Just how great are the Astros payroll concerns?

During the trade deadline, I kept waiting to hear word that a team was especially interested in acquiring Matt Lindstrom. When Matt Capps was dealt for a top-tier catching prospect, I imagined that there was something worthwhile on the auction block if Ed Wade would just say yes. Lindstrom was young, still under team control, and though tapering off, started 2010 strong. That Lindstrom continued to don an Astros uniform confused me—especially given his strong numbers in July (10.6 K/9, 4.50 K:BB, 1.51 FIP, 3.12 xFIP).

When August went awry for Lindstrom, I supposed that MLB clubs had read something in the tea leaves. I also expected that Wade would just bide his time and hope Lindstrom got off to a strong start in 2011 before shipping him out.

I was wrong on about all of that. Thomas Harding, of MLB.com, first reported that the Astros and Rockies consummated a deal for Matt Lindstrom. There were a few minutes where it was possible to imagine that there was something of worth coming back. Then Carrie Muskat, also of MLB.com, confirmed the return package: Wes Musick, a former Astros draftee, and Jonthan Arstil. That's it. Lindstrom was sent to the Rockies for a 23 year old with strong command in A-ball and a 24 year old with no command. Nothing I read in Jonthan Mayo's write-up of Muskat and Arstill has me feeling any differently than what I can glean from their stats. Essentially, then, the deal involves Ed Wade relieving the payroll of about $3 million.

We have been trying to figure out where the 2011 payroll would stand. Ed Wade made some statements alluding to the fact that the Astros had payroll flexibility early in the hotstove season, but it is hard to reconcile payroll flexibility and this trade (along with Jeff Keppinger trade rumors, etc.).

The questions remains, though, as to why Drayton McLane has set the budget where he has. Is it because 2010's revenue took the Astros uncomfortably close to operating in the red? Or is it because he thinks that creating a leaner payroll will add to his bottom line the sale he is contemplating? Or is it something we're not thinking of? Perhaps the uncertainty of the Astros new TV deal has McLane worried about the future.

As for the trade itself, I find it hard to feel anything but blasé. I would have preferred Wade to hold onto Lindstrom in the hopes that his trade value increased. I would have hoped that Wade could have received more for Lindstrom. But this deal doesn't reek the way the Paulino/Barmes trade did, so maybe the medical reports on Lindstrom are not favorable (or something to that effect). Plus, Lindstrom is a luxury commodity for an Astros team that will struggle to even feign competitiveness in 2011.

Even with all of the rationalizations I can throw at the trade, I can't shake the feeling that Wade didn't get everything he could for Lindstrom—either now or next July. That leads me to believe that Wade had to free up payroll space, and for some reasons the Rockies have been willing swap parts with the Astros this winter. 

So more than anything, I am left curious. Curious as to why the Astros payroll is such a concern, and curious as to why Ed Wade seems to cozy up to a team and then crank out deals with them in such a repetitious fashion.

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