Restoring the rosters: No. 19 – Houston

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
No. 21 – Tampa Bay
No. 20 – New York (NL)
Over the last decade, the Astros have done as poor of a job as any team in baseball in bringing in talent both in the draft and internationally. That they rank above 11 teams here is largely due to the treasure trove of prospects they signed out of Venezuela in the 1990s.
Rotation
Johan Santana
Roy Oswalt
Wandy Rodriguez
Bud Norris
Tim Redding
Bullpen
Brad Lidge
Chad Qualls
Billy Wagner
Juan Gutierrez
Fernando Nieve
Chris Sampson
Jamie Walker
Santana, of course, was plucked by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft in Dec. 1999.
The Astros lack depth because so few youngsters have come through the minor league system of late, but they do have a great front three in the rotation and a solid enough bullpen, even if Lidge and Wagner aren’t the properties they were.
Noris was an easy choice as the fourth starter, though I still think there’s a good chance he’ll prove to be a long-term reliever. Considered along with Redding for the fifth spot in the rotation were Freddy Garcia, Felipe Paulino and Matt Albers.
Lineup
2B Ben Zobrist
RF Bobby Abreu
1B Lance Berkman
CF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Guillen
C Ramon Castro
3B Melvin Mora
SS Julio Lugo
Bench
OF Josh Anderson
OF Jason Lane
INF-OF Eric Bruntlett
INF Aaron Miles
C John Buck
J.R. Towles was also considered for a bench spot, more as a third catcher/pinch-hitter than as a true backup for Castro. Lane was in the greatest danger of being bumped.
It’s an old lineup, but still a pretty good one, particularly if you want to believe that Zobrist is for real and Lugo has something left. There’s an awful lot of OBP at the top and no real liabilities besides maybe Mora at third base. Defense is a problem, and it does take a toll on the team’s ranking, as does the lack of depth. Pence is stretched in center, so Anderson will push him to left with a late lead. It might be that the team would be better off with Zobrist at shortstop and Lugo at second, but I’ve left the two where they’re playing now.
Summary
Santana, Abreu, Guillen, Mora, Garcia and Richard Hidalgo were all signed by the Astros out of Venezuela in the 1990s. Rodriguez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1999. The only key players here brought in this decade were Pence and Zobrist, both of whom were drafted in 2004. The Astros come in 19th for now, but with even guys like Oswalt and Berkman having seen their best years, they could rank in the bottom five in two years time. In five years, they might be dead last. At least the Astros seem to be valuing their draft picks higher now than they used to. They didn’t have any in 2003, 2004 or 2007. The team’s only first-round pick over the last 10 years to reach the majors was Chris Burke.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.