The Chron tried to get everybody in the mood for baseball yesterday with their story on what the 2009 Houston Astros roster looks like. If you're not excited about the season, don't blame the Chron because they're not the ones who put the roster together.
And folks, this isn't a good roster.
Citing budgetary constraints and the faltering economy, the Astros non-tendered third baseman Ty Wigginton who, on the weight of an incredible August, was going to break the bank at arbitration. And they jettisoned pitcher Randy Wolf who, because of a lack of MLB-quality number five starters, was also going to command way too much money in a multi-year contract. The team is also missing Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta.
The 2008 Astros were a bad team who hit on an incredible lucky streak in August to climb back into a contention for a playoff spot before Hurricane Ike came around to wipe out the fun. But the team was lucky - the Astros gave up more runs than they scored - and there was nothing to indicate that bringing back that team would put the Astros in the playoffs in 2009.
Not that this year's team is any better.
The starting rotation still consists of a quality number one ace in Roy Oswalt backed up by a quartet of guys who would be lucky to be four/five starters in any rotation but that of the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Kansas City Royals where they would probably be staff aces. The Astros are once again expecting us to believe in the myth that is Wandy Rodriguez. They're expecting us to once again believe that Brandon Backe can be a quality starter for more than one start in a row. They're expecting us to believe that Brian Moehler can recapture that lightning in a bottle he caught last year - which was his best season by far since 2000. And then we have to hope that Mike Hampton, the ace of the 1999 Astros playoff rotation, can pitch more than half a season for the first time since 2005 - he hasn't put together one complete healthy season since 2004.
Lance Berkman, Kaz Matsui, Miguel Tejada, and Geoff Blum/Aaron Boone will form this year's infield, which promises to be as bad as last year's infield. Tejada is aging rapidly and his range is limited. Aaron Boone was only an adequate third baseman before his knee was injured, and nobody's quite sure what his range is like now. Blum is an adequate fielder at third and second, but can't really hit. And Matsui is a walking injury who can be counted on for multiple trips to the DL every season.
I don't think the loss of Wigginton will affect the team that much. He wasn't that great with the glove, and he had a career year with the bat. The fact that the Astros couldn't trade him, despite their best efforts, and the fact that no one has signed him yet, speaks volumes to his lack of worth as a player. But the team will be hurt big time by the departure of super sub Mark Loretta who played every infield position and had a good bat. The absence of Loretta will really hurt the team when Tejada slumps and Matsui spends his time on the DL.
The same outfield returns, with Carlos Lee back from his life-threatening pinky finger injury, Hunter Pence in right field, and Michael Bourn once again trying to find his identity in center. Darin Erstad and Reggie Abercrombie are back as the subs. And there aren't any changes to the bullpen, though I would really be trying to trade Jose Valverde since there are teams who will probably be in contention who are desperate for a closer.
Humberto Quintero is the catcher, which is kind of like J.R. Towles being the catcher last year. Quintero can't hit, same as Towles, but there's no one around to save the team like Brad Ausmus did last year. Many people weren't fans of Ausmus, and his bat was awful, but he knew how to handle the pitching staff.
The Chron suggests that the Astros might still make some minor moves, like adding a catcher - I've noticed that Toby Hall is still available, as is some guy named Ivan Rodriguez (but he's got too much baggage and will want too much money).
The Chron also suggests that certain players are trying to convince Drayton McLane to call up Andy Pettitte and give him a contract. This is a move I'm not in favor of. First, there's the whole steroids/HGH thing. Then there's the fact that Pettitte turned down $10 million from the Yankees, so if Drayton gives more than that to Pettitte, then Drayton can forget about his poverty argument. I'd also suggest that Drayton forget about Ben Sheets who is too injury-prone for the money he's asking.
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I would suggest Drayton blow up the team. Try to get Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, and Carlos Lee to waive their no-trade clauses, then see what is available in the market so that the rebuilding of this team can begin. No one wants to lose the likes of Berkman and Oswalt, but getting rid of salaries for young talent in the early-90s allowed the Astros to become one of the best teams in MLB for about a decade. I doubt anyone would take Carlos Lee because he's being paid way too much money in a market where similar or better players have yet to sign contracts, i.e., Manny Ramirez and Adam Dunn.
And if Drayton wants to sign some stop-gaps, I'd suggest the likes of Luis Gonzalez for bench and spot play, Toby Hall to back up Quintero and Jeremy Affeldt and Braden Looper for the rotation.
But I doubt that Drayton wants my opinion.
-- John Royal