Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sayonara, Mark Loretta

Mark Loretta, who played in 15 seasons for the Brewers, Astros, Padres, Red Sox, Astros, and Dodgers, has announced his retirement.

In two seasons (and part of another), Loretta played in 255 games for the Astros, hitting .296/.363/.393.

Pence agrees!

Staring down the long arm of Tal Smith, Hunter Pence signed a one-year deal worth $3.5m today (captip to Joe, who broke it in the comments section of a previous post - I had to make an emergency trip to Atlanta).

Ed Wade:
“I really think Hunter’s about to step off into a very significant portion of his career at this point in time. I think he’s going to take on a great leadership role on the club, and from a talent standpoint, I think he’s going to get better.”

Brian McTaggart has some more logic on why a long-term deal doesn't make sense for the Astros:

Long-term deals make sense when you can buy out years of free agency, but to do that for Pence at this point in his career you'd have to sign him to a six-year deal (four arbitration years and two free agent years). There's not much sense to that considering Pence won't be a free agent until after the 2013 season.

Totally agree. With arbitration, you're going to pay for what you got. You might not get what you pay for, but you're certainly not going to run the risk of giving a ton of money for not much return. I had Pence pegged at $4-5 million, so to get him for $3.5 million is great for both the Astros and for Hunter Pence, who gets a nice little $3 million raise. Maybe he'll be able to move out of that duplex in Pasadena.

At least it's not the Cardinals

The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck is reporting Miguel Tejada has signed with the Orioles, where he'll move to third base, shifting Garrett Atkins to first base.

I don't think the Astros weren't ever not interested in Tejada, but they were not interested in his price tag. It'll be interesting to see what he signed for.

UPDATE: SI's Jon Heyman says it's a one-year $6m deal with performance bonuses. This is approximately $1.5m more than what Ed Wade just gave to Pedro Feliz, but I don't care. I'm kind of glad Tejada is officially gone as the idea of bringing him back, just to screw over Tommy Manzella, had never left the back of my mind. Feliz is a true third baseman, and while it blocks Chris Johnson for another year, it opens up SS1 for Manzella.

Now just to get Matsui off the books...

Meet the first canine to earn citizenship in Astros County

A while ago, Astros County citizen AstroFan31 and I had a conversation via twitter regarding the naming of his new dog. Something Astros-y. AstroFan31 was also a catcher in his playing days, so may I introduce you to Pudge.

Is your animal named after an Astro? Better yet, have you named a child after an Astro? Let me know.

Astros sign Kevin Cash

And in what may be the final post of the morning in which I catch up on what happened yesterday, the Astros signed catcher Kevin Cash to a minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. That sound you hear is the weeping and gnashing of J.R. Towles' teeth.

Cash is 32, and has spent parts of seven seasons in the Majors, with the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees (and the AL-Easting of the Astros continues...). I wonder how many players have played for four teams in one division before?

His most productive season came in 2008 with the Red Sox (he spent 2009 in the Yankees organization), when he hit .225/.309/.338 in 61 games/162 PAs.

So what's the point in signing Cash? My initial thought was that he might challenge Towles and Quintero for the C2 spot. But now I'm thinking that, with both of them likely opening the season in Houston, the Astros wanted to have an experienced catcher with Major-League experience in Round Rock to give Jason Castro some tips on Major-League life.

Anyone else?

Levine brings the research

Zach Levine's newest blog post discusses the wonderful opportunity presented to the Astros in 2010's June Draft.

The Astros have had three or more picks in the first round just twice: 1991 and 1994. How did that turn out?

In 1991, the Astros drafted:
6. John Burke, who did not sign
29(s). Shawn Livsey, who didn't make it to the majors
40(s). Jim Gonzalez, who followed into the footsteps of Shawn Livsey
44(s). Mike Groppuso, who joined Livsey and Gonzalez in not having a major league career.

In 1994, the Astros drafted:
17. Ramon Castro, who was traded before making it to the majors
25. Scott Elarton
30(s). Russ Johnson

Astros set deadline for arbitration deals

I know I'm a day behind on this (work, and all), but Easy Eddie has set a Monday deadline for working out a deal with Byrdak, Pence, and Wandy - or a hooded Tal gets on the case.

"We think that it presents ample opportunity to get things done. The agents for the three remaining players are aware of the deadline, and we'll continue to work through the process and do everything we can within reason to get them done. We think that it presents ample opportunity to get things done. The agents for the three remaining players are aware of the deadline, and we'll continue to work through the process and do everything we can within reason to get them done...

...Realistically, there is enough data available at this point in time for us to afford a settlement. Without a deadline, you're in position where there's a lot of preparation taking place and a settlement could be reached today or all of a sudden takes place on the courthouse steps, so to speak."

Let's see here. I would like the Astros to get a deal done with Pence on a multi-year basis, but there's no real reason to do so. I actually prefer the idea that the Astros are being a tad more hesitant in handing out larger contracts, because Wandy has really only had one great year. And he just turned 31 four days ago (a card's on the way, Wandy). In his five seasons with the Astros, Wandy has thrown 150+ innings just twice, and has one ERA+ over 100 (139 in 2009, and 119 in 2008 when he threw only 137.1IP.)

Pence is a little different. He's a likeable guy, he's got a good arm, hits reasonably well. But the point of the arbitration years is to control a player for a certain amount of time, and Pence still has quite some time under the Astros' steely grasp.

And Byrdak? Just sign your deal.

Spring Training on TV

There will be four Spring Training games on FS Houston this year:

March 18 vs. Detroit
March 20 vs. New York Yankees
March 22 vs. St Louis
April 3 vs. Toronto (this game is also at Minute Maid Park)

And don't forget that tickets for Spring Training home games go on sale at 9am Central today.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bryant Gumbel. The new George Mitchell.

David Barron's Wednesday blog post, he cites a recent HBO Real Sports program, hosted by Bryant Gumbel. It's an open letter to steroid users and closes with this (note: Barron did not write this, it's a transcript of Real Sports):

But even Bud's selling absolution these days. He's cheering any and all mea culpas, even half-assed ones. If you don't believe me, just ask A-Rod, Manny, Papi, Jason and the others who've come forward because they had to. There may be no crying in baseball, but there is forgiveness, maybe even enough to get you to Cooperstown.

In closing, guys, please feel free to share this letter with Bagwell, Nomar, Pudge and all those others who went from hitting homers to power outages overnight. Tell 'em fans are ready to accept what happened. Tell 'em we're ready to move on. Tell 'em that most of us get it...even if they, like you, still don't.

Hm. This seems...irresponsible. I don't think there's an Astros fan over the age of ten who isn't half-sitting on the edge of their proverbial seat worried that Bagwell's name will become tarnished like so many hitters of his era. Maybe it even feels inevitable, but to go on a respected sports talk show and throw names out (as plausible as they may seem on the surface) just seems off. Unless you're Jose Canseco. Then you're pretty much telling the truth.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fox26 is en fuego

Fox 26 has another story, one that differs a bit from Bernardo Fallas' story regarding the potential sale of the Astros.

Houston businessman Neil Leibman is a part of the 10-12 investors working through the firm in New York to purchase the team. And they're going to come strong. (pause for snickering).

Mark Berman says:
Leibman said Great Court Capital, led by its lead negotiator Mark Isaacson, has assured the local investors the group will have what it takes to get the job done.

"We have a strong group in Great Court Capital and they have represented to us they will have sufficient capital at closing. We have a well-respected leader in Harvey Schiller who has been in communication with Major League Baseball. Drayton wants local ownership - He will not leave his franchise in bad hands."

Well, now. That sounds serious. What's the financial range?
Leibman said a firm price has not been established, but the group and McLane are working toward that.

"We have a range and I'm not allowed to talk about that range. There are documents moving back and forth."

And Leibman, who is Chairman/CEO of the Boise Hawks, as well as co-managing general partner of the Mobile Bay Bears in Alabama, and a limited partner in the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in Ohio, is fired up about owning a major-league team:
"It is my dream to be involved in Major League Baseball, especially with one as highly regarded as the Houston Astros. It is the reason I'm involved with minor league baseball because baseball is my passion."

So this sounds a little more serious than Drayton would lead us to believe.

Moehler has been to PR101

Brian Moehler is saying all the right things as he may get pushed to the bullpen with the Brett Myers signing. Oh, and Moehler totally called it:

"I loved it. I kind of felt this winter at some point we were going to add a starting pitcher, and I told my agent I wouldn't be surprised if we added somebody like Myers because he did have a relationship with [general manager] Ed [Wade] in Philly. I was correct on that...Would I like to start? Sure. Have I done both? Yes. If it makes us stronger, I'm all for it. I just want to win. I literally want to go to the playoffs. That's all I care about. Personal numbers don't mean anything to me anymore. If I pitch well, that's great, and that's what I plan on doing. Whatever role they feel like is better to help the team, then I'm all for it."

Moehler doesn't want to figuratively go to the playoffs, like sick animals who go to farms in Connecticut. He wants to literally go to the playoffs. And I literally want to go there with him.

How's your knee, B-Moeh?
"It really feels good. I've been lifting [weights] for a few months now. After the first 10 days, things started to take off. I'm pleased with the way things were going. I had a good test [Wednesday] night when I sat on the airplane for three hours with my knees cramped up to my ears and didn't have a problem."
(Continental: The official airline of the Houston Astros.)

"Nothing but praise" = "Better than Cooper"

McTaggart's new blog post says that Brad Mills has spring fever, and can't wait to get started!

Mills has received nothing but praise about the way he handles himself from players such as Geoff Blum, Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Moehler. The first-year manager appears to have won over the players and can probably go ahead and start tinkering with a lineup, considering the Astros are done shopping for the winter. Next comes the hard part. Bringing it all together in time for Opening Day.

Yeah, I think that Blum and Oswalt would praise a cucumber if it meant not playing for Cecil Cooper...

I think the whole ballclub has been received very well. I'm not talking about me. It's the organization and what they've done for this community and what they've done to get ready for the season has all been received very well. We have some great fans and we're looking forward to Spring Training."

The value of a good farm system

The Baseball Analysts have an eye-crossing article explaining the value of a "good farm system," using Baseball America's projection system, in which the Rangers have the #1 overall farm system, while the Astros sit at #30. There are charts and graphs, and the money quote:

Since the Rangers' system was rated #27 as recently as 2008, the expected farm impact in 2010 is small. However, the impact increases dramatically starting in 2012. Overall, over the next 9 years, the Rangers farm system will likely net them 31 extra wins, meaning that while their system won't have a huge effect in any one particular year, it's likely to have a strong impact on the Rangers franchise over the next decade...

...For the Astros, it's nearly the opposite situation. Their farm system projects to cause them to lose over 36 games over the next ten years. So, is the difference between the Rangers and Astros farm systems really 67 wins over the next nine years? It would appear that way, although there are some caveats. For one, the year-to-year farm system rankings are correlated with one another, so the fact that the Rangers have a good farm system now is also indicative that they will have a good system in the future. That undoubtedly accounts for some of the large difference in wins. While the Rangers may not be still reaping fruit from their 2010 farm system in the year 2018, the fact that they have a good farm team now bodes well for their future farm teams, and hence their future major league teams.

What to make of this? David Coleman, over at The Crawfish Boxes makes a good point:

For instance, when the Astros picked Jason Castro over Justin Smoak in the 2008 draft, analysts ripped them left and right. Smoak then flew through the minors and is listed by at least one publication as one of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Castro has also risen quickly and, while highly rated, isn't viewed with the same kind of respect as Smoak, which is one of the reasons why the Rangers are ranked first in BA's list. Smoak, though, would be blocked by both Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman. If Wade and Co. made the decision after 2010 to let Berkman walk for Smoak, he'd be roasted over the coals in Houston. Drafting Smoak would have created an unnecessary surplus value. Drafting Castro gave the Astros a solid prospect who should impact the major league roster this season at a position that is not only more scarce than first base, but is also an organizational need. In this situation, shouldn't more credit be given to the Astros farm system for producing a player that helps an area of weakness for the major league club?

That's the main thrust of my disagreement. While BA's rankings do seem to have some predictive power, I'd feel better knowing a little more about what goes into those rankings.

I totally agree with Coleman's thoughts. Having eight unbelievable first basemen doesn't do you any good, but having good players across the board is better for the health of the Big Team. Depending on my motivation level, it would be fun to go through and see who John Sickels at Minor League Ball graded as each team's "Top Prospects" and where the team's needs project in 2-3 years. But my motivation level is fickle.

For Sale update

Bernardo Fallas gives us an update on the negotiations to sell the Astros, from Drayton:

They really have not gotten back to me. So I assume they have not gotten the money. There's absolutely no communications. I don't see anything happening."

A quote that short deserves a short post. And the investment group has ten more days.

Pedro Gonzalez released

The Astros have released minor-leaguer Pedro Gonzalez.

Read about Gonzalez' brutal 2009 season here for a little explanation.

Sorry, Round Rock. No more Paronto for you.

The Red Sox have signed erstwhile Round Rock/Houston pitcher Chad Paronto to a minor-league deal.

Blum flat-out brought it

In an interview with Fox26, Geoff Blum brought the thunder and the rain in talking about Cecil Cooper.

It was one of those over-bearing things that was like a black cloud hovering over the clubhouse. There were things you couldn't say. You couldn't be who you wanted to be in the clubhouse with all of the internal rumors and all the clubhouse lobbying going on, things like that. You don't need those kinds of things. It's hard enough to play a 162 game season with 25 different attitudes as it is. Then you add into the mix the heavy burden of playing for a manager who wasn't overly upbeat to be there in the first place, it seemed like. Now we've got a guy in here who wants to be here, first-year manager, brings over like I said the winning attitude and maybe a little more upbeat style hopefully."

And Mills?
There's definitely a new feel. We had some issues last year with Cooper and the way things were going and some of the clubhouse mood, but I've heard good things about Brad Mills from players that had him in triple-a and obviously he's coming from a winning organization in Boston. So that's going to be a good influence in the clubhouse. Knowing what Brad might bring to our ballclub, we're going to bring our best for him so that he can make the right calls and succeed...

...(A new manager) makes a huge difference. We're going into a championship season. You want to go into the season with a guy who's got your back and is enthusiastic about playing. We get bogged down through the season playing so many games. You are going to hit some ruts. You need somebody that is going to get you out of it. Knowing that you've got a manger and a coaching staff who are on your side and want to battle for you and with you makes a huge difference."

Roy, got anything you want to say?:
I think the attitude of the team is a little better this year. I think with Brad coming in he's going to add a little different attitude in the clubhouse and I think it's going to be a lot more fun around the clubhouse and a little better atmosphere.
I met him twice. With just the way he wants to learn the team, and he's been around winning teams too, so he's adding a different factor into the clubhouse than we've had. I think he's going to do a good job. A manager, you know, you've got to rally your troops. You can't get down on your troops. I mean they're out their playing their hearts out. His job is to stick behind us and ours is to stick behind him. I think he is going to be a good fit for us."

In one of the saddest lines Fox26 Sports has ever printed, the closer is:
When reached by FOX 26 Wednesday night Cooper declined comment.

I get it. You have to ask about The New Guy, and the new feel and atmosphere in the clubhouse. But there's a way to be excited without having to drag Cooper into the conversation. We all know Cooper had an issue with communication and that it was hard to play for him. What Blum and Roy said wasn't classless, but maybe a touch unnecessary.

That said, when a new boss comes in, everybody compares him/her to the old boss. It's just that our water-cooler conversation isn't printed. And thank God for that. I'd like to know what Cooper's response to this is, but he's holding his tongue - and should be applauded for it. (Though it would be pretty frickin awesome).

Official draft order released

So now we know exactly where the Astros will be picking in the 2010 June Draft. Regard:

1st Round
#19 (Tigers' pick)

Supplemental Round

2nd Round

And so on. Of the teams receiving multiple picks in the 1st Round/Supplemental Round, the Astros have the highest order.

Bernardo Fallas has his first useful post

And it's about some performance bonuses for the recently signed arbitration eligibles:

Bourn: $50,000 if he makes 680 plate appearances
Lindstrom: $25,000 if he plays in 65 games, and $25,000 more for 75 games
Quintero: $25,000 if he makes 175 plate appearances, and $25,000 more for 200 plate appearances.

Quick note: Bourn made 678 plate appearances in 2009; Lindstrom appeared in 54 games last year (though of course dealing with injury, he made 66 appearances in 2008, and 71 in 2007); Quintero made 168 PAs in 2009, a year after making a career-high 183 PAs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bourgeois clears waivers, Astros sign Cory Sullivan

Alyson Footer tells us that Jason Bourgeois has cleared waivers, and has accepted the assignment to Round Rock.

And within that tweet, we also see (because there are only 140 characters) that the Astros have signed Cory Sullivan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

Sullivan will be 31 in August and was a 7th-round pick by the Rockies in 2001. He was a CF for the Rockies, playing in 265 games over 2005 and 2006 before losing his job to a combination of Willy Taveras and Ryan Spillborghs in 2007. He signed with the Mets for 2009, and hit .250/.338/.382 in 64 games, spending 44 games in the outfield - and 38 games in the Mets' piecemeal left field.

In 1285 plate appearances, Sullivan hit .276/.331/.389 with 235K:88BB, and 80 extra-base hits for a career OPS+ of 81.

But wait, there's more: the 4th-highest similarity score is none other than Johnny Dickshot.

I'm guessing that Bourgeois and Sullivan will duke it out in Escape From Round Rock for the OF5 position...

Roy moderately confident his back problems are a fluke

But he is feeling good well. And the panic is mostly our fault. And the WBC's.

"I'm doing all the exercises they showed me to do as far as strengthening the lower back and doing a little bit less long cardio and a little more short stuff, like quick bursts here and there. Instead of running three or four miles, I'm trying to do a little more accelerating stuff. I think people read into it a little too much (into) it. I'll be ready when it gets time to go. This new workout stuff should help a lot...

I feel like I'm getting in shape quicker this way. I just started throwing this week. I've been lifting [weights] for couple of months now, and it seems like it's coming together well."

Noting that he had been pitching at form for five extra starts, Roy said:
"I only missed three starts and started five in the WBC, so that's 35 starts. I think I'll be in good shape. [The back problem] is not in the back of my head or anything like that. If I have to, I can pitch through it and hopefully for the entire season I'll be pain-free."

Hey, but what about 2010?
"I think we're going to be OK if Myers comes in and pitches good and Wandy pitches the way he did last year. The biggest thing is health. Most teams you see in the World Series, they stay healthy the whole year. That's the biggest key in the big leagues. The talent is there, but we have to put it all together and stay healthy. Adding a new manager and a pitching coach is a help for us."

Those are two big "Ifs."

On Mills:
"I think it's going to work out well. He fits our club well. We have some guys on the team that have the same background as he does. A lot of people from the side don't know what it's like to get on the field. Being out there, he can understand how hard the game is, and you learn a lot from guys who had trouble getting through the season when they're hurting."

Maybe I'm one of the people from the side. But Cooper should theoretically have understood that, too...

The rest of your caravan

Thanks to the Caravan site, you can now know when and where Astros will be near you. Unless you live near me. As always, the offer stands: Print a Proof of Citizenship (found on the right sidebar), get a picture with an Astro holding it, and get a prize. A good one.

3:00-4:30, Thursday: Academy Katy (9734 Katy Freeway)- Mills, Berkman, Moehler, Bill Brown
5:00-6:00, Friday: Academy Sugar Land (16610 Hwy 59 South) - Mills, Fulchino, Dierker, Brett Dolan
4:00-5:00, Monday, Jan 25: Academy Waco (210 N. New Road) - Lindstrom, Norris, Bagwell, Deshaies
4:30-5:30, Tuesday: Academy Round Rock (1104 C-Bar Ranch Trail, Cedar Park) - Lindstrom, Norris, Bagwell, Deshaies
12:00-1:00, Wednesday: H.E.B. San Antonio (20935 Hwy 281 N) - Lindstrom, Norris, Bagwell, Deshaies
4:30-5:30, Wednesday: Academy San Antonio (714 West Loop 1604 North. I hope that means something to you) - Lindstrom, Norris, Bagwell, Deshaies
4:45-5:45, Thursday: Academy Victoria (903 N. Navarro) - Pence, Dierker, Milo Hamilton

Drayton addresses the For Sale sign on the front of Minute Maid Park

Alyson Footer is tweeting (here, and here) Drayton's address to the Lions Club about selling the team. Here's the quote, in its entirety:

"I take every phone call. A group of investors from NY who I did not know called me and asked if they raised a lot of money, would I consider selling the team to them." I said "you better raise A LOT." (Drayton) reiterates he's not actively interested in selling. Says his family would be against it. Adds that the media reports are "way overblown."

Overblown? Media reports? Get out...

Still, there are 11 days left for the prospective ownership group to put together the $gajillion to buy the Astros.

Farmstros' Round Rock 2010 lineup

Farmstros has a projected lineup for the Express in 2010, with some notes:

Catcher- Jason Castro (Up to Houston by mid-season)
1B- Jimmy Van Ostrand (Any chance RR can play a few games in Midland?)
2B- Jose Vallejo (Pudge trade pick-up gets full season in Round Rock)
SS- Wladimir Sutil (26 errors in AA in 2009)
3B- Chris Johnson (Feliz signed, Johnson will spend year in AAA)
Utility- Edwin Maysonet (Will probably bounce between Dell Diamond and Minute Maid)
OF- Drew Locke (Can he do in AAA what he did in AA?)
OF- Yordany Ramirez (Will bat catch up with glove?)
OF- Brian Bogusevic (Second full season as a position player)
SP- Polin Trinidad (Looking for big league precision)
SP- Yorman Bazardo (Called up at 1st big league injury)
SP- Wilton Lopez (Ended 2009 on fire)
SP- Wesley Wright (Continues transition to starter)
SP- Sergio Perez (5th man in rotation)
Bullpen- Chia-jen Lo (Moving up fast. May see Houston before September)
Bullpen- Casey Daigle (Veteran presence, could see the big leagues this year)
Bullpen- Evan Englebrook (Impressed in Arizona Fall League)

The point of about Wesley Wright certainly makes sense, and if Paulino and Norris start the year in Houston, it would open up a rotation spot for Wright. I find no fault with this.

Sampson's performance "bonus"

Going through the invaluable Cot's Baseball Contracts this morning and found an interesting note:

Chris Sampson will get a $15,000 bonus for 55 games. This seems low.

Bray Day! Episode 15

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.

Hello Astros fans! I have been busy the past couple days. I hope all of you are doing well. I thought I was busy when I was going to class, but without class I feel as if I am busier. I'm up early I go to the gym. After the gym I am either in the practice gym at UNC-Charlotte doing agility drills or down at the field to do my conditioning. Then once that's done, I get to mess around on the field. I usually throw and hit. This week I plan on starting to take ground balls and fly balls. Why both? I guess being considered a utility guy I will try not to limit myself to the infield. As I say every week, I am excited to get down there to Florida and start playing. I feel after one season I learned a lot of stuff to make me better. I took what I was taught by my coaches and used some advice from other players and molded the two together. Once you feel like it is all clicking together, you're itching to get out and show it off, and that's how I feel now. This leads into my question for the week.

What do you think is the biggest distraction that keeps guys from "making it" in baseball?

There are so many factors to baseball players not making it. I mean I believe all the sports have the same reasons for players not making it. You have girls, money, drugs, off field issues. To me as a player the one I feel that gets most players is work ethic. The reasons listed above are obvious and rare. But work ethic can take the top athletes out of their game. There are sport gods and they are always watching. I feel like if your work ethic is not very good you will not make it. If you're in the weight room and you're skipping reps or cutting your running short and just doing it to be seen, you're not hurting the coach or any of your teammates, you're hurting yourself and it will cost you. I was told by someone that if you don't make it, it better be because they took the jersey off of you. So you work hard and give them a reason not to let you go. You work hard, you do what you're asked. It is all about integrity. Doing the little things when no one is watching. I feel that a good strong work ethic keeps players in the game, also along with talent. But if your work ethic is good, you will keep getting better as a player.

I hope you all have a great week!!!!!

Levine/Clements on Fernando Abad

Zach Levine talked to new Corpus manager Wes Clements, and got some information on Fernando Abad. Nuggets:

The 24-year-old Dominican fits the profile of the control lefty, giving out a ridiculous eight walks in 82 2/3 innings of work in Lancaster despite pitching in the most unforgiving environment in affiliated baseball.

Clements, on Abad:
He was fearless in a league that did not have an abundance of fearless players. I'm not sure you're going find somebody at any level with less walks per inning."

Ricky Bennett, on Abad, who will apparently start the season in Corpus:
He's shown the ability to both start and relieve. Through the course of last season, he continued to get better. As a staff we were just trying to get him multiple innings. Going into this year, I want to keep him in the rotation so he can continue to develop his pitches and hopefully, he can continue where he left off last year."

Richard Justice, Captain of the Obvious

In a blog post, Richard Justice says "The Astros are right to pass on Tejada."

The Astros might have had some interest at the beginning of free agency, but apparently Miggy wanted more money than the Astros were willing to spend. Now Ed Wade has pushed the payroll about as far as Drayton McLane is willing to go. He talked him into Brett Myers, and that probably did it as far as this off-season's significant spending.

The Astros finished last season needing home runs and pitching. Tejada provides neither...

...It would be one thing if the Astros were applying patches with the hope of winning a championship. They're trying to be respectable. Even as they try to remain respectable this year, it'll be interesting to see how their young players progress. Miguel Tejada would only get in the way of that progression.

Fernando Rodney arranged his own replacement

In a move worthy of the late shift at the supermarket, new Angel Fernando Rodney was apparently instrumental in bringing Jose Valverde to the Tigers, in part so that he wouldn't feel bad about bailing.

"All the time, I talked to Fernando he told me, 'There's a good energy over there. You'd be happy over there because everybody, the GM, the manager, everybody's good over there."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reaction to arbitration decisions

McTaggart has some reaction from all interested parties of today.

"I never really worried about it...I'm thankful and happy for it. I can get that out of the way and move on to the next hurdle, which is Spring Training. I'm ready to go for that, and I'll see everybody down there."

Ed Wade:
Our goal is always to negotiate and try to come up with settlements that satisfy both parties. That's the task at hand, and we'll work in that direction...I think both parties, players and teams alike, are anxious to try to get deals done at the proper pace, and there are some dynamics in play. The exchange date compels both sides to get together and reach a negotiated settlement before the numbers are out there. Sometimes the numbers have a polarizing effect on the process. There's enough marketplace evidence available that it behooves both sides to take advantage of that...

..."I think the work David Gottfried, Ricky Bennett and Tal have done has really put us in a good position to be able to get three more arbitration-eligible players signed before the exchange of numbers. We're still optimistic that we'll get Byrdak and Wandy and Pence done before we ever get to a hearing. It's good to get these issues off the table and allow us to focus on Spring Training and getting the club ready...

...Everybody's important. There are a group of guys on this club who are centerpieces of the ballclub, and certainly we believe what Wandy and Hunter and Michael have accomplished at this stage of their careers is very significant. We're prepared to pay what the market bears for talent and we've never taken a contrary position. We're prepared to pay when players step up and do the types of things to make us better."

Wade did say, according to McTaggart, that he would be setting the deadline, thank you very much, by which they would simply go to a hearing if an agreement wasn't reached. I need to look it up, but I don't believe Ed Wade has a track record of going to hearings. He didn't last year...

Arbitration Day!

If the Astros players don't want to get Tal Smith involved with their arbitration case - and I don't think anybody wants that - then they are going to have to reach a settlement by noon. So check back and see who signed, and who's going to court. All updates will appear beneath this post, so scroll down to read the latest news.

Arbitration recap:
Michael Bourn: $2.4m + incentives
Tim Byrdak: Asking $1.9m, Astros counter with $1.3m
Jeff Keppinger: $1.15m
Matt Lindstrom: $1.625m + incentives
Hunter Pence: Asking $4.1m, Astros counter with $3.1m
Humberto Quintero: $750K + incentives
Wandy Rodriguez: Asking $7m, Astros counter with $5m
Chris Sampson: $815K + incentives

Let's play with the numbers and payroll (currently $78.2315):
If the players get their way, total payroll: $91.2315m
If the Astros get their way, total payroll: $87.6315m
If they play nice and split the difference: $89.4315m

Don't fret! Just because Byrdak, Pence, and Wandy have not yet agreed doesn't mean they'll be facing down the Long Arm of Tal Smith. The players and the Apparatus have exchanged numbers, and can continue to negotiate.

Valverde tired of being "a loser"

At his press conference today, new Tiger Jose Valverde says that that he's excited to be a Tiger, and not to be...ahem...somewhere else:

"I'm so excited right now. The Tigers are one of the teams everybody there wants to play for. But this is the time for winning. I don't want to be a loser every year. I want a ring on my finger."

Get those post-out celebrations under control. That'll go a long way towards not being a loser every year.

Were you worried about whether or not Pedro Feliz would have any friends?

Brian McTaggart was.

Happy Pete:
"I haven't met everybody yet, but I'm ready to go. One month from now, it's going to be Spring Training. It's right around the corner and it's going to be great. I'm ready to get with the team and get on the field. With the lineup we have, it's going to be a great season. We're going to go in there every day with the attitude that we're going to win, and that's just going to happen. I think we have the team to do that."

Yeah, but there are so many Phillies on this team:
"We're not here because we're bad."

Happy Pete, on Brett Myers:
"I think he's a great pitcher. I saw him pitch many times and he's going to great for the team. He was hurt last year with a hip issue, but I saw him pitch in the World Series and playoffs and he looked great. He's going to help the team and contribute to the team. He's a worker. I think it's going to be great to have him on the team."

It's that time of year, where you toss realism aside...

Hope springs eternal for Bernardo Fallas, and really, this time of year, hope springs eternal for everyone - even for the Pirates, who are pumped about Brendan Donnelly. That said, Bernardo Fallas has some hope for us:

Ed Wade:
"I think we’re going to be solid...We’re going to have to pick up the slack from an offensive standpoint, what we’re missing with Tejada, by having everybody step up and do a little bit more. From a leadership standpoint, it’s sort of the same thing."

See, this is what I find interesting. And maddening. Back on November 27 I ripped Berkman a new one for not being in the mix as far as leadership was going, and it amazes me that the Astros lost LaTroy Hawkins, Jose Valverde, and Miguel Tejada, and Ed Wade still needs someone to step up and pick up the slack with clubhouse leadership. The Astros still have a core of Berkman, Oswalt, and Lee, and need leadership? This is unbelievable. So maybe I jumped the gun on the "hope" aspect of this article.

Brad Mills:
"You look at this ballclub, and there’s a lot of talent in this ballclub. And that breeds excitement...When you’re able to stay in games with pitching and defense, we may be able to put something together and score enough runs."

It's fairly well known that the Mariners scored fewer runs in 2009 than they did in 2008, and won 21 more games. That's what it seems like the Astros will be looking for - can't create runs? Prevent them. And I'm okay with that...

Tejada a target for three teams

Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports has an update on the Tejada sweepstakes (I know. He's not an Astro. And won't be an Astro. But since the Astros haven't felt like trying to settle any of their arbitration cases, what else are we going to talk about - at least until I get off my duff and work on those minor-leaguer recaps):

The Giants haven’t confirmed that they remain in the running for Tejada, but he’s a natural fit for a team that needs to score more runs. Tejada has indicated a willingness to play somewhere other than shortstop, sources have said, raising the possibility that he could play third base for the Giants, Twins or Cardinals.

Also on the list are the aforementioned Twins, and the A's.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Stan McNeal thinks the Astros should go ahead and sign Orlando Cabrera

The Sporting News' Stan McNeal new article breaks down the best fit for remaining free agents...

Orlando Cabrera:
Another late signer last offseason who went on to be productive: .284 in 160 games for A's, Twins. Best fit: Astros.

I just can't see this happening, unless the Astros trade Matsui for a 37-year old guy in Double-A, or a case of Ben Gay.

Attention California Citizens

April 28 will be Koby Clemens bobblehead day at Lancaster. The first 750 fans in attendance will receive their Koby Clemens bobblehead, and hopefully Koby Clemens will not be in attendance.

Wright, on his Excellent Dominican Experience

McTaggart has a new article up on Wesley Wright, who went to the Caribbean to get stretched out to try to become a starter.

"It was a good experience. I really enjoyed it. It was something that gives me a lot of confidence going into Spring Training, knowing that I have a recent history of being in the starting position. It's exciting. I'm looking forward to Spring Training and seeing the possibilities...

...For me, I just want to be as versatile as possible. Versatility is the key to being able to stick around. The fact that I have been in the bullpen in the past and knowing I could go back, that's a good thing. Whatever to help the team win is a good thing. We'll see once Spring Training gets here...

...The main thing for me was learning how to face the lineup the second time around, just being able to make the adjustments to keep the guys off balance. The first time guys are trying to get a feel for you, and the second time they have a feel for what you have and you make the adjustments you need to make."

"We thought he did fine. We thought it was well worth the environment for him to go down there and get stretched out and be prepared to compete for a spot in the rotation and see where it goes. It certainly gives us another option from a starting point and broadens Wesley's horizons with regards to the different things he can do for the club...

...All avenues are open for him. Being left-handed, he brings significant value to the club. We're pretty confident that Tim Byrdak assumes a role as one of the lefties in the bullpen. If we were to decide to go with a second one, Wesley at this point in time has a great chance to stick in that role. But again, we'll go into Spring Training with an open mind."

The most interesting thing for me is that it doesn't sound as if Wright has a spot guaranteed in the bullpen. Obviously he's eligible to head to Round Rock (he has two options left - if my calculations are correct - having spent all of 2008 with the Big Club, thanks to the requirements of the Rule 5 draft), but I guess I just assumed that Wright would be an extra lefty. Of course, with the signings of Lyon and Lindstrom, there are two fewer bullpen spots available.

This is the most vague tweet. Ever.

So, you may know that Ben Sheets will be throwing tomorrow, showing off his new bionic arm. And you may think that the Astros would be interested. After all, they at least got out of the office for an hour to watch Aroldis Chapman pitch a ball. But, I guess since Ben Sheets will be throwing in Louisiana, it's just too dadgum far. Unless it's not.

Brian McTaggart is tweeting:
Ed Wade said this morning Astros have no plans to watch Ben Sheets throw on Tuesday, though that could change.

Maybe they'll watch. Maybe they won't.

McLane has whooped this team into shape

Huge article this morning from David Barron on the history of the Astros' ownership. It's far too long to pull a couple of money quotes, so we'll go with the close, and you can read it for yourself:

Larry Dierker, on Drayton:
“He has been the best by far. This is the best shape the team has ever been during the course of his ownership.”

What happened to Bourn? He learned how to hit fastballs. And breaking balls.

In this Baseball Daily Digest piece, they break down what happened with Michael Bourn from 2008 to 2009:

In 2008:
He saw a heater 65.1 percent of the time, one of the 20 highest rates among all hitters. Bourn was helpless when pitchers challenged him. Per 100 pitches seen, he had a -1.18 run value against fastballs, fourth-worst in the majors. He also struggled with breaking balls (-0.56 per 100 pitches vs. sliders, -0.41 vs. curveballs) and changeups (-4.03).

In 2009:
Bourn wasn’t blown away by fastballs this time around. Against the heat, he had a +1.35 run value per 100 pitches in 2009. One year after ranking as one of the most feeble fastball hitters in the majors, Bourn showed marked improvement. His percentage of fastballs seen dipped from 65.1 to 60. Bourn still struggled against secondary stuff (-2.23 runs/100 against sliders, -0.44 vs. curveballs, -1.29 vs. changeups), however.

His strike zone judgment showed modest improvement. Bourn swung at 20.3 percent of pitches off the plate, while increasing his in-zone swing percentage to 60.6. With fewer fastballs seen, Bourn’s percentage of pitches within the zone dropped to 49.3. That helps explain the increase in free passes taken.

So what about 2010?
Going forward, Bourn will likely see some regression in his performance. Sean Smith’s CHONE projects the 28 year-old to hit .268/.338/.368, with a 99 wRC+. That would make Bourn about 1 run below average per 600 plate appearances. Jeff Zimmerman’s projected 2010 UZR totals peg Houston’s center fielder as a +4 defender per 150 defensive games. You can also credit him with a few extra runs for his base advancement prowess. Those totals mean Bourn projects as a two-and-a-half to three win contributor in 2010. That’s still a pretty nice piece to have.

I have no mathematical basis to back this up, but I don't think Bourn will regress as much as the CHONE projections think (but they're a lot more accurate than I am). But I do appreciate the note about his defensive prowess and his ability to advance, thanks to his ability to run from first base to second base before the pitcher has an opportunity to deliver the ball from the pitcher's mound to home plate and the catcher then relay the ball to the second baseman.

Mr. Tejada goes to Haiti

Good for him.

Tejada arranged for a van full of food, water and medicine to be brought to Port au Prince on Sunday, and the Dominican Republic native took a helicopter to the Haitian capital.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Work with me here. Did Ed Wade force the Tigers' hand?

Just a little Sunday morning stream-of-consciousness here, so work with me (because maybe you've already thought this through. I had not, until this morning.):

Thought: By signing Brandon Lyon, Ed Wade made it inevitable that Detroit would sign Jose Valverde, resulting in the two extra draft picks.

A timeline of events:

December 1 - Tigers offer arbitration to Fernando Rodney
December 7 - Rodney, Lyon decline arbitration
December 8 - Jose Valverde declines arbitration.
December 9 - Brandon Lyon signs with Houston for 3-years/$15 million.

Okay, the Tigers really had four options to close in 2010: Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Ryan Perry, and Brandon Lyon. When Rodney and Lyon declined arbitration, that left Zumaya, who has a history of injuries, and Ryan Perry - who has thrown 61.2 IP in his career, and will be 23 in February.

As soon as Valverde declined arbitration (arguably the most questionable decision of the off-season, from a player's standpoint), the question became, "Who can afford Valverde?"

The Astros desperately need to re-stock their farm system, having missed out on being a part of the conversation for Jake Peavy (Roy's BFF) and Roy Halladay (which wasn't going to happen, anyway) because of the sins of 2006-2007. What's the best way to re-stock a farm system? Extra picks. It was pretty obvious from Valverde's comments that he was hell-bent on free agency, consequences be damned. So offering arbitration to Valverde was a much lower risk than it was offering arbitration to Tejada, whose expressed interest in staying Houston was clear.

The basis of the idea of arbitration is to offer compensation to teams who can't hold on to good free agents. The Astros offered arbitration to Valverde, moderately secure that someone else was going to sign him, and the draft picks would roll in. It was iffy for a while, but luckily Valverde and his agent crapped the bed and declined.

Valverde's options were limited. From published reports, there were only a handful of teams that needed a closer: Nationals, Marlins, Diamondbacks, and Tigers. It became fairly clear that there were even fewer teams that might be able to do take his salary.

The Marlins, who would pay $5.75/hour to players if they could, wouldn't likely do it. The Nationals aren't in a win-now mentality. The Diamondbacks, who are actively trying to reduce payroll, were a long-shot, and that left the Tigers. Hypothetical/rhetorial question: Did Ed Wade know this?

The Tigers were a more attractive option for the Astros than any of the other teams because they finished in the top half of the overall standings, meaning their first-round pick wasn't protected. Presumably, the Astros knew that, as well.

Two days after Valverde declined arbitration, the Astros signed Brandon Lyon, reducing the Tigers options for available closers. The AL Central is a division similar to the NL Central, in that it's generally a winnable division (less so for the NL Central, who have Holliday/Pujols, Wainwright/Carpenter). The Indians, Tigers, and Twins are close enough that any of those three times could feasibly win the division.

So by signing Lyon, the Astros significantly increased the Tigers' chances of needing a closer via free agency. We all know that 2012 is a target date for the Astros' return to respectability. The Astros signed Lyon through 2012, and the two extra picks (that's four picks in the first two rounds) will undoubtedly make the Astros a much better team in the future. Is $5 million per year over the next three years worth the opportunity to secure the future of the organization for the next decade? I think so. And maybe Ed Wade did, too.

GMs still don't get it about Tejada, and the GIDPs

The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo's new column is up, and in his closing randomness has a note about Tejada's continued unemployment:

Someone is going to get a .300 hitter who can drive the ball into the gaps, play every day, and be a good clubhouse presence. And they’re going to get him for a year or two at little money. One NL general manager who considered Tejada said, "He’s been in the right ballpark [Houston] to hit the doubles, but he’s also a double-play machine. Not sure, also, whether the conversion to third base will be as seamless as people think. Having said that, someone is going to get a pretty good player."

What's wrong with you people! Haven't you read this post?!

Lexington Legends: Brian Pellegrini

Brian Pellegrini
How did he get here?: Drafted, 12th Round (2007)
Stats: 6'1", 240 lbs, Bats/Throws: R/R
Age as of April 1, 2010: 25

Splits (with Lexington, following the season totals)!

vs LHP83.277/.400/.57825:1611-21
vs RHP268.295/.395/.57877:4235-53
Bases Empty172.285/.400/.64054:3026-17
Runners On179.296/.393/.52048:2820-57

Season Totals

YearK:BB RatioK/PA %K:BBXBH/H %

Pellegrini spent 87 games at 1B for Lexington, posting a .995 Fld%, mixing in 10 games in the outfield, and nine games at DH.

Holy Hannah. After 30 games in Lancaster to open the season, Pellegrini was sent back to Lexington, where he had hit .226/.331/.503 in 2008. So to say that Pellegrini had a breakout season at Lexington is a bit of an understatement. However, to see that 55.7% of his hits in 2008 were for extra-bases, you may have been able to see it coming. But the splits in Lexington are amazing. The season was propelled by an unreal June, in which he he posted an OPS of 1.311. It dropped off substantially in July, but his OPS stayed above .880 in every other month.

If you look at his home runs in 2009, 20 of them were against RHPs (7 against LHPs); 14 at home, 13 on the road. 17 with the bases empty, 10 with runners on, and 9 with RISP. But you can see the kind of hitter he was, and how pitchers nibbled at him, with 23K:26BB with RISP. Just an impressive season at Lexington. I know what you (and others) are thinking: The guy was 24, he should be dominating in A-ball. So let's get him to Lancaster (where he just might hit 132 home runs), or even Corpus, and see what he's made of.

Lexington Legends: Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson
How did he get here?: Drafted, 29th Round (2008)
Stats: 5'11", 185 lbs, Bats/Throws: R/R
Age as of April 1, 2010: 23

Splits (with Lexington, following the season totals)!

vs LHP36.167/.250/.2226:42-3
vs RHP116.207/.260/.25038:53-8
Bases Empty89.225/.289/.28128:63-0
Runners On63.159/.214/.19016:32-11

Season Totals

YearK:BB RatioK/PA %K:BBXBH/H %

Jackson spent all 57 of his games in Lancaster at SS, but upon getting shifted to Lexington in July, played 17 at SS and 18 at 3B. He posted a .931 Fld% for the season - .930 at SS, and .829 at 3B.

Jackson was hitting .183/.239/.244 in 58 games at Lancaster when he got sent to Lexington, where he didn't fare much better. Lots of strikeouts, no walks (on average, one walk for every five games). There were only two splits in which Jackson's OPS was over .600 in Lexington: Home games (.734) and September (.630). His last ten games saw him post a .297/.316/.351 line, however, so maybe he can build on that.