After denying interest for most of this past year, the Houston Astros yesterday inked catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a one-year $1.5 million contract that also includes $1.5 million in incentives. Reportedly, the Astros had not been interested because he didn't mix well with pitchers, but supposedly Astros ace Roy Oswalt had been pushing the team to sign Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is known as one of the game's greatest catchers, having won 13 gold gloves for defensive excellence along with seven Silver Slugger awards for his hitting power. Over the course of his 18-year career, he has got 2605 hits, 524 doubles, 295 homers, 1217 RBI, and 1253 runs. He's got a career .339 on-base percentage with a.457 slugging percentage and a career .301 batting average. He was the 1999 American League MVP, and he was the 2003 MVP of the National League Championship Series.
He split last season between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees, where he hit a disappointing .276 with 110 hits, 20 doubles, 7 homers, and 55 RBI in 115 games with only a .319 on-base percentage and a .394 slugging percentage. It was partly because of those stats, and rumors of alleged steroid use, that Rodriguez went so far into spring training without signing a contract.
Now you know that I like to bitch about the moves made by the Astros. But I like this move. Even if he can only get last year's numbers, he'll be more of an offensive force than just about any catcher the Astros have had in their history. There have been career rumors about how pitchers hate throwing to Rodriguez because he doesn't call a good game and cares more about offense. And this would be a concern of mine if the Astros had a staff of young pitchers. But Roy Oswalt, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Brian Moehler, etc. don't need a catcher who can guide them through games.
I'm also a fan of this move because, even though I've often argued that they should just blow this damn team up and let the youngsters play, there are no youngsters ready to catch for the Astros. Jason Castro doesn't even have a full season of minor league ball under his belt, so he's clearly not ready. Humberto Quintero is a career back-up who has never shown an ability to regularly hit big league pitching. J.R. Towles has bombed. And absolutely none of these guys has been able to hit anything this spring.
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So to me it makes good sense to bring Rodriguez in for the season. Let Castro get some experience in the minors. And since none of other guys have shown an ability to play in the majors on a consistent basis, why should they be given a job?
As for the steroid rumors... so what? The way the team and fans have embraced Miguel Tejada shows that nobody really gives a damn about players using steroids. And Rodriguez is a far superior player to Tejada, and always has been.
Now let's be clear. The Houston Astros are a bad baseball team. It's possible they could be one of the worst teams in baseball this season. They've got two legit position players in Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence, and they've got one legit pitcher in Roy Oswalt. Kaz Matsui can't stay healthy. Tejada is washed up. The third base combo of Geoff Blum/Aaron Boone is a joke. Michael Bourn still can't hit, and Carlos Lee's play in left field gives the myth of old and fat DH's a bad name. So Rodriguez isn't going to be the key piece to put the Astros over the top. I'm sure that this signing didn't cause the Chicago Cubs to suddenly start worrying.
But maybe having one of the game's all-time greats around the team will make things just a touch more fun around Minute Maid Park. And when the team is a really crappy team like the Astros, doing anything to make them a little bit more fun to watch is what's really important.