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Spring Training: Itching for Pitching

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Richard Justice has given up on Woody Williams. And if Justice has given up on Woody, then the team has given up on Woody. Justice tells us that the team’s convinced that the pitching staff is the key to last place in the National League Central, and that they’re looking at all options for improvement.

All options, that is, but trading Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. Apparently, it’s okay to put Hunter Pence on the trading block, but not Berkman and Lee. And it’s this kind of thinking that will have the Astros in the basement for years to come.

The Astros need to get talent. And they’re not going to get talent trading Mark Loretta (in whom the Orioles are still interested). They’re going to get talent, lots of talent, by trading Berkman and Lee. Pence is young, but he doesn’t have a proven track record. Same with Bourn. Same with Towles. They have to keep Oswalt because he’s the only guy in the rotation who can be counted on for at least three innings every start. Ty Wigginton’s worthless as trading material. Kaz Matsui’s a walking injury. The only team interested in Tejada is the prison team.

So if the Astros are going to make a trade to accumulate talent, then there are only two players that can net any of real value: Berkman and Lee. But Justice has already told me that their names aren’t on the table.

But you know, maybe if Ed Wade had put some interest in to starting pitching this winter, maybe the Astros wouldn’t have this problem. Mark Prior signed a really cheap, heavily incentive-laden contract with the Padres. If he’s ever able to pitch and stay healthy, the Padres made a great deal. Prior’s the kind of pitcher who, when healthy, can pitch in any ballpark. So maybe he went with the Padres for the chance to return to Southern California, but maybe the Astros should have pursued him with the same intensity that they pursued Woody several years ago.

And the Red Sox picked up a former Cy Young winner just a few weeks ago for a big bargain price, a cheaper price than what the Astros are paying Woody – and cheaper than what they’re paying Shawn Chacon. Bartolo Colon has spent the past several seasons eating and eating while suffering injury after injury. But when he’s healthy, he’s a quality pitcher. Yet the Astros sat around this fall and winter and seemed content to let Woody and Wandy give it another try while trying to convince themselves that Shawn Chacon would be a cheap alternative. A cheap alternative that is earning more in salary this season than Mark Prior.

Meanwhile, despite Justice writing earlier that the Astros rotation was just as good as the others in the Central, baseball experts are telling us that the Cincinnati Reds may have one of the best rotations in the National League this season because of talent that mostly come up from their farm system.

I know I bitch about the Astros and their pitching a lot. I’m sorry. It just pisses me off that this team’s pitching sucks so damn much and that management didn’t care enough this off-season to do anything about it. And sure, Prior and Colon are big risks with big injury histories, but are the risks with them worse than the risk of hoping Woody can get back his career, or that Wandy will discover his career? Or that Backe will be healthy?

Oh well, I hear that Roger Clemens might be looking for some work. Maybe if Drayton promises plentiful supplies of HGH, he can sign Rocket for a really cheap deal. – John Royal

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