With the Astros off to a 9-18 start and headed for fewer than 75 wins for the third time in four seasons, Lance Berkman said yesterday that he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if asked. He also said that if he were running the Astros he’d probably be trying to trade himself:
If it was me and I was running the show here, if we didn’t make a great comeback like we did in ’05 and be sort of around .500 by the All-Star break, I’d try to trade every veteran I could to reload. That’s the quickest way you’re going to be able to reload and get it going in the right direction. …
I’m not saying we’re at the point where they should start pulling the plug on us, but they need to start thinking forward. If this thing keeps going like this, they’ve gotta do something. If you’re running a team, you don’t want to get caught in baseball purgatory–where you’re not really getting young and you’re not really [competing]. Where you’re in this deal where every year you’re signing a marginal veteran and you just never get in the mix.
Astros fans probably don’t want to hear that, but Berkman is right on the money. In fact, based on that very reasoned and logical quote the Astros might be better off if he were indeed “running the show.” Houston has long been stuck between contending and rebuilding–with offseason signings Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon clearly fitting the “marginal veteran” label–and the end result is a poor MLB team, a lacking farm system, and little short-term hope.
Berkman is making $14.5 million this season and the Astros hold a $15 million option or $2 million buyout for 2011, but the 34-year-old first baseman seems ready to move on:
As a player, if they came to me and said, “Hey, we’ve got a deal to go to a contender,” I’d take it. Heck, it’s only a three- or four-month deal. It’s not like I’m signing on for 10 years with another team. … I have been fortunate to play on at least competitive teams for most of my career, and it just stinks, you know, when you’re getting older and really want to win.
And then you kind of think, “Aw, man, how long before we win here?” This organization has been great to me. I love the Houston Astros. No matter what happens, I’m always going to be an Astro at heart. But as you get older, you definitely start to look at things like that, and you say, “How many sub-.500 seasons do you want to play?”
If general manager Ed Wade asks himself the same question part of the answer should be trading Berkman.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.
Twins’ right-handed pitching prospect Yorman Landa passed away in a tragic car accident on Friday night, per a team statement. According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, 22-year-old Landa was in the passenger seat of the vehicle when it struck a fallen tree.
Daniel Szew, Landa’s agent, spoke highly of the young pitcher, who was one of his first clients back in 2010. Szew acknowledged Landa for helping him expand his company, LA Sports Management, and referred to the late pitcher as a leader and his “little brother.”
He was very even-keeled,” Szew said. “That was his personality. He wasn’t wild. That’s why this is so tragic. He wasn’t a wild guy. He was a happy-go-lucky guy who took life as it came, and he was super happy — always happy.
If leadership was one facet of Landa’s personality, so was loyalty. The 22-year-old agreed to a minor league contract with the Twins on Tuesday after getting cut from the 40-man roster, fulfilling a promise to re-sign with the club despite fielding multiple offers from competing teams. The deal included an invite to spring training, and comments from his agent suggested that the right-hander was “super confident” he’d break through to the major leagues in 2017, notwithstanding a troublesome shoulder injury that hampered his progress in High-A Fort Myers during the 2016 season.
“He never wanted to leave,” Szew told Berardino. “It was the only organization he ever knew.”
Our condolences go out to Landa’s family and the Twins organization during this terrible time.