Johan Santan (John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports)
One team’s trash is another team’s treasure. This is something that has been that goes back a long way in baseball history.
For various reasons, players make it big with their new organizations after being discarded by their original teams. There is often not a cut and dry explanation for this, or really any consistency towards why this happens, but it does.
This is something that has worked both ways for Houston Astros fans as we don’t need to look any further than Johan Santana and Jeff Bagwell. Historically, in the previous incarnation of the Rule 5 draft, the Brooklyn Dodgers were unable to retain none other than young outfielder Roberto Clemente. If they truly knew what they had in Clemente, I’m sure some roster maneuvering would have been done to retain his rights, and who knows how history would have transpired. Quite simply, talent evaluation and the construction of a team is nowhere close to an exact science.
At the time Santana was lost, no one knew what the raw left-hander would become. Santana was just another pitcher with moderate upside that had yet to show the dominance that would later propel him towards stardom. He was just a solid pitcher at best, and when you only have 40 spots on the roster to protect, not everybody can be retained.
Bagwell was an average to above average minor leaguer, but he was blocked at the major league level by Mo Vaughn and Wade Boggs. He was expendable, and there was not a market for him. At the time, moving Bagwell for Larry Andersen didn’t raise any eyebrows.
When reviewing the list of Astros that are available in the Rule 5 draft, nothing jumps off the page at me. Sure there are some recognizable names, and players that have had some success in minor league baseball, but you can’t protect your entire minor league system.
It is also important to remember that every team is going through this same exercise. Each organization is likely in a similar situation as the Astros (maybe not to the same degree due to the depth of Houston’s farm system), and any player they select must be kept on their 25-man roster for the duration of 2014.
Losing one or two of these players is likely a foregone conclusion. But there will not be a full fledged raid on Houston’s system. While there are some losses that would hurt more than others, I’m not sure that any will be as noteworthy as Santana. But there is always that possibility. Plus, Houston has three open roster spots that they are working with, so it is possible that Jeff Luhnow will discover a treasure as well.
My bigger issue is who is taking up some of the spots on the current 40-man roster. While players like Eric Thames, Darin Downs, and Raul Valdes could be solid depth contributors, I don’t really see the benefit to stashing them on the roster. These are names that I would expect to see signed to minor league contracts with an invitation to Spring Training. There is the possibility, that between Spring Training performances and how the rest of the offseason progresses, none of the three veterans earn their way onto Houston’s 2014 opening day roster.