Houston Astros' Sobering Salary Story: Grading Ten Players

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I recently saw some sort of metric that indicated that the top five percent richest Americans combined had amassed more wealth than the other 95 percent combined. Don't quote me on that, but it was one of those "look how woefully disproportionate (and yet totally believable)" that statistic is.

Baseball rosters are somewhat similar. The upper, upper tier of player (from a salary standpoint) makes as much as a majority of the roster combined. Such is the nature of the beast in Major League Baseball.

For some teams, it doesn't really matter how the upper tier performs because they've got enough money to spend comparatively extravagantly on the middle and even lower tiers. To a team like the Astros, who in 2011 are working on (to quote Jerry Seinfeld's Uncle Leo) "a very fixed income!!!"...well, it matters greatly.

So today, let's do some salary forensics on the fiscal reasons why the Astros suck as badly as they do this season (as opposed to the physical reasons like "some of their players shouldn't be playing big league baseball" and "their closer tops out at 89 miles per hour.")

Let's start with this -- the top forty percent of the Astros' roster (10 players, $59,875,00) make 86 percent of the Astros total "wealth" ($69,969,000). That mix is not uncommon for a big league roster where many of them stash the bench and the bullpen with minimum salary guys and/or very young players.

However, if you buy into a team only going as far as its star players, or more accurately those paid like stars, will taken it, then the following breakdown will be awfully disturbing to you:

1. Carlos Lee, $19,000,000. Highest paid Astro of all time, just saw his batting average creep over .200 for the season on Sunday before Angel Sanchez collided with him in the outfield, bruising Carlos' ribs, an injury to which Carlos may or may not have applied a chipotle rub to ease the some of the pain. Of the Astros' regular starters, only Chris Johnson's OPS is lower than Lee's .608. VALUE GRADE: Biggest, fattest F-

2. Brett Myers, $8,000,000. After going at least six innings in every start but one last season, the Astros gave Myers a multi-year extension in the offseason with the hope that he would be the staff ace. The bad news: After a solid first four games, he is now starting to look very mortal (1-2, 4.47 ERA on the season). The worse news: This is still good enough to make him the staff ace. VALUE GRADE: C-

3. Wandy Rodriguez, $7,500,000. Not to be denied in the "multi-year extension for average starting pitcher sweepstakes," Wandy got his own three-year deal done during the offseason. Apparently, a solid 2009 and a second half full of spectacular, meaningless games was enough to convince Ed Wade that Wandy needed to be locked up. He has responded in classic Wandy fashion, showing the steady consistency of Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers -- in his six starts, his earned runs allowed have gone 7, 1, 5, 1, 4, 0. VALUE GRADE: C+

4. Hunter Pence, $6,900,000. Hunter is still not the most selective hitter in the world, but at least the balls he's hacking at wildly this year are finding holes (.294 batting average) and driving in runs (team-leading 25 RBI). Hunter will always have a value floor of about a "C" because of his highly entertaining, "gravity challenged arms" running style. VALUE GRADE: A- 5. Brandon Lyon, $5,250,000. In the two most important (and soul-crushing) losses of the season -- the season opener in Philly and the "combined one hitter until Lyon came in" in Cincy on Wednesday -- Lyon had a chance to get a save and instead put up a combined line score as follows: 0.1 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB. That's two blown saves and an ERA of 162.00. Lyon is now having his shoulder examined for "weakness." I'm no doctor, but I would say Lyon's entire right arm is "weak," assuming strength is measured by the ability to retire big league hitters. VALUE GRADE: A thinner, bearded version of Carlos Lee's F-

6. Michael Bourn, $4,400,000. Scouting report on Michael Bourn in 2008: "Covers a lot of ground in centerfield, steals a lot of bases, needs to get on base more." Scouting report on Michael Bourn in 2011: "Covers a lot of ground in centerfield, steals a lot of bases, needs to get on base more." VALUE GRADE: B

7. Clint Barmes, $3,925,000. Just returned to action after sustaining a fractured left hand in the preseason. VALUE GRADE: Incomplete.

8. Bill Hall, $3,000,000. Initially, it feels cool to say you signed the player who is third in the National League in strikeouts...and then you have to accept the fact that you're talking about a hitter, not a pitcher. VALUE GRADE: D

9. Humberto Quintero, $1,000,000. Yawn. VALUE GRADE: C+

10. Nelson Figueroa, $900,000. My current National League MVP ballot looks like this: 1. Lance Berkman, 2. Ryan Braun, 3. Matt Holliday....400. Nelson Figueroa. VALUE GRADE: Whatever grade is a thousand times worse than an F

So the scorecard looks like this: three steaming hot F's, a D, a few C's, an incomplete, and Bourn and Pence. Yay.

Moral of the story: For a guy whose wealth was amassed by selling groceries, Drayton McLane sure does suck at buying them (or hiring people to buy them).

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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