "have no interest."

Yahoo's Tim Brown says it's not the Brewers.

Jim Bowden is reportedly saying it's not the Cardinals.

Morosi is saying that the Reds aren't confirming or denying, but officials from two other clubs think Chapman has signed with the Reds.

Dejan Kovacevic says it's not the Pirates.

Jeff Blair hears that Chapman to Cincinnati is a done deal.

And Jeff Passan, who broke the story, is confirming that the Reds have signed Chapman to a 5-year, $30m deal.

I had just about convinced myself that the Astros might actually sign Chapman. Silly...

Harsh math from Beyond the Boxscore

Satchel Price's brutally-titled post "Ed Wade is Not a Good GM" makes the following calculations with the signings of Lyon, Myers, Feliz, Moehler, Blum, and Michaels:

That's $29.3M guaranteed to six players, and $19.3M committed to the 2010 payroll.

CHONE projects Lyon (0.8 WAR), Myers (1.0 WAR), Moehler (0.6 WAR), Feliz (2.0 WAR), Blum (0.4 WAR), and Michaels (-0.1 WAR) to be worth about 4.7 wins above replacement in 2010. Even if you assume that Lyon maintains 0.8 WAR performance for three years, that's 6.3 WAR for $29.3M.

In a market where 1 WAR is going for slightly less than $3.5M, Wade has paid $4.65M per win. Factoring in the fact that Houston isn't exactly on the high side of the win spectrum, and you're looking at arguably the worst offseason in baseball.

Maysonet raked it yesterday

Edwin Maysonet was 3x5 with two doubles and 2 RBI as Arecibo defeated Carolina 9-7 yesterday.

In 18 games with Arecibo, Maysonet is hitting .353/.389/.456 with 6K:4BB in 68ABs. In his last two games, Maysonet is 5x8 with 3XBH.