Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pence wins arbitration case

So it turns out that the arbitration panel has sided with Hunter Pence's $6.9m case for 2011, and not the Astros' $5.15m offer. Surprising, since NOBODY BEATS TAL SMITH AND LIVES TO TELL ABOUT IT.

We'll examine what this means for the Astros moving forward early next week.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Apparently, things between Hunsicker/McLane and Biggio got "animated"

Evan Grant has a tantalizingly brief note on the Michael Young situation, referencing Craig Biggio.

Following the Jeff Kent signing in 2003, apparently nobody thought to include Biggio - which, depending on your view of labor/management rights, may or may not matter. But...

He went directly to GM Gerry Hunsicker and owner Drayton McLane for direct "animated" discussions. But Biggio never requested a trade and never accused management of any mistakes publicly.

I'd like to know more about this, Mr. Grant.

Ryan Rowland-Smith's exit interview

With a captip to the Crawfish Boxes, there's an interview between Ryan Rowland-Smith and Lookout Landing on his time in Seattle.

Don't want to pull too much from the excellent interview, but thought this was an interesting note about the potential differences between Safeco and Minute Maid:

Put it this way: you make good pitches, keep the ball down, ahead of the count, it doesn't matter if you're pitching on the moon. Sure, the ballpark plays a role in success, but looking back I have succeeded in parks where the ball flies out and I have been lit up in parks where it's a graveyard. There are other factors that go into a ballpark as well. Basically, If I am comfortable in a place, it really doesn't matter if it's a pitchers park or not. Plus half your starts are on the road anyway.

Everyone loves Jason Castro!

Last year? Don't worry about last year. So says everyone concerned about Jason Castro.

Jamie Quirk:
"There's a reason he's a No. 1 pick. He's got the great mental makeup and really picked things up well. We expect him to get better and better."

Ed Wade:
"He has to figure out the strength and weaknesses of the staff he's catching. You put all that stuff on a guy's plate at the same time, and his own personal statistics become somewhat secondary."

Mike Barnett:
"He's a much better hitter than what he showed last year. He had a lot to be accountable for. His mind is relaxed. He knows what he needs to do mechanically. It's just a matter of time. He's got the intangibles. He knows the strike zone. He doesn't swing at a lot of bad pitches. Now it's just a matter of smoothing him out."

Do the numbers agree with Barnett? Well, sort of, yeah.

FanGraphs says Castro swung at 27.4% of pitches outside the strike zone. Chris Johnson took a hack at 43.1% of pitches outside the zone, and Humberto Quintero came in at 44.2%. The only everyday players with lower O-Swing% were Keppinger (20.8%), Berkman (21.2%) and Bourn (23.8%). It's not like the Astros have much of a choice besides giving Castro a season-long look, anyway.

Nothing helps your confidence like getting mopped by Randy Couture

Nice article article on Ryan Rowland-Smith by Zach Levine, who attributes his increased confidence this Spring to two items:

1) MMA training with Randy Couture and bald Jay Glazer:
"There was a lot of stuff I went through last year where I lost my confidence and doubted my ability. Just being around those guys reminds you of that competitive aspect, and it brought that back."

And 2) Shacking up with David Aardsma's sister:
"I was at my girlfriend's parents' place and was at their house and thought, 'I might just try to get a trade to Houston and shack up here,' just joking. Sure enough, two weeks later, I was a free agent."

We seriously need an "Australian" font for when he's quoted. In the meantime, this had better happen when he pitches against the Cardinals:

Arnsberg is all up in Wandy's house

Interesting little note in Levine's blog about how quickly pitchers warmed up to Brad Arnsberg.

"For the most part, most of them let me in somewhat quick. Even with Wandy (Rodriguez) last year, I know it had been tough on Wandy having gone through a couple different pitching coaches in his last three or four years. It took me awhile to get into his house, but when he let me in and realized that I might be a little bit smarter than I look, we became great friends."

Does that explain his - and others' - slow start? Bud Norris seems to think it's a possibility:
"Making adjustments with a brand-new coaching staff was hard for everybody last year," Norris said. "It might take a half a season. That's pretty much what it did for us."

Casey Fien could have been Deputy Casey

In an article on non-roster invitee Casey Fien, it turns out that he was going to the first bidder.

"I told my agent whatever team comes after me, that's the team I want. They obviously want me so I'm going to go to that team."

Within the article, it turns out old college roommate Bud Norris is the one who suggested the Astros give him a shot.

According to Fien, the Tigers were kind of jerks about his brief stints in the Majors in 2010:
"They actually told me I was going down before I pitched. They were like: 'Listen, just go out there and try to get some outs. You won't be here long.'"

Just think, had we come up with a per diem, Casey Fien could have been writing for AC.

It's Arbitration Day!

The Astros and Hunter Pence prepare for a steel cage match, with the loser being forced to shave their head. Last year, the Astros and Pence avoided arbitration by meeting in the middle for a $3.5m one-year deal. This year, Pence will either make $5.15m (the Astros preference) or $6.9m (Pence's preference). Stay tuned - whoever comes out of the room with a bald head loses.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Just because the Astros like Wallace doesn't mean everybody does

The invaluable Minor League Ball, by John Sickels, has an interesting note on Brett Wallace:

There are all kinds of stories/rumors floating around out there about how disappointing Wallace has been, with scouts picking apart his swing mechanics and many predicting that he'll never pan out at all.

He's clearly got some plate discipline issues to work out, too. I am no expert on swing mechanics, but while it is apparent to me that expectations for Wallace were too high, I just can't get behind writing a hitter off after 51 games and 144 at-bats. Sociologically and psychologically speaking, people tend to over-correct in cases like this. Everyone was too high on him, now people are swinging back in the opposite direction too strongly given the evidence we have. Serious swing flaws or not, it is way too soon to say that he can't or won't fix them.

Odds "overwhelmingly" in Wallace's favor for 1B1

Alyson Footer's new blog post discusses the chances of who will be 1B1 come Opening Day.

Right now, around 10 days before the first Spring Training game, the odds are overwhelmingly in Wallace's favor.

Lee is a backup plan in case Wallace really, really, really scuffles this spring (yes, it deserves three reallys, to illustrate just how disastrous of a showing Wallace is going to have in order to not be the Opening Day first baseman.)

Levine's Morning Notes

Hey so we get a little update from Zach Levine for this morning:

-There will likely be a seven-man bullpen, meaning that there will likely be 13 position players.

-Delino DeShields' has a March 24 court date in Georgia for his "too much drinky while drivey" incident.

This is amazing

We've posted this before, but I felt as though you should just see it again.

Ed Wade wasn't prepared for just how $@%@ed the Astros were

In Richard Justice's Hope-Springs-Eternal column this morning, we hear your regular "Mills is awesome," "The Astros are better than people think" line of reasoning. But there's an interesting quote from Ed Wade on this rebuilding process:

"The system was thinner than I anticipated. I wasn't aware it was as tough as it was."

And then it's comparison time from Justice:
They're not there, but they're a lot closer than they were this time last year. They appear to be long shots in 2011. Just like the Reds were in 2010.

To call the 2011 Astros the 2010 Reds is a stretch. But what we should focus on is Wade's quote. This either tells you one of two things:

1. The farm system was so brutal that it shocked a baseball lifer.


2. Wade didn't really do his homework. Any serious Astros fan could have told you that the system was in trouble, and two or three bad drafts can set your team back for years.

Still, with the progress made over the last couple of seasons, I'll give Wade the benefit of the doubt. Somebody should.

Wesley Wright signs

Wesley Wright has signed his one-year deal for $466,000.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Your likely new owners: Faceless Conglomeration, Inc.

In an article detailing the sad last Spring Training of Drayton's tenure, we see how things are going with the impending sale of the Astros.

"It's a big process, and we're evaluating a number of different individuals and groups. Nothing is ready to come about. Something could come about in four to six months or a year or two...Very few teams in Major League Baseball or the NFL, one individual owns it. It's most likely [going to be purchased by] a group of people, but anything can happen."

More players sign for the amount of money that Carlos Lee will make in a homestand

Courtesy of Brian McTaggart, the Astros have signed:

Jason Castro ($421,500)
Bud Norris ($437,500)
Jorge De Leon ($414,000)

Here's one of the more worthless articles, ever

Good work, SI.

Lyons says it's important that players don't overdo things before the season starts. He says pitchers want to avoid breaking down in August and September because they were throwing too much during workouts in December.

I'm not sure who this "Lyons" fella is, anyway, but we're working to confirm whether or not he's working on trying to put a cyst back in his shoulder to help get out of Spring Training.

Geoff Geary got a job!

Former Astro Geoff Geary signed a minor-league deal with the Padres, without an invitation to Major League Spring Training, and will report on March 4.

Five days can a season make or break, or at least delay

In your typical Pitching Matters column, we hear about some of Bud Norris' 2010 Spring Training issues, and what he's ready to become:

"A lot of people don’t know I had a stomach flu in spring training and I missed my throwing program for about five days which really kind of screwed me up. I’m glad the Astros gave me the time to get healthy down there with those three rehab starts and when I came back I proved to them that I was healthy and ready to go...

..."I want more workload on my shoulders. I want the team to say, ‘hey Bud, it’s time to step up.’ I want to be with this organization for a long time and show them what I’m really worth."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

At least we won't have to listen to Joe Buck obviously disparage the Astros on Saturday afternoons

That's because Fox won't be televising any Astros games on Saturday afternoons. Don't worry. The Brewers and Pirates share the same fate, while we'll get to see the Cubs and Cardinals nine times, and the Reds eight times.

Angel Sanchez hasn't even picked up a bat yet

So with Angel Sanchez's strained...ness, it's time that Zach Levine check in on him. The result? (If you're good at context clues, you already know this):

(Sanchez) still has not started swinging a bat and likely won't for the next few days

Q & Wade

Brian McTaggart has a Q&A with Easy Eddie.

On 1B1:
To me, the perfect-world scenario was that Brett Wallace comes in and wins the first base job and is our guy and Carlos is the everyday left fielder and we're not worried about mixing and matching in left with Carlos at first, or trying to push Bogusevic harder to play more.

On Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton's chances:
"Both guys at this point in time I think we'll look at them initially form a starting standpoint because both of them have very limited bullpen experience, particularly Pendleton."

On Chris Johnson:
"This is a guy that I wouldn't be surprised at the end of the season to C.J. at 30-plus home runs. But it's going to entail, how does he respond to the other teams' Brad Arnsbergs, who are back in the laboratory cooking up the formula to really make you fail? Believe me, when you have a couple of months like Chris Johnson had, there's a lot of pitching coaches in the lab right now. Rich Dubee's doing it right now in Philadelphia right now, getting ready for Opening Day against, trying to figure out how to shut C. J. down."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Everyone's so comfortable with Mills, they might just take their pants off

Kicking off what I'm sure will be six weeks of "We can win this!" and "Are you ready to be a champion?" (Like anyone is going to answer, "Nope. I'm ready to go 74-88!"), Brian McTaggart starts it off with how awesome Brad Mills is.

Wade, on Mills:
"I think Millsie has clearly established his role as the leader of this club on the field and the coaches have bought into Millsie's programs, his expectations, and I think the players have, too. They dealt with a guy that had their best interests at heart last year as individuals and the best interests of the team and the organization at heart. I can't imagine any manager that put more of himself into the effort than Millsie has."

My money's on Ozzie Guillen, but whatever. Wade knows that health is the key to the already-then Major League-ready roster:
"It would be great if you had three layers of depth and could cover yourself if you had major breakdowns, but we need to stay healthy. We're pressing some kids right now to step up and fill some roles that are challenging. If we have to go beyond some of those kids and dip down even further, it might get a little bit tough.

"We Are San Antonio and Austin's Astros, As Well"

A little note from the Houston Business Journal today explains that they aren't just our Astros in 2011. They're San Antonio's, and Austin's, Astros, too.

Props to the Astros for not giving up control of central Texas to the Fightin' Nolans of Arlington.

Bonus points will be given for stick figure Astros drawings in front of the Alamo, and Waterloo Records.

At least the Astros are "interesting"

Athlon Sports posted their 2011 Astros preview today. Your money quote:

The Astros aren’t going to be anyone’s pick to win the division, but they’re an interesting team. By adding Hall and Barmes to a lineup that includes Lee, Pence, Bourn and Johnson, they should score runs. The pitching staff could be one of the best in the NL, but they’ll need Myers to repeat what he did last year and Rodriguez to be consistent. They could have thrust themselves into dark horse contender mode with another quality starter and another solid bat during the winter, but they did enough in the offseason to remain relevant.

Lindstrom explains the source of his back problems

Matt Lindstrom explained the source of his back problems last year while with Houston. Hint: It was because of a rented bed. A rented. Bed.

"I had a day and a half from the time we broke spring training to get into a place. I didn't know the Houston area. I was going to a new team and I didn't really know anyone on the club as well. It was pretty much my fault. I needed a bed. It was about me being stubborn and seriously blockheaded. I didn't think my back was going to give out on me in July."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Five Burning Questions: Astros 2011

First things freaking first: Don't roll your eyes at Truck Day. I know it's fashionable to act as though putting nine bajillion boxes of sunflower seeds, eighty-five cases of Gold Bond and twenty ribbed condoms on to an 18-wheeler doesn't impact your existence. But it matters up north. I spent three years in Upstate New York, and the psychological impact of Spring Training is undeniable. Yes, it's 10 degrees with two feet of snow on the ground, but it'll get better. So shut your mouth about hating Truck Day.

Now, to the Five Burning Questions for Astros Fans:

1. Why, God, Why?

Come, now. If God didn't see fit to bestow a Super Bowl ring on Dan Marino's finger, then surely you don't expect Him to throw us a bone in matters of sport. I believe that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and all-powerful. Clearly the answer, then, is that there is sin in the Astros' camp. Personally, I've got money on Tal Smith and Pam Gardner. Once they restore themselves, or someone converts them, a la the Lost Tribes of Israel, we can expect more of the same, meaning 2006-2010. Not 2001-2005.

2. How did this happen?

It's because you did not buy enough Morgan Ensberg gear at your local Academy. Had you been a better fan in the feast years, you would understand the famine. Maybe it's not that dire, but the decline and fall of the Astros Empire is fairly well-documented. See, when Clemens and Pettitte decided to forsake the Yankees and come to Houston, I feel like management assumed this would repeatedly happen forevermore. Yet the Astros were drunk on power when we had our own Brokeback Mountain playing out two out of every five days on the mound. Drayton took two Yankees and then thought the Astros were the Yankees. Think it's a coincidence that Carlos Lee, Woody Williams, and Miguel Tejada soon followed? With those three deals, the Astros lost draft picks and eight prospects. Have those prospects done anything? With the exception of Luke Scott, not really, but it was a culture of trading and ignoring the draft that began under Hunsicker and continued under Purpura. Sins of the past, and whatnot.

3. When will it get better?

It'll be a while. One hundred things need to go right, in order, for the Astros to contend this year. But we don't have to wonder when the Astros are going to realize that they need to try a new model. It will be more fun than last year - for a while. It may not be fun after the All-Star Break. Jason Castro just might not ever figure out how to hit left-handed pitching. We might understand why Brett Wallace has been traded so often (personally, though, this is a bullcrap argument). J.R. Towles will certainly enjoy this season more, if only for the fact that Roy won't be hawking his ass for two months. But with each passing 75-win season, Bobby Heck's draft picks get closer to contributing. And don't let FanGraphs eat your soul by saying that Eddie's Farm is bereft of talent.

4. What stage of grief am I in?

Well, you're in one of the five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. So you choose:

Personally, I waffle between Anger and Acceptance. There was a period of Bargaining which was unbecoming for a man of my age, so I bounce around a little bit.

5. Is there anyone I can talk to?

Yes. Your friends at Astros County are here to help you. And you can gripe on John Wessling's show, Sunday Morning Live, from 7am to 9am, on 97.5 FM.