With a few hours of reflection on my last post about where the Astros go in the wake of the revelation that Aaron Boone will opt out of the 2009 season to undergo open heart surgery to repair a defective valve under my belt, I’m going to lay out how I feel about the whole ordeal now.
To preface this, if I were a close friend of Aaron Boone, I would applaud the courage it took him to reach this decision and I would offer him all the support I could. Like I said in the last post, I wish him and his family all the best and I wish him a full, speedy recovery.
That said, I think this exposes the great weakness of the Astros as an organization. One that I’ve never denied existed, but tried my hardest argue could be smoothed over with some luck.
More after the jump (JUMP!)
Although Aaron Boone leaving is both a freak and extreme occurrence, it’s probably par for the course on a team that has had to scour the market for aged veterans to provide cheap, replacement level services. The impetus for this decision is no one officials fault, but the collective result from a very poorly run franchise for the last four-five years. The Astros have never been willing to read the writing on the wall and, instead, have continued to try to patch leaks with flawed personnel—waiting until the 2008 draft to finally commit to valuing young talent.
To put it concretely, the Astros have made a lot of very bad bets in the last few years. They’ve managed to allocate a disproportionate amount of payroll to a few, core players through free agency and trades. That bet might have paid off were it not for a force of nature (Hurricane Ike), a staggering economic recession, and now a truly unfortunate medical condition.
By the time I got finished running through the options of how the Astros could mitigate the loss of Aaron Boone, I realized that what they’re trying to replace is about .020-030 points of OPS. If memory serves me correct, that’s about a .10 margin in wOBA, so no more than 2-3 runs over the course of the season. That’s not a perfect conversion, but we’re looking at not a huge impact. So Boone leaving the platoon is not, per se, the problem.
The problem is, Geoff Blum is not an everyday player anymore. We shouldn’t expect him to be; that would be unfair. He’s almost 36 years old, which is wizened for MLB. The problem really comes into focus because our best 3B prospect—who is really our only 3B prospect—doesn’t appear to possess the skills necessary to fit into the platoon with Blum (there is, of course, always the option to let Johnson be the starter to start the season, or, presumably, soon after he proves ready at AAA). There’s not a lot of hope for finding an adequate fielding AND hitting 3B internally, so now we have to start looking externally.
Going external, of course, has costs. We’ve spent a lot of time this offseason ruminating over the truth of the bleak financial picture the front office has painted for us. If it’s true, acquiring via trade, or free agency anyone capable of filing the platoon for us is very difficult. If we pursue the solution through a trade, we might be able to have a stronger situated franchise pick up a million or two of whoever’s contract we’d take on, but a trade is a very, very bed strategy for us.
Solving this problem via a trade would be to inadvertently admit that the loss of Aaron Boone represented an important enough blow to the club that to do nothing to meet or exceed his potential production would be to squander an opportunity. But what opportunity would the 2009 Astros be squandering? Our community projection project pegged us for a .500 team. The guy who engineered the project thinks it’s a little to rosy of a model to be true, so in our heart of hearts, we were hoping for .500.
Why would we trade any piece of talent we had in our farm system to try to obtain a .500 season? If you’re thinking because we signed Pudge, think again. He added .4 of WAR to the community projection project. Bringing the total 82.5 wins 2009. Maybe a JR Towles could fetch us a decent 3B—but why burn that trade chip now, when his value is low? Mark Teahen’s name is all over MLBTradeRumors comments and we have a history of trading with the Royals. Teahan’s best projection comes from ZIPS, and it sees him at a .342 wOBA (.773 OPS). That’s a solid amount of production. Inputting Teahen brings us to 84 wins even, according to the spreadsheet. At $3.75 million in 2009, plus two more arbitration years ahead of him, he’d be a hefty commitment to a team with a serviceable 3B waiting in the wings. Sure, Teahen could inch us closer to the hunt for October, but it still wouldn’t give us great odds. Besides, dude is a terrible fielder at 3B.
We already looked a couple of possibly soon to be available free agents, and Loretta was the best option. What I’ve been trying to get at is that the Astros have backed themselves into a corner. They seem to be at a point where the consequences of a few years of bad decision-making are going to force them to take a few lumps this season, and probably the next. If Loretta, MacPherson, or any other released player becomes available for a good price, I say by all means sign them to a one-year deal. But I see no real logic in trading for someone. That costs money, prospects, and potentially blocks Chris Johnson; none of which are desirable outcomes.
I hope the front office makes a smart decision in the wake of all of this. If any good can come out of a man finding out he needs open heart surgery and might lose the ability to play the game loves professionally is possible, it might be that the Astros finally have to confront the fact that this organization ranked poorly because it’s got a lot of weakness—and that they act to ameliorate them.