Running down the rosters: Houston Astros


The 2012 Astros are pretty sure bets to lose 100 games, with the big question being whether they’ll top last year’s mark of 106 losses. That achievement will be tied to their ability to move the contracts of Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Carlos Lee. Ideally, they’d be able to sell off at least the latter two. Still, as marginal as Myers and Lee have become, they still rank among the team’s better players.

Wandy Rodriguez – L
Brett Myers – R
Bud Norris – R
J.A. Happ – L
Livan Hernandez – R

Wilton Lopez – R
David Carpenter – R
Sergio Escalona – L
Wesley Wright – L
Juan Abreu – R
Fernando Rodriguez – R
Rhiner Cruz – R (Rule 5)

Disabled list: Brandon Lyon – R
SP next in line: Jordan Lyles (R), Zach Duke (L), Kyle Weiland (R), Henry Sosa (R), Paul Clemens (R), Lucas Harrell (R)
RP next in line: Fernando Abad (L), Aneury Rodriguez (R), Jose Valdez (R), Enerio Del Rosario (R)

I had Lyles penciled into the rotation before the Hernandez and Duke signings, but unless Rodriguez or Myers is dealt this spring, now it seems likely that he’ll get some additional minor league seasoning. That’s probably for the best. Lyles held his own in the majors last season, but he’s just 21 and he still has some work to do.

The bullpen will be one of the game’s least experienced even if Lyon makes it back from shoulder surgery and contributes this season. I think it’s a long shot that he’ll prove useful, but since he’s making $5.5 million, he’ll probably get a chance to close if he proves healthy. In the meantime, just about anyone could win the job. Lopez has far and away the best track record, but no one seems to buy him as a long-term option as a closer. Carpenter might be the better bet. Abreu has the best stuff of the group, but his control is awful.

I’m giving Cruz a spot initially, though I’m skeptical he’ll be of any use.

CF Jordan Schafer – L
2B Jose Altuve – R
SS Jed Lowrie – S
1B Carlos Lee – R
LF J.D. Martinez – R
RF Brian Bogusevic – L
3B Jimmy Paredes – S
C Jason Castro – R

C Chris Snyder – R
INF Matt Downs – R
INF Marwin Gonzalez – S (Rule 5)
OF Jack Cust – L
OF Jason Bourgeois – R

Next in line: C Humberto Quintero (R), INF Angel Sanchez (R), 3B Chris Johnson (R), 1B Brett Wallace (L), INF-OF Brian Bixler (R), OF Travis Buck (L), OF Fernando Martinez (L), OF J.B. Shuck (L), OF Justin Ruggiano (R)

That’s the lineup of a team that simply doesn’t figure to score many runs. The Astros would probably be better off for 2012 with Downs at third base and Cust in left field, with Martinez sliding to right, but those make for small gains and they might as well see if Paredes and Bogusevic belong in their future plans. I’m not really expecting either to stick.

The more important players here are Schafer, Lowrie and Castro. If they can overcome their injury histories, then they might join Altuve on a competitive Astros team come 2014. No one from the group ever figures to become an All-Star (well, except for the fact that someone will have to represent the Astros in the Midsummer Classic), but they can be solid players at key positions. When the Astros are ready to contend again someday, it’ll be easier to upgrade at the corners than it will be up the middle.

New tax law could affect MLB trades

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Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.

A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.