Saturday, January 30, 2010

Justice: Everybody hated everybody else last year

Just a few key notes from Justice's blog post

It was the worst clubhouse environment I've ever been around and stemmed from the fact that management allowed Cecil Cooper to continue as manager even after it was clear he'd lost the club....

...It was bizarre because management knew there was a problem. It knew the players had lost faith in him, that the atmosphere was terrible. I'm not saying the club could have gotten back into the race, but it had no chance with Cecil Cooper as the manager. Veteran players became very cynical about whether management even wanted to win...

...In Coop's case, strategy was a huge problem and contributed to the bad atmosphere. Also, there was a similar problem between pitching coach Dewey Robinson and the pitchers. I don't know if the Astros are going to be any good in 2010, but simply having a competent manager and pitching coach is going to be a huge step forward.

I'm not sure what prompted Run-DMc and Easy Eddie to keep Cooper around for as long as he did, but I'm guessing it was the fact that they had extended him for 2010 in April. This was an incredibly short-sighted decision. So, knowing that the Astros would be paying Cooper whether he managed or not probably had a lot to do with keeping him around and hoping that he could turn things around. (Remember, Cooper yelled at the players in Spring Training). Cooper will receive $850,000 this year, just to not manage. As with most things Astros, payroll and money had a lot to do with this (non-)decision.

April 18 ticket sales in Lexington to go to Haiti

A sweet gesture out of Lexington, in that all funds from ticket sales for the April 18 Legends v. Greenville game will go to the UNICEF fund for Haiti.

Legends GM Andy Shea:
"We're always working very hard on supporting our local community, but we're also very proud and happy when we can support communities outside Central Kentucky. This is one of many ticket promotions and opportunities we will be doing to support the victims of the earthquake in Haiti."

McTaggart's Inbox Review

McTaggart posted a new inbox. What learning opportunities does this present?

First, though, an opening:
Without getting into any specific predictions, let me just say I think the signing of pitcher Brett Myers makes the Astros a lot more interesting. All of a sudden, I could see them contending in the division if things go right, and we all know the division isn't that strong.

The Cardinals get the annual Paper Tiger award, in that they look like they've already wrapped up the division. PECOTA has the Cardinals winning the division by seven games, and the Reds five games better than the 3rd-place Cubs. I don't know about that, but what it does indicate is that the rest of the NLC is wide open.

On Wesley Wright, whom reader Jake S. bemoaned the fact that many blogs aren't giving Wright a chance to be SP5:
You're right in your assessment that no one is giving him much of a chance. First, Wright just made the move to starter this winter and performed pretty well in the Dominican. But he remains an unknown commodity as a starter.

On Cory Sullivan, who won't get the same slack that Erstad got:
Sullivan would do well to replicate what Erstad brought the club in '08, but he has to perform better than last year's Erstad or he'll be sent packing.

Don't expect too much from Manzella at the plate:
Just go into the season knowing Manzella will wow you with his glove, but he isn't going to knock the cover off the ball. He's a very hard worker, however, who understands the strides he needs to make to get better at the plate. He just needs to hit well enough to stay in the lineup.

Bud Norris, meet the New York Times. New York Times, meet Bud Norris

Pretty fascinating article yesterday in the New York Times yesterday about the annual rookie camp. This camp, according to the NYT, is to prepare the top baseball prospects for life in the limelight, how to enjoy it, and how to make it last. (Sending pictures of your bait and tackle to chicks, I'm guessing, isn't part of the strategy).

In just the past year or two, experts and players say, the culture of celebrity — aided by cellphone videos, social-networking Web sites and round-the-clock sports coverage — has grown so all-consuming that it has thoroughly invaded players’ lives. It can inflate their fame, or spoil it, far faster than most can mentally adjust.

(Note: Fine. No more calling Bud Norris "The Troof." -Ed.)

And, hey! Bud Norris was there:
“You get on ESPN once and people you haven’t talked to in years come out of the woodwork and somehow find your phone number.

Apparently, Bud Norris looks like he might be interested in helping with the start-up for various internet ventures:
“Happened to me three times already — an Internet company, one was skin care, and I don’t remember the other. Living in the limelight is awesome so far. What I like about this is that it makes you think about the things you’ll face in much more depth than you may have."

So I have this idea to sell self-cooling baseball gloves. Bud, if you're interested, call me.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hey, everyone, meet Astro

Some of you have sent messages asking for a picture of Aaron Bray's new dog, Astro, alluded to in his last post. Here he is:


Some transaction updates from Baseball America that we didn't know about:

The Astros signed, in addition to Shane Loux and Cory Sullivan, RHPs B.J. Hagen and Jared Wells.

BA, on Hagen:
Hagen, 23, signed his first deal with an affiliated club after playing in the Frontier League last year. The Charlotte product appeared in 29 games for Traverse City, striking out 38 and walking 16 in 40 innings. Opponents hit just .178 as he compiled a 2.48 ERA.

28-year old RHP Jared Wells converted to a reliever in the 2007 season, and has spent time in the Padres and Mariners' systems.

In 2009, Wells spent 28 of his 30 games with the Mariners' Triple-A team in Tacoma, posting a 5.09 ERA/1.67 WHIP in 35.1IP, striking out 27 with 24 walks. In 721 career IP, Wells has a 4.46 ERA/1.48 WHIP in the minors, with a career 544K:305BB. His hit rate is fairly low, but as you can see, the walks are killing him.

Interesting scouting report on David Duncan

Baseball America posted an extra set of scouting reports, and Lancaster/Tri-City pitcher David Duncan is included:

Duncan began 2009, his first full pro season, at high Class A Lancaster, one of the worst pitcher's parks in the minors. He went 0-9, 8.51 in two months, with his difficulties compounded by the fact that the Astros wouldn't let him use his 82-84 mph splitter. It's his best pitch, but he tended to rely on it too much. Duncan found more success after a demotion to low Class A Lexington, where Houston let him use his splitter again. The rest of his repertoire is below-average. A tall, lanky lefthander throwing from a high three-quarters arm slot, Duncan also has an 86-89 mph fastball and a slow, loopy curveball. Though he doesn't miss many bats, he does do a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. Some scouts think he profiles better as a reliever than as a starter. He'll return to Lancaster in 2010.

Responding to Bernardo Fallas

Let's hand it to Bernardo Fallas, the guy has a new blog post every day. Today, he breaks down the outlook of the 2010 Astros. Let's look, listen, and respond.

Starting Pitching

The Good: Brett Myers

The Bad: Injury history of Roy, Myers

The Question Mark: Can Wandy replicate 2009?

The Response: I agree with the Myers/injuries aspect of this. My question mark isn't about Wandy, but about the SP4/SP5 spots. They'll start 40% of your games, and while Wandy's success is important, my question is can Norris/SP5 step up and provide some quality starts?


The Good: Jason Castro and Kevin Cash

The Bad: No defined C1

The Question Mark: Will Castro establish himself in the Majors in 2010?

The Response: I don't think Kevin Cash was brought in to push Quintero and Towles. The Astros tried bringing in four catchers to Spring Training (five, if you count Toby Hall's 8-minute stint) and Towles and Quintero responded with thundering indifference. Nope, I think the idea is to just get anything out of Towles/Quintero and wait for Castro. He was playing at Stanford two years ago, let's not pin the offense on him. Yet.


The Good: Beyond Lyon and Lindstrom, there's experience and upside.

The Bad: There aren't comparable replacements for Valverde/LaHawk

The Question Mark: Will Lyon earn his $5m?

The Response: I thought the "Good" of the Bullpen was Lyon and Lindstrom, mixed with experience and upside in Byrdak and Fulchino. I think the question mark is how effectively and efficiently the bullpen can be mixed and matched to stay in late, close games.


The Good: Three established outfielders

The Bad: Darin Erstad is gone

The Question Mark: Can Lee return to 2007 form?

The Response: I have a hard time seeing Erstad's departure as a bad thing. That said, he must have been one hell of a clubhouse guy, because to have a guy on the roster hitting .200 is horrible. If there's one bad thing about the outfield (and this is a reach. I love the Astros' outfield), it's a plate-discipline issue with Bourn and Pence.


The Good: Feliz and Manzella will vastly improve the defense.

The Bad: Losing Tejada means a significant portion of the offense is gone.

The Question Mark(s): Manzella's experience, Feliz' offense, Matsui's injuries, Berkman's contract year performance.

The Response: Fallas should remember that if the Good works out, it'll take care of the Bad. Manzella played in 133 games in Round Rock, and seven (kind of) for the Astros. And I'm guessing that traveling in Round Rock is harder on you than traveling with the Astros. So I think Manzella will be able to hold up. Matsui's injuries are valid, though.


The Good: Players seem to like Brad Mills.

The Bad: The first time things get rough, Mills will get called out for his lack of experience.

The Question Mark: Can Mills turn the Astros into contenders in his first year?

The Response: I don't think Mills will catch a whole lot of flak this year. I don't think Astros fans are under any false impressions of what the Astros will be bringing. They may not spend the $100+ on tickets like they did in 2004/2005, but anything wrong with the Astros can't necessarily be put on Mills (unless he just craps the bed. Like walking Nick Johnson to get to Hanley Ramirez.)

The X-Factor

The Astros may have enough tools and overall talent to aspire to be competitive in 2010, but many things will have to go right for them to achieve the goal. The biggest has to be health. The team cannot afford to have the likes of Oswalt, Berkman, Lee and Matsui go down with injuries. They simply do not have players of comparable quality on the bench.

The Response:
I'll agree that injuries are the biggest X Factor. But I do think Edwin Maysonet is as good as Kaz Matsui (in a limited sample, admittedly). I do think that Feliz is better than Blum. The X Factor comes with whether or not Bourn and Pence can build on 2009

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hey, congratulations there, David Berner!

David Berner, the Astros' 14th Round pick in '09, was named the Santa Clara County College co-Pitcher of the Year!

(Anthony Bona won the Loyd Christopher Award. This seems a little backwards to me. I think if you are in three Back to the Future movies, they should get your name right).

Of course, Berner got into some injury trouble, and only pitched in seven outings. But 2010 is going to rock.

In other not-astonishing news...

Joining the ranks of Mark McGwire's admission in "Oh. Okay." news, Doug Brocail has announced his retirement.

"I am retiring because it's harder to get my arm in shape and the talent just isn't there anymore. There's no use in just hanging on...

...I thought this decision would be emotional, but it's not one iota. When your talent runs out, it's a little different. I always said when I was through with baseball, I didn't want to be in baseball. I've talked to the Astros a little bit and we'll see what happens."

I really like Brocail, and wish him well. I hope he enjoys his retirement, but I bet it's short-lived.

Pence: Castro is pretty much set

Hunter Pence was asked about Jason Castro today in Corpus Christi. What did he say?

“I think (Castro is) doing everything right. There’s really not much advice that he needs. He’s a very intelligent, smart, bright young kid.”

“I still need to put in my work and work hard. And really those other things, those off-the-field things, I try not to think about them too much, the pressure and things that come along with the situation. They’re things I try not to focus on. Really, I’m just sticking to what I’m doing and what’s gotten me here to this point. Hopefully that’ll lead to success...

...I’ve put in a lot of work. I’ve definitely improved my game from where I was about a year and a half ago. I feel a lot more comfortable being in this system and everything. Just being around the types of people we have in the organization has been a tremendous growing experience for me. I feel like I’m prepared and ready for the next step.”

Ricky Bennett:
“From our standpoint, his development this first year has been unbelievable. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He caught well. He got better with the pitching staff in terms of calling the game and running the game. From an offensive standpoint, we feel like he made really huge strides. So from an all-around standpoint we feel happy where he is with his progress coming into the year. We’re going to give him every opportunity to make our Major League club. He’s matured enough to handle being in that environment. I think he’s only going to get better as time goes on."

So where do you put his chances?

Kaz Matsui, an IndyCar driver, an MMA fighter, and Koji Uehara walk into a bar...

The best part is that I'm not even kidding.

Matsui holds a training camp in Tokyo, and 2008 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Hideki Mutoh, MMA fighter Hideo Tokoro, and Orioles pitcher Koji Uehara is working out with Kaz.

"I met Matsui when we were racing in Kentucky in 2008, and he came to the race when he was in town for a game (at Cincinnati). He was holding a private training camp in Tokyo and invited me."

What do they work on?
Though the camp is focused on baseball skills, Mutoh has been able to apply the training to skills he uses in racing. Mutoh has participated in speed and coordination training, including sprint drills and games of catch to improve his hand/eye coordination.

Too many jokes. Brain shutting down.

Keith Law ranks Eddie's Farm #28

Well, it's progress (but didn't we know that already?). Keith Law ranked the Astros' farm system #28 out of #30 (ahead of the Cardinals and White Sox). What did he say?

Two drafts under new scouting director Bobby Heck got the Astros out of the cellar, but the scorched earth he inherited will take more time to reach the top half of this list. Emphasis on athletes and prep arms gives them a shot at ceiling but with some added risk. They also seem to be inching back into involvement in Latin America after giving a six-figure bonus to Dominican righty Edgar Ferreira in December.

You say PECOTA, I say...(well, that didn't work)

Baseball Prospectus posted their PECOTA rankings with projections for 2010. And while everyone will be in various stages of denial over BP picking the Yankees to miss the playoffs, we're obviously interested in the Astros, and the NL Central. So let's get to it:

PECOTA's 2010 NL Central


A couple of things to note:

-This is obviously a one game improvement over 2009.
-The Astros posted a .260/.319/.400 line in 2009, so PECOTA is predicting that the Astros will be better in every slash line aspect.
-The Reds will have a kickin' slugging percentage, but the lowest batting average in the Central. Despite all of that, the Reds are supposed to finish second.
-The Brewers will score a ton of runs, and give a ton more up, and still finish with the same record as the Astros.
-The Pirates will do what they always do.

Keith Law doesn't think so highly of Jason Castro

Keith Law posted his Top 100 prospects (Insider Only, but I got your back). Where are the Astros?

Jordan Lyles: #60
With the potential for him to add velocity, given his 6-foot-4 frame as he approaches the legal drinking age, Lyles could become a No. 2 starter or more for a team that hasn't developed anything close to that since Roy Oswalt.

Jason Castro: #65
His defense is probably adequate now to play in the big leagues, especially with nothing blocking him in Houston, and with some improvement he could be an average regular for an organization that hasn't had that behind the plate in a decade.

Jiovanni Mier: #94
True shortstops who can hit are incredibly valuable at the big league level -- look at how all-glove-no-bat shortstops are getting paid in the majors right now -- and Mier has the ceiling of a top offensive producer for his position.

The Hardball Times gives us their Top 10 Prospects

The always-excellent Hardball Times has their list of the Astros' Top 10 Prospects (with a note):

1. Jordan Lyles - He is a legit ace prospect but still has much to prove.

2. Jiovanni Mier - The first things that jump out are his defense and overall confidence.

3. Jason Castro - He is close to the big leagues and has proved himself in my eyes.

4. Sammy Gervacio - He is Houston's closer in training, and if he improves his command he will reach that level.

5. Tanner Bushue - His short Gulf Coast League stint was impressive, and it will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to being a full-time pitcher.

6. Ross Seaton - Seaton's fastball hasn't been as good as advertised, but he has shown strong consistency with his control.

7. Jonathan Gaston - He has immense power due to his all-or-nothing swing, which has resulted in cringe-worthy strikeout numbers, but his saving grace could be his patience at the plate.

8. Brad Dydalewicz - With better control and an uptick in his strikeout rate, he could have a middle-of-the-rotation future.

9. Chia-Jen Lo - His command is lacking, and if he is going to live up to his potential one of his secondary offerings needs to become a dependable weapon.

10. Jay Austin - His swing and speed make me think the top of the order could be in his future, and he has a good amount of time to get there, but he has a long, long way to go.

Read the whole article for further notes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Castro in Top 50 prospects

Jason Castro has been named Prospect #31 in the MLB Top 50 Prospects page (Check the video. You'll weep.)

Ed Wade:
"We knew that he had a chance to be a special player coming out of the Draft. That was clear to Bobby Heck and our scouts who had a chance to see him a lot. He's a very level-headed kid with good athleticism, but until you get a player in your system and see how he handles playing every single day and see how he handles wooden bats and all the different demands that come along with professional baseball, you really can't predict how fast he'll move."

What are his chances in Spring Training?
"In our eyes, he's not coming in as a non-roster invitee. He's coming in as a non-roster invitee with a legitimate chance to be standing behind the dish when the national anthem is played on Opening Day. We're not saying he's not ready for the big leagues, but he's a very young player with corners left to turn. We like his defensive skills, the way he sets up behind home plate, his arm and his release and intellectually the way he can call a game. And we like him offensively. He's got a chance to develop more power as he gets more comfortable, and there are several phases of the game he can get better at."

Hey. What does that Prospect Page (linked in the video) say?
Castro has big league backstop written all over him. He's a terrific receiver with a good and accurate arm behind the plate. His leadership skills make him a complete package defensively. At the plate, depending on whom you ask, he's got a little power to maybe a tick above average pop. He does have a solid approach at the plate, and isn't afraid to work counts and take a walk.

Huzzah! Eat it, Buster Posey!

But I'm clothed. And above ground. And I'm married. To a real, live woman.

I'm 95% sure Justice was kidding (in the same way that he says he's "95% charisma and 95% good looks"), but before we get to the 11 reasons to be, if not excited, optimistic about the 2010 Astros, this should be taken out of context and examined:

Optimism is not popular in the blogosphere. Negative sells. Astros suck. Drayton sucks.Texans suck. Rockets suck. Sportswriters suck.There, I've just summed up my daily mail bag. Guys that spend days upon days in their mother's basement in their underwear tend to get real bitter about the world.

Hm. Okay. But it should be pointed out that Pat Forde, Woody Paige, Bob Costas, Dan Shaughnessy, Scott Bordow, Ed Hardin, Geoff Baker, Mark Bechtel, David Wharton, Frank Fitzpatrick, Phil Reisman, Jason Lieser, Jay Mariotti, Rick Morrissey, Tony Kornheiser, Sam Smith, and Rick Reilly have already used the living-at-home and/or pantsless blogger routine quite effectively (thanks for the list, Deadspin). So this is why I think it was a joke. But it did need to be pointed out. Just in case, you know, it wasn't. What do you think.

ANYway. To the list of reasons why you can be optimistic. Ahh, just click Justice's link and make him happy. We're all about the positive here.

Fallas, coming through!

Bernardo Fallas has an interesting blog post about the Astros' negotiations with Tejada during the 2009 season:

The fact is that at some point last year, the Astros held talks with Tejada about having him stick around for another season - at third base. Tejada, however, wanted the type of job security only a multiyear deal provides. So he and the team said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

Fallas notes that he's not sure if talks got far enough to the point of exchanging dollars, but:
I am willing to bet the Astros' offer would have been, at the very least, comparable to the Orioles', bonus potential included.

Giving Tejada upwards of $7m is obviously $2.5m-ish over what the Astros got Pedro Feliz for. Would $2.5m have made a difference to the Astros' payroll? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the fact is that Tejada and Valverde may have seriously misread the market, and only screwed themselves.

Wandy can find David Gottfried and duel

In McTaggart's newest article addressing arbitration, we find that the Astros knew this would be an expensive year for Wandy, Bourn, and Pence. Of course, any one of us could have given them the Cliff's Notes.

"The reality is some of our young guys are beginning to move into the stage of their careers where they're becoming more established, and as a result arbitration becomes a mechanism that you have to address. We're happy with the composition of the club, we're happy with the fact we've got good, young players like Wandy and Hunter Pence and Bourn and the other guys that fall into our category...

...We have a fairly specific budget to work with, and we tried to use it as effectively as we could. Arbitration is a very significant vehicle for a player to realize a dramatic salary increase, but the reality is it's been in place a really long time and you budget for it and you recognize it's an important part of the process."

And if Wandy has another big year, the "front-burner" issue will be how much to pay him in years that he could be naturally declining:
"We hope they continue to perform at a level where we're talking about multiple-year contracts and buying out free-agent eligibility and things of that nature. We're close to that point with Wandy. If Wandy goes out and has another big season in 2010, that's a front-burner discussion for us. In the case of Michael and Hunter, that's further off on the horizon, particularly in Hunter's case. Our goal is to draft, sign and develop and/or acquire good, young talent and be in position to give them opportunities to succeed and to pay them."

As much as Wandy wants the multi-year deal, I like the idea (as with Bourn and Pence) of making sure that their success is more than a one-year fluke before offering them $10m+.

Bray Day - Episode 16

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 Fans,
I'm sure you all are excited as Spring Training is right around the corner. As I mentioned before, my days are usually filled with working out during the day. That normally lasts five hours. I am sure to make time to get some Call of Duty games in on my Play Station 3. After that I make time to take care of a recent addition to my family that would be my new puppy Astro (which was not the name I gave it, it came from my girlfriend). He is pretty energized and keeps me busy during the rest of the day into the night, and is fun to play with. That's really been my days this week. I have gotten after it in the weight room the last month and a half, and put on some good weight. Now I am working on getting faster. With steroids being cut out, I'm sure a lot of you have noticed the change of the game. You see more bunting, stealing and hit and runs. That will take me into my question for the week.

You are the all-time hits leader in UNC-Charlotte history. What were a couple of the biggest moments you enjoyed with the 49ers?

The way we played at Charlotte was that way. We bunted for hits (no sacrifices unless it was the 9th inning), we stole bases, and used our speed to beat teams. I enjoyed that a lot. Since the question asked me about big moments, I will brag for a second - which I hate doing because I go out and play hard every time, I am not a flashy player. But moments that I enjoyed were being a Freshman All-American and Conference Freshman of the year.

The reason why is because not too many freshmen get to see the field. I feel with those accolades it showed how dedicated and serious I was to my older teammates about playing this game and being a 49er. My sophomore and junior year we made it to the NCAA Tourney. My sophomore year we were one game away from a Super Regional and we broke many school records - one that sticks out is 49 wins. That team I played on my sophomore year is arguably the best Charlotte team. So to be a part of that was really cool. Since we made two NCAA Regionals we won our Conference Tourney twice, so I have two Championship rings. To have those rings and the memories is something I won't forget.

In my senior year I was fortunate enough to break a great player's record for hits in a career. I did it in a Conference tourney game that kept us from being eliminated. Also the fight our team had: we lost so many kids to injury, and a couple of us were playing hurt, so to win over 30 games and become the winningest class was cool. I also have to say beating UNC-Chapel Hill (on March 25, 2009; 2-1), who was ranked in the top 5 was really cool. After all the years of losing to them in the 9th inning, we finally got a win against them.

Really just being able to see the baseball team at Charlotte grow into what has become. My freshman year we played on a really nice field with a big section of bleachers. Those bleachers grew into a $6m stadium. Just to be a part of the rise of the baseball team is something I have enjoyed.

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

Got a question for Aaron? Email astroscounty (at)

Hey Millsy, keep an eye on this one

In another Kirk Bohls piece, this time focusing somewhat on Matt Lindstrom, we find out (a) Lindstrom knows Swedish, (b) He's Mormon, and (c) There's no real plan on who will be the closer:

Ed Wade:
"They're two guys with experience. Both are capable of handling the workload. But I don't think there's a reason we have to anoint either guy as the closer. It could be the hot-handed guy or a situational matchup."

But why should Mills and Arnsberg keep an eye on Lindstrom?
I expect a lot out of myself," Lindstrom said. "Sometimes I work myself to exhaustion."

He did so last offseason, throwing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic before straining his right shoulder against the Netherlands. Lindstrom said he was playing catchup all summer and eventually suffered an inflamed elbow in late June after pitching three consecutive nights against the Yankees. He was shut down for a month and lost his job to Leo Nunez, earning just one save opportunity down the stretch.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Commenter Scorecard

Beginning after this post, Astros County will be keeping a Commenter Scorecard on the sidebar. This is for every valid, well thought-out, or funny comment posted within each post. The +1 can come from me, or another commenter. -1s are in play, and are reviewable by The Constable. I'll be checking.

It begins at dawn. Or after I go to bed. Which won't be long, because I'll be 30 next week.

Ed Wade reassures us, "We'll have a Triple-A team somewhere."

What with Nolan Ryan's impending purchase of the Texas Rangers, Kirk Bohls tells us that the most immediate impact could be in Round Rock, which will likely become the Rangers' Triple-A team.

A friend, and business associate of Ryan:
"I think it's going to happen."

Reid Ryan:
"Everybody sees an opportunity there, but it puts us in an awkward situation. At the end of the year, we're going to evaluate the situation. We want to do what's in the best interests of our business, our family, the fans and everybody. With Nolan being a managing partner and a majority owner of the Express, there's a lot of synergy there."

Ed Wade:
We'd love to be here (in Round Rock) forever. We're aware of the changes in Nolan's role with Texas. You'd have to ask the Ryans. We'll be someplace."

I don't know why, but this really pisses me off.

Great. Joe Morgan and the Mets three Sunday nights in a row.

That's right we're going to get to see the Mets three Sunday nights in a row, from April 18-May 2 (4/18: Mets at Cardinals, 4/25: Braves at Mets, 5/2: Mets at Phillies), and New York teams in five of the first seven Sunday nights.

Good news, though. ESPN2 and Stutterin' Rick Sutcliffe will be bringing us the Giants at Astros on April 7. This marks the one-year anniversary of the last time the Astros got national coverage.

Astros apparently on hand to check out Noah Lowry

According to Jerry Crasnick, the Astros are one of 10-15 teams that will be on hand to check out pitcher Noah Lowry next week in Phoenix. He hasn't thrown in the majors since 2007.

The others are: Red Sox, Reds, Dodgers, Cardinals, Nationals, Mariners, Cubs, Braves & Mets (of course the Mets are interested. If you can throw two pitches, with a fastball over 84mph, please send your resume to Omar Minaya.)

Bagwell placed on 60-day DL

41-year old Jeff Bagwell will undergo major shoulder surgery on Monday in Arizona.

They go into my shoulder and open it up -- it won't be arthroscopic. It's actual surgery. They'll take out all my bone spurs. There's one big one in there that we've known about for a while...

..."They'll shave the ball of my arm down to a perfect circle, then drill a hole in the middle of it and stick a metal half ball on top of it and it should give me the perfect circle to where it's supposed to fit. It's getting worse. I'm getting more bone spurs that are pressing against the rotator cuff. It's time for me to do something. If this doesn't work, then I'm going to have to get a total shoulder replacement. We'll see if this works."

He should be eligible to return in time for Opening Day.

Tejada never sold his house in Baltimore

MASN Sports had a further note on Tejada's Baltimore affection (see this for Exhibit B):

Tejada still has a home in the Baltimore area. He supposedly told his agent not to sell it, "just in case."

You never know.

Bagwell is either very clean, or very dumb

At the Winter Caravan stop today in Round Rock, Jeff Bagwell answered some questions about everyone's favorite reformed juicer, Mark McGwire:

Mark McGwire will never be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, former Astros great Jeff Bagwell said Tuesday, but the Houston first baseman stopped short of saying the Cardinals slugger shouldn’t receive that honor.

Come on, Kirk, what did he say?
Asked if he thought McGwire will get in the Hall after already falling short of the 75 percent minimum votes four times and never receiving more than 24 percent, Bagwell said, “I do not. I’ve always said this.”

When he was asked during the Astros caravan stop at the Round Rock Express if he thought the 12-time All-Star who hit 583 home runs for the eighth most all time deserves to be inducted, Bagwell said, “This is a hard question. That will be talked about later down the line. But it was not like a shocking revelation.”

Not even Bud Selig adheres to slot recommendations

In a rather bizarre article out of ESPN Dallas, Nolan Ryan explains that MLB has been running the Rangers since July:

Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan, on the brink of becoming a minority owner in the club, said Tuesday that Major League Baseball continues to oversee the organization, something it's done since July.

"We were required to have any expenditure that was not budgeted for had to be approved and also any signing outside of the slot limit had to be approved," Ryan said. "There were obviously some restrictions that other clubs weren't under."

Reporter Richard Durrett:
Ryan said that MLB had to approve the Rangers' trade for Pudge Rodriguez in August and the above-slot money for first round draft pick Matt Purke. The money the Rangers offered for Purke wasn't enough to get the left-handed pitcher to sign. He will pitch for TCU this season.

Thanks for Nevarez and Vallejo, Bud! But wait. If slotting is so damn important, why did MLB approve offering Purke money over and above what MLB recommended?

C-Lo getting fast-tracked to Houston?

Zach Levine's new blog post discusses the Maturation of Chia-Jen Lo:

In my brief experience watching him in Corpus Christi in the second half of last year, it seemed as if he was leaning on the fastball, going to it at the first sign of trouble. Scouts I talked to seemed to really like the potential of his stuff and absolutely love his fastball. It was the most glowingly I heard scouts talk about any aspect of an Astros prospect's game last year.

What does Ricky Bennett think?
He really started to show progress with his ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes. I think he gained confidence in doing it. We started to see it a little more often, which is good. He's not there yet, but we definitely saw progress. I know he's going to get an opportunity to compete and make the club in Round Rock. If he comes in and shows us that he's ready to do it, I don't see why he couldn't handle that level."

So he could be in an Astros uniform next year?
"I think that's realistic. That's something that Ed (Wade) and I have talked about. The one thing I like about him is that he's not afraid. He's a pretty mature kid. He's got experience in international competition. I think all those things play a factor. I think it's realistic that we have a chance to see him in 2010."

With this development - the possibility of C-Lo with the Astros - is an interesting one. First, it backs up a promise that the Astros will be more aggressive in promoting their young'uns. Second, it means that someone will lose a job, provided of course that this promotion comes before September 1. So maybe my original thought was too hypothetical, and I'll stop.

Hey, in this one...we're not last.

In Frankie Piliere's Farm System Rankings for FanHouse, he places the Astros delicately at #29:

It may not seem that way given this ranking, but Houston is headed in the right direction. Jason Castro has been strong and proved many doubters wrong. At the lower levels, a number of high-upside arms like Jordan Lyles and Ross Seaton have emerged. There is work to be done, but the Astros are on track.

He also has two members of Eddie's Farm in the Top 100 prospects list: Jason Castro (#27), and Jordan Lyles (#99).

Tejada was two-timing us!

In Jorge Arangure's twitter feed, he has some soundbites from Tejada's press conference in Baltimore. A summation, if you'll allow:

"This is the second chance to be a winner [in Baltimore]. I love being here in Baltimore. I hope this time we can do what we didn't do last time. When I left, i understood it was a business. I came back because it's a business. When I left i always felt i could come back. After I left I still watched their games. In Houston we started an hour later. I always watched the Orioles games and talked to Brian. I told Brian i really missed being here."

How Wandy's arbitration case might proceed

So I got to wondering, "What information can be brought up in an arbitration hearing that could tilt the panel one way or the other?" First, let's talk about some rules in arbitration hearings:

1. Sides cannot bring up team finances, previous offers, comments from the press, or salaries in other sports (that last one slays me).

2. Sides can talk about performance and leadership

3. Sides can discuss team record and attendance

4. Sides can discuss "special accomplishments"

5. Sides can discuss salaries of comparable players

Let's get to it. And keep in mind, I'm not advocating either position (until the end, I guess). I'm just trying to think of what each side might say...

Wandy's Case

1. Career highs in Wins, ERA, WHIP, IP, K:BB ratio, ERA+

2. Led team in Wins, IP, ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts, ERA+

3. Opponents had a slash-line average (against) of .250/.309/.386 in 2009. LHBs had an OPS of .502 against

4. Named 2009 Astros' pitcher of the year

5. Joe Blanton just signed a 3-year, $24m deal

Tal's Case

1. While Wandy was 9-3 at home with a 2.08 ERA, he was 5-9 on the road with an ERA almost two points higher (4.05).

2. Wandy was pretty inconsistent. Look at his monthly numbers...

April: 1.69 ERA/1.03 WHIP. 2.25 K:BB ratio, 0HR
May: 2.78 ERA/1.40 WHIP. 3.89 K:BB, 1HR
June: 5.90 ERA/1.59 WHIP. 1.75 K:BB, 11HR
July: 0.75 ERA/0.94 WHIP. 4.86 K:BB, 2HR
August: 4.00 ERA/1.25 WHIP. 2.38 K:BB, 5HR
Sept/Oct: 3.41 ERA/1.27 WHIP. 6.33 K:BB, 2HR

3. Sure, he had a great year, but Wandy didn't receive a single Cy Young vote.

What am I missing? I think Wandy has a pretty good case...

Wandy's arbitration case: A poll

Manny Acta will be using Farmville for strategic decisions

Thank God we didn't hire Manny Acta. In an piece, Cleveland's new manager Manny Acta discusses how he takes advantage of social media to make decisions. Call it "Baseball 2.0"

"People think it's the absolute right thing to bunt [in that situation], but you need to check the stats. Back in the day, we didn't have computers, we didn't have Twitter, we didn't have Facebook. They've come up with some things that make you open your eyes and not play like Casey Stengel used to play."

@MannyActa: Trade you Kaz Matsui for three pounds of loose rosin.

I don't know about you, but I'll take Casey Stengel over whatever strategy Facebook might offer.

Nocturnal Emissions, Vol. 1

This will be the first in what I'm sure will be a lengthy series in which members of the media gush over some member of the Astros (Bernardo Fallas' Brad Mills piece technically could have been Volume 1) with no real reason.

Today's Emission comes from Richard Justice, on Hunter Pence:

But the more Astros scout Rusty Pendergrass saw of Pence, the more he liked him. He saw a guy that cared, a guy that worked hard, a guy that was absolutely committed to being great...

He learned the family story, about how Hunter's dad, Howard, made all kinds of sacrifices so the kid could have every opportunity to succeed. And the thing, Rusty kept seeing was a player that did things to help his team win games...

...The thing that has impressed almost everyone about Hunter from the start is his work ethic and how much he cares. Sometimes, the veterans have made fun of him. Extra rounds of batting practice before games, sometimes extra rounds after games, too...

...At some point, the Astros will have to begin to think about signing Pence to a long-term deal, but that's a discussion for another day. For now, it's enough to look forward to watching him play another season and to appreciate that the Astros have him.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wandy vs. Eddie: Steel Cage Match

Apparently Wandy ain't budging.

Ed Wade:
We gave it our best effort. We had a lot of conversations, but were not able to reach a common ground. This does not minimize what we think of Wandy or the expectations that we have for him."

McTaggart has more on the case, which will be heard on February 17.

"It's part of the business. We don't enjoy it. We pride ourselves on trying to settle all these things if at all possible. I'm sure that if Wandy had a preference, he would like to have a negotiated settlement over going to an arbitration hearing. It was something that was unavoidable...

..."It's something that's always in the back of our mind, particularly for a player who's never been through the process before. It's designed to determine where the player fits in the salary structure. It really comes down to the marketplace and comparables. Performance is discussed and part of the criteria, but at the end of the day the exercise is to slot the player at the appropriate numbers. Ninety-nine times out of 100 we're able to do that through the negotiating process."

Unfortunately this is the one time that Wandy gets to hear that the Astros don't think he's worth as much as he's worth, and I certainly doubt that this was "unavoidable."

10,000 already-spoken words about Brad Mills

Bernardo Fallas has a profile on Brad Mills, and it's full of things we heard back in October. Let's get some new nuggets:

Ed Wade, on Mills' perfect record:
“I'm extremely pleased with the way things have turned out."

Francona, on his BFF:
“The best word I can give you is solid. He's just a solid person.”

“I'm a little bit vanilla. But that's just me. I'm a guy who loves the game; I've been around it my entire life. As a real young kid, my dad took me to a San Francisco Giants game, and I kind of fell in love with the game then...

...My style is, I try to develop whatever I can with the players we have and put them in position to be as successful as they can with their abilities and skills. My philosophy? I just like to see the game played well. I want to play it in a way that they're putting in the effort to play the game the right way, and that's probably the bottom line.”

Mills, on his strengths:
“A passion for the game and a passion for the players. We're going to encourage them to let their abilities come out and play the game the right way, to execute. If that happens, we're going to be successful with the talent and skill level that we have.”


Orlando Cepeda? Check. Bob Gibson? Check. Hunter Pence? Check.

On January 26, which I presume has not yet occurred (because I have no idea what day it is), Hunter Pence and his $3.5 million will be heading to the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York to accept the Murcer Award on behalf of the Houston Astros.

What is this Murcer Award?
The Murcer Award is given to the team in each league whose players contribute the most money to B.A.T. through the MLB Payroll Deduction Program.

What is this B.A.T.?
The Baseball Assistance Team.

What is this Baseball Assistance Team?
B.A.T. is "dedicated to assisting members of the 'Baseball Family' through financial grants, health-care programs and rehabilitative counseling." The program has awarded more than $19 million in grants since it was founded in 1986 and has benefited more than 2,400 members of the "Baseball Family."

Andre Dawson will be there, and he looks more like Woo Woo each and every passing day.

Astros, Byrdak agree to deal

Tim Byrdak and the Houston Astros have agreed to a one-year $1.6m deal today (+ bonuses), avoiding an arbitration hearing.

Ricky Bennett:
"We got him done tonight. We were working hard to get it done, and I feel much better."

Mike Mosa (Byrdak's agent):
"He wants to focus on the season and not on other things. This is something that has to be done, and once you get it out of the way, the biggest thing is he wants to win ballgames."

$1.6m is the midpoint between what Byrdak wanted, and what the Astros offered.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tal Smith Enterprises is doing about as well as the Houston Astros

The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo's Sunday column has some information about the tendency of teams to settle with players, rather than going to an arbitration hearing. Why does this matter for us? Because Tal Smith Enterprises isn't faring so well with this evolution in the business of baseball.

Teams are 49-25 in arbitrations against players since 1999, a sign that Smith had the upper hand. It’s a wonder why more teams don’t save themselves money by taking their case to a hearing. In 2008, only three cases went to hearings. The last double-digit hearing load came in 2001, with 14.

"There are probably a number of reasons. Nobody likes to lose. And we’ve seen instances over the years where a player has fired an agent for losing in arbitration. The teams don’t like what they perceive as a contentious relationship with the player if they should beat him, but it’s been my experience - and I’ve done more than 150 cases - that it doesn’t have to be that way. I remember I beat Barry Bonds twice and Barry, every time I saw him, was certainly not happy about the result but didn’t hold it against me...

...I think the cases now are far more complicated and elaborate than they used to be. There are more statistics, more graphs, and there’s more to the presentation than way back when. I think at one point Scott Boras said he spent $150,000 to put a case together. Way back, the agents would come in and have a legal pad and just read off their notes. Back then, there also wasn’t as much at stake."

Well, of course. Stuff is harder. Scott Boras is evil. That makes sense.

Rangers officially sold. Does that put a price on the Astros?

So Nolan Ryan's group has bought the Texas Rangers for a price expected to be somewhere north of $500 million.

As in the free agent market, this sets a precedent. How does it affect the Astros' potential sale? We can refer to last April's Forbes report breaking down some of the financials regarding all 30 Major-League teams. Let's compare the Astros and Rangers, shall we?

TeamCurrent Value1-yr Value ChgDebt/Value%Revenues

A couple of notes (and keep in mind, I'm not an economist, I was a history major. So this is your cue to say, "Screw you. You don't know." And that would be moderately valid.):

Current Value: Value of team based on current stadium deal without deduction for debt (other than stadium debt). And by "current value," we mean value in 2008. So given the relative success of the Rangers in 2009, and the...ahem...performance of the Astros in 2009, I would not be surprised to see the Rangers come closer to the Astros.

The Rangers are also on an operating income (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $17.4m, while the Astros sit at an even $17m.

All this is to ask: Are the Astros worth more than the Rangers? And if the Investment Group comes up with $650m and Drayton doesn't take it, will that make him a complete moron?

UPDATE: ESPN is saying the price is around $570 million:

A sale price was not announced, but a source said the price tag was under $570 million, which includes the team, the lease at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and approximately 153 acres of real estate around the park. The real estate portion of the agreement was part of a separate transaction, which transfers most of the land controlled by Hicks around the ballpark and Cowboys Stadium to the Greenberg group.

The Temple paper thinks pretty highly of Lance

Back in July there was a poll asking whether or not Lance was a Hall of Famer. You could have answered "Yes," "No," or "Not yet." 26% said "Yes," 6% said "No," and 65% said "Not Yet."

The Temple Daily-Telegram has high hopes for Lance's impending enshrinement, but Lance himself isn't so sure:

Columnist Greg Willie:
If Berkman plays at least five more seasons and maintains or at least approaches his standard production, these milestones would become reachable - 500 homers, 1,500 RBI, 2,500 hits (he probably walks too often to challenge 3,000), 500 doubles, 1,500 runs and 1,500 walks. Those, baseball fans, are Hall of Fame-worthy numbers.

"I've got a long way to go. Realistically, I'd need to have five, six, seven more good years."

Of course, Lance will be 34 on Opening Day 2010, so he'll need to produce at the same level until he's at least 39 or 40. Can he do it? And for Astros fans, will he do it in Houston?