Monday's Three Astros Things

Talking about Mark Appel, the free agent market and Shin-Soo Choo...

Some things to talk about while FanGraphs posts a blatant ripoff of our idea...

1) Q&A with Mark Appel

Hey, interviews with Mark Appel are the new market inefficiency! FanGraphs posted this one on Monday in conjunction with its Top 10 Astros prospects list. It's worth your time, as Appel delves more into his thoughts on pitching and the changeup:

"I know there are a lot of theories out there. All of the modern statistical advances - all of the regressions and different things being done - paint a pretty cool picture of what is important, like which stats are worth spending money on. But as far as the things I can control within the season, I don't worry about what my ERA is after each start, or my batting average on balls in play.

"My mindset is, 'What can I do today to help the team win?' That involves giving up as few runs as possible. Looking at it from a very simple view, that's the name of the game. If I can do that, we have a chance to win. That's what my focus is. If I pitch well, I trust my statistics will be there."

We sort of bear the label of Egghead Astros Fans here at TCB. Most of the articles that aren't mine are fonts of information about different stats or sophisticated analysis of the minor leagues. What's great about that answer is that Appel isn't dismissing the stats out of hand. He recognizes they have value, but he also recognizes he can't control them, so they don't have value in helping him win games.

Reading through this interview, I think Appel will be a favorite among Astros fans once he gets to Houston. He's a smart guy with a thoughtful take. If he's successful at all, he'll have plenty of opportunity to showcase those two things on a bigger stage.

2) FA reliever market going wild

Holy cow, has the reliever market been on fire this winter. The latest two big stories are Chris Perez signing with the Dodgers and Grant Balfour got a big contract from the O's that was then voided for medical concerns.

Perez was maybe in play for Houston in a theoretical sense as a buy-low option. However, they spend money on free agents who were slightly safer, having come off seasons with good success instead of looking for a bounce back. Perez chose the Dodgers, not as a closer, but as a member of the bullpen. You could see some team signing him in 2014 in the same way that Chad Qualls and Matt Albers cashed in this winter.

Meanwhile, the Balfour situation got ugly quickly. Oh, and it's not a one-time thing with Baltimore and owner Peter Angelos:

If this were a one-time thing, an isolated difference of medical opinions, the Orioles' decision to run from free-agent closer Grant Balfour would be easy to dismiss.

Alas, it is not a one-time thing, but a pattern dating back 15 years. And for the Orioles, a team that already is at a crossroads, the Balfour fiasco could not have come at a worse time.

Reading through this, the biggest thing that came to mind was how solid Houston's organization has been. The baseball ops side makes decisions and those get approved. Maybe there have been deals nixed by the owner at the last minute, but I cannot imagine that happening with Houston's organization.

In fact, I can't imaging that happening with most organizations. Baltimore is unique in that sense. This Balfour debacle only highlights those issues.

3) Quick thoughts on Choo to the Rangers

In case you missed it over the weekend, Shin-Soo Choo signed a seven year, $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Astros fans will be seeing him regularly. It'll just be for a division rival.

Choo's contract means the AL West has now spent $467 million this winter on free agents, easily the highest total of any division in baseball. Which is great news for the Astros. Except that it isn't.

For 2014 and 2015, this hurts the Astros, as more talent joins the AL West at a high cost. Going forward, though, these huge contracts to players that will age quickly helps Houston immensely. Sure, the Rangers and Angels have scads of money to spend thanks to lucrative TV deals.

But, will the Angels be able to spend when Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols are no longer everyday players in 2016? Will they be able to replace their production? Ditto the Rangers and Prince Fielder and Choo. Can they get out of those deals once they turn poisonous?

No free agent contract looks good five or six years down the road. The only exception might be guys like Alex Rodriguez (the first time) or Bryce Harper or Mike Trout in a few years. Those guys will be young enough when they hit the market that seven years later, they'll still be in the short side of their primes.

There's no question that this hurts the Astros in the short term. As many people have pointed out, this deal shores up one of the Rangers' only weaknesses. If they stay healthy, Texas has the pitching and hitting now to compete with the best in the AL West. I suspect the A's will take a step back this season, meaning the Rangers go into 2014 as the division favorites.

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