Friday, August 21, 2009

Links, Thoughts and a Trade Review

I just wanted to let you all know I haven't abandoned the gig just yet. I churned out four stories for the paper this week, had a doctor's appointment and a Meet the Teacher night for the Son of the Blog, and went through my busiest time with the day job by kicking a moderate number of kids out of school. Thus, the blog darkness for much of the week. Fear not, fair citizens: I shall be back with more goodness for you. Unfortunately, some of that contains more whining by me about the Astros commitment to the farm system.

First off, some links culled from the past few days that I thought you should read:

This one is brought to you by commenter baseballnerd, and is a really interesting read:
-Did you see the part when Greenwalt mentioned the Astros want to jump the whole rotation up to Double-A next season? Or the part where he mentioned the pitching coordinator wants the guys to throw strikes and give up hits instead of being too fine with their pitches. Could explain some of the lower strikeout rates for Greenwalt, Dydalewicz and Seaton.

If you haven't checked out Farmstros lately, you really should. He's been on a roll the past couple of weeks, being on top of the Mitch Einertson and Gabriel Garcia suspensions, blogging about the Alaniz signing and posting a truly comprehensive database of every player in the Astros system with biographical information and data on when and how they were signed. It's pretty spectactular and a credit to all the work he puts in over there and for the Crawfish Boxes.

Here's a really nice scouting video breaking down Albert Pujol's swing. I don't see this kind of analysis very often, but it's exactly what I'd like to do more of with the kids in the farm system.
Finally, here's a link to an article by MLBTradeRumors where they mention that Padres GM Kevin Towers admitted his team spent 10 million on amateur talent this season (including the draft and international signings). This is what I wanted to touch on before my trade review.

In my post on Wednesday, I talked about whether the Astros are really committed to rebuilding the farm system, or if Drayton is still not committing the money he should be. Now, the signing total laid out was just for draft picks. It didn't include the money for A.J. Alaniz, Kirk Clark, or any of the international free agents. Still, that's a little less than a million total for all the non-draft signings, which leaves the total player development budget at around 4.5 million. The Padres more than doubled that. Of course, San Diego is also in rebuilding mode right now and traded away their most valuable asset at the July 31st deadline in Jake Peavey.

Why should I care if a team that has 52 wins and a 43 million dollar payroll outspends the Astros? At that salary, they're on pace to pay $641,000 per victory this season. They are not making the playoffs, so that seems a reasonable figure. The Astros are also not making the playoffs this season, but with a 103 million dollar payroll, they are on pace to pay 1.275 million per victory in 2009. That's a heck of a lot of money for a sub-.500 team.

The main problem with this comparison is team outlook. The Padres know they are not competing this season, so they shaved payroll, let team icon Trevor Hoffman walk as a free agent, traded away their most expensive players and are stocking up on talented kids to throw against the wall and see who sticks. The Astros, on the other hand, have an entirely different philosophy. As has been chronicled in many, many places, owner Drayton McClain wants to win now and build for the future, so the Astros have to invest in high priced free agents as well as make good decisions in the draft. All this does is slow down the inevitable rebuilding process, which should have begun a couple of years ago.

I know, I know, I'm beating a dead horse. Everyone knows what an uphill battle it is for the Astros to ever invest the kind of money they need to into the farm. I guess we should be happy they are doing as well as they can and not worry about what might have been.

Let's end this post with a quick review of another trade. Since former Astro Billy Wagner is making news in the rumor mill by being placed on waivers, let's look back at the 2003 trade that sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Ezequiel Astacio, Brandon Duckworth and Taylor Buchholz.

Like many of the Gerry Hunsicker trades, he got value outside of the trade's jewel in Buchholz. At the time, the then-21-year old was considered one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. Pitching for Double-A Reading that season, Buchholz went 9-11 with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He also struck out 119 and walked 33. His numbers were sparkling, and would have placed in among the top 50 pitching prospects in the game.

Duckworth was 27 at the time and coming off a season where he went 4-7 in 24 games and 18 starts with an ERA of 4.94 and 68 strikeouts to 44 walks. Astacio was the least well-known at the time and had pitched in the High-A Florida State League in 2003, going 15-5 with a 3.29 ERA and an 83/29 K/BB ratio. Both were viewed more as filler than anything, but the club did control both Astacio and Buchholz for the next six seasons.

Wagner, on the other hand, was a proven commodity. He was coming off a season where he picked up 44 saves in a league-high 67 appearances with an ERA of 1.78 and a 88/22 K/BB ratio. Wagner was due to make 17 million over the next two seasons, which wasn't a problem for the Astros payroll at the time, which went from 71 million to 75 millon from 2003 to 2004. The problem with Wagner were comments he made right after the Astros were eliminated from the playoff race for the second straight season. Wagner was critical of owner Drayton McClain's willingness to spend money, which angered the owner a great deal. Drayton then allegedly ordered GM Gerry Hunsicker to trade Wagner.

It's impressive that Hunsicker was able to get as much as he did for the best closer in Astros history. With a bullpen that contained Wagner, Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge, the Astros certainly didn't lack for closer options. Still, it's hard to get value for someone when other teams know you need to trade him.

Now, let's look at what kind of value the teams got from these players. Wagner was worth 6.7 million in 2003 and earned 8 million. In 2004 and 2005, the closer was worth 4.6 million and 7.1 million, meaning he underperformed his contract by 5.2 million dollars. The Astros got negative value for both Astacio and Duckworth. Astacio cost the Astros 2.7 million over the course of two seasons starting in 2005. He made the minimum each season, so he cost the Astros around 3.35 million. Duckworth cost the Astros 2.7 million while earning $900,000 over two seasons before being released after the 2006 campaign.

That just leaves us with Buchholz as the only player in this deal who stood as a possible positive investment. the Astros had already lost around 7 million in value while the Phillies lost 5.2 million, meaning the Astros needed to make up about 2 million in value with the 21-year old. As I said, a young pitcher like him should net the Astros around 16 million in value. Buchholz didn't make a big league appearance until 2006, when he went 6-10 in 22 games and 19 starts with the Astros. His ERA was 5.89 and his WHIP was at 1.25 while striking out 77 and walking 34. He was worth about 1.7 million that season, earning $325,00, meaning the Astros netted about 1.3 million in value for him in 2006.

Of course, new GM Tim Purpura used Buchholz as part of a package of players to get Jason Jennings from the Rockies. Jennings pitched 19 games, including 18 starts for the Astros in 2007, going 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA. Jennings was not offered a contract at the end of the season, so the Astros got one season out of him, but gave up on 7.3 and 5.4 million in value from Buchholz alone. We will revisit that Jennings trade later on, but for now, it's easy to say that Buchholz could have given the Astros another 12.7 million in value if they had held onto him.

So, who were the winners here? I don't know if there were any. The Astros did not get much value in return for their closer, gaining only 8 million in future value for the prospects while the Phillies not only lost 5.2 million in value on Wagner's contract, they also didn't make the playoffs either season. As for Wagner, he talked himself out of a two-year run to the postseason with the Astros, including the franchise's only trip to the World Series. Buchholz was shipped to the pitching wasteland that is Colorado while Astacio was picked up by the Rangers in 2007 and Duckworth was signed by the Royals in 2006. As I said, neither the players, nor the teams really won this trade, which just goes to show you: decisions made based on high emotions, such as anger at your closer for critical comments of you, never work out. Remember that, Drayton, when Roy Oswalt pops off in the offseason about this team.

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