Know Your Enemy – Houston Astros

This is the first in a series of 5 articles that will try to get Pirate fans inside the organizations of the Pirates’ NL Central opponents. I explained the rationale behind these articles here.

First up will be the Houston Astros.  Frankly, I am shocked that it has finally sunk into Drayton McLane’s head that he needs to rebuild.  There is an outside chance that Ed Wade sent him on a trip around the world during the trading deadline and didn’t tell him about Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman being traded.  For the past few years, McLane has held steadfast to the premise that he could just reload and be right in the thick of the NL Central.

Payroll Committments 2011-2014 (does not include arbitration or min-scale players)

2011 — $35.25 million

2012 — $24.50 million

2013 — zero

2014 — zero

Included in that $35.25M for 2011 is $9 million for Berkman and Oswalt to not play for the Astros in 2011.

Estimated Payroll 2011 (includes arb and min-scale estimates)

All players with asterisks (*) next to their names have estimated salaries.  If a player is a first year guy, $400K, two years $425K, three years $450.  For a 3 year arbitration player, arb-1 is 40% of their market value, arb-2 is 60% of market value, and arb-3 is 80% of market value.  Again, these are only my estimates.

C — Jason Castro $400K (*)

1B — Brett Wallace $400K (*)

2B — Jeff Keppinger $2.1M (*)

SS — Free Agent $1.5M (*)

3B — Chris Johnson $400K (*)

LF — Carlos Lee $19M

CF — Michael Bourn $4.5M (*)

RF — Hunter Pence $5.5M (*)

SP1 — Wandy Rodriguez $7.5M (*)

SP2 — Brett Myers $7M

SP3 — JA Happ $500K (*)

SP4 — Felipe Paulino $1.7M (*)

SP5 — Bud Norris $425K (*)

Bench — Jason Michaels ($1M *), Angel Sanchez ($400K *), Brian Bogesevic ($400K *), Backup Catcher ($750K *), Corner Infielder ($750K *)

Bullpen — Brandon Lyon ($5.25M), Matt Lindstrom ($2.5M *), Chris Sampson ($1.2M *), Wesley Wright ($500K *), Sammy Gervacio ($425K *), Free Agent ($800K *), Mark Melancon ($400K *)

That sub-totals up to $65.325M plus $9M for Oswalt/Berkman’s salary relief for a grand total of $74.325M.  That is way, way too much money to spend on this team in 2011.

The good news is that the Astros may have found a short term 3B solution in Chris Johnson.  He hovered around the middle to back of their Top 10 prospect lists for a few years, but he has broken out with a .341/.369/.509 (878 OPS) this year.  However, that is fueled by an unsustainable .418 BABIP and a walk rate of only 4.6% with a strikeout rate of 23.5%.  Expect some regression next year, but he should be capable of manning the fort.

Historical Payrolls 2005-2010

2005 — $76.8M (89 W – 73 L)  *made playoffs

2006 — $92.6M (82 W – 80 L)

2007 — $87.8M (73 W – 89 L)

2008 — $88.9M (86 W – 75 L)

2009 — $103.0 M (74 W – 88 L)

2010 — $92.6M (59 W – 71 L, as of 8/30/10)

It seems as if the Astros hover around the high 80’s/low 90’s threshold for their payroll in recent years.  I can’t imagine it will be there next year, as they drastically need to shed contracts and rebuild, but you never know with their owner.

Bad Contracts

The Carlos Lee contract ($19M in 2011, $19M in 2012) is a millstone around the neck of this franchise that desperately needs to move in a youthful direction.

Brandon Lyon’s contract was a bad idea the day it was signed when Ed Wade gave him 3 years.  He will be making $5.25M in 2011 and $5.50M in 2012 to be a setup man primarily.

Potential Help From the Minor League System

The short answer is that there isn’t much help on the horizon, especially “impact level”.  After going through the rosters of the 4 full-season teams of the Astros, here are some guys that might be able to be starters (not bullpen/bench guys) and the estimated time of arrivals:

  • Jordan Lyles RHP (AA/AAA in 2010), 2011-2012
  • Koby Clemens 1B (AA), 2012
  • John Gaston/JD Martinez/TJ Steele OF (AA), one of the 3 at least by 2012
  • Jonathan Villar, SS (A+), 2013
  • Jay Austin OF (A+), 2013
  • Ross Seaton RHP (A+), 2013
  • Kyle Greenwalt RHP (A+), 2013
  • Jio Mier SS (A), 2014
  • Tanner Bushue RHP (A), 2013-2014

Of all these guys listed, it appears that only Lyles and Villar may be better than average major leaguers.  The others either are so far off right now or have such large holes in their game that it is difficult to predict more than that at this time.  Once Ross Seaton escapes the nightmare known as Lancaster, he’ll be fine as a back of the rotation pitching prospect.

This farm system is STILL one of the 5 worst in the game and the Astros in 2010 drafted a bunch of high school players at the top of the draft.  Players like Delino DeShields, Jr. and Mike Foltynewicz will not realistically help this team by 2014.  They really need to inject talent at the upper levels into this system.

What Should They Do? — The Astros should pretty much try to trade everybody over the age of 27, because I don’t see much hope for this team until 2013 at the earliest.  Rodriguez, Pence, and Bourn (none of which are untouchable stars) could all fetch a key prospect or two to help rebuild this terrible farm system.  At an absolute minimum they should trade Carlos Lee.  He is drastically overpaid for what he brings to any team, let alone one in need of a tear down.

Considering how onerous his contract is, I would at least try to swap it with another bad contract.  The one idea that jumped out to me was to trade Lee to the Angels for Scott Kazmir.  Now, this isn’t the Kazmir from a few years ago.  The tread is coming off the tire.  Even at age 26, he is a declining quantity in terms of innings, K rate, and the like.  But perhaps the Angels may go for a change of scenery type of trade.  Kazmir makes $12M in 2011 and has a $2.5M buyout in 2012

Why it’s good for the Angels — If the Astros trade Lee plus $5.5M (the difference in Kazmir’s total contract and Lee’s 2011 salary), it is “expenditure neutral” for the Angels in 2011.  Lee can replace Hideki Matsui’s expiring contract as the DH in 2011.  They’ll have to deal with Lee’s salary in 2012, of course.

Why it’s good for the Astros — The Astros lose Lee’s $19M from the books in 2012, which would greatly help the rebuilding effort.  Even though the Astros have a decent pitching staff in 2011, Kazmir could be a big addition with his move to the NL.  Norris could move into the bullpen where he may be better suited.  Plus, Kazmir is a Houston kid so it would be a homecoming for him and motivate him even more.  Who knows, if he gets a spark he could be a valuable trade chip in 2011 or the Astros may pick up his 2012 option.

They should non-tender: Tim Byrdak and Humberto Quintero.  For what they provide, they can find other options for their escalating salaries in arbitration.

They should not pick up the options for: Brian Moehler ($3M), and Geoff Blum ($1.65M).  Again, this team in this development cycle does not need these salaries.  Note — After this was published, it was discovered that Brett Myers signed a 2 year extension for ’11 and ’12 with a mutual option for ’13.  His $7M 2011 salary reflects this. KC.

What Will They Do? – The snarky answer would be, “Probably add a questionable free agent signing or two and try to contend,” but I think something has changed in Houston.  Trading Berkman and Oswalt was a sign that this just isn’t working.  A mood may be afoot to burn it all down and start over.

It would concern me if I were an Astros fan that any rebuild may involve starting Jordan Lyles off in the majors next April.  He will be 20 years old all of 2011’s season.  In August of this year, the Astros moved him up to AAA so they may be prepping him for his debut right out of the gate.  To me that would be rushing him and burning a valuable year of cost-controlled service time.

As long as Drayton McLane owns this team, there is always the possibility that the payroll will be right back into the high $80M mark in 2011, instead of the high $40’s (or lower) where it should be.

Trending Up, Trending Down, or In Flux? — The Astros are definitely trending down.  Unless they start some drastic selling off of contracts this offseason, they may try to ride the wave of Carlos Lee’s contract and Rodriguez/Pence/Bourn’s tenure with the Astros (through 2012 for all but Pence, 2011 for Rodriguez) until a full scale rebuild.  That’s a scary thought for Astros fans.

Up next: Chicago Cubs

Author: Kevin Creagh

Share This Post On