Dear Mr. McLane,
I wrote an open letter to you earlier this season in hopes that you might actually read it and possibly take a few of my suggestions to heart. After all, I am merely a fan of the franchise and long for nothing more than our Houston Astros to finally bring a World Championship banner to Minute Made Park. I do realize that a few of the points that I made were actually implemented (i.e. the Roy Oswalt/Lance Berkman trades) but I believe that those were necessities that would have been carried out regardless. Therefore, I will offer up a few opinions and suggestions as a fan. The boys that write for Crawfish Boxes are far more suited to go over the X's and O's as far as statistical data, minor league prospects and so forth than I am, so my goal is to just call it like I see it.
I think the most exciting part of watching the Houston Astros post All-Star break was of course the ideology of the "Youth Movement". I have to admit, watching the Baby Astros, as a friend of mine so succinctly called them, was far more interesting and inspiring than to watch our team grind themselves into last place in the National League Central. My heart was broken to see Oswalt and Berkman go. Over the last 10 years or so, I have become profoundly attached to Berkman and his no-nonsense style of baseball. The guy called it like he saw it, damn the consequences. But in order for our team to improve now and moving forward, he and the Astros front office knew it was time to cut ties. Which brings me to my first point:
1.) Don't get stuck in the past.
I would love nothing more than for The Puma to return to wearing Brick Reds. The major concern of mine is A.) how much is it going to cost and B.) what positions/bench roles/future growth as a player are going to suffer?
I could definitely see Berkman as a utility first baseman or pinch hitter. Berkman obviously offers more power than Jason Michaels, but at the cost of a more limited role. Michaels can play any outfield position at least fairly well, whereas Berkman is really relegated to the first base role.
I love the idea of having Berkman as a switch hitter coming off the bench but the cost vs. return is a major concern. Ultimately, I think the most logical and practical thing to do moving forward is just let Lance go. It hurts to say it, but it is necessary.
2.) The Carlos Lee/Brett Wallace Quandry
Oh, El Bufalo.
Carlos Lee is coming off one of his worst seasons as a professional baseball player. The statistical oddity I found was that Carlos Lee's on-base percentage and batting average both increased when he switched to first. The big elephant in the room with Lee is his gigantic salary. The Astros can ill afford to pay a man $19 million to be a utility first baseman.
"But Brett Wallace wasn't that good this year! He was batting just over .200!"
Yeah, but so was the guy that Lance Berkman replaced when he made his Astros debut. I am by no means comparing Brett Wallace to Jeff Bagwell, but give the guy a year or two. I think a full spring training in the Astros organization under Bagwell will vastly improve the way Wallace plays the game.
I also believe that Brad Mills needs to have a little more confidence in Wallace. His Triple-A stats show that Wallace rakes against LHP. Let him hit against them. This was a lost season by All-Star break, so why not try any and every available combination to see what really works? Lee needs to either A.) move to a team that could use him, even if it means eating a large portion of his salary or B.) accept the fact that he's gonna play left field and possibly be a bench player. It's time to move on. Carlos is not producing for the amount of money we are paying him.
3.) Newfound Salary Space vs. Paper Thin Free Agency Market
I know that Ed Wade is pretty clever when it comes to turning trash into treasure (a la Jeff Keppinger, Brett Myers, Angel Sanchez), but the Astros from here on out need to be very conservative when it comes to free agency. The Astros obviously have more than a few needs this offseason, but those needs are by no means unfillable.
Our relief pitching corps is pretty solid. Mark Melancon and Wilton Lopez, followed by the tandem of Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon, is pretty darn good, as long as they aren't overworked. How is that problem solved? Starting Pitching.
Brett Myers was an absolute diamond in the rough. The guy ate massive amounts of innings and racked up an astounding amount of quality starts. Is he a No. 1? Not at all. Nor is Wandy Rodriguez, but when it comes to Wandy, you never really know who is going to show up. Same thing with Bud Norris, who I believe in all honestly has the best stuff amongst Astros starting pitchers.
WIth Norris, he needs some veteran leadership and the tutelage of Brad Arnsberg to turn the corner and become the No. 3 or 4 pitcher he is capable of being. Felipe Paulino at this point is a lost cause. The guy can be invaluable out of the 'pen, but is nowhere near healthy enough to start.
Where do we go from here? I think the three most important needs that have to be addressed this offseason are acquiring a No. 5 innings-eater pitcher (at least until Jordan Lyles is seasoned enough to be an Astro, which still may be another year), solve the 2B/SS debate (I really like Jeff Keppinger at 2B as he is the most solid average hitter and does not strike out very often, and would like to see a tandem of Tommy Manzella and Angel Sanchez until one of them proves the right to start on a regular basis), as well as what I feel is the most important thing: acquiring a power bat.
The Astros have no one other than Hunter Pence (who really hit way beyond his ability the second half of the season) to carry the offense of the team. We cannot win games on defense alone. Our current pitching staff cannot support that. I would love to see someone like Carl Crawford come the the Astros, but we all know he's going to be a Yankee or Red Sock come the 2011 season.
4.) And Most Importantly- The Improvement of the City as a Baseball Town
If you refer back to an earlier piece I wrote for Crawfish Boxes (my Fenway Park Piece), you will notice that what I found most endearing to the team was the atmosphere that surrounded the whole baseball experience in Boston. Why not try to lure a few more restaurants or pubs or vendors to the Minute Made area? The Red Sox had a miserable team for quite a long time, but still had rabid fans the entire time.
I feel that the experience of going to a baseball game as a whole is the majority of what endears people to the game. We have to face an obvious situation that Major League Baseball is fighting a losing battle to the NFL. Baseball will be supplanted as the national past time by football in a decade. I think that improving the baseball experience as a whole will attract and create repeat business to the Astros organization, as well as increase revenue and allow for a larger budget when it comes to payroll. It's a very win-win situation. You make more money, the fans have more fun, the payroll increases, we can afford to pay premium players, the team improves as a whole, attendance goes up. It's something to mull over.
I will say that I did enjoy the second half of the season a great deal more than the first. I will admit to losing interest once the football season began, as I usually get wrapped up in the multitude of fantasy football leagues I participate in, but with a few improvements, a whole heaping amount of luck, some heart and attention to detail, the Housotn Astros could vastly improve prior to the 2011 Season.
Phil Hodges aka allphilla
Go Astros 2011 NLCS Champions