In perhaps his most telling statements yet about the Astros in 2010, general manager Ed Wade has stated that the Astros are going to be a younger club in 2010, and that unlike in years past, spring training will be a time of competition across the board for major league roster spots:
We're going to have to give every opportunity to the young players in our system to compete for jobs at the big league level, to win jobs out of spring training and begin to transition into a younger club.
Don't rule out some veterans returning though, notably Jose Valverde and Miguel Tejada, Wade said. What can we expect to happen with these two in the offseason, and what effect will it have on our Astros?
This past week in a column detailing the predicted contract demands of 2010 free agents, SI's Jon Heyman gave his breakdown for Valverde and Tejada. The agent/GM/me values are what he believes an agent, a major league GM and what he himself would offer each free agent. His takes on Jose and Miguel, respectively:
Terrific season except for aging a year (he'll be 32 next spring). Agent $36 million, 3 years.
GM: $27 million, 3 years.
Me: $16 million, 2 years.
The easiest prediction is that he'll be playing third base somewhere.
Agent: $30 million, 3 years (or $20 million, 2 years).
GM: $18 million, 2 years.
Me: $10 million, 1 year.
Heyman ranked Valverde 5th best free agent available and Tejada as the 8th best. I think he overestimates the value of both a bit, and I would doubt that either will be able to command that in of money in contract negotiations.
With Fangraphs at our disposal we can compare actual value with these projected contract amounts. Jose Valverde's (as saber-friendly blogs have touched on since the beginning of time) true value as a closer isn't as much as some may think, simply as a product of his not amassing a high amount of innings and/or not always pitching in the most high leverage situations.
Fangraphs has had Valverde worth $3.7 million and $3.2 million in 2008 and 2009. Essentially, FG's $ values are derived from a player's WAR total. Since Jose hasn't been as high as even 1 win above replacement level, his $ value could never rise all that high.
For comparison's sake, let's look at Brian Fuentes of the LA Angles of Anaheim. He signed a 2 yr/$17.5 million contract this past off season, with an option for 2011. This is a similar contract to what Heyman expects a GM to offer, at least in terms of dollar/year amount. Fuentes though had a much more productive season the year before he signed his big free agent contract, to the tune of a 2.5 WAR and a $ value of $11.1 million.
Jose is (still) younger than Fuentes and is better in terms of K/BB ratio, among other stats, which may work in his favor. Given the economy, and a perceived unwillingness of owners to take on contract money this offseason, Valverde may be less than enthused about his prospects for signing the mega-deal free agents dream about. There is something to be said about teams needing a rock at the end of the bullpen to solidify things and create some continuity. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Astros need to re-sign Jose Valverde in order to be somewhat competitive in 2010, but for a team without many established arms in the 'pen, his presence could be a boon if it came at an amount that wasn't over the moon.
As for Miguel Tejada, Heyman is by all accounts correct in his belief that Tejada's days as a shortstop are over. After a Jeter-esque defensive resurgence in 2008, Miguel has regressed back to what a 35 year old who has never been that solid defensively to begin with should be doing with the glove. If you play shortstop, it's nearly essential that your performance defensively is at least passable because so much of your value is due to playing the most demanding and difficult of defensive positions. It comes as little surprise that Tejada's $ value has been sliced nearly in half from his $14.0 million in 2008 to a good, but not great $7.8 million this season. A move to third base doesn't always translate to become a good defender at the new position (just ask Michael Young), but it can hide a player's shortcomings by placing him in a less grueling position on the field.
With all that being said, I think Heyman is spot on in his assessment that Tejada probably deserves a one year contract opportunity, but his $10 million value is probably a little high. There are fewer players out there to compare Tejada to than we could with Jose Valverde, as there aren't that many ex-stars who became supposed steroid users who had to deal with that stigma for the remainder of their careers (although the extent of that stigma can be debated). Couple that with his having aged more than any shortstop in the world during the past two seasons, and Miguel's selling points aren't as strong as they were in 2006 or even 2008.
His willingness to shift defensive assignments as well as a reputation as a clubhouse leader are two qualities of Miguel Tejada's that will probably have a positive effect on GMs, if only a small one. It would be nice to have Tejada return next season at a discounted rate for one season- $6 million +/- $500,000, perhaps? Chris Johnson had a nice month of August in AAA Round Rock, but his ability to draw walks and hit for power are absolute musts if he is going to strike out as much as he does. While Tejada is definitely not going to help CJ hone his plate discipline, Miggy has the sort of high contact rate that leads to getting on base more than his BB% would lead you to believe. Chris will most likely never develop that trait, and would probably struggle if given the job outright. A platoon at third base would be in order if Tejada is going to not return and Johnson is going to be part of the plan for 2010.
As far as possible destinations for Tejada, a team like Oakland which struggles offensively and has a young nucleus would seem to be a possible destination via a low risk one year contract. That he used to play there is another interesting aspect to that hypothetical landing point. Across the bay, San Francisco is a pitching heavy, offensively weak team that has the Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, playing third. A more natural position for the Panda would probably be first base and he could make the move if a veteran like Tejada were available to play third base. Hell- what if the Baltimore Orioles took Tejada on as a one year rental? There will be options for Miguel and with the Astros moving in a younger direction, I expect he'll be given every opportunity to leave.
While youth has it's advantages, it also has it's drawbacks- notably from the standpoint of talent in the short term. Drayton McLane doesn't want to add payroll, and in fact wants the 'Stros to move into the $90-$95 million dollar range. Even though Jose Valverde and Miguel Tejada may not get the high dollar contracts they desire (or expect) this offseason, the Astros may not have the financial wherewithal to take them back at even a discounted rate.