Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Astros County Roundtable: June 24 Edition

We at AC have decided to give any readers out there small a window into the inner-workings of the AC offices.  Once a week, we meet in the AC Boardroom, get Betty and Cynthia to hold all calls, and discuss pressing issues, such as the best fried-chicken outlet in Houston, and why the Constable's dog wasn't ugly enough to win the ugly-dog dog-show.  We sometimes even get to talking about the Pressing Issue of the Week.  The results of the discussion for this week are below.

The Pressing Issue:  Which Albatross contract around baseball would you feel ok to take on, given the Astros' current position.

Cockroach:  First thought: Thanks, but no thanks. Second thought: I might be more amenable to the Astros taking on an "albatross" guy than most others, because 1. general payroll is still low right now, and 2. you don't have to give up as much to get a guy on a bad contract. That said, the only notable bad contract that even mildly intrigues me is Adam Dunn. I don't think I'd trade for him, but if the White Sox try to send him through waivers, I might put in a claim. Yes, his strikeouts are Khris Karter all over again, but the power is also equal, and Dunn's OBP is about 90 points higher. With Dunn as a lefty, you could cut Guzman loose, give Carter the righty 1B2 role, and install "Big Donkey" as your DH. Dunn's contract is up after this season, so you're not making a long-term commitment. Plus he's a Houston native, so if it works out really well, you might be able to lure him back next year for cheap. At least to fill the DH role more productively than Carter, until A.J. Reed is done tearing his way through the minors.

Then again, maybe that's a terrible idea and Sig Mejdal is laughing at us for even mentioning it. That's why we don't make the decisions.

Masked:  I agree with Cockroach - the Astros already have a major advantage with their lack of long-term, expensive contracts, and taking no albatross contacts on would be preferable.  Especially if you have the up-and-coming places to plug those areas of the lineup.  But an alternative argument is that this is also about talent acquisition, and if there are talented players out there, and some suckers are going to pay some of the costs of the contract, why not?  And it isn't like the Astros don't have any holes in their lineup.

My punt would be for Matt Kemp.  He is signed to an awful, long, awful expensive contract, but the contract is not the advantage here.  His contract calls for 21M for this year and next, and 21.5M in the four years after that (yikes, that is a bad contract - worse than I initially thought!)  But the upside is also significant.  His best year was 2011 (.324/.399/.586, 39HR, 172 OPS+), and those numbers would look pretty darn sweet in Left Field.  His worst year was 2013 .270/.328/.395, 6HR, 103 OPS+, which would (sadly) also look pretty darn sweet in left field.  He is a right handed hitter, so hitting right behind or ahead of Jon Singleton or Jason Castro would be useful.  He can play in RF if Springer needs to slide over the CF for whatever reason, but he could also play CF if you want Springer to play in right.  And left.  Instead of the tumbleweeds currently inhabiting left field.

This year, in part-time duty:  .274/.333/.460, 7HR 121 OPS+.  Not as otherworldly as 2011, not as awful as 2013.  And the Dodgers have a horrible outfield logjam - with five talented or expensive players for three spots, their best position prospect being an outfielder.  And deep pockets, so they would eat a significant amount of that contract.  So I would look at (i) the money coming from the Dodgers and (ii) the quality of the “prospects” going the other way before publicly denouncing this deal, and even possibly welcoming it.

So, if LA was to pick up say (and plucking figures out of mid-air, here) 8M, then that least the Astros with 12M, and what looks like a 2.5-3 win player, with a much higher ceiling than that.  Could be do-able.

The Astros, however, have a number of pretty decent outfield prospects in AAA slated for LF (Preston Tucker, defence be damned) or LF/RF (Domingo Santana).  Taking a five-year contract on does inflict significant damage to your flexibility, and this is acknowledged.  The risks are significant, but so are the up-sides.

I just think I made Sig laugh.  And Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein and everyone else in the Front Office. I am so not cut out for Baseball Executive-ship.

The Constable: I'm looking within the division here, and I glance over some bloated contracts given out by some teams that clearly aren't building for the future - but were going for a quick strike, 'pay now for top talent and hope that it works out later' strategy. The Los Angeles Angels come to mind. I mean, they'll give over $100m to C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver alone over the next three seasons. They'll give Josh Hamilton - who isn't getting any younger or healthier - $89m from 2015-2017. So that's where I would start, and the guy I would reluctantly explore taking off the Angels' hands is none other than old Astros foe, and the guy who has brought us heartbreak on more than one occasion, yep...Mike Trout. Think about it. The Angels still have to give Albert Pujols $189m through 2021 (if the world still exists then), they could use the financial flexibility. Their projected payroll in 2016 is already over $160m. If the Astros trade them Villar and Grossman - two young starting players and easily 2/9 of the Astros' lineup - in exchange for 1/9 of the Angels' starting lineup, I just don't see how the Angels - the cash-desperate team getting older and more injured by the day - say no. So let's take on Mike Trout's contract, and see how it plays out. He's been pretty good, but has he won a Triple Crown? NO. Has he ever been an MVP? NO. Maybe he needs a change of scenery to push him over that hump.

Batguy:  I don't see the team taking on a bad contract right now. If it's a short-term rental scenario, the team isn't close enough to competing for a playoff spot for that to make sense. If there are still a few years left then I don't see them bringing in someone who would block a younger player in the next couple seasons. The only position we don't really have someone who should be major league ready in a couple years is 3B and I think they're content with Matt Dominguez for the time being. I just don't see a need large enough in either scenario that would justify giving up their very valuable payroll flexibility.

(Not Hank):  I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a bad 1 year contract, so I wouldn't really consider Dunn as an "albatross." That said, that is the only situation where I would be fine with taking on a "bad contract," whether you consider it an albatross or not. You obviously cannot count on filling in every position on the diamond with prospects, but on the other hand, its hard to predict which positions you will need to fill with a system this deep. There will come a time on the success cycle when the Astros need to fill some of these holes permanently, and might need to overpay to do it. But right now, I think stopgaps are still the way to go.

Comments welcome!

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