44 wins 44 losses. Now what?

88 games into the season, the Astros have 44 wins. Perfect, another season in limbo. Does Ed Wade buy or sell? It appears most likely he’ll do neither and stand pat, but there are decisions to be made soon enough. What about free-agents-to-be Geoff Blum, Mike Hampton, LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, and Jose Valverde? I’d rather get something, anything for these guys now than chicken out on offering arbitration and get nothing.  I honestly can’t see Drayton giving the green light on moving these guys, as that would look like we’re giving up on being champions this year. He wouldn’t want to disappoint the fans. Wait…does any Astros fan out there think this is a championship caliber team?

Obviously, whether a player becomes a free agent depends on whether the team offers arbitration, and if so, whether the player accepts. If either of those events does not occur, the player becomes a free agent. If the team offered arbitration and the player declined, the team gets draft pick compensation only if the player was classified as a Type A or Type B free agent. For Type A players, the former team gets the new team’s first pick (as long as it is not one of the first 15 picks — in that case, they get the second round pick), as well as a “sandwich pick” between the first and second rounds. For Type B, the former team only gets a sandwich pick, and the signing team does not have to give up their first draft slot.

In baseball arbitration, each side brings a proposed salary figure. The arbitrator has to pick one number or the other and cannot split the baby. I like form of arbitration because it forces each side to come to the table with a reasonable offer, using an honest assessment of the situation.

If the team did not offer arbitration, they do not get draft picks. In recent years, the Astros have not offered arbitration on a lot of players out of fear they would accept. Ty Wigginton is the most recent example. Because salaries tend not to go down in arbitration, this is all you can do when you’re overpaying for a player to start with.

Whether a player is a Type A, Type B, or non-compensation free agent depends on a variety of statistical categories for each position grouping used. Stats for the past two years are used. The Elias Sports Bureau methods for calculating who ranks as Type A, Type B, or neither has been reverse engineered by someone who is a lot better at math than I am. Below are the categories used and the statistics used in each:

Catcher: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI, Fielding %, Assists


2B/3B/SS: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI, Fielding %, Total fielding chances

SP: Total games, IP, Wins, W-L, ERA, Strikeouts

RP: Total games, IP, Wins + Saves, IP/H ratio, K/BB, ERA

So, it’s possible to see where the numbers fall through the first half of the season. Let’s take a look at how the Astros players are looking so far, and whether the organization should offer arbitration.

TYPE A: Jose Valverde, Miguel Tejada.

No surprises here. The smart money is on Miggy’s numbers plummeting over the rest of the season. He has, after all, aged very rapidly lately, on paper at least. Tejada’s obviously not normal, though. That guy has all kinds of energy, and with the trouble the players have had with Cecil Cooper, his presence has been invaluable. Reading what he and Hunter Pence say about each other — how hard they play the game and how hard they work — has made me especially glad he’s been around. If only we had more young players for him to influence.

As much as I love Miggy shining the spotlight, if the price is right, this team needs to restock. Keeping him around for draft pick compensation would be great, but it’s no sure thing that he would decline an arbitration offer.  Teams aren’t paying a lot these days, especially if it means giving up their first pick.

Valverde is probably the only player who would be wise to decline arbitration, and as a result, the Astros will likely offer it. Other teams know that Type A draft pick compensation comes with Valverde, so they might be more willing to offer more.

TYPE B: Ivan Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins.

Sturdy as always behind the plate, Rodriquez sure has been frustrating beside the plate. Catching is a very thin position, though, and Pudge’s amount of action so far is enough to get the Stros something in return if he were to reject an arbitration offer. The problem is, there appears to be zero chance he wouldn’t want to go to arbitration. Pudge wasn’t even signed until he lit it up in the World Baseball Classic this spring, and if the Astros hadn’t signed him, who would have? He and Scott Boras have to be looking at that, and considering the fact that he stands to get another million or so in arbitration. That’s a lot better than getting squeezed out of the game — “Wait, hey guys, I can still play, I swear.”

In a move I liked, but still cant figure out, the Astros signed Chris Coste off waivers last week. Now they have 3 catchers on the big league club. They also have J.R. Towles in Round Rock, leading the Express in hitting, with a .296 average, and golden boy Jason Castro in Corpus Christi hitting .279 and he’s still figuring things out.

A certainty that he’ll accept arbitration and a sudden depth at the catcher position makes Pudge the likeliest to be shopped. Don’t expect to fetch much.

As of now, it seems plausible that LaTroy would turn down arbitration and see what he can get on the free market. However the economy is tough, and maybe those saves he racked up while Valverde had a swollen calf could make for a strong case. Hawkins makes $3.5 Million this year, and he’s not likely to make less in arbitration. Rumor has it that the Minnesota Twins have interest in Hawkins. Pitching depth is a problem for the Astros, so if anyone else is dealt, Hawkins stays.

None of the Above: Geoff Blum, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz

I’ve really been pleasantly surprised by every one of these guys this year.  Not that they’ve been that great, but I had really low expectations for each of them.  Heck, Blum has three walk off singles this year.  I couldn’t be happier with him.  Hampton has been healthier than I expected.  Ortiz looks shaky each time out there, but he was picked up off the scrap heap.  While he never dominates, he also never has one of those occasional 11 run, two-inning outings like Moehler has against the Cubs.

Of these guys, I can only see Ortiz being a guy the club would want to trade.  He probably won’t generate any interest, but he’s unhappy with the current situation, and the Astros don’t like people who complain about management.  This is too bad, because I agree with Ortiz.  Cooper handled him poorly, and Ortiz is a classy guy who deserved to have his manager treat him with more respect.

Again, though, pitching depth is a problem, particularly in light of Paolino’s most recent outing, so as much as I’d like to see Hampton, Ortiz and Moehler fetch some warm bodies to fill up the farm system, it’s not likely.

So, here we are again.  Stuck with the oldest team in baseball and not a lot of options to get younger.  Let’s just hope we don’t go out and get Jamie Moyer for Bud Norris.


One Response to “44 wins 44 losses. Now what?”

  1. beckeesh Says:

    Excellent article. I agree with you about everything except Miggy who, btw, I thought the club had an option on for next year ($16mil or something ridiculous like that). If this is true, I suppose they decline the option and then offer arbitration?

    As you point out, we are in a difficult spot with a lot of these guys., but I think Pudge and Valverde present the most difficult calls.

    Regarding the catcher spot, add to the list of catchers in the pipeline Koby Clemens, who I heard just got promoted to AA. And throw in the factor of no WBC next year… Pudge wants to be a ‘Stro for life!!!

    Valverde scares me, too. I’m not as confident that he’ll walk. He’s already making $8mil. And he’s hardly pitched this season. Don’t you think he’d rather stick around, make $9mil or so, and go on the free agent market in 2010?

    These are my thoughts.

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