The Astros front office’s worst move was a non-move

While waiting for the Astros Front Office to make a move before the trade deadline, one’s mind wanders off to past moves that worked or failed.

Justin Verlander trade? Big Yes. Gerrit Cole? You bet. Picking up Tony Sipp, Will Harris and Colin McHugh for nothing? Great work. Trading for Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna? Very good so far…..and onward.

How about giving Jon Singleton that early multi-year contract? Oops. Sending 5 prospects including the former 1-1 draft pick for Ken Giles and a throw-in? Collapsed pretty quick. What about sending four youngsters including Josh Hader and Domingo Santana for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers? Ouch. Letting J.D. Martinez walk away? Oh, man….and onward.

But perhaps the worst move the Astros current front office has ever made was a non-move. That non-move was not wrapping pitcher Charlie Morton up with a nice 2 year / $30 million bow (that could have vested up to a 3 year / $45 million contract).

The Astros were facing a season, where Dallas Keuchel was going to be gone, Lance McCullers Jr was going to be unavailable and the team’s options were iffy. Having to replace three starters was a huge step over replacing two starters and brought lots of risks. They did go out and pick up Wade Miley, who has been really solid and they did install former starter McHugh in the rotation, where he floundered a bit and after a term on the IL moved to the bullpen. They also moved swingman Brad Peacock into the rotation where he was fine until he was hurt. Along with this, top prospect Forrest Whitley hit a physical and mental wall, Corbin Martin had Tommy John surgery and J.B. Bukauskas struggled at AA. Framber Valdez failed in his attempt at grabbing a rotation brass ring, Josh James has been succeeding at one and two inning stints in the bullpen and the only solid help has come in small samples from Rogelio Armenteros and Cy Sneed.

Meanwhile, Morton, who the Astros failed to even hand a Qualifying Offer has been simply one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. His 11 wins only trails the much luckier Lance Lynn in the AL. His 2.35 ERA (1st), 1.037 WHIP (5th), 0.7 HR/ 9 IP (Tied 1st), 11.2 K/9 IP (6th), his 2.79 FIP (1st – it measures effectiveness in preventing HRs, BBs, HBPs and causing Ks) are all top notch.

So why did the Astros not try to tie up Morton for two or three years? Well, he was 35 y.o., though Justin Verlander who they did extend is one year older. He did miss time in both 2017 and 2018 with injuries, though he did pitch very well for both seasons. Did Morton say he didn’t want to return – would only sign with Tampa Bay near his home? He never said it as an absolute.

Or was this a budget situation? Did they see bringing in Michael Brantley for about the same as Morton signed for as more of a sure thing due to their relative ages? According to Spotrac.com the Astros are currently within $6 million of the competitive tax limit. Did they not want to bust the budget? Is this affecting who they are chasing in a trade right now?

The odds are that the Astros thought that they had their rotation covered between Peacock, McHugh, Valdez, Cionel Perez, and James, with call-ups of Whitley, Martin or Bukauskas in their back pocket. They wanted to spend that money elsewhere.

Right now that looks like a mistake – their biggest mistake to date.

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Astros’ pitching: A short-term mess

Warm-up Tyler White! See if Max Stassi can extend that 0.00 ERA he has over 1/3 of an inning to another inning or two! Find out if anybody else on the 25-man roster ever pitched in the minors, college, high school, little league or on a video game.

The Astros are not only all hands on deck to begin this week, they are all arms on deck.

The Astros knew coming into this week that they would need to piece together something to cover Tuesday’s game with the Angels. But the news that Brad Peacock was heading back to Houston with some soreness in his pitching shoulder meant that he would not be coming off the IL to start Monday’s game. Since, Jose Urquidy and Cy Sneed were sent back down to the minors and have not been down the required 10 days (Urquidy sent down on the 9th, Sneed on the 11th) they cannot be called on to help. Other pitchers who have been up to the majors and/or on the 40 man roster – Brady Rodgers and Cionel Perez are on the injured list and Rogelio Armenteros if called up for Tuesday’s game would only have had 3 days rest since his last start. Dean Deetz is on the 40 man, but is just back up to AAA after an injury and young Bryan Abreu has been knocked around at AA. Reymin Guduan? Oh lordy we hope not.

The Astros plan for Monday is to start Josh James (who pitched two strong innings on Saturday) and follow with Framber Valdez (who couldn’t get out of the first inning on Thursday in his last start). Best case would be to get a couple innings out of James and maybe five out of Valdez. Worst case…..we won’t talk about that.

Tuesday will be a very interesting day for the Astros who seemed to have all sorts of days off the last few weeks, but not this week. This might be some kind of of Armenteros / Chris Devenski / Joe Smith / White / Stassi sacrificial lamb game where they hope that the bats that came awake in Arlington the last three games continue to pound the opponents.

Or of course the Astros could finalize a trade for someone who just happens to have Tuesday as his day to pitch…..

Your guess is as good as this writer’s at this point. How do you think the Astros will bridge across the next couple games?

 

Considering the Astros’ weekend worries

Fans can’t help but feel like they are watching a real-life remake of the Tortoise or the Hare while following the 2019 Houston Astros.

“Why worry? We had six All Stars, more than any other team and that does not include Carlos Correa, who had an All Star season before it was rubbed out and Yordan Alvarez, who has been absolute beast since being called up.”

“Why worry? The other teams in the division are pretenders, not contenders.”

“Why worry? Nothing really matters until the playoffs. Just make sure you are playing well then.”

“Why worry? The Astros have a decent lead in the division and are not that far behind the best teams in the majors despite losing so many players to significant time to injuries.”

“Why worry? This front office can go out and add All-World pitchers like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole or reclamation projects like Charlie Morton and Wade Miley at the wink of a trade deadline.”

“Why worry? This teams pointy-headed nerds are always finding some statistical edge that tells them to throw 4 seam fastballs in the lower right quadrant of the strike zone in the 4th inning with a 2 run lead and the bases loaded and 2 out with a 2-2 count on alternate Tuesdays to one-up the competition.”

But of course, we do worry. because the hare seems to stop frequently these days for a rest while the tortoises like the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics dig into that lead. What if this time the clock runs out on a Verlander type deal at the deadline? What if the magical arms at the back end of the bullpen become chronic strugglers? What if the back of the rotation becomes instant losses every time out? What if the offense continues to mix shut out stinkers into their performances? What if the wrong guy gets hurt in September with no time to come back?

So, after watching the Astros sleepwalk through a Thursday loss and shockingly watch the tortoise overcome an 8-4 Astros’ lead for a 9-8 walk-off win against them on Friday night, where are you on worries?

Too soon to worry?

Never too soon to worry?

The three biggest concerns I have about the Astros are…

The Houston Astros meet Hollywood

Sports and the movies are both entertainment industries with their own stable of uber-celebrities down to bit players. Today we tie current Astros and management folks to famous movie quotes.

Justin Verlander (Quote One). “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Network, 1976

JV talking about how he believed MLB has juiced the balls at pitcher’s expense.

 Justin Verlander (Quote Two). “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The Godfather, 1972 

A quote from the pre-meeting with Joe Torreleone, Jim Leylandini and the mystery MLB enforcer about JV’s quotes about juiced baseballs.

 Tyler White (Quote One). “You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” On the Waterfront, 1954

Self-explanatory

Tyler White (Quote Two). “Hasta la vista, baby.” Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991​​​​​

General consensus send off in a few weeks.

 Gerrit Cole (Quote One). “Show me the money!” Jerry Maguire, 1996

Cole’s upcoming off-season….

Gerrit Cole (Quote Two). “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Wall Street, 1987

And again ……

Carlos Correa (Quote One). “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” Animal Crackers, 1930

His original explanation of his broken rib by massage.

Carlos Correa (Quote Two). “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke, 1967

What the front office said after Correa tried to explain his broken rib……

Myles Straw. “I feel the need – the need for speed!” Top Gun, 1986

You get it.

White, Derek Fisher, Reymin Guduan, Brady Rodgers. “Round up the usual suspects.” Casablanca, 1942

The front office attempting to fill in the 25 man roster during a tough run of injuries.

Yordan Alvarez. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca, 1942

The Houston fans whenever this Wunderkind comes to the plate

Forrest Whitley. “Houston, we have a problem.” Apollo 13, 1995

It’s not always great drafting high school pitchers with grade school temperaments in the first round

Jose Altuve. “Say “hello” to my little friend!” Scarface, 1983

Sorry, Jose. I couldn’t resist.

Rodgers, Guduan, Cionel Perez, Jose Urquidy. “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” Sons of the Desert, 1933

Sometimes relief is not the right word for pitchers (OK Urquidy has only started)

A.J. Hinch. “Snap out of it!” Moonstruck, 1987

A.J. talking to his troops after their recent 7 game losing streak.

Jeff Luhnow – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Jaws, 1975

What Jeff’s assistants tell him as he faces getting Brad Peacock, Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz back onto a full 25 man roster.

Jake Marisnick. “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Chinatown, 1974

What everyone tells Jake as gets a two-game suspension from the MLB for turning Jonathan Lucroy into a crash test dummy.

The whole 2017 Championship Astros team. “The stuff that dreams are made of.” The Maltese Falcon, 1941

You bet.

 The whole 2019 Astros team. “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Dead Poets Society, 1989

What all fans would tell the team facing the 2019 season

Your turn – what movie quotes would you apply?

Two For Tuesday: Cole and juiced balls

On a midsummer Tuesday following a video game Home Run Derby – let’s look at a couple subjects.

Has Gerrit Cole surpassed Justin Verlander as the Astros’ ace?

Even as late as the end of May this seemed like a silly question. Cole had ridiculous strikeout numbers but his ERA and W-L did not match up with JV. At the end of May they looked like the following:

Name W-L ERA WHIP HRS/9 IP BBs/9 IP Ks /9 IP
Cole 5-5 4.02 1.047 1.5 2.26 14.2
Verlander 8-2 2.27 0.784 1.48 1.94 10.8

However if you look at how each of them has performed through June and the beginning of July:

Name W-L ERA WHIP HRS/9 IP BBs/9 IP Ks /9 IP
Cole 4-0 1.60 0.978 1.0 2.0 11.6
Verlander 2-2 4.18 0.951 2.42 1.90 11.0

A couple things are interesting here.

First, Cole’s improvement has been tied to a reduction in K’s / 9 IP and an improvement in HRs / 9 IP allowed. His WHIP is just down a little, but his ERA is so much better. He has obviously done a better job of getting outs without wearing himself out as much with Ks.

On the other hand, Verlander (see his complaint below) has one place to look for most of his slide down since May and that is on a huge 2.42 HRs/ 9 IP allowed. His WHIP is worse, but the big problem he has had is in allowing so many HRs.

So is Cole the new ace or is this just a short term swap of roles. In 2018, both pitchers were excellent with JV just slightly more excellent.  This year, JV is still slightly ahead in overall performance, but that is getting ready to flip.

Bottom line, Cole has a lot in common with the US Mint. They are both making a lot of money lately. Cole should sign a huge contract in the off-season and it will not likely be here.

As friend of the blog AC45 pointed out, Justin Verlander made claims at the All Star Game festivities that the MLB through their purchase of Rawlings had purposely juiced baseballs to raise the scoring and excitement in the game.

https://www.chron.com/sports/astros/article/Justin-Verlander-blames-MLB-for-juiced-baseballs-14082029.php

Does it matter and do you care?

I’m sure to purists it does matter if the ball has been juiced in order to artificially amp up the excitement in the most calm and cerebral of the 3 major sports in the U.S.  Baseball is headed for another record breaking year in total HRs. The HR Derby was insane as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit 91 total HRs (enough to make Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa blush) and lost. Runs are sexy and home runs are apparently super-sexy.

One question sticks out when it comes to Justin Verlander. Is it purely juiced baseballs or is it also baseballs being thrown very hard and high in the strike zone with super spin that hitters are looking for now? It feels like some of both.

The bigger question is does this matter to the normal fan as long as both teams are hitting the same baseball – juiced or not?

When Alex Bregman hits a respectable 16 HRs in the Home Run Derby and then says he may have to quit the derby because he just can’t compete, it makes one wonder. Baseball has always had a lot of appeal to the everyday fan, because most of the players are the size of them or their neighbors. Are we headed to an era when the players are all Aaron Judges, Giancarlo Stantons – behemoths built like power forwards or tight ends?

Maybe it does not matter much now, but maybe someday it will.

10 mid-season questions for the Astros

Your loyal servant has a few minutes to toss out a post, so here are 10 questions near the mid-season mark for the Astros and their fans?

  1. Which team in the AL West do you fear the most this season? Entering Saturday the A’s are 6 1/2 games back, the Rangers are 8 back, the Angels 10 1/2 back, and the M’s infinity back…
  2. Is there anyone from inside the organization, who can help the Astros with their bottom of the rotation problems? Collin McHugh? Framber Valdez? Josh James? J.B. Bukauskas? Jose Urquidy? Forrest Whitley? Others?
  3. Are the Yankees the biggest hurdle for an Astro’s championship this season? The Twins and Rays are very good teams. The Red Sox are always dangerous. The Dodgers are slightly ahead of the Yanks in-season record though the Yanks have done a lot of it with an All Star team on the IL. The Braves are solid but untested.
  4. What will the Astros do when Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz return after the break (some time)? Yordan Alvarez is up for good. Myles Straw can be a game changer at times. Are both Tyler White and Tony Kemp at risk of a DFA?
  5. How do you feel about the 2019 season compared to the 2017 and 2018 seasons as far as this team’s chances are?
  6. Who has been the biggest surprise for you this season among new Astros? Smooth consistent Michael Brantley? Powerful Robinson Chirinos? Super sub-Aledmys Diaz? Super rookie Aledmys Diaz? Quietly effective Wade Miley?
  7. When (not if) will the Astros make a deal for another starter for the pitching staff? At the All Star Break? Shortly after? At the deadline?
  8. What will the Astros do about the backup catcher spot with Max Stassi (great pitch framer, hopeless at the bat – .179 BA/ .475 OPS)? Bring Garrett Stubbs back up? Search for another Martin Maldonado?
  9. Who do you think will improve the most in the second half of the season? Jose Altuve, who has had the worse start of his career? Alex Bregman (who has been terrible with runners on base)? Yuli Gurriel who has just caught fire after a lesson from Carlos Beltran? Other?
  10. Does iron man Justin Verlander need more than an All Star break (which includes playing at the ASG) as a breather?

What are your answers to these questions? Do you have any other questions you want to throw out there?

Can the Astros’ wrap up George Springer?

Today we make apologies to Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland…..

He’s no longer the young apprentice
But he’s not as old as Jeff Kent is
Hypnotized by him if we should linger
Staring at a four hundred foot dinger

He’s got a lot of baseball knowledge
Things he learned since Connecticut college
We can see his destiny foretold if he starts chasing that jangling bag of gold

Luhnow will be wrapping up George Springer,
Luhnow will be wrapping up George Springer
Hope King Midas is not his name
That old Georgie has a lot of game
He will listen hard to contract submissions
We hope the Astros offer comes to its fruition
Luhnow will be wrapping up George Springer
Luhnow will be wrapping up George Springer

Altuve and Bregman bat behind G.
One of the toughest lineups you will ever see

He’s more than just a home run blaster
Though Myles Straw is a good bit faster

Luhnow will be wrapping up George Springer
Luhnow will be wrapping up George Springer

A little side step as we spend a couple minutes looking at George vs. one of his teammates.

Perception accounts for a lot when it comes to the fans feelings about two of their most talented players – George Springer and Carlos Correa. Here’s a little discussion from last week on Carlos….. https://chipalatta.com/2019/06/27/how-do-you-solve-a-problem-like-correa/

In general, folks think that Springer is genuine, is a huge team player and is in many ways the heart of the team’s clubhouse and dugout….and this seems to be true. Correa is thought to be a bit more of a “me first” player and someone who is halfway out the door – which is likely a fair bit of speculation. Oh, and folks question Correa’s heart a bit relative to staying on the field.

The following table shows what each player would be expected to produce over a 162 game average based on their career numbers to date.

Name BA OBP OPS Runs 2B’s HR’s RBIs
Springer .269 .359 .840 115 29 33 90
Correa .279 .356 .840 92 36 29 118

Not a ton to choose from here. Pretty even between the two – Springer scores more because he leads off – Correa knocks in more runs because he is in the middle of the lineup.

But of course, Springer is worth more because he comes closer to playing in 162 games than the fragile Correa does. Right? No, that is not true.

Since Springer came up he has played in a little less than 77% of games the Astros played in that time frame as he missed significant time in 2014, 2015, and 2017-2019. Correa has played in a little more than 77% of games the Astros played since his call-up in 2015 as he has missed significant time in 2017-2019. So when you think about pursuing one over the other, ability to stay on the field is a toss-up. And Correa is about 5 years younger…..

But concentrating purely on Springer and his situation, he is currently finishing up the 2nd year of a 2 year / $24 million contract that bought out two arbitration years. He can be brought back in 2020 for his final arbitration year before free agency. The way he was playing to start the season, he looked like he might be headed for a Mookie Betts type of $20 million payout for 2020. With missing a month of the season so far, you would think it would be tempered back to something in the range of $14-15 million.

So what are the options?

  • Extend Springer. On the plus side, he is not represented by Scott (Let Keuchel and Kimbrel rot until June) Boras. And also Springer and his reps may be looking at what has happened to free agents on the wrong side of 30. By the time the 2020 season ends, Springer will be 31 y.o. A possible model to look at would be the 3 yr / $50 million contract the A’s Khris Davis signed this last off-season buying out his last season of arbitration, plus 2 years of free agency when Davis was facing free agency at 31 y.o. after the 2019 season. Davis, while more powerful and more of an RBI man than Springer is not as good a hitter for batting average or on base and not as good a fielder or runner. But he is more durable (three straight seasons with 150 games or more). So, maybe dangle 3 yrs $55 million for George and see if that moves his needle. If not that – maybe pony up another season on that offer.
  • Let him go through arbitration and then compete to sign him on the other side. Obviously, this risks losing him to a silly contract from a deep pockets team. It would probably save $2 or 3 million for his arbitration year and who knows what the market will look like after 2020. But it is still a risk.
  • Have him go through arbitration and then trade him at the 2020 deadline. This just does not seem quite right. The team has not chosen to trade a relied-upon, big time major league asset since the dark days of the franchise. A trade including Springer would only happen if the team totally fell out of the race and they had indications that Springer was not interested in staying.

A few questions for you:

  • Not quite Sophie’s Choice – but if you could only afford to sign Springer or Correa – who would you choose and why?
  • Of the three options related to Springer which one do you think the team will pursue? Which one do you think they should pursue?
  • If you thought there was no way to re-sign Springer during the 2020 season would you trade him for prospects? Would the team have to be out of it?