Free Agency Report: National League, Part VII
Despite his Congressional transgressions, Miguel Tejada should be the Astro starting shortstop this season.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all our readers. Today’s a good day to take a break from your sports viewing and take your wife/significant other out for dinner. Maybe you’ll even get porked tonight if you’re good!
Anyways, we’ve been concentrating on basketball and hockey lately, but with February well entrenched and Spring Training workouts already underway, it’s time to switch gears and get back to our Free Agency Report. Previous parts – American League Part I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII , IX and X.
After bottoming out in 2007 with 72 wins, the Houston Astros rode a huge second half to 86 wins last season, their 15th winning campaign in the last 17 years. This was a truly amazing feat, given that the team was 47-56 on July 26. But a huge finish — a 39-19 mark from that point on, despite a crushing five-game losing skid in mid-September – allowed Houston to claw its way back into the wild card race.
It’s conceivable with some fine-tuning to the rotation, this team could take a run at the NL Wild Card and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
But first the Astros have some issues to sort out, not the least of which is what in the hell is going to happen to Miguel Tejada after he admitted lying to congress in connection with his testimony in 2005 about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, an area we covered extensively in our series on The Mitchell Report. He could face up to a year in jail, but most expect a much lighter sentence, likely just probation. So as we write, you can expect Tejada to be manning shortstop for the Astros on Opening Day.
The Astros did very little this offseason to improve the offense, despite talk that they were thinking of making a run at Adam Dunn. Led by Jose Valverde, the bullpen is solid, but as discussed, the rotation needs work.
Houston did add Mike Hampton to the rotation, but is it realistic to expect him to log more than 20 starts? Swingman Chris Sampson made 11 starts last year, and will be considered for a rotation spot, but is clearly better suited to be a reliever. The Astros could really use one more solid starter to add to this mix.
And given that they had five free agents to deal with this offseason, Houston had its work cut out for itself as it attempted to build on last season’s rebound. Fortunately, it re-signed the two key members of its bullpen who were free agents, allowing the rest of this class to head west.
Brad Ausmus, C: Never much of an offensive talent, Ausmus was reduced to a role player for Houston in 2008, losing whatever slim fantasy value he had. He used to at least see plenty of PT, not that this made him attractive, but a career worst 15 runs? Yikes. Ausmus has finally left the Astros, signing with the Dodgers, and leaving his main competitors last season – Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles to battle for the starting gig.
Doug Brocail, RHP: Brocail’s command was superb last year, so despite bottom line results that weren’t quite in line with what he achieved with the Padres in 2007 – a fact that didn’t surprise us — he remains a top set-up man. Houston obviously recognized this when it re-signed him for another year plus an option for 2010, bringing back a key component of a solid bullpen that again looks like it will be a team strength.
LaTroy Hawkins, RHP: We already documented how poorly Hawkins pitched with the Yankees, but everything changed when he was dealt to the Astros. His command suddenly did a 180, and he settled in as one of the top set-up men on the ‘Stros. Small wonder they wasted little time in re-signing him this offseason, so he’ll reprise his role in the pen behind Valverde and Brocail.
Mark Loretta, 2B: Loretta showed solid gap power as a key member of the Astro bench last season, and drew the attention of a few teams before earning himself a similar role on the Dodgers this year. Combined with Ausmus, that’s two key role players the Dodgers pilfered from the Astros. Throw in Randy Wolf (below) and you’ve got yourself the Los Angeles Astros.
Randy Wolf, LHP: As we expected, Wolf didn’t survive the trade deadline last year, coming over from San Diego to Houston, and his solid late-season work helped spur the Astro second-half run. Finally healthy, Wolf would have been a good arm to bring back, but Houston was unable to outbid the Dodgers, losing yet another of their free agents to LA. This one may hurt, especially since Houston also lost out in its attempts to lure Braden Looper to town.
Next: We’ll head west and check in on the Los Angeles Astros, er, Dodgers.