First off I would like to remind readers that yes, I am alive, just busy and I hope that no details are needed. If you’ll for just once act like a group of teenagers and not ask any follow-up questions that’d be grand. But I’m vacationing here in Puerto Rico, spellbinding the sun laptop rays and itching for pitchers and catchers to report. And I’m as excited as I’ve ever been about the future of the Houston Astros baseball franchise.
There are many reasons why, from the Correa-Appel top pick duo to the Springer-Singleton pair almost ready to firmly entrench themselves in the big league lineup card.
The Astros are still obviously in rebuild mode but the allocation of young assets for the team will not be victim to what has happened so often in recent baseball years. Rushing your prospects.
Whether it’s out of excitement or fan demand or overreaction to a hot stretch of AA games, this regimen has shown it will not rush or even give a push to their next generation, and as fans we should be thankful and not irked for this. Look no further than the division to see how the Seattle Mariners have stunted the development of incredibly high ceiling players like Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Brandon Maurer, Alex Liddi, Jeff Clement, Phillippe Aumont, Brandon Morrow many years ago… you get the picture.
The Astros aren’t committing to their future until their future is ready. Sounds simple enough but the allure of bringing up the next potential stud can and has been shown to do more harm than good for a player’s future in too many occasions to try and outsmart.
With that said, this off-season the Astros made a couple of quality moves for the short-term to give the team and fans a solid product and the potential for victories without risking their future that is hopeful to bring the organization and its loyal supporters an elite on-field product with ample opportunities to dent the win column.
It’s part of rebuilding and it isn’t as sexy as the alternative may be, but it’s smart.
After another 100+ loss season the Astros had many gaping holes on the roster but one part of the baseball spectrum that continually nipped them in the butt was the bullpen.
There are a few outstanding bullpens in baseball but the 2013 Astros bullpen was historically bad, posting a frightening 4.92 ERA. The bullpen needed to be addressed one way or another but the solution didn’t need to be in big name value. Just stopgap value, and that is precisely how the ‘Stros approached the market.
They inked Houston native Matt Albers, 30, to a 1-year deal for just under 2.5 million. Albers, who began his career in Houston, was very productive in 56 relief appearances for the Cleveland Indians last season after being a part of the Shin-Soo Choo trade between Cincinnati, Arizona, and Cleveland.
Chad Qualls, 35, was quietly effective in Miami where they have a baseball team, finishing with a 2.61 ERA. His deal is for $6 million over two seasons.
In a low-risk high-reward move the Astros also signed veteran Peter Moylan, 35, to a minor league deal. Moylan was a fixture coming out of Bobby Cox’s Atlanta bullpens for many seasons before he had multiple surgeries, rotator cuff and back in 2011, and has not been the same pitcher since. He spent last year with the Dodgers, appearing in only 14 games, 6 more than 2012 and one more than 2011. From 2007-2010 he made a whopping 259 appearances, and that includes a mere 7 in 2008 due to Tommy John Surgery. Like I said, very low-risk, very high potential to be a trade deadline asset… and a damn good one.
However, the move that garnered by far the most attention was the signing of starting pitcher Scott Feldman. Feldman in particular has special importance or a special lack of importance to a hybrid Rangers-Astros fan. (Oh, you didn’t know that about me?)
He was the opening day starter for the Rangers in their first of two AL pennant seasons. Coming off a career year where he posted a 17-8 record and a 4.08 ERA. However, by June he was seriously scuffling and in July the Rangers acquired Cliff Lee. After starting 25 and 31 games in the two seasons prior, he was handed the ball just 22 times in 2010.
In 2011 Feldman missed the first half of the season with right knee surgery. Even upon returning he made only two starts. However, he became a tremendous long reliever for the Rangers in the postseason. Through the ALDS and ALCS he compiled 8.2 scoreless innings, scattering just 3 hits across 4 games.
In 2012 he returned the rotation after the Rangers lost C.J. Wilson to free agency and injuries to young flamethrowers Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando left the rotation seeking arms. He bounced back with 96 punch outs but his 5.09 ERA left much to be desired. Suffice to say, his eight years in Texas were done.
Like the Astros just a few years too late (at the detriment of the team), the Chicago Cubs were in rebuild mode. Unlike Houston, they had more of a budget to work with and brought in a handful of veteran starting pitchers. Not necessarily to bridge a gap to their next wave of arms… because their highest rated pitching prospect heading into 2013 was Arodys Vizcaino, acquired from the Braves for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson the previous summer and recovering from Tommy John Surgery — and not necessarily a starter down the road.
With Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer now taking control of the squad, the Cubs sought out to do what the Astros have been beautifully executing for years. Making low-risk high-reward and low-cost signings with potential to flip performing veterans for rebuilding tools later on.
Feldman fit the bill perfectly. Along with Scott Baker (from the Twins) and Carlos Villanueva (Blue Jays). All got short-term deals (2 years for Villanueva) in the same off-season where the Astros did something similar with Erik Bedard and Philip Humber on a minimized scale.
By mid-season Feldman had fulfilled the Cubs wish. In 15 starts he put up a career best 3.46 ERA. The Cubs traded him, along with catcher Steve Clevenger, to the Baltimore Orioles for young pitchers Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, and international signing money.
Feldman, who would eventually be a rotation partner with our beloved Bud Norris, gave the Orioles 15 starts as well, but the jump from the NL Central to the AL East had its expected effect. He went 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA. Also, returning to the American League his BB/9 increased by over half a batter.
All in all it was a serious year of resurgence for the 30-year old Feldman. He attributed a return to consistent and steady starting opportunities that helped him regain confidence and hence, command in his specialty pitches, the sinker and slow curve. Without command those can both be batting practice for even Pete Kozma and Brendan Ryan. Okay, maybe Kozma.
That brings us to the present, the moment we should live in anyway. The Astros clearly sought out Feldman to head their 2013 rotation as the rebuilding process continues fruitfully into another season.
Feldman landed a juicy 3-year $30 million dollar contract with the Astros. Overpay? Yes. When I first heard of the deal I was remembering the Ranger fan in me so often disappointed with Feldman, who would flash steadiness and reliability only to get absolutely rocked in his next outing.
But the Astros are, well, bad. To any non-Houston fan they’re terrible and to a novice fan they’re laughable but in actuality it fits the plan. To attract even a mid-level quality player to come play in a rebuilding spot you have to up the money, and that’s exactly what the Astros did.
According to Ken Rosenthal the next best offer for Feldman was 2/$15 million to join the Phillies. Perhaps Feldman was seeking stability over winning. Kidding, it was the cash and the cash only.
The kicker of the contract (besides of course the $30 million) is the duration of three years. This dampens Feldman’s short-term trade value but if a secure turn in the rotation can work the magic it has for him in 2009 and 2013 then perhaps he is dealt to a contender for even more attractive pieces of the puzzle sooner than later.
So, while the Astros are absolutely loaded with future starters, they are taking the extremely patient, cautious approach with the likes of Appel/Folty/Wojo/V.V./LMCJr./Hader and the list goes on and on, even taking a careful approach with young arms who experienced 2013 big league success like Cosart, Obie, and Peacock.
Man I’m excited just typing about it.