Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Let the piling on commence

Yesterday the Astros traded a shortstop who has never played more than 97 games in a season, and has a career 6.1 WAR. In his career, the shortstop has missed time due to:

Wrist surgery (2009)
Sprained shoulder (2010)
Nerve damage in shoulder (2010)
Mononucleosis (2011)
Sprained right ankle (2012)
Peroneal nerve damage (2012)

In addition to this 28-year old shortstop who, in five seasons, has played in a total of 353 games, the Astros traded a 28-year old reliever who was 2-10 in 2012 with a 5.37 ERA/1.45 WHIP, and a 4.22 FIP who walked 4.35 batters per nine innings, and had a 7.31 ERA on the road. From June to August 2012, this reliever - who can throw it hard, but not accurately - had a 6.94 ERA and blew four saves.

In return for a 28-year old injury prone shortstop, and a 28-year old shaky reliever, the Astros received:
25-year old RHP Brad Peacock, the A's #4 prospect by John Sickels, and Baseball America's #2 A's prospect.
26-year old 1B/DH Chris Carter, their #9 prospect, who hit 16 homers in 260 PAs for the A's in 2012.
21-year old catcher Max Stassi, who is coming off of 2011 shoulder surgery, but signed with the A's for a 1st Round bonus.

But, given the reaction, you would think that the Astros just traded Jeff Bagwell to the Red Sox for Larry Andersen.

Ken Rosenthal spilled his turnip blood yet again last night, wringing his hands over the Astros' payroll. Rosenthal:
And as the Astros continue their teardown, it's certainly fair to ask how low can they go, how many games can they lose before they become an embarrassment to Major League Baseball.

(As an aside, last night's column looks an awful lot like Rosenthal's November column on the Astros' payroll - right down to the rhetorical question about surviving the AL West.)

Yahoo's Jeff Passan - who by all accounts is a very stand-up guy - took to Twitter last night, doing a pretty good Darren Rovell impression about the Astros payroll (minus the Twitter Polls and random instances of ALL CAPS). Even Buster Olney got in on it, blabbering about combined executive salaries totaling more than the Astros' payroll (or something like that). He also pointed out that Bud Norris, who is Chief Rainmaker now, will make as much in 2013 as Zack Greinke will in three weeks.

What would The Media say if the Astros had signed Josh Hamilton? Or Zack Greinke? "What are they DOING? Why won't they rebuild?" Oh, but that's just what Rosenthal has been pushing for going on four years now.

Rosenthal, who might very well wear a bow-tie on television this season to benefit the Astros, is now making a pretty severe about-face in regards to the Astros and their rebuilding plans. On June 4, 2012, Rosenthal thought the Astros should explore trading Jose Altuve.

Or how about this Rosenthal nugget, from June 2011, on trading Hunter Pence: They would save money. They would increase their inventory of young talent. They would kick-start a rebuilding process that is long overdue.

How about May 2010, when Rosenthal said the Astros were creatively bankrupt for not dealing Berkman and Oswalt, and asked "How many games must the Astros be behind for owner Drayton McLane to concede?"

Or September 2009, when Rosenthal said: "Frankly, it doesn't matter who the next manager is until the Astros realize they need to tear down and build back up again."

Or another September 2009 column, when Rosenthal wrote: "The Astros' next manager must navigate a tricky balance — the team is starting to infuse youth but also includes a number of declining veterans. McLane refuses to permit a complete overhaul, limiting his franchise's upside."

June 2009: "Trading players such as right-hander Roy Oswalt, shortstop Miguel Tejada and closer Jose Valverde could bring the team desperately needed young talent. Yet, McLane has passed on such opportunities numerous times before."

May 2009: Much as owner Drayton McLane hates to concede, he needs to understand that A) his team is going nowhere and B) his farm system ranks last in the majors, according to Baseball America...Trading closer Jose Valverde, shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher Ivan Rodriguez would be a start. But Oswalt — even a declining Oswalt — could bring the most significant return.

So for almost four years, Rosenthal has been hammering the Astros about rebuilding. And when they finally do rebuild, he hammers them for being "an embarrassment."

I mentioned one of the above quotes to Rosenthal on Twitter, and he responded with:
There is a difference between what I suggested and completely gutting the team. You can thread the needle, too.

GOOD GOD I FEEL LIKE I'M TAKING CRAZY PILLS. No, you can't thread the needle. The Astros tried to thread the needle from 2006-2010 and look where it got them. One season where they almost made the playoffs, and a cumulative record 27 games under .500. Not bad enough to get a Top-Five draft pick. Not good enough to keep Phil Garner, Cecil Cooper, Brad Mills, Tim Purpura, or Ed Wade.

Let's take three teams, shall we? Let's pick three teams and decide which is the embarrassment to baseball:

Team A: Being investigated by the SEC for fraud thanks to its' horrific stadium deal, and roster malpractice. Spent $107m on 2012 payroll, only to finish 24 games under .500, last in their division.
Team B: Can't decide if they actually want to rebuild, and as a result, have a beautiful ballpark to go along with 20 straight seasons under .500.
Team C: Slashed payroll

This is rhetorical, but Team A is obviously the Marlins; Team B is the Pirates; and Team C is, of course, the Astros.

The Astros are looking for a Baseball Operations Analyst. Click the link, and look at the preferred requirements: MBA, experience in economic modeling, investment banking.

I do not regularly look at baseball jobs. I'm happy in my own job (even if I'm going to have to work an extra two hours today to make up for this rant.) But I'm guessing "Baseball Operations" and "Investment Banking" backgrounds do not typically collide.

This has become a mantra about the Astros, but for what will likely not be the last time: This front office does not care what anybody else thinks. They would prefer it if their front office did not think like anybody else.

This is going to be a rough season for the Astros. There are so many Unknowns that the only Knowns are that:

1) Attendance will be down.
2) Losses will abound.
3) 2013 will see a $20m investment in the farm system and another #1 pick.
4) The rebuilding will continue.

Luhnow, quoted by Rosenthal:
“I know it’s frustrating for fans that want immediate results at the big-league level. But this is the best chance we have to accomplish our result as soon as possible. We have to be consistent about that message.”

I'll take a few horrific seasons to return to the days when the Astros were a force in baseball. I'll accept it if it means that the National Media doesn't mail in a column about "OH THEY'RE GONNA BE BAD WHAT ARE THEY GONNA DO?" every six weeks. I will not stand by 81 wins to be The Goal, or twenty seasons of half-assing a rebuild.

Would you?