Continuing from our season preview of the Astros earlier today…
Will Houston's veterans perform well enough this season for the team to sell them in the summer for value, or will they be a total lost cause this year?
Here's the thing with this year's Astros team: they spent absolutely nothing this winter in the free agent market, and everyone is OK with that. GM Jeff Luhnow and his staff are blowing everything up, and starting from scratch. After trading Jed Lowrie earlier this month, the team has less than $15 million committed to contracts, with their payroll sitting at around $25 million once pre-arbitration contracts are renewed. There are five players making any sort of money for Houston this season, and these will be the players that the team will likely be shopping come the trade deadline in an attempt to get some sort of return back.
Bud Norris. Norris is actually getting some interest as we kick off Spring Training, and he could actually be dealt before the season begins. He's never put together a two win season or cracked 200 innings in a season, and will turn 28 next month. But Norris is weird, because he's a much better pitcher at home than on the road…which is quite bizarre considering how favorable Minute Maid Park is towards pitchers. In 2012, Norris' ERA in Houston was more than *five runs* lower at home than on the road, and his homer rate was nearly two-thirds lower. But anyway, with his adequate strikeout and walk rates, Norris could be a solid back-end starter for a team in a pitcher's park…I could see him joining former teammate Wandy Rodriguez in Pittsburgh after a solid first half.
Carlos Pena. Pena is a wild card, and I think he'll be helped by getting half of his home games out of Tropicana Field. But Pena was a worse hitter away from the Trop last year, and struggled terribly against lefties. Thankfully for him, the AL West only has a handful of lefty starters. If Jonathan Singleton comes back from his suspension and starts hitting the cover off of the ball, one of Pena, Chris Carter, and Brett Wallace will likely be expendable come midseason, and Pena seems like the most likely to move considering his salary.
Jose Veras. He's a veteran reliever who strikes out a lot of hitters. Teams generally have a fetish for guys like Veras at the trade deadline. If Veras somehow manages to keep his walks under control, he could actually get Houston a decent enough return, especially considering the club option Houston holds on him for 2013.
Wesley Wright. I think Wright is as good as gone this summer. He absolutely murders lefties and still has two years of control left after 2013. Teams love situational relievers, and Wright fits that bill perfectly. If he continues to improve like he did in 2012, he could actually be a sought after commodity in the summer.
Philip Humber. I don't think Humber will get much of a look from anyone. The 30-year old has had one good year in his career (2011), and has been roughly replacement level or worse during every other season of his career. He's always had an issue with allowing homers, and there's the very distinct possibility that he gets obliterated in Minute Maid. I would actually think that Humber has a better chance at being outright released than traded for anythigng of value this year.
There's also Erik Bedard, who is in camp on a minor league deal, and will earn a roster spot if healthy and effective. He was actually traded at the 2011 trade deadline after a first half that only saw him make 16 starts for Trayvon Robinson (who was then dealt for Robert Andino, and DFAed by the Orioles this past winter)…but hey, in the land of misfit toys that is Houston, someone like Robinson might actually be worth a look.
At any rate, I think the odds are pretty good that the Astros can move all of their salaried players this summer, with the exception of Humber. And at the end of the day, isn't that the main goal? One Bud Norris or two relievers aren't going to keep the Astros respectable. So if a contender is willing to give up young, cheap talent with some upside, why not roll the dice? It makes more sense than keeping all of the veterans in the fold and winning 57 games instead of 55.
Astros on TOC
End of Season Post-Mortem
Hope for the Hopeless
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I'm A Dreamer
2013 Burning Question
This Is My Nightmare (2:00 PM)
X-Factor (3:15 PM)
Top Ten Prospects (4:30 PM)