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Jeff Luhnow Buys a Car… Well, Maybe.

by Andy

I purchased my truck a few years ago. It was my first big purchase. I remember standing outside of the car lot while reciting my haggling techniques. “Aw, c’mon, bro, is that the best you can do?” (I was saying “bro” before it was cool.) I stood stoically and scanned over the cars and immediately started having serious concerns whether or not I could afford anything new and nice. Then I started having serious concerns whether I’d have to choose between new or nice. This situation became complicated, and I hadn’t even talked to a salesman yet. I had some money in the bank, and I knew that there was something for me somewhere… but here? But now? I started to wonder whether or not my current truck would last another six months or a year. I left and went to another dealership… that night I bought my truck.

This is free agency.

The market is full of great bargains, but it’s also full of lemons. The Astros are either going to get their money’s worth or they’re going to count down the days until the bad contract they gave away expires.

The Astros have to spend their money wisely. Scratch that! The Astros MUST spend their money wisely! They cannot afford to be saddled with bad contracts, and they cannot afford to compromise their bright future for a glimmer of hope in the present.

Talking free agency is fun. Talking trades is fun.

But, if big name free agents and blockbuster deals are your thing… this off-season won’t be fun.

But it’ll be productive.

Of course, many Astros fans are not totally grasping the concept of rebuilding. It wasn’t but a few years ago, the Astros farm system was barren and devoid of any star potential. Astros fans begged and complained, “Woe is me! The farm system is barren and devoid of any star potential!” (I paraphrased.) However, with recent trades and quality drafts, the Astros have built one of the stronger minor league systems in major league baseball. …and, now, after all the time and effort, many Astros fans are interested in trading away prospects or signing multi-year big money contracts because they want to “win right away.” How Drayton McLane-y of them.

The last regime cut corners by taking on irresponsible contracts and trying to add pieces instead of developing ones. Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow have been reasonably straightforward in regards to their plans on building a successful organization in Houston. Signing Mike Napoli or trading for Justin Upton just doesn’t fit into what they said they are trying to do here. And, quite frankly, if their plan is to sign Napoli or trade for Upton, they might as well sell the team back to Drayton McLane while they’re at it. …because that’s how the last regime operated.

You don’t put $1500 rims on a 1992 Ford Taurus.

I’ve also heard that people want the Astros to trade for Jeremy Hellickson or Trevor Bauer. While Hellickson and Bauer would be under club control for awhile, what would the Astros have to give up to get them? The Astros aren’t, or rather shouldn’t, be in the market for one marquee player at the expense of multiple quality prospects. The Astros are building a well-rounded team and giving equal value in multiple prospects for one good player doesn’t seem very productive or consistent with the Astros plans… the organization’s words, not mine.

It’s fun to talk about potential free agent signings or potential trades. However, at the moment, “big splash” transactions don’t seem like an effective strategy for our team’s current situation. I wouldn’t forecast any big name free agents or Luhnow conducting any blockbuster swaps.

As if you need to be reminded, the Astros lost a franchise record 107 games in 2012, which clipped the previous year’s loss total by one. So, it’s probably safe to say that one single player isn’t going to transform the Astros into a playoff contender or even a .500 team – two players won’t change that, either. But, the Astros can use free agency to their advantage by signing players here and there and passing on irresponsible franchise crippling expenditures.

It is important that the Astros put a competitive team on the field. It is important that this team scratch and claw their way out of the triple-digit loss neighborhood and, at least, represent to the fans that, “hey, this team is going somewhere.” Player development has to be the key ingredient to the Astros revival. As of now, the Astros biggest goal is to develop a franchise capable of competing year after year while keeping fans interested, invested and buying tickets.

This is a massive, long-term undertaking. But one that is worthwhile.

So what are we working with?

As of now, the Astros line-up has some potential to it. It has a little pop and a little speed, there are a few guys who can hit for average, get on base and, for the most part, they’re decent defensively. Granted, this line-up doesn’t have any marquee appeal, but it will be able to hold its own and keep the Astros in games. We’re not exactly looking to win the World Series in 2013, but if the goal is to get better and be competitive – the line-up isn’t exactly an urgent crisis.

I suppose if Jose Altuve starts striking out again, Brett Wallace can’t get any lift on the ball or Justin Maxwell hits .190, all of this can change for 2013.

But, when 2014 arrives, things will get a bit crowded and complicated. With the emergence of Jonathan Singleton, George Springer and Robbie Grossman – some of the guys on the 2013 roster will find themselves on the bench or looking at other teams for employment.

Of course, with the DH, Jeff Luhnow will have a lot more flexibility when constructing the team because he’ll now view each position player as being capable of also being a DH. This is how I imagine Brett Wallace or JD Martinez will manage to remain on the roster.

I’m really not seeing any glaring spots on offense where the Astros need to add anyone long term. However, Luhnow should strike up dialogue with players who’d be interested in short-term contracts. Lance Berkman and Melky Cabrera fit this description. Berkman is familiar with Houston and could be plugged into the DH role while spelling Wallace at first base. Cabrera is out to prove that his talent isn’t contingent on how much buffalo urine he injects directly into his butt cheeks. Both could sign one-year deals and stave off the necessity of having to call up Singleton, Grossman or Springer too soon.

Above and beyond the need for a DH or any other bat, the Astros need to address their starting rotation and bullpen. They’re going to need to do this in free agency – I can’t see them getting a quality durable big league pitcher in the rule 5 draft… maybe someone who can compete for a spot, though.

Jarred Cosart aside, there isn’t much immediate help on the way from the farm, and the Astros are going to need a guy that they can plug into the starting rotation for the next couple of years. As of now, Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles seem to be locks. I expect the Astros to sign a free agent pitcher for one of the first four spots and have an open competition for the final spot in the rotation. The final spot could come down to a rule 5 guy, a non-roster invitee or Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Dallas Keuchel, Rudy Owens or possibly Paul Clemens.

Or maybe even Roger Clemens. (LOL!) No… seriously. (Oh.)

Having a bona-fide MLB starting pitcher in the first four spots of the rotation would be an outstanding situation for the Astros. The Astros need someone to eat up innings, take pressure off the bullpen and sign just a two or three year deal.

I’m going to bypass talking about Zack Grienke, Dan Haren or any of the other big money contract free agents and talk about some guys who I think the Astros will show real interest in.

I would like to see the Astros make a run at someone like Brandon McCarthy or Shaun Marcum. Either of these guys could be placed after Harrell in the rotation and provide solid productivity for the next few years. However, I think the Astros are more likely to be interested in someone like Carlos Villanueva or Kevin Correia. (Sigh.) Neither Villanueva nor Corriea have a history of eating innings, although Correia has gotten up to 198 before. I would assume that both of these pitchers would be interested in signing short-term, franchise friendly contracts… possibly, in Correia’s case, as a non-roster invitee. Carlos Villanueva has also had success as a reliever. So, if Cosart, Oberholtzer or any of the other minor leaguers go nuts in Oklahoma City, it’d be a smooth transition for Villanueva to move into the pen.

Which brings me to my next issue: the Astros need at least one more decent relief pitcher. With a young team, it is going to be important to preserve leads because, as we’ve been taught over the last two years, leads are hard to come by. Having one of our young pitchers pitch a gem only to have it blown to pieces by Chuckie Fick might do some serious damage to their psyche. If the Astros solidify the bullpen, it’ll go a long way in developing a culture of confidence within the starting rotation. And, winning is important to player development. I look at someone like Jonathan Broxton, Kyuji Fujikawa, Joakim Soria or Ryan Madson. Soria and Madson, both coming off injury, might be good options for short-term deals that could be parlayed into premium choice trade bait if they revert to form. Broxton and Fujikawa seem to be guys who might consider opting for teams that’ll utilize them as closers.

Needless to say, I’m not predicting any big splashes in the off-season. The Astros might find a suitor for Jed Lowrie or Bud Norris and, as the organization continues to turnover, begin to consider alternate options in free agency and render this whole article null and void. I feel like Jim Crane and Luhnow may have learned a lesson from the previous regime regarding irresponsible contracts, and I don’t think Crane and Luhnow would want to get into another Carlos Lee, Kaz Matsui or Brandon Lyon type situation.

So, shop wisely, Jeff. Don’t grab the first shiny car off the lot. Make sure you check under the hood. And, always remember, there are new models coming out for next year. 

 

Posted at 11:49am

 


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