Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rick Ankiel sees opportunity with the Astros

In an interview with, Rick Ankiel saw the Houston Astros and his eyes lit up with opportunity.

First of all, there are the connections. Bo Porter was his 3rd Base coach in Washington last year. There are the obvious Cardinals connections. And then there was the opportunity - Ankiel allegedly picked Houston over three other unnamed teams.

"When I look at some of the players they have, I think there's some playing time for me. Everybody's so young, and I have the chance to make an impact and play in the outfield. Not only that, but I'm being able to give back and teach some of the younger guys to learn the game the way I did. Most of the other choices I had, I was the fourth or fifth guy, so the playing time probably wouldn't be there. In Houston, I had the chance for the most playing time."

Is he right? Well, let's look at the OFs on the 40-Man Roster:
Brandon Barnes
Robbie Grossman
Fernando Martinez
J.D. Martinez
Justin Maxwell
Jimmy Paredes

Justin Maxwell is the one guy I look at and see as a lock for the outfield. "The Martinii" (so coined by the fellers over at the Crawfish Boxes, I believe) have well-documented injury troubles. And also "hitting" troubles. Fernando Martinez did manage a career-high .766 OPS, but also only played in 41 games. J.D. Martinez had a less-stellar .685 OPS. I'd give the edge to Fernando Martinez here.

Robbie Grossman. Hm. Dark-horse candidate. Could be one of those guys who tears it up in Spring Training and forces a hard decision, but still basically has only played a year in Double-A. Nah.

Jimmy Paredes? Listed on the 40-Man as an outfielder, but spent the majority of his career in the infield. That said, with Lowrie and Altuve seemingly entrenched as the DP combo, he has since moved to the outfield. Could be a better short-term bet than Grossman, with his .826 OPS at OKC. In a ridiculously small-sample 24 games for Houston (82 PAs), Paredes hit .189/.244/.230.

How about the other Non-Roster Invitees for Spring Training:
Trevor Crowe
Jake Goebbert
Marc Krauss
Che-Hsuan Lin
George Springer

You can pretty much rule out Goebbert, Krauss, and Springer for being minor-league guys. They'll stay in the system, but are likely ticketed for OKC/Corpus.

Che-Hsuan Lin only has 12 major-league PAs. But in two seasons at Triple-A, he has a .242/.324/.305 line. 29-year old Trevor Crowe has spent at least part of his season in Triple-A since 2008, and has averaged a .739 OPS.

So. Barring some ridiculous Luke Scott-esque Spring Training, Rick Ankiel does have a shot, I suppose. Though 2008 was the last time he had an OPS over .800. He'd have to sit against LHPs (career .641 OPS vs. LHP - and that includes four straight years with an OPS under .600). Is it a good opportunity for him? Better than the other three options he apparently had, anyway...

A longer look at payroll

Earlier we took a quick look at payroll, in which we found that 242 players will make more than the Astros highest-paid player. So what will payroll look like in 2013?

Guaranteed Contracts

We'll start with the players whose contracts are set.

Bud Norris: $3m
Carlos Pena: $2.9m
Jed Lowrie: $2.4m
Jose Veras: $1.85m
Wesley Wright: $1.025m
Philip Humber: $800,000

Total: $11,975,000

That's six players. Obviously, there are 19 other spots to fill. Those 19 players are all going to be for right around league minimum, which in 2012 was $480,000. Some quick multiplication shows that 19 players at league minimum is $9.12m. Let's say the Astros give a player here and there a little over League Minimum, and increase that to $9.25m. This would bring total possible payroll to $21,095,000.

We don't know exactly how much everyone will make in 2013 (yet), but it's pretty much set that the Astros payroll will be under $22m.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A quick look at payroll

So the Astros' Bud Norris has a $3m guaranteed contract for 2013. Unless Wesley Wright has nude pictures of Jeff Luhnow and makes a KILLING in the arbitration negotiation, and assuming that the Astros don't sign any other free agents, Bud Norris' $3m will make him the highest-paid player on the team. I thought it would be fun to look and see how many teams have players on the roster making more than $3m guaranteed (and this is as of January 18, 2013, and does not include arbitration cases yet to be decided):

Dodgers: 19 (!)
Blue Jays: 14
Yankees: 12
Red Sox: 12
Angels: 12
Rangers: 11
Tigers: 10
White Sox: 10
Nationals: 10
Phillies: 10
Giants: 10
D'Backs: 10
Royals: 8
Reds: 8
Cardinals: 8
Cubs: 8
Rockies: 8
Rays: 7
Twins: 7
Orioles: 6
A's: 6
Brewers: 6
Indians: 5
Braves: 5
Mets: 5
Pirates: 5
Padres: 5
Mariners: 4
Marlins: 1

Again, there are plenty of players whom Baseball-Reference pegs to go over $3m or 2013, but this is the list. It's not a criticism - at all - but there are 242 players making more than the highest-paid player on the Astros.

Wesley Wright avoids arbitration

Couldn't we have just done this all at once? Now Wesley Wright has agreed to a contract for 2013, with details yet to be determined.

That takes care of everybody!

Astros avoid arbitration with Bud Norris

And now the Astros have avoided arbitration with Bud Norris, according to Brian McTaggart, agreeing on a $3m contract for 2013. This is a healthy increase above the $511,000 salary he made in his final year of pre-arbitration in 2012.

Only Wesley Wright remains eligible for arbitration...

Astros avoid arbitration with Lowrie

The Astros avoided arbitration with Jed Lowrie today. Lowrie will make $2.4m in 2013, over double the $1.15m he made in 2012 (and $500,000 more than what Baseball-Reference predicted).

This makes Lowrie the 2nd-highest-paid player on the team, behind Carlos Pena ($2.9m minimum).

Bud Norris and Wesley Wright are the lone remaining arbitration-eligible players.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Six Astros' to Participate in the WBC

The U.S. roster for the World Baseball Classic was announced today and there will be no Astros on team U.S. However, Houston will feature 6 players in the classic this year.

Fernando Martinez and Rhiner Cruz will both play for team Spain, and Xavier Cedeno will represent team Puerto Rico.

3 minor leaguers are also participating in the classic: Murilo Gouvea will play for team Brazil, and Che-Hsuan Lin and Chia-Jen Lo will both play for Chinese Taipei.

Jeff Luhnow said he isn't against players playing in the WBC but says it may hurt the chances of players trying to make the team out of spring training. From, "The big challenge is ... a guy like Fernando Martinez, who's trying to make our club, [being] gone for an extended period of time. I think that potentially hurts him, even if he does well in the Classic," Not to worry F Mart, Luhnow says he doesn't think it is likely team Spain makes it past the 1st round.

I was surprised to see Lo participating after coming off of TJ surgery and only 10 appearances last season. Luhnow says he doesn't think it is a concern as the amount of relievers on each roster should keep any individual from being overworked.

In 2009 the Astros sent 7 to the WBC:
TJ Burton
Chia-Jen Lo
Chris Barnwell
LaTroy Hawkins
Roy Oswalt
Miguel Tejada
Carlos Lee

Lo is the only of the 7 still in the organization and the only Astros' repeat member on a WBC roster.

Rick Ankiel Invited to Spring Training as Non Roster Invitee

Brian McTaggart reports that the Astros have invited Rick Ankiel to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.

Ankiel is most famous for his conversion from pitching to the outfield following an odd breakdown on the mound during the 2000 NLCS, where he completely lost the ability to throw strikes. He had 9 wild pitches and 11 walks in 4 innings pitched during that series. It was hard to watch.

After failing to conquer his Steve Blass Disease, he returned to the Cardinals as an outfielder. He showed some power initially, hitting 25 home runs in 2008, but, never really conquered the strike zone. He has played most recently with the Washington Nationals. He was pretty terrible the last two seasons, putting up a .236/.292/.377 slash line. He was not any better in the two years before that. (.232/.298/.388).

There's clearly not much there in the batter's box anymore. Maybe he wants to try pitching again? Either way, there is zero risk attached to this move. Almost zero potential reward, too.

UPDATE: Turns out, there is at least some possibility that he might try to pitch again. That would make this situation significantly more interesting, if not any more likely to be successful.  Thanks to @KevinBassStache for the heads up.

2ND UPDATE: Welp, there goes that. McTaggart confirms Ankiel will be coming back as a hitter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Astros have at least ten scouts in the Dominican

The Astros have "at least" ten scouts in San Cristobal, DR at the MLB Prospect Showcase, according to Jesse Sanchez. He also notes that they'll have the most to spend (thanks to the awfulness that was 2012) come international signing day on July 2, at around $4.9m.

Norris, Lowrie, Wright file for arbitration

Bud Norris, Jed Lowrie and Wesley Wright filed for arbitration yesterday, and while Jeff Luhnow previously said that they weren't necessarily interested in signing arb-eligibles to long-term contracts, that may not be the case anymore. The Astros and each of the players have to exchange numbers by Friday, and will have arbitration hearings between February 4-20 if a deal cannot be reached.

In 2012, their salaries were as follows:
Lowrie:  $1.15m
Norris: $511,000
Wright: $512,000

Baseball-Reference projects that Norris will make around $2.9m, Lowrie - $1.9m, and Wright - $900,000.

Just consider this for a second: The Astros have $6.15m committed to the 2014 payroll. $5.5m of that goes to the Pirates to help pay for Wandy Rodriguez. How does that stack up against the rest of the God-forsaken AL West?

Angels: $127.1m
Rangers: $60.1m
Mariners: $28.7m
A's: $14.5m

Yeah, this'll be fun.

You can't watch the Rockets because of the Astros

So you know that you can't watch the brand spanking new CSN Houston network, right? (If you're 60% of the Houston area, anyway).

And you probably had directed your anger towards the network, or maybe DirecTV, and you probably chalked that up to CORP'RATE GREEEED.

Not so fast. The Houston Press had a post yesterday citing a source who says the Astros were the ones who blocked a deal to get the network on as many Houston-area televisions as possible last fall:

The Astros allegedly balked at negotiations between CSN the Rockets and DirecTV before a final deal could be struck because they believed they could hold out for a better price...

... If the Astros did indeed block the Rockets from making a deal with DirecTV, it is easy to see why many believed no deals would be done until Astros games were on chopping block.

So don't get used to watching Rockets games, Houston fans, the Astros are (allegedly) driving this train!