This is one in a series of posts where we laud teams’ shrewd offseason acquisitions and pan their terrible trades and silly signings.
Last week, the Astros signed GM Ed Wade to a 2-year contract extension, and owner Drayton McLane was quick to praise Wade:
“Ed is an outstanding baseball man. He’s organized and has surrounded himself with a good, solid staff. Much of the work Ed did in Philadelphia had a lot to do with them becoming a champion. We feel he has us moving in the right direction to be a champion as well.”
Moving in the right direction? That’s a tough sell. The Astros finished 2009 in fifth place, 17 games behind the Cardinals. What’s more, they were incredibly lucky, as the team’s Pythagorean record suggests they should have won 7 fewer games.
Houston is one of the oldest teams in baseball and most of the organization’s best players (Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman) are in decline. What’s more, little help is on the way. Recently, Keith Law ranked the Astros farm system 28th, and only catching prospect Jason Castro is poised to make the jump to the bigs anytime soon.
With vacancies at shortstop and third base and McLane bent on spending less in 2010, what did Wade do this offseason?
He spent big on a reliever, that’s what. Brandon Lyon got a three-year deal worth $15M even though, in seven professional seasons, Lyon has only once been worth $5M. It was a reckless signing, a move that drew criticism from all parts of the interwebs, and for good reason.
Wade did make a few less crazy moves. He signed 3B Pedro Feliz for $4.5M — a lot of money to pay for a third baseman with a bad back who can’t hit, but at least it was only a one-year deal. And Feliz will almost certainly be an improvement over Geoff Blum, who played third for the ‘Stros last season.
For $5.1M, Wade landed Brett Myers, an asshole who gives up way to many home runs. His HR/FB rate in nearly 1,200 innings is 15.5 percent.
Wade traded for Matt Lindstrom, who at $1.6M for one year is a good gamble, even though he sucked last year. If Lindstrom can remember how to limit home runs, he could be a great bargain, and Houston didn’t give up much to get him.
As for the shortstop vacancy, Wade gave the job to slick fielding minor leaguer Tommy Manzella, who has a .321 OBP in five minor league seasons. Manzella is going to have to be awfully good with the glove to justify what most people project will be pretty meager offensive production.
I don’t expect the Astros to be horrible this season. Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez are a formidable pair atop the rotation (though the rest of the rotation is much less intimidating). And Houston has some power, with Lee, Hunter Pence and Berkman all capable of hitting 30 homers.
But these guys need to learn to take a walk. The Astros were 13th in the NL in OBP last season, and that doesn’t stand to improve much with Manzella replacing Miguel Tejada at short.
Moreover, even if Houston’s aging vets can stay healthy (a big if), the team doesn’t look built to compete with the Cardinals or Cubs. The Reds, too, look better on paper.
Maybe the best thing the Astros did this offseason is finish construction on their Dominican Republic Academy, which will open later this spring. After years of crappy drafts and inattention to international scouting, it seems the Astros are finally starting to wake up to the importance of building from the ground up. Better late than never.
Offseason Grade: D
Acquisitions: SP Brett Myers, 3B Pedro Feliz, RP Brandon Lyon, RP Matt Lindstrom.
Losses: RP Jose Valverde, 3B Brett Boone, RP Doug Brocail, RP LaTroy Hawkins, SS Miguel Tejada, 1B Darin Erstad, C Chris Coste.
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer
C J.R. Towles
1B Lance Berkman
2B Kazuo Matsui
3B Pedro Feliz
SS Tommy Manzella
LF Carlos Lee
CF Michael Bourn
RF Hunter Pence
SP1 Roy Oswalt
SP2 Wandy Rodriguez
SP3 Brett Myers
SP4 Brian Moehler Bud Norris
SP5 Brandon Backe Felipe Paulino/Brian Moehler
CL Brandon Lyon