We are pretty much two months into the season, and the Astros have a 15-37 record, good for second to last in the majors (Marlins are two back). The Astros were clearly not trying to compete for the playoffs this year, so Jeff Luhnow decided not to spend big money for the 2013 season.
Instead of signing a big name free agent, Luhnow went out and signed several guys who were expected to provide decent numbers and be a great presence in a young locker room. Both the die-hard and realistic fan in me understood the reasoning behind the decisions. It made no sense to sign a big name free agents which many Astros fans were clamoring for. Fans wanted to see a good player, but for what reason? So they can provide maybe an extra five wins? Big whoop! In a season like this, the Astros don’t need big name free agents. It pains me to say this, but we need to lose. We need the top pick or top three pick. We need that one more of year of sucking so that we have (hopefully) top money in next year’s draft and international pool. Do I root for the Astros to lose on an everyday basis? Heck NO! I always want them to win, but when they lose, I just shake it off. Next year will be a bit different. With guys like Jonathan Singleton and George Springer likely in the majors, as well as improvement from others, the Astros will probably improve enough to not be a bottom five team. The free agent strategy will likely be similar for 2014, but the team will be better.
When the Astros signed the “veterans”, I wasn’t particularly excited about any one of them. As a matter of fact, several of them confused me, and still confuse me to this day. However, I understood the logic in signing these players. All these players were low cost veterans that have had some success in the majors league. We needed these “smaller” free agents to come and hopefully build up value. Once the value is up, Luhnow could ship them out and let the youngsters play in August. This strategy has almost no risk, but could proved decent reward.
Once spring training arrived, the Astros had signed five free agents that would be considered “veterans” for this Astros team. They were all given starting roles, and most are still on the roster today. Here are my thoughts on each signing:
Carlos Pena (1yr – $2.9mil) – When the Astros signed Carlos Pena, I admit I wasn’t too thrilled. Pena was just going to be one of the several first baseman the Astros would have, and he would DH. Fans were asking for guys like Lance Berkman or possibly Travis Hafner, but Pena was the guy the Astros wanted. I was hoping for at least 10-15 HR come July so that we could ship him at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, Pena hasn’t found his power stroke this season, and may have lost it for good. So far in 2013, Pena has hit .230 with a .342 OBP and .693 OPS. I expected that OPS to be in the high .700’s or low .800’s, but with his loss of power, even with his walk rate the OPS is still sub-700. My thoughts since the signing have been the same, and I believe the Astros will likely trade him at the deadline, and get back a decent prospect in return.
Jose Veras (1yr – $1.85mil) – Here is another signing that didn’t get many fans excited. Veras had never been a closer in his career, and the Astros were expected to plug him into that role on day 1. Well it took the Astros several games to give him his first shot, and Veras has done about what we could have expected. Veras has a 0-4 record and 4.50 ERA in 22 innings. Veras has converted on 8 of his 11 save opportunities, though he has struggled lately with two blown saves in his last three attempts. I have been satisfied with Veras’ production as I expected a worse results. Veras is one of the several Astros that have a good chance of being dealt in July, and I expect him to be gone.
Erik Bedard (1yr – $1.15mil) – This signing was pretty simple. Bedard can either be a very solid #3 pitcher, or struggle to stay in the game past the 5th inning. Bedard has been pretty bad up-to-date with a 5.68 ERA in 8 starts. Bedard was sent to the bullpen a few weeks ago, but has since been put back in the rotation. His last three starts have been encouraging as he has allowed just two runs in each of them (16 IP). If Bedard can throw a quality start most times out, it’s possible the Astros can get some value out of him. Otherwise, Bedard likely won’t fetch much (if anything) at the deadline. The next three to five starts are big for Bedard. If he pitches well, he will likely have a major league roster spot for most of the year, if not, he has a chance to be DFA’d at any second.
Rick Ankiel (1yr – $750K) – Welp. The Rick Ankiel experiment didn’t fare too well for the Astros. Ankiel lasted only 62 at-bats in Houston, though he provided plenty of whiffs in his short time here. His 5 home runs were nice, but his 35 strikeouts sealed his fate in Houston. Ankiel was waived May 9th, and ended with a .194/.231/.715 line as an Astro. The thought was a good one by Luhnow as Ankiel was highly regarded in the locker room. It was unfortunate that his numbers couldn’t justify his roster spot, and that is why he now plays for the New York Mets.
Ronny Cedeno (1yr – $718K) – Most people know how I feel about Cedeno (if you don’t click here). Though he has played better than anyone could have expected (.313/.347/.765), I don’t see Cedeno sticking around all year. With Villar at OKC (though he has defensive struggles to work out), Cedeno will probably be in Houston until Villar gets the call. With Marwin Gonzalez struggling, Cedeno will receive more playing time. Even though I wasn’t a fan of the signing, I’m still rooting for the guy, and it has worked out so far. Cedeno has played well enough that a contender may see value in him as a utility player, and the Astros would be wise to ship him away if a team comes calling.
All these signings had their upside, and they all had no risk. None of the signings really blocked any young player as the competition was pretty weak. Ronny Cedeno is only taking away time from Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar. Gonzalez has been solid this year, but Villar was not ready. The only “competition” to Carlos Pena was Nate Freiman. Freiman now plays for the Oakland Athletics, and hasn’t performed well this year. The signing of Jose Veras only meant that Hector Ambriz wouldn’t get the ninth inning (a whole different topic in itself). Erik Bedard making the rotation had more to do with Jordan Lyles‘ struggles in spring training, and Bedard didn’t block anyone else. Ankiel was really the only signing that blocked a young outfielder. Robbie Grossman had a chance to make it out of spring training, but it may have been a good decision to go with Ankiel as Grossman struggled to hit with the Astros during the last few weeks.
The signings have worked out for the most part, but there is still another four months (or two months if you are using the deadline as a stopping point) of the season for them to improve or decline. Let’s see how Luhnow handles each situation as we get closer to the deadline.
What do you guys think about the free agents? Have they disappointed you? Surpassed your expectations? Leave a comment below!