As Ivan Rodriguez heads out of Houston, Zach Levine looks back on the era of Astros baseball in which he donned the starred hat. Oh Pudge, we hardly knew ye...in a sense. In another, more tangible baseball sense, we knew him all too well as a below replacement level catcher who didn't help the Astros defense all that much, and was a sieve with a bat in his hands after May. Drayton wanted a big league catcher on the team to start 2009, meaning that Humberto Quintero and JR Towles weren't ready for primetime. Q isn't and will never be, and JR still has time to prove us wrong.
The Dallas Morning News introduced readers to Jose Vallejo and Matt Nevarez. He calls Vallejo a top 20 prospect, suggesting his high ceiling and athleticism should play well for him in the Astros' system. On the flip side, Matt Nevarez is running out of time to prove himself. The Astros will need to place him on their 40 man roster in order to protect him from the Rule V draft. Should they do so, he has only a few seasons to make a positive impression on the major league level before he becomes a free agent outright.
What would Jose Vallejo have done as a major leaguer this season? Well it's not great to say the least: .215/.263/.293.
The credit for this deal occurring lies with Rangers' GM Jon Daniels. It's not as if Ed Wade is exhibiting his plan to rebuild the Astros by trading away veterans for youngsters. Daniels had a need, and he did what he thought was best to satiate that need by trading for Pudge.
However, if we examine why the Rangers needed a backup backstop, the situation makes Daniels not appear as savvy in making this late season trade for a hometown favorite. Remember last season, when the Rangers were out of the race early, and they had in their stable three young catchers? Max Ramirez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden were all thought to be potential catchers of the future for any major league team. It was inconceivable that at some point the Rangers wouldn't trade one if not two of them. Depth is depth, but for a rebuilding team, a young catcher is worth the weight of his gear in gold.
Rumors and potential deals swirled concerning Ramirez possibly heading to a team with a need like the Red Sox. It made sense to a great extent- Ramirez hit well in the minors in 2008, and contending teams like Boston had aging, somewhat unreliable options at their disposal. From his position of strength, Jon Daniels did not trade any of these young men. They stayed with the organization, and to the surprise of some, the Rangers are in contention in 2009 a year or two ahead of schedule.
It's difficult to say what the Rangers could have gotten for Max Ramirez or either of the other two top catchers, but suffice it to say that it was probably someone who could have helped their club in 2009. Maybe Daniels thought that one of his catchers would put it all together and be the player to catch 130, 135 games for him. That hasn't happened, and now a position of strength isn't so fortified. Say what you will about a veteran presence, but it would have surprised many last season to be told that the Rangers would trade prospects of any sort for Ivan Rodriguez in 2009. The Rangers are going to good for many years to come, and Daniels should get the lion's share of the credit. It's funny though, how much things can change in a year's time, and goes to show that even the most well equipped teams on occassion have to acquire the Pudge Rodriguezes of the world.
Just to get rid of all the post-Pudge reporter opinions (a DQ insert):
Alyson Footer probably provides the most informative of the recap/reaction pieces. She starts by looking at Matt Nevarez and has this to say:
One scouting report describes Matt Nevarez as having a "huge arm" but also as "extremely raw." The Astros do not see him as raw. They like his plus-plus fastball and see what could be the makings of an average slider.
Footer also touches on how the deal went down between Jon Daniels and Ed Wade. For the most part it's all pretty nonchalant information until she mentions that Pudge inquired with Ed Wade about coming back to Houston 2010 before he left for the air port. The plot thickens, I suppose.
Although Drayton McLane wants everyone to know that this does not mean the Astros are going into rebuilding mode, some of the players think otherwise. The most outspoken among them, Roy Oswalt.
"I got to the clubhouse and they told me they traded Pudge, and I guess that's the process of trying to build the club for next year," Oswalt said. "That's what I'm hoping they are doing now. There is a time where you have to start rebuilding, and if you wait until the end of the season, you may not get the pieces you need for the next year. I think we still have some dates here where we can get guys that can help us next year, and why not do it now rather than wait and have to go up and bid against somebody in the offseason in a bidding war."
I've got to give Roy credit on this. Whether or not it's actually possible to moves the pieces he wants moved (Hawkins, Valverde...?) remains to be seen. Oswalt has a friend in the media on this one, as JJO chimes in with similar sentiments.