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Should They Stay or Should They Go? Hot Stove Part One

Viz reacts to his Astro career OPS+ of 77
Adios, José

Good to see that over the last week or ten days,while I was spending inordinate time with the Chris Burke game, or with the online summaries from the first three volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire preparatory to reading the just arrived Volume Four, the club and its players made no major moves or announcements I might have missed.

Perhaps I could have delivered my first hot stove comments a bit earlier, but then again maybe it's for the best. What more appropriate day, after all, to bring them forth than on the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year?

With apologies to littlevisigoth, who has already expressed similar sentiments onsite, from year to year, I rarely attempt to predict or construct any kind of mock offseason, simply because such moves--even if imaginary--involve discarding players I had spent the previous year rooting for. Like, I had never wanted the Astros to get rid of Richard Hidalgo; I just wanted Reeshard to start hitting consistently for power and average.

Or currently with Jason Lane: I don't want the Astros to send him back to the bench (or to AAA), I want him to stop swinging at the unhittable high strike. In my heart, I'd rather see current Astros improve than watch the GM bring in some overpriced free agent who's going to bolt or be let go at first opportunity anyway.

Sentiments like these don't exactly engender the impartial rationality needed to expertly play GM, but since I've taken on this blog, and since my ideas have been requested by those nice enough to come here, here goes the first part, in which I'll pass judgement on the Astros who have the opportunity to leave:

Of those who played for Houston in 2005, Charles Gipson has since been released, and Mike Burns has been lost on waivers to the Reds. Beyond that, there are four players who are currently free agents:

1)Roger Clemens
2)Brad Ausmus
3)Russ Springer and
4)Jose Vizcaino. 

1) Clemens - If you hadn't heard Clemens' most recent statements, it appears that beyond being unsure what he wants to do at age 43, Roger's also trying to force McLane into some kind of commitment to bringing in additional offensive help. While I can understand Roger's perspective, it will be kind of hard for Purpura to know what he can spend on a free agent bat without knowing whether or not he's going to have to pay Clemens.

Since the signing of Jeff Kent, it has certainly seemed that McLane has been willing to go past what others have guessed would be his own budget constraints. And there has been a lot of deferred money as the team (and McLane) has tried to get around Jeff Bagwell's bloated contract. At some point the wellsprings from which both had come has to go dry, and you wonder whether McLane might not elect to forgo the $18 mil or so that Clemens would likely demand.

The Astros have appeared to say that Clemens is wanted back no matter what, and that the only impediment is whether Roger himself wants to pitch or not.

But what if instead of $18,000,022, Roger says it'll take $22,000,018 to bring him back for 2006? What if he says $30,000,000?

I guess what I'm approaching through all this circumlocution is that I'd much rather see Roger back at his 2004 payscale than at his '05 salary.

As much as Roger has meant to the Astros, as well as he's pitched, as classy as he's been, my ability to gamble on a 43-year-old with a bad back, a bad hamstring, and nothing left to play for is somewhat limited. Especially if Roger's demands are out of hand, and assuming of course that the money saved were put back into the club, the Astros, I think, should let him walk.

2) Ausmus - Brad is now the alltime leader in games caught for the Astros, which means a lot more to me as a fan than to Purpura as GM. What means a lot to Purpura is that Ausmus made $3,000,000 in 2005, and that Bradley may feel that he is owed some love after agreeing to a 4-1/2 million dollar paycut for 2004. Plus, you always hear about how Surfer Brad wants to play for his hometown Padres.

Ausmus has been average or below in throwing runners out for a few years now. He is still, however, spoken of as one of the best in handling pitchers, and although the utility of catcher's ERA is rather limited, especially given the future Hall of Famers Ausmus got to catch in 2005, those numbers still indicate that he brings an advantage behind the plate.

He is now, and has always been, below average offensively, though the seeming trend year after year wherein Brad is heating up late in the year, while the other catchers across the league are slowing down, is a real one, and is one of the few offensive advantages he can in fact bring.

I think that Ausmus' durability is the factor that makes Brad desirable to the Astros, that and the fact that Clemens might insist on him. Ramon Hernandez, for example, played 99 games in '05 and made 4.5 million, while Ausmus played 134 and made 3 million. And Hernandez will probably be getting a raise. Believe it or not, Ausmus probably represents value, and I think the Astros should therefore sign him.

3) Springer - Springer is the kind of middle reliever who is typically seen as an interchangeable part, allowed to walk when having earned a raise, or when having been absolutely lousy, and re-signed in most other cases.

I've written previously how a few poor games really knocked Springer's ERA out of whack, and should Houston desire to re-sign Springer, the artificially high ERA (at least in my opinion) should give the Astros an edge in the negotitations.

Springer made $550,000 in 2005, more than Lidge or Wheeler or Qualls, but assuming that his market value will drop, he could be a good sign. Although he no longer throws all that hard, he still has excellent movement, and he gives batters a look that is different from any other reliever on the staff. Sure, Springer is prone to the longball, but what do you want from the fourth righthander out of the 'pen?

Springer is a known commodity with at least a decent chance of having a better year in 2006, so as long as his demands are reasonable, I think the 'Stros should sign him.

4) Vizcaino - Shortly after Game One of the World Series, the Second Guessing guys on ESPN had an interesting article during which they wrote that for about ten minutes--roughly about the time it took for Lidge to lose the game--Jose Vizcaino had the biggest hit in franchise history. While Viz's RBI single in the ninth didn't feel quite as dramatic as Billy Hatcher's homerun in Game Six of the '86 NLCS, or Jeff Kent's for that matter in Game Five of the '04 NLCS, considering the larger stage, I'd have to agree with 'em.

So thanks a lot, Jose.

Now leave.

Vizcaino made a million and a quarter last year, which is not a whole hell of a lot for a veteran utility man these days, and the Astros have watched Jose go free agent, then have come back to sign him in four of the past five years. But the emergence of Eric Bruntlett as the Astros' supersub I think makes Jose expendable. So let him walk.

Next up in this series:
Hot Stove Part Two, All I Want for Christmas is an Outfielder with Moderate Power and a High OBP. . .