The plus side is that Josh Banks is a knuckleballer, so that's at least cool. The non-plus side is that he owns a career xFIP of 5.25. Also added to the non-plus side is that he had an obscene FIP of 6.41 last year. However, back on the plus side of the ledger, we can add to it that this is a minor-league deal. Of course then on the other side of the ledger we have to be honest and ask the question, has signing a Padres pitcher ever worked out well for the Astros? Has it? Not so much. (you have to click both separately to truly get it).
To recap visually:
Of course, it's always possible just to not worry about it because it is, in fact, a minor league deal. I don't want the Josh Bank signing itself to be seen as the motivation for this piece. The fact of the matter is, this piece has been brewing in the back my mind for sometime. To catch up on the thought process/inspiration for this here's a list of other people's work that inspired me:
Those are pretty much all the relevant ingredients. Posnanski was inspiring because it got me thinking about where the Astros will go in the next decade, Klaassen because I had to wonder if Wade was unfairly dumped on, and Clack/Dave Cameron because they forced me to merge those two previous strands of thought. The result has not been a positive one for my fan-pysche. You can determine whether the lack of relevant offseason news has caused me to go stir-crazy (it could also be too much Dayquil/Caffeine).
In the five years since the Astros went to the world series, the franchise has come undone. The blame can be placed on a number of actors, but my aim isn't really to debate it/work through it. What matters is that decade begins with a place holder year for the Astros. By that I mean Ed Wade has essentially constructed a team that will likely limp through another season that might allow us to fool ourselves in June/July, but likely just lead to a lot of frustration/heart ache when the dust finally settles in late September.
There is hope. Hope comes to us the form of Bud Norris
, Feliepe Paulino, Jason Castro
, Jordan Lyles, and Jiovanni Mier. There are also lesser forms of hope littered throughout the organization. The question I'll be bold enough to ask myself sometimes is who of that list will really pan out? I.E. have we turned into fans of the Royals
, etc. who become so hyper-focused on the glimmers of hope in the farm-system—the prospects who are just a few more IP or PA's in the minors away from resuscitating the big league club—that we pull on blinders to the reality of prospects: that more often than not, they flop.
Granted, many people who get paid/have a passion for evaluating minor league talent have said many positive things about the names I just threw out there, so perhaps I being overly pessimistic. My real concern is not that we as fans are deceiving ourselves. Even if we are, more power to us. What concerns me, is that I think the front office may be doing the same thing. The idea that I'm able to gather from their actions is that tomorrow will be a brighter day; we just have to wait for it to get here. The premise is fair enough.
The fall of the Astros franchise has seen it implode on itself as Type A free agents were paid big bucks, older players were locked into too long of contracts, and the farm system become an after thought for a few years. The result, is that the proposed remedy has become do nothing, really, at the big league level for the present. Sign mediocre FA agents for mid-term deals and make sure that payroll isn't too exorbitant (not that payroll hasn't been high, just that since 2007 there hasn't been a lot of spending, just paying for contracts that were already owned). Meanwhile, the free agent market is rewarding clubs who are willing to dig in their pockets, just a little bit. Erase the first week of December from the Astros off-season and then have Drayton McLane authorize reaching a payroll sum of $100 million. If Ed Wade were to just hold out until after the calendar had turned over to 2010, there's enough money on the table for him to make some moves that could inspire legitimate hope for the Astros in 2010.
Of course, that wasn't the hand Ed Wade was dealt. Still Wade has/had $15 million or so to spend this offseason, and while he hasn't exactly squandered it, he hasn't exactly made the savviest of decisions with it. Even before we got to the offseason, it wasn't as if we weren't expecting the market to stall out again and player's reservation prices plummet. Imagine what $15 million could buy right now. The thought kind of stings, doesn't it?
Sure, Ed Wade hasn't made the Astros worse. That's praiseworthy when you consider the plight of Royals fans with Dayton Moore. What's alarming, is that the last few years have pretty much defined with the Astros making moves that haven't made them significantly worse—or better. They're in this weird limbo dance that Ed Wade has ostensibly sold Drayton McLane on going along with.
Is it a prudent one, though? Yes, it seems likely that once 2012 rolls around the Astros have money to spend and prospects coming from the system (hopefully) that it could be a relatively simple process to make the big league club a legitimate contender. But is that a good reason not to try to take advantage of near-term opportunities? And what does it say about a GM who can't seem to either a) talk his owner into buying into the idea that there are many opportunities out there worth investing in be worthwhile filler or b) ignores the opportunities and just gets spends money to get it over with, early?
These are the questions I've been rolling around in the back of my mind for the last week or so. My gut feeling is that the Astros are making a big mistake. That they aren't properly hedging themselves. Worse, I get the feeling that a crippling spiral of declining attendance/revenue could lead to less spending, which will really leave the Astros over leveraged.
These are the thoughts that have filled my head as of late, and that were catalyzed by the depression that the signing of Josh Banks to a minor league deal constituted Astros news.