Results tagged ‘ Humberto Quintero ’

Rosenthal Weighs In

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal included a blurb about the Astros in this article:

The Astros are at their payroll limit, but would like to add a left-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Jason Michaels if they go with Carlos Lee over Brett Wallace at first base, which is hardly a sure thing. Wallace is hitting .362/.388/.617 this spring.

The team’s greater need is a replacement for catcher Jason Castro, who is out for the season due to a torn ACL in his right knee. The Astros like the Royals’ Brayan Pena, but the Royals won’t trade him with Jason Kendall still recovering from shoulder surgery.

I know I’ve been something of a J.R. Towles fanboy, and I understand that the team might be reluctant to give him another shot to translate his skills to the Major League level, but if going .344/.382/.594 in Spring Training, with more at-bats than any other player at your position, doesn’t earn you a chance to be the starting catcher, then I don’t know why we even have Spring Training. Of course, I understand that Humberto Quintero and Chris Corporan have posted comparable, and at times better, numbers. But Towles’ minor league production backs up his spring numbers, and I just happen to think he’s due one last chance to either be the starting catcher or to be traded or released.

As for the speculation about Carlos Lee, I think Brett Wallace has to be installed as the everyday first baseman to start the season. You have to believe that he’s going to find his power stroke at the major league level, and the thought of platooning Jason Michaels with any other options isn’t promising. Brian Bogusevic, the obvious in-choice left-handed outfielder, isn’t performing well this spring and needs to swing the bat a few more times in Oklahoma City before he should be called up. That means going out and getting a free agent, which more or less is limited to Ryan Church, as every other option with big league experience is right-handed, to my knowledge.

So, really, it just makes much more sense to me to put Lee and his diminished defense in left field, with Wallace and his potential big bat at first; rather than Lee at first and a combination of Jason Michaels and any other human being in left field.

Backstop

It seems like an annual Astros’ Spring Training rite: Determining who the starting catcher will be.  This year, and for the foreseeable future, you can blame Ed Wade and the gang for assuming that they’d locked the question up.  Jason Castro was going to be given the reins of the team.  That much, then, was settled.

Until it wasn’t.

Castro’s season came to a screeching halt when he tore the ACL in his right knee, leaving the Astros once again fielding the question: Who will start at catcher?

Defensive stalwart Humberto Quintero is an option, if not a great one on the offensive side of the plate; former top prospect J.R. Towles is also lingering around, after a few unsuccessful major league stints.  

There are a few options that may be available via trade, but in my opinion, a rebuilding team like the Astros would be foolish to give away any piece of merit for what amounts to being – at best – a one-year stopgap behind the plate.

Then there’s Bengie Molina.

Molina, a thirteen-year veteran with the Angels, Blue Jays, Giants, and Rangers, is leaning towards retirement, but has said that he would be open to signing with a team where he could get full-time employment.

He would certainly become the number one option behind the plate, probably with Quintero filling in from the bench.  He would no doubt be available at a reasonable price, similar to the Ivan Rodriguez deal.

Though last year was not a good one for Molina, it was the first time since 2003 that he slugged below .400.  The last time the Astros had a catcher with over 150 plate appearances who slugged .400 or better, the year was 2001 and the catcher’s name was Tony Eusebio.  Molina also brings a veteran presence to a team that seems to get younger by the minute.

KLx3

Berkman Line 04-24.JPG

I didn’t want to believe it.  I really didn’t.  I didn’t want to believe that Lance Berkman was really in a slump, despite all evidence to the contrary.  I wanted to think it was just a slow start, or whatever else one might call a slump without actually using the word slump.

Lance Berkman simply doesn’t go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.  Ever.  Right?  He’s gone ofer with at least three strike outs only 18 times in his 1,388 games.  Before tonight, he hadn’t done it since… well, since April 13th of this year, when Zach Duke made the whole Astros lineup look ridiculous.

There seemed to be a lot of frustration today at the plate for Berkman, who seemed fairly convinced that he was getting the raw end of some bad calls.  But was he?  Here are his strikeouts, in order.  First the fourth inning:

Berkman KL1 4th Inn.JPGNow the sixth inning:
Berkman KL2 6th Inn.JPGAnd on to the ninth:
Berkman KL3 9th Inn.JPG
It’s important to note that these strike zones are not 100% accurate, but they’re close.  Though Lance argued the calls, as you can see, every strike was within the zone except for one – which was actually a foul.  If anything, he got a favorable call on a ball within the zone.

I know Berkman must be frustrated.  He’s batting .186, after all.  Prior to this season, he hadn’t had a lower average since April 1, 2008 – the second game of the season – when he’d started 1-for-7. 

He’s slumping.  But he’s a great hitter, and he’ll get through it. 


Work It

Once again, the Astros hitters seemed in an awful hurry.  Yovani Gallardo took just 106 pitches to throw a complete game. The only good news is that the Brewers seemed to be in an equal hurry – at least until the fifth inning.  It took Felipe Paulino 91 pitches to get through six innings.

Only three times did Astros hitters have a plate appearance of over five innings: Miguel Tejada‘s 4th inning at-bat (6); Lance Berkman‘s 4th inning at-bat (7); Michael Bourn‘s 6th inning at-bat (6).

Cameron Quintero.JPGYou Know What

The play at the plate.  Hunter Pence throws a perfect strike to the plate, which beats Mike Cameron by five steps.  Humberto Quintero is up the line, bracing for impact, when Cameron levels him.  Helmets go flying.  Cameron is out.  Quintero is… well, out.  As in out of the game.

Was it a clean play?  I guess.  That’s all I can say; I guess.  I just hate these plays.  If someone was running to first base, curled up, and unloaded on a waiting first baseman, everyone would call it dirty.  When it’s at the plate, it seems, it’s all fair game.

I’m not going to condemn Mike Cameron, though I didn’t like the play.  He was beaten by several steps and pretty far up the line.

Questions of morality aside, it leaves the Astros with a hole to fill.  Besides Quintero and Ivan Rodriguez, the only other catcher on the 40-man roster is J.R. Towles, who is still out after fouling a ball off of his own helmet during a game at Round Rock earlier this week. 

That begs the question: Who is the “emergency catcher?”  That is probably Jason Smith, who played 33 games at catcher when he was with the Toledo Mudhens (DET) in 2004.

Just don’t tell Coop that there’s another bizarre roster option.

Speaking of Coop…

Jeff Keppinger had an eight-game hitting streak going – his entire Astro career – when Cecil Cooper decided it would be a good idea to pull him off the bench as a pinch-hitter against righty Gallardo. 

Jason Smith and Jason Michaels were available – but Cooper decided to put Keppinger’s hitting streak on the line, which then promptly ended when Kepp predictably grounded out to the shortstop.

This is either due to Cooper’s belief in Keppinger, who has insane lefty-righty splits over his career; or his desire to stay away from putting Smith at the plate late in the game, for which he was rightly criticized not long ago.  Either way, I thought it a pretty weak move to sacrifice Kepp’s streak for an at-bat with two outs in the ninth inning; down by three runs.

Ausmus Wins, Ausmus Wins

…for the Dodgers.  A two-out single in the ninth to break a tie game and propel them to a 6-5 victory.  I’m a little annoyed that Joe Torre started Ausmus the day after the Houston series, but it’s his team, and I can’t argue with how he’s running it.

[Has anyone else noticed that Ausmus is wearing #12 for the Dodgers, which was previously worn by former Astro Jeff Kent?  Prior to that, it was worn by former Astro Steve Finley.  In fact, the last time the Dodgers had a #12 who wasn't a former Astro was 1998, when Mike Devereaux and Jim Eisenreich wore the number for the Trolley Dodgers.]

DodgerBrad.jpg

Peanut Brittle

If Quintero is unable to go tomorrow, he joins Jose Valverde, Doug Brocail, and Brian Moehler as players from the Opening Day roster who are unavailable.  And depending on what’s going on with Carlos Lee, who left in the seventh inning, that could be 20% of the Opening Day roster who is now unavailable to the club.

Yordany Ramirez and Brian Bogusevic are the minor league outfielders on the 40-man roster. 

If it was just an early double-switch, that’s even worse.  If that’s the case, and Lee isn’t actually injured, Coop should be fired tomorrow.  Tomorrow
.

Very Cool

Most of my readers probably don’t know who Greg Rybarczyk, but he’s one of the best minds in baseball statistics, and the creator of HitTracker.  Tonight, Greg was on ESPN.  Good for them to recognize him. 

http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/player.swf?mediaId=4094534

What Happened Was…

Houston Astros (MLB) – The Astros dropped a 5-2 decision to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The first day of Brian Moehler‘s rehab assignment went pretty smoothly.  When he stepped off of the mound after the first inning against the New Orleans Zephyrs (FLA), he’d taken just eleven days to retire the side in order.  When he stepped onto the mound to begin the second inning, he had a six run lead.  Not bad.  He pitched four innings – not enough to earn the win – and allowed three hits, three walks, and one earned run.  Yorman Bazardo would get the win in the 7-4 victory.  Apparently Chris Johnson was winded after playing his first game in nearly three weeks yesterday, and Mark Saccomanno was at third base, error-free.  Every starter got at least one hit in this one; OF Brian Bogusevic was 1-for-2 with 3 walks.  2B Matt Kata, of all people, was 3-for-4 with a double and a home run.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Catcher Brian Esposito‘s solo home run to start off the ninth inning for the Hooks was the only score they had all night, falling to the Frisco Roughriders (TEX), 5-1.  Douglas Arguello got the hard-luck loss, allowing a single run in 5.0 IP; Christopher Salamida allowed four runs in two innings in relief to seal the deal for Corpus Christi.  And you know I’m going to fill you in on Justin Smoak, who went 2-for-4. 

Lancaster Jetjhawks (A+) – The Jethawks were out of this one early, completely buried.  They trailed 8-0 going into the bottom of the eight… and won 11-8 in extra innings.  One run in the bottom of the eighth, a seven-run rally in the ninth, and a three-run walk-off home run by Koby Clemens in the tenth to beat the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAA).  OF Jonathan Gaston was 1-for-2 with his fifth home run of the season, and 2B Craig Corrado was 4-for-5 with a triple.  Clemens, who came off the bench as a pinch-hitter, was 2-for-2 with a double, the aforementioned home run, and 6 RBI.  Six.  That’s six RBI.  Jason Castro was 3-for-5.

Lexington Legends (A) – Had the rain only started a little earlier, the Lexington Legends might have won this game.  But it didn’t; the game was called after six innings – one inning after the Hickory Crawdads (TEX) put three runs up to win it, 3-1.  Robert Bono had struck out 5 in his 5.0 innings, with no walks, but allowed three runs on just four hits to take the loss.  Just two hits for the Legends in this one, so that makes DH/3B Kyle Miller the leader almost by default with a 1-for-2 line, his lone hit a double. 

Lightning I-Rod

I was happy to see that (Ivan) Rodriguez is no longer mentioning the
Astros as the teams who are supposedly interested in him. The latest
news I read listed only the Mets and Marlins. That is good, because
after checking with Ed Wade yet again today, I can assure you the
Astros are not pursuing him. And judging from the irritated look on his
face, I can also assure you I won’t be asking him about Pudge again
anytime soon. At least not for two weeks. Or maybe 10 days. At the very
least, I’ll wait a week.

Oh, and he’s not bidding on Pedro Martinez, either.

Ivan Rodriguez.jpg

This was from Alyson Footer’s blog, Alyson’s Footnotes, three days ago.  This morning, Roy Oswalt let loose with the scoop that he ran into Rodriguez at Dolphin Stadium during the WBC, and that Rodriguez greeted him with, “Hey, teammate.”

I respect and admire Alyson very much, and don’t blame her for the misdirection play Wade ran, despite many major media outlets continuing to say that the Astros were talking to Pudge’s agent, Scott Boras.  If that’s how he felt he needed to play it, then so be it.

Yes, following the WBC and a physical, Rodriguez is expected to sign with the Astros (please keep in mind that he has not signed – he is simply expected to.)

J.R. Towles.jpg

On the surface, I have to admit that this makes perfect sense.  The Astros’ catching situation is a quagmire.  Neither Humberto Quintero nor J.R. Towles has separated himself from the admittedly-abysmal pack this spring, and here is one of the best, if not the best catcher of his generation, looking for nothing more than playing time.

And a $1.5m deal, with another $1.5m in possible incentives, doesn’t break the bank.  Rodriguez comes with a solid resume.  He’s raking for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.  He may have single-handedly carried the Marlins to a World Series championship in 2003.  He’s probably the best dual offensive-defensive catcher since Johnny Bench.  And despite a tumultuous time in New York at the end of 2008, he finished the year going .276/.319/.394, which by far bests the current Astros duo of Towles and Quintero, who went a combined .185/.255/.306 at the big league level.

As far as moves go, it was an instant and decisive upgrade at a reasonable price, and most Astros fans should be thrilled.  As for me, I don’t really like the move.

Humberto Quintero.jpg

My last entry detailed a lot of why this is.  Over the past two seasons, Rodriguez has averaged 1.75 Win Shares with his offense and defense.  Quintero, almost the very definition of league-average, contributed 0.0.  Towles had -0.3.  This gives, at the most, a 2-3 game swing.  If that 2-3 wins is enough to get us into the playoffs, this is a great move.

If it isn’t, we’ve hurt ourselves in a few ways.  First, we’ve lost money.  Without knowing the incentives, let’s assume Pudge makes $3m in 2009.  Since he’s unlikely to make the team significantly more competitive by himself, it’s unlikely the attendance figures will increase from 2008.  In fact, a decrease in attendance is still more likely.  The money going to Rodriguez, a temporary stop-gap measure that may mean the difference between 3rd and 4th place in the weak NL Central, would be far better spent on signing bonuses and development, in my opinion.

Second, assuming we pick up those 2-3 wins, we’ve hurt ourselves in the 2010 June draft.  Last season, a 3-win swing could have hurt a team’s draft spot by as many as four draft picks (had Atlanta won three more games, they would have ended up drafting after Detroit, Cincinnati, Colorado, and Kansas City.)  Additionally, though Rodriguez is a Type-B Free Agent and therefore doesn’t require the surrender of a 2009 draft pick, the Yankees do receive a sandwich pick for him.  This means that there will be one more player off the board by the time we get to our second round pick, after what was already going to be the longest first round in history.

If I’m wrong and Pudge helps whip the pitching staff into shape and ignites the offense, batting second in the order and providing multiple opportunities for Berkman, Lee, Tejada, and Pence, propelling us into the playoffs, then I’ll be happy to be wrong.

But if all he does is put us into the hunt for a Wild Card late in the season, it will actually have turned out to have been a bad move for a team that needs to re-stock its farm system.



(Note: I was working on an article about the Boston Red Sox to post today.  However, due to some unforeseen time constraints and this breaking news, I will have to delay it.  I hope to have it completed by the end of the week.)

When Losing Is Winning

The Astros’ winless streak in Grapefruit League action has hit fourteen after a double loss in split-squad action today.  To hear the players talk, it seems as if no one’s worried.  To hear fans of other teams – who don’t follow the Astros regularly – it’s daunting, but they seem so sure that the Astros will turn it around.

And, yes, there are a lot of factors.  However, I’m not so sure it’s reasonable to expect April 6th to arrive and see the Astros suddenly start winning.

Were situations reversed, I would not exactly feel as optimistic as I now feel pessimistic.  In other words, were the Astros to win their final twenty exhibition games heading into the regular season, I certainly still wouldn’t expect us to finish first in the NL Central this season.  So why, after losing or tying fourteen straight (which actually isn’t entirely accurate, as we did beat Panama back on March 5 — with one of our biggest sluggers, Carlos Lee, playing for the other team.

So I remain tempered, but it does lead to one question: If the Astros tank this season, finishing fourth or worst in the Central, is that necessarily a bad thing?

The Astros over-performed in 2008.  Of the top 17 teams in the overall standings, only one had a negative run differential: The Astros, with a -31 differential between runs allowed and runs scored.  Every other team with a negative run differential finished in the bottom 13. 

In other words, 16 teams scored more runs in 2008 than they allowed.  14 teams allowed more than they scored.  With one exception – the Astros – the ones that scored more finished on top, and the ones that allowed more finished on the bottom.

The Astros bested their Pythagorean W-L by nine games, finishing third in the NL Central at 86-75.  Had they finished at 77-84, as their Pythagorean W-L suggests they should have, they would have been fourth in the Central.  Not a big discrepancy, perhaps, but what were the ramifications, ultimately?

The Astros’ over-performance did not lead to a playoff appearance.  What it did do, however, was give them 11th-best record in baseball – as opposed to the 18th-best, as their Pythagorean W-L suggests they should have had.  In real-world terms, this translates to a #21 draft pick, instead of a #14 pick (the Nationals will receive the #11 pick for failing to sign last year’s pick, Aaron Crow.)

The 2009 draft will feature the longest-ever wait in history between the first pick of the first round and the first pick of the second round.  Two teams – the Nats and Yankees – will have additional first-round picks for failure to sign last year’s draft picks.  There will be 13 sandwich picks.  This means that top-tier talent will be greatly depleted by the time teams begin picking in the second round.

That makes those seven lost spots very key.  Not necessarily in the first round, but beginning in the second round especially. 

One thing that generally puts the Astros a little higher-up on organizational rankings than other teams with superior farm systems is that, for better or worse, owner Drayton McLane is willing to spend money.  They are generally in the top half of the league in payroll.  This marks one truism: The team has been willing to trade for veterans at the deadline when it appears that they will be competitive, and sign free agents when they think that they might help the team make a run.

The problem is that those trades have depleted the farm system over the years, and the free agent signings have given away draft picks, which has hindered the re-loading of that farm system.  Questionable drafting has not exactly helped.  Catcher Jason Castro is the team’s most highly-ranked prospect according to Baseball America at #53 (Justin Smoak, who the Astros skipped over to get to Castro in the draft, is ranked #23 for the Rangers, but never mind…) and he is a legitimate catching prospect who is expected to be solid, though not an All-Star caliber offensive threat.

No other Astros prospect appears in the Top 100.

These are signs that the farm system desperately needs an overhaul.  And the only way to do that, shy of dealing established veteran for farmhands, is through the draft.  Scouting Director Bobby Heck helped rebuild a struggling Milwaukee Brewers team through the draft, and their system is now littered with the fruits of his efforts.

We seem to have the right guy in place right now.  So is now the time to return to our roots and build through the draft?  It would certainly seem so.

(Boring math follows.  Feel free to skip ahead.)

Were the Astros to add a free agent this offseason, it likely would have been a pitcher, catcher, or third baseman.  The third base market was weak, with Casey Blake as the standout.  Blake would have added approximately 1.6 wins in 2009 over Geoff Blum, according to FanGraphs, at a salary differential of +5.0.

Ivan Rodriguez, at catcher, would add approximately 1.9 wins over incumbent Humberto Quintero, at a salary differential of +12.0.  In other words, in spending a lot of money on Rodriguez and Blake, the Astros would have added a possible 3 wins.  Not a small number, but is it worth the cost?

It’s a little different in the pitching department.  In 2008, Brandon Backe cost the Astros an estimated 0.8 wins.  Adding an inning-eater, such as Jon Garland, would add approximately 2.1 wins, albeit at about ten times the cost. 

By not making these three signings, let’s say that the Astros have cost themselves five wins, and saved themselves 15-20 million dollars in salary by sacrificing those five wins. 

Five wins is significant.  In 2008, five wins would have put the Astros into the NL Wild Card spot.  The revenue would have increased as a result, which greatly helps offset the additional money spent.  In Houston’s two home games during the 2005 NL Division Series, they had attendance figures of 43,759 and 43,413.  Multiplying these numbers by their 2008 average ticket price of $28.73, we get an added revenue in ticket sales alone of $2,504,451.56.  This does not include merchandising or concessions, and assumes no price hike in playoff tickets.

Additionally, it stands to reason that a competitive team will receive a higher attendance average than the same team would if they were not competitive.  In each of the past three seasons, as the Astros have begun to look less competitive, their attendance has dropped by an average 121,638 fans per season.  Assuming a rate of sales from the 2005 season (3,022,763) at the 2008 average ticket price, the it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the Astros would have made about $5,887,294.14 more in the regular season through ticket sales alone.

Added to the added ticket revenue from the first-round playoff games, as well as a liberally-estimated $10m in additional concessions and merchandise sales, they’d stand to make $18,391,745.70 with five more wins – at the cost of $15-20m in additional salaries.

(End of math.  Read on with ease.)

There are, of course, other ways to spend that money.  Three key areas have been proven over time to drastically increase the number of wins that a team can expect over a sustainable period: Scouting, Development, and Signing Bonuses.

When Castro signed for $2,070,000, it was the second-highest bonus in team history, after Chris Burke’s $2,125,000 in 2001.  Of the top five bonuses in team history, three have come since 2005: Castro, Max Sapp ($1,400,000), and Brian Bogusevic ($1,375,000).  Not coincidentally, Bogusevic and Castro are among the organization’s top three prospects.  Sapp, who was recentl
y hospitalized with viral meningitis, may never play baseball again. 

What this means is that several years’ worth of players drafted while the team was “competitive” have not managed to surpass the promise of two players drafted with high draft picks in the past three seasons. 

By remaining where they are, and giving up a chance to compete for a Wild Card, the Astros are likely to better place themselves in position to get one, and possibly two top-tier prospects in the 2010 draft.  In my opinion, it’s far better to finish fourth or worst and put yourself into a better draft position than it is to finish third – still out of the playoffs, but without the draft pick to show for it.

And for a team whose number one priority has to be re-stocking their farm system, it may be better to underperform than to overperform, provided overperforming doesn’t put them in the playoffs.  That’s the tipping point.  If you can get into the playoffs, you can win it all.  But all teams outside of the playoffs are, for all intents and purposes, on a level playing field.  Twenty-two teams don’t make the playoffs every season.  If you’re going to be one of those teams, isn’t it better to have not spent $15-20m in the process?

That money, at this point, is better spent on the draft, scouting, and development of prospects, who can then be groomed and called up, giving the organization a far better – and affordable – chance to re-stock their major league talent than free agency can.

In other words, would you rather sign C.C. Sabathia at about $23m or draft David Price with a $5,600,000 bonus and pay him $400,000?  In theory, you could have 3 David Prices for the cost of one C.C. Sabathia.

It seems like a no-brainer to me.

Off Day

“We’ve had off days before. We’ve had off days on days when we played.”
- Whitey Herzog
An
off-day.  A day for the Houston Astros front office to get together and
decide what in the world they’re going to do.  A day to reflect.  A day
for the players to visit with their families.  With each other.  To try
and become a team.

A day when we can’t lose a game.  Which is
good, because on Saturday, we have a Split Squad game, so we can make
up for lost time by losing two.

Spring Training records don’t
matter, and thank goodness for that, because ours has been lousy. 
Let’s take a moment and recap the statistics of our presumed Opening
Day starters, shall we?
table.JPGPlease note that this does not include exhibition or WBC games.  These numbers are what most insiders would refer to as “bad.”

A team OBP of .272?  A team average of .182?  These are not good things.  A look at the pitching is even scarier.

Carlos Lee, our cleanup hitter, has grounded into as many double plays
(1) as he has hits.  I’m not worried about him, though.  He’ll be
fine.  He got to camp late, he went to play for Panama in the WBC. 
He’s an older guy, he may take longer to get there but I’m sure he will
get there.

In addition, Berkman (our #3 hitter) and Tejada (who will hit fifth or sixth) are doing just fine.  The heart of the order is not the concern, though.  Hunter Pence (who would hit 5th in an ideal lineup, but will probably end up 2nd or 6th) is striking out a lot as he works on getting deeper into counts, but he’s getting on base for the most part.  Michael Bourn is Michael Bourn – he’s doing better than most of us expected. 

That leaves Quintero, Blum, and Matsui.  Now, we all know that Quintero and Blum would not be starters on most rosters.  Blum is an invaluable utilityman who has only had 400+ at-bats twice in his 10-season career.  Quintero is an arm behind the plate who has only had more than 150 at-bats once, and that was last season.

These are not big surprises.  Matsui is a bit of a surprise, especially as he’s the de facto leadoff hitter for the Astros.  The good news is that he’s drastically under-performing right now, so it can generally be chalked up to a bad Spring.  Over the past two and a half seasons, he’s gone .297/.350/.427 in Colorado and Houston (admittedly two hitters’ parks, but that’s where he’ll be playing this year, as well.)

So it comes down to uncertainty about Bourn’s supposed progress, hope that Lee and Matsui will pick it up in time, and dread over the catcher and third base spots.

Simply put, Quintero is not an upgrade to Brad Ausmus, who opted to move out west to be closer to his family.  His other option was retiring, so it’s not as if we could have retained him.  And I realize he didn’t exactly swing a great stick, but over the past 8 seasons with the Astros, he went .240/.311/.319.  Quintero career minor league OBP is .311, there’s no reason to think he can be that productive at the major league level – after he “improved” at the end of last season in August and September after he became more or less the full-time catcher, he scraped together a .306 OBP.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, among catchers currently in our system, J.R. Towles‘ .302/.386/.476 over five minor league seasons makes him the best offensive option behind the plate, his poor showing in 2008 notwithstanding.

That said, we still may be better served going out and grabbing a catcher from outside of our system.  Toby Hall‘s injury spoiled things for him, but Johnny Estrada (.277/.317/.400), Paul Lo Duca (.286/.337/.409), and Ivan Rodriguez (.301/.339/.475) are all still available, and neither would cost us a draft pick.

Third base is a little bleaker.  It should be assumed that Christopher Johnson (.353/.409/.588 this Spring) is going to at least begin the season at AAA Round Rock, but will no doubt find his way to the Show as the long-term solution at third base.  Otherwise, he could end up in a position similar to what Towles was handed last year – given the reins a bit too early and written off once he’d failed as a result.

Until that time, we can probably look forward to a platoon of Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone.  In 2003, when that duo would have combined to go .265/.310/.261, that would have been mildly acceptable.  In 2009, when they combined to go .241/.293/.289 the previous year, it’s not quite as exciting (and it wasn’t all that exciting before.)

There’s no help in free agency, unless you were to shift Tejada to third (where he played in the WBC), Matsui to shortstop (where he played before switching positions with Jose Reyes in New York), and getting either Ray Durham or Mark Grudzielanek from free agency. That seems unlikely, so I suppose we’ll have to dig in and wait for the Chris Johnson era to start.  I’m cautiously optimistic that that could happen as early as May.

A word of caution, however, as Johnson’s minor league line (.266/.304/.395) is actually worse than the last promotion-from-within at third base, Morgan Ensberg‘s (.271/.381/.472).  Ultimately, Ensberg lost all confidence at the plate, but let’s remember that he did give us three very solid years at the big league level – 2003, 2004, and 2005 – before his collapse.  Even 2006, the beginning of his “downturn”, he boasted a .396 OBP and a .463 SLG. 

Free agent pitchers are less of a sure thing.  If we were going to enter the market, we’ve missed the window.  All that’s left are a few reclamation projects: Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, Ben Sheets, Kenny Rogers, Curt Schilling, El Duque, Sidney Ponson.  Upgrades over Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler?  Possibly.  But it’s unlikely we’d sign any of these guys, and I can’t really blame the FO for passing on them.

All told, it will be interesting to see how our team comes together.  If they come together.  At this point in Spring Training, the positives are few, but they exist.  And honestly, if it means that money goes into development and signing draft picks, I’m okay with no moves being made.  Let’s just hunker down and see if we can’t lose us some games!

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