Thursday, December 3, 2015

Carter and Conger are the Next Casualties

So perhaps the Astros don't like me writing about them.  Actually, I would be delighted if the Astros even knew I wrote about them, much less had an opinion as to whether said writing was likeable or not.  I am getting this feeling because of their continued Stalin-like purge of my favourite Astros players.  Today, Chris Carter and Hank Conger departed for other baseball destinations.

Most recently, Hank Conger was traded to the Rays, who have a history of liking reasonable offensive catchers.  Coming back from Tampa in that trade was a young, unheralded prospect, Charlie Ash.  Clearly, the Astros were unable to convince Tampa to take Carter and Conger in exchange for Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee - and I am sure that trade was discussed for, like, two milliseconds - so the Astros settled for freeing up a 40-man slot and a small amount of cash in exchange for Hammerin' Hank and his robot-like dancing.

Not totally sure what this means for the Astros.  The logical move would be to assume that Max Stassi will be promoted in Hammerin' Hank's place.  Seems like the most likely possibility, and at least that would create a proper lefty-righty platoon.  Would you rule out Evan Gattis donning the Tools of Ignorance at some stage??  I probably would - a year off catching seems like a tough hurdle to overcome, and Gattis strikes me as a continued DH candidate, and little else.  Tyler White behind the plate??  Perhaps, but again, highly unlikely - if he makes the team, it is as a corner infielder and DH I would think.  Alfredo Gonzalez having a realistic chance of making the team out of Spring Training??  Perhaps this is the most likely of the unlikely scenarios.  Re-acquire Carlos Corporan??  Who knows... but I am sure the Astros have some definitive idea of what they want to achieve here.  I don't think Conger was an indispensable part of the World Series Astros.

(as an aside, it may pay to keep tabs on the Tyler Flowers market, but that is a post for another day)

Chris Carter is a different case.  He was simply non-tendered a contract, which is something that Evan Drillich anticipated yesterday.  Carter was predicted to have been paid a reasonable amount on his second trip through the arbitration process - about 5.5 million or so - so he having him around would have involved a significant financial commitment for the whole year.  Carter is traditionally a slow starter, so giving him time to sort his stuff out prior to the estimated Super-Two deadline would probably not have worked this year, and you would still be on the hook for the whole 5.5-or-so million in the event that you wanted to cut him loose at that stage.  That amount should involve a whole-season guarantee of a reasonable level of play from the perspective of the Astros.

The arbitration award process also seems to value traditional statistics somewhat, so Carter's home-run totals would have been responsible for most of any award for the predicated amount.  This also means that his sometimes Mendoza-like average and his league-average (or slightly-below) OBP wouldn't have detracted from that award, and his issues around defence and baserunning certainly wouldn't have been considered.  The Astros must have simply decided that the cost was too great, and the unused corner-infield resources elsewhere in the organisation were compelling enough to let him go for naught.

That said, Mark Trumbo (and a fellow Mariner) were just traded for peanuts (well, a lefty backup catcher who was also a non-tender candidate) to the Orioles.  It seems that the market for RH one-dimensional sluggers is somewhat limited, and it is particularly limited when the other 29 teams sniff the possibility of a non-tender.  So Carter's trade market was likely to be as flat as the Bonneville Salt Flats, but I am sure that Astros explored multiple options with many other clubs.

I liked both Carter and Conger, and am, again, sorry to see the both of them go.  I have been writing statements like that a lot recently.  I have always rooted for the underdog to some extent - which is why I have kept watching the Astros since, like, 2006 - and Carter and Conger both represented enthusiastic attempts by the Astros to build a legitimate major-league roster.  At the stages of the rebuild that both were acquired, both were guys that were perhaps undervalued by their previous teams, and both had a chance to break out with improved playing time.  So both Conger and Carter represented what the Astros were all about - at least to me - and if both did well, the Astros would be going places (in my mind).

During my trip to MMP earlier this year, I was sitting in a field-level seat in RF, talking to Curtis, the clubhouse attendant and RF ball-boy for the night.  Curtis was probably horribly bored having to talk to a jet-lagged and half-drunk foreigner.  Probably desperate to make conversation, he asked me who my favourite Astro was.  My brain wasn't working all that well thanks to the 11-hour flight that I had just stepped off, and while I love Altuve and Springer, I kind of think that everyone loves them, and my schtick is biased toward rooting for the plucky underdog.  Anyhow, I thought about it for, like, a minute, and murmured in reply that Chris Carter was probably my favourite current Astro.   This was most likely on the basis that he nearly never shows frustration, and never-ever shows up the opposition.  Perhaps a subtle bat-flip is all you will see from Chris Carter - something I also liked about Matt Dominguez - and you rarely see him look concerned as he heads back to the dugout after a strikeout.  He strikes me as a very gentle, soft-spoken guy, and Curtis confirmed that this was the case when the media wasn't around.

Regardless, thinking that was a lame effort (and it was), I also added that Villar and Lowrie weren't too bad either in my books.  Getting the picture??  Yikes, I am glad I didn't say anything about Keuchel or Handsome Jake (although he is being 'listened on' as well) else they would have been added to the Ex-Stros Roll of Honour.  It seems I have the kiss of death when it comes to purging talent.  Or perhaps I need to stop rooting for waiver-bait.

But this is the stage of the rebuild the Astros are at.  No longer is 1.5-2.0 WAR good enough for fielding positions.  This is the Correa and Altuve 5-WAR era, and you better play, or else you will become someone else's roster-filler.  The Astros are all about ceiling in all 9 positions now, and they can't afford a bad half-year from someone like Chris Carter, who seems to heat up with the weather (or at least has done for the last couple of years).  Carter didn't have the luxury to working into the season for the first couple of months, and the Astros weren't prepared to cut him loose and still owe him three-million at the Super-Two deadline.  The two sides were never going to successfully get together over this one.  But I am still a little sad about Carter's departure - even if most Astros fans aren't.

For now, I will leave you with my favourite Carter post of all time.  As the Constable would say... good night, sweet prince.