Dan previews the type of team Houston is looking for


by Dan Peschong

In the past I’ve written posts about the type of team that makes the MLB playoffs.  The Astros have not been that type of team for a long, long time. I’d like to take a few moments to discuss statistically how far off the Astros are and point at some areas most in need of improvement going forward.

In 2013 – five teams made the AL playoffs. I know for some of you the point of comparison should be with the NL playoff teams, but that ship has not only sailed, but it has reached its final destination and is in permanent dry dock.

Here is a look at the 5 AL playoff teams plus the Astros and how they did in the two most important categories – scoring runs and keeping the other team from scoring runs.

Team

Runs Scored/ Game

AL rank

Runs Allowed / Game

AL Rank

Boston

5.27

1

4.05

6

Detroit

4.91

2

3.85

2

Oakland

4.73

3

3.86

3

Cleveland

4.60

T4

4.09

7

Tampa Bay

4.29

9

3.96

5

Houston

3.77

14

5.23

15

Yes, this is depressing and there is a lot of heavy lifting involved here. But this two ton elephant in the room must be eaten in chunks not in whole.

Offense – A quick look at what I consider a key stat for the offense and then some discussion.

OPS – This stat which is simply on-base-percentage plus slugging percentage closely follows the run scored stat. The league average is .725. The five playoff teams range from the Rays and Indians tied at 6th with .737 to the insane Red Sox leading the AL at a super robust .795. The Astros were a miserable last at .674 and have only two players that finished the year with an OPS over the league average – Jason Castro (.835) and Chris Carter (.770).

Potential improvement – It will be a huge disappointment if George Springer who posted an OPS above 1.000 in the minors in 2013 does not put up an above average OPS with the big club. It is a good bet that whoever Mr. Luhnow pursues as an OF or 1B bat through FA or a trade will be someone who has shown to be both a good OBP and OPS player. Matt Dominguez put up above average OPS the second half of the season and hopefully he can build on that. If Jose Altuve bounces back to his 2012 self – that would be another above average OPS starter on the team. Youngsters like Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes ended up a little under the league average in OPS and the hope there is that they will both improve and usurp the really bad at-bats given to folks like F-Mart, Jimmy Paredes and Trevor Crowe last season. I’m not sure how much improvement we will see in reducing Ks, but it would be a surprise if they approached the all-time record they set last season. But they better figure out how to wangle more walks this coming season.

Goal – A decent goal for 2014 would be to get out of the basement in OPS and improve up to the .700 level which might help them raise up to a below average, but better, 4 runs / game. Getting more players on base though will only help if they address their absolutely terrible stolen base percentage (64%). Detroit is the only playoff team with a similar terrible SB%, but they at least had the brains to only attempt 1/3 the steals that the Astros did. Boston on the other hand was deadly efficient – they were successful 87% of the time. The Red Sox stole 13 more bases in 42 less attempts. The Astros lost 61 players stealing – the Red Sox 19 (and this does not even count all the other base path stupidity the Astros ran into last season).

Pitching – The key stat may be how many new and better faces get the starts and bull pen appearances.

Bullpen ERA – The Astros bullpen ERA was more than a half run worse than the starter’s ERA – 5.48 vs. 4.92 ERA. Of course both of these numbers are way out of whack vs. the playoff teams – but it is not the norm for the bullpen ERA to be higher than the starter’s ERA. Of the playoff teams, only the Tiger’s bullpen had a higher ERA than the starters (4.01 vs. 3.44). Detroit was also so desperate for help that they traded for bullpen help from the Astros in the guise of Jose Veras. The Astros need help in all aspects of pitching, but it would seem that the bullpen would have the most low hanging fruit.

Potential Improvement – In the area of starting pitching – 95 of the Astros games were started by pitchers who ended up with ERAs over 5 for the season. Of the 67 games started by pitchers with ERAs under 5 – 47 of those starts are gone between Bud Norris (trade) and Erik Bedard (granted free agency). Improvement lies with the hope that both Jarred Cosart’s and Brett Oberholtzer’s solid starts were not a fluke, that Brad Peacock’s late season performance is repeatable, that Jordan Lyles finally figures it out and that Jeff Luhnow will bring in a solid arm who is better than Bedard.

In the area of relief pitching it is hard to imagine a worse performance in 2014 than 2013. After veterans Veras and Wesley Wright were traded, the biggest problem was just lack of experience in the bullpen. Josh Fields, Paul Clemens, Jose Cisnero, Josh Zeid, Kevin Chapman, Chia-Jen Lo, David Martinez and Jorge De Leon all made their major league debuts in 2013 and were basically the bullpen down the stretch. There were flashes of good pitching – Chapman and Cisnero come to mind – but basically the bullpen had no veteran base to buoy them. The hope here is that Luhnow will sign a couple solid bullpen arms to come lead the youngsters. Obviously, if some of the newbies step forward in their second stints that would help greatly.

Goal – I think a decent goal for 2014 would be to close that huge gap on runs allowed vs. runs scored with the bullpen leading the way and shoot for a number in the 4.6 to 4.7 runs / game for the team.

It is simplistic, but the only way to see improvement as a team is to start grinding down that almost 1.5 runs / game gap between the runs scored and the runs allowed by the 2013 Astros. Hopefully, that is reached by a combination of solid veterans brought in by FA or trade, talent from the minors and some of the youngsters on hand improving with time.

So what do you think are reasonable goals for the 2014 season?

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50 comments on “Dan previews the type of team Houston is looking for

  1. One other is that nasty run differential of 238 runs. Although they won 51 by at least one run, they lost 111 games by over 289+ – that is getting blown out. That is a “team” effort. Agree with your analysis, but this roster needs major make-over. Two bullpen arms is a start, but it will take a lot more than that to get to 81-81. A couple starters have to approach 200 innings, or the bullpen will be coming in all year in the 4th inning again.

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    • I don’t see them getting to 81-81 this coming year no matter who they bring in or bring up. But they better improve solidly in 2014.
      When you have a very young pitching staff and inexperienced bullpen – when things to down hill in a game they get out of control. We saw a lot of that last year. Even a bullpen needs a “stopper” or two someone who will stop a game from spiraling.

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      • “I don’t see them getting to 81-81 this coming year no matter who they bring in or bring up”. exactly why i say no long term gigantic fa contracts. lets continue to evaluate what we have in these players in the system and wait to spend the big money when it will matter. again i am fine with some short term moderately priced fa’s to help bullpen, outfield, maybe a starter for the rotation, but the big money should wait till it puts us over the hump to a division title or wild card. i think the best route this year may be a trade that Luhnow pulls off, we’ll see. I hope this year we identify 2-3-4 more players that become part of our ‘core’ and then in 2015 become competitive and 2016 bring in one or two big guns to put us over the hump.

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  2. In order for the Astros to get better, they have to go get better players. They talk about spending money but they haven’t done it. If they want to get better players they have to be willing to bring their better minor league players up and play them. If they want to get better they have to sign the good FA and pay them.
    If the Astros want to get better they need to get a lot better in RF, SS, CF, DH, and 1B. They will not get better in those five positions without playing better players
    They had the worst pitching staff in the majors and traded the best one of their veteran started and their best reliever, so they had better get better pitchers and pay them.
    We hear the $50-60 million talk, but all we see is backpedaling and mushmouth.
    Now there is a leadoff hitter and Rf out there that will improve that outfield immensely. Are they gonna talk about improving, or are they going to build a baseball team. Talk is cheap.

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    • I think it is correct to expect them to finally spend bucks this off-season – I’m just not sure that the better FAs would come here even for more money at the moment. But if they fail in signing folks they better start promoting a lot quicker from the minors. Has to be relief one way or the other.

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  3. DanP: I think every FA signs for money and “other reasons.” If we concentrate on the 30-32 year old range, they are not as likely to “want a ring” than a player at the end of his career. If I were GM, I would red line all the older guys and work on the younger. That excludes “last year’s crop” types. There are many players better than what we have. For $50 Million, you subtract Wandy one last time at $5M, and you can get 9 at $5 M if you want to improve.

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    • Well as I said before – the payroll will likely not make 50 to 60 million this year. I figure they bring in 4 guys and end up around 40 million.

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  4. One of the things we might have in our favor is addition through subtraction. For example, Houston had the absolute worst center field production in the majors last season. Our combined CF OPS was .584. Heck, Springer might have a slugging percentage within a hundred points of .584. Let’s be only slightly optimistic and say Springer comes up with an OPS of .750. What will that mean to Houston’s overall OPS in 2014?

    Well, the overall 2013 OPS of .674 means all nine positions (P/DH being one batting position) combined to that average. But if you take out CF, the other eight positions averaged .685. Now add in Springer’s .750 and you have an average OPS of .692. That’s an .018 improvement by replacing one bad batch of at bats with a good batch.

    That difference would move Houston from the 28th overall OPS in the league to a tie with Minnesota for 23rd.

    Do the same thing in right field, replacing the combined .661 OPS with a free agent who comes up with a .750 OPS. Now, all other things being equal to 2013, Houston’s 2014 OPS is .702. Now we’re tied at 19th with the Giants.

    Say Altuve rebounds. His .678 OPS goes up to about .722, and the team’s second base OPS goes from .676 to .720. Then the overall average goes up to .707. Say Villar’s OPS takes a step toward his minor league average, and our team shortstop OPS goes from .624 to, say, .675. Now we’re at .713 overall.

    These are all reasonable changes. A small rebound by Altuve. Villar taking a step forward. Springer doing a good, not great, job. A new right fielder. This doesn’t include improvement at third base. Better production at first base or DH. Maybe by moving Carter to DH or 1B, we lose some offensive production at left field, and that eats up any advances by Dominguez or at first base/DH. Maybe a rise to a team OPS of .710 is about the best we can expect. But that would tie us for 16th in all of baseball and move Houston solidly into 10th place in the AL.

    Addition through subtraction … and just a little bit of addition. It would change Houston dramatically for 2014.

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    • That is true and kind of what I was saying about taking away the bad ABs. A big question is whether Castro keeps up his strong OPS or not or if he gets traded. That would affect the overall number big time the wrong way.

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  5. The FA crop does not inspire me. Luhnow may have some targets there, but I think he needs to look at some salary dump or reclamation projects via trade. Look at how the Dodgers reshaped their roster in a short period of time. I don’t think we can do anything as drastic, but good grief the current 40 man is depressing.

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    • I agree that they may trade from perceived strength to chase someone they have their sites on. Maybe mix in a prospect with someone like Wallace or they might make a move with Castro.

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  6. We may all be saying the same thing, but with 200+/- FAs, that means almost 1/3 of every team is on the market. A huge chunk will resign with their current team. So if you peruse the list, eliminate the oldsters (boy does that hurt to say) and look at each position that you want to improve, there would be a bare minimum of 4-5. Few of those guys are getting more than 2 years. So the question to me would be, does he improve my team? And as Devin said, there is a LOT of improvement available on the 40 man. As to relievers, almost none get more than a year or two. And those that get 4yr – $60 Million are probably not coming here anyway.

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  7. Just for discussion sake – I will throw out a few more stats I gleaned getting ready for this post (but did not include).
    OBP (On-base-percentage) – The league average is .320. The playoff teams ranged from .327 (Oak and Cle) to .349 (Bos). The Astros were last with a truly pitiful .299.
    Age of non-pitchers – The Astros non-pitchers averaged 25.9 years old – youngest in the league and 1.1 years younger than any other team and much younger than the playoff teams that ranged from 28.3 (Oak) up to 29.9 (Det).
    K/BB – For the pitchers this is the ratio of strikeouts to walks. The playoff teams range from 2.47 (Bos) all the way up to the league leading Tigers (3.09). The Astros were again last in this stat at 1.76 – a very bad number that ties to way too many walks and way too few strikeouts.

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  8. I hope Bo Porter was not giving our guys a green light to run whenever they felt like it. Boston had a great stolen base ratio because their top three guys went a combined 90 and 12. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Victorino warrant a green light. They know how and when to run. We don’t have any guys like that yet.

    And if Porter ran us out of innings with a lowly 64% clip from the dugout, then maybe we should stop running or maybe get a new a new manager.

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    • Daveb – it is a small sample, but really based on what I saw last season, the only guy deserving a green light might be LJ Hoes (7 of 8 in 46 games). Altuve and Villar hovered around the 70% success rate – which isn’t good enough and guys like Barnes (11 of 22) and Grossman (6 of 13) need to have permanent stop signs.
      I would love to know what you asked – is it Porter sending them or Porter not stopping them… but either way this must change.

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      • Dan, you wonder if stolen bases will largely disappear from the stat sheet. Example: The National League St. Louis Cardinals stole just 45 bases this year and their opponents swiped just 39 off them.

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    • daveb – I’m glad you brought this up. Pairing a pitiful OBP with free outs on the basepaths contributed greatly to our lack of scoring ability. Even though the team does not have consistent power hitters I’d rather try for the old Earl Weaver 3-run bomb strategy than continue running out of innings.

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  9. Daveb – I think the smarter organizations are turning away from the SB. Statistically unless you have the Red Sox type of efficiency you will score less runs if you are down in the 70’s or below %. I think Porter has this aggressive side to him and pushes his players even when it makes little sense.
    Astro 45 – I had Comcast and the Astros got picked off, thrown out stealing, stretching, bad hit and run, and any other running mistake you can think of.

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  10. The type of team Houston is looking for:
    1. Some guy’s who can actually HIT the ball.
    2. Some pitcher ( NO HAS BEENS) who can help mentor this young pitching staff.
    3. Crane to stand behind his “$60 million” budget.
    That’s about it.

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  11. Crane’s nebulous promise to bolster the payroll to $60mil is only half of what’s needed to be a consistent contender in the AL West.

    And it’s all about the TV deal getting done anyway. Don’t believe a word coming out of Crane’s mouth right now. He must spew forth empty promises as he has carrier deals and season ticket packages to sell.

    Then he’ll turn his attention to selling a stadium to the taxpayers. Don’t listen, just watch.

    Will they suggest that they’re in the market to sign Tanatka and/or Choo? Yes. Will it actually happen? Just watch.

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  12. The FAs are starting to sign. Hope we don’t wait again this year to see who no one wants, then do another NRI group. No one off the board yet that I would say that we missed much, But it will probably cause other teams to up their offers as options dwindle.

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  13. Bo –
    Would the Oakland A’s be considered a consistent contender in the AL West? Have won the division 7 of the last 14 years and won it in both 2012 and 2013 spending $55 million and $61 million respectively. You don’t need the anchor of double that – that the Angels have for a $120+ million payroll. That got them nowhere in 2013 and probably not very far in the future.
    It is not how much you spend, but how you spend bucks these days. The teams that are spending a bunch on FAs in their 30’s are seeing that with tighter restrictions on PEDs these guys are not lasting to fulfill their contracts.
    Why in the world you think that Crane has any interest in a new ballpark is beyond me. MMP is only 13 years old and there has been no indication that Crane is insane enough to think he would get any support to replace such a new stadium. Reid Ryan would have his dad tackle Crane on the way to the mike for that news conference.
    I do agree with you when you say they may not get some of these higher profile FAs signed. I also don’t think they will spend $60 million this season – I don’t think they will convince enough FAs to come.
    If he is only putting forth the $60 million figure to get the Comcast deal done – that makes no sense. If a deal is predicated on the Astros season – it will not get done until closer to the season and by then it will be clear what the payroll will be.

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    • The A’s RECENT success suggests that $60mil can be enough to legitimately compete in the AL West. But it’s an anomaly. Especially these days when TV deals and team payrolls are going way out of control (TV deals matter, no?)

      So I am sticking to my guns. $60 million will be nowhere near where the ALastros need to compete. And the Astros are not the A’s. (Frieman and Lowrie vs Carter to wit).

      What the A’s have accomplished of late is truly remarkable. But even still , they have not fielded a championship team (meaning having enough guns to win it all) since 1990.

      Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the SF Giants are not in the AL West. Can you imagine if the team across the Bay was in the same division? The same market? How that would jack with the A’s ability to compete for limited fan resources?

      It’s an anomaly. $60mil will not cut it. $90mil may not either. And the ALastros are doomed to be dominated in their own market. Even if they do land a TV deal, they are still doomed.

      Regarding the stadium deal, yes, I was referring to the Woodlands/Conroe thing that is currently hatching in Crane’s greedy mind.

      Look, Crane is not a good steward of this franchise. Period. I’ve said it repeatedly (to the point that I don’t want to troll this BLOG afoul), and I’ll say it again.

      Just watch what unfolds: 1) no legit FA’s, only retreads, 2) no $60mil payroll, only empty promises, and, 3) if the stars align, no TV deal. THAT WOULD BE THE BACK-BREAKER! And a beautiful thing to boot. Finally.

      Then, maybe, just maybe, Crane will finally lose his shirt, and the fine citizens of Houston will spit the snake oil from their mouths.

      PS — indeed the minor league system is revamped. But any cheap and greedy owner would do the same, especially after hoarding top draft picks. Not impressed. Will George Springer ever get his phat payday one day? Yes. But not in Houston. Just watch what happens when the young studs mature into legit pros…

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    • I agree with most of your rebuttal..But the TV deal won’t happen until “closer to the season” if and only if the whole CSN Houston thing collapses altogether.

      Why? Because the Rockets are on the clock now. The hoop fans know it’s on Crane to get something done now. The Judge said to please get it done in 30-45 days.

      This means the Rockets, the laughingstocks, and Comcast all go their separate ways. THEN Crane will really be over a barrel. What will he do then? Sell streaming games over the INet?

      Things are a LOT more tenuous than they appear on the surface. I’ve said it before that “it could happen”. It’s entirely possible that this whole things collapses, and Crane is dropped to the canvas from a severe gut punch.

      Maybe Crane will get his comeuppance, after all.

      Maybe he’ll take his toy and go somewhere else to play.

      Maybe, just maybe, the Houston franchise can be returned to the NL when the league expands to a perfect 32 teams.

      A guy can dream, can’t he?

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  14. Boy, I know better than to do this, but Dan P, I think Bo is talking about the “proposed new minor league” stadium in Conroe or Willis or whatever. But I for one am really tired (I know it has only been two (2) years)(actually Crane had input in the last year with DMc) but I am tired of “hearing” $50-60 Million and “seeing” $16-26 Million. I realize that the scouts and coaches have a better insight into our team and our farm – but man when you sit on the sidelines in 2012 and sign the FAs the Astros signed, and then 2013 FAs start with only hype – skepticism gives way to cynicism. No I don’t have a magic number we should sign, but a two-year $3-5Million contract is certainly within reason for many of them. And if the budget is $50Million, they can sign quite a few and still stay under budget. And I really don’t buy the excuse that if Player “A” is offered $2 Million to play in most cities, and he is offered $2.5 Million to play in Houston with NO State Income Tax – he is going to walk away.

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    • Well Astro 45 – if you look at the list of FAs available – man there are tons of them – though almost all over 30 or well over 30. (this list is split into 3 parts – those that have signed, FA hitters and FA pitchers)
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/friv/2013-free-agents.shtml
      With so many players there – you would think they could pick up some in the areas they need that are still decent (and on this team – decent would be a near top dog). We want to see some kind of turnaround and soon.

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  15. Sad to say that most of Boperts claims remain relevant until Crane actually comes through and gets something done. Outside of the revamped minor league foundation, which is a significant accomplishment, there is nothing else for Crane to hang his hat on to date. And in this day and age, the failure to broadcast games on local television is preposterous.

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    • daveb – So you think that a team can’t contend with a $60 million payroll and you think that Crane is going to come looking for a new stadium. Some of what he says is true until proven otherwise and some of it is preposterous.

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      • Dan, no, certainly I don’t think Crane wants a new stadium. As Astro 45 suggested, I think the new ballpark mentioned was the proposed AAA project up in the Woodlands.

        But just the same, Crane has no history of spending 60 million on payroll. He’s already promised one payroll that he has not delivered on. So I’m not really inclined to seriously consider a hypothetical payroll of 60 million and what it might accomplish. I’ll believe it when I see it.

        Right now I’m on the fence about Crane. To date, he still lacks credibility. I’ll have a better felling about the guy in a few months once the roster is sorted out.

        I will say this though. We might one day contend with a 60 million dollar payroll if and when we have a mature farm system, one that is pumping out major league ballplayers. But I also believe that Houston should not have a small market payroll. We should soon be spending what teams like St. Louis and Detroit do on a regular basis. And if we’re not, I’ll be pissed.

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      • Daveb – my point was that $60 million can and does contend in the AL West. I would be glad if they end up spending more in the right places.

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  16. Ely was released today. Elmore was picked up on waivers. JD Martinez was outrighted to OKC and is off the 40-man.
    Stay tuned. More to follow.

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  17. Dan, yes it has been proven that a team with a 60 million payroll can contend. But I don’t think it will happen with the consistency of a St. Louis club that is always in the hunt. And if we are accepting of a 60 million payroll, we also need to accept the fact that the guys we’ve followed all the way up through the ranks of the minor league system won’t be with us once it’s time for their first big contract. We won’t have elite players for long. We won’t have guys playing their full careers in Houston. And I don’t like that. I don’t think Luhnow will like it either. At some point, he’ll go somewhere else.

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  18. Bo – I saw your discussion on the Athletics “recent” success as being an anomaly.
    1) 7 playoff appearances in 14 years is not an that recent – it is a trend showing a solid organization.
    2) Yes, they did not win a WS in that time – but they definitely could have judging by how many teams that snuck into the playoffs and won the WS just because they were hot at the right time. I was just saying that your contention that you can’t contend at $60 million is wrong on its face.
    3) Other teams are figuring it out also. Tampa is an example of a contender at a smaller payroll and frankly Minnesota had a lot more success before they started spending a bunch of money.
    4) The key is again how you spend your money – not how much you spend. The Yankees spent a gazillion more than the Astros ($220+ million) but were almost as pitiful a hitting team – because they let them selves get old and expensive.
    5) I’m not saying that they should stop when they get to $60 million – I’m just saying there is no magic in spending. Five of the playoff teams from 2013 were in the top 15 of team payroll and five were in the bottom 15 in payroll.
    6) Since GMs are not appointed for life like a Pope – it is not too tough to predict that Luhnow will someday work somewhere else. But I understand your point – that he will soon get frustrated with payroll restrictions and hit the road. I agree that this will be a key position to watch – if he leaves of his own accord in the next 3 years it is a sure sign that he has had it with Crane and his ways. If not – it means that he has bought into the plan and believes that the money will flow as needed.

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  19. Hmmmm……..I wonder how long it will take Prince Fielder to pass out
    when he has to stand in 110 degree heat at 1st. base in Arlington. Can’t figure this
    trade out……..

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    • Very odd trade to me – the two players are just not equivalent, but….
      1) The Tigers obviously wanted to get out from under Fielder before his decline hits them. Frankly Fielder’s OPS has been in steady decline the last two years and now he is crossing the 30 year old barrier. (but do note that Fielder has been awesome about showing up for games – he has missed 1 game in the last 5 years and 12 in the last 8 years).
      2) Even when Kinsler was at his best – he was never as good a player as Fielder and right now he is just above average. He has some additional value as a 2B – but he is also older.
      3) The Rangers should do pretty well with this trade for about 3 or 4 years – but this could be El Caballo Jr by the time Fielder hits 33-34.
      4) I expect to see the Tigers using some of the early year savings on signing guys like Scherzer….

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      • The value of the trade for the Rangers is primarily that the logjam in the middle infield can now be unblocked. Obviously they see something in Profar, and they are deeply invested in Andrus. This also takes the competitive pressure off Andrus as he was definitely pressing last year. My take…

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