Monday, January 10, 2005

Astros lose Beltran, and the dominoes fall... 

With the Seahawks pulling up LAME on Saturday, its all baseball all the time from the Optimist until the NCAA tournament or the Final Four. We are officially on the most painful part of the sports year - the giant abyss between the Seahawks elimination and pitchers and catchers reporting. Thank you, Sonics, for being interesting this year.

Well, it sure sounds like the Astros screwed the pooch in the Carlos Beltran negotiations. They got close enough on dollar figures, but were unwilling to give Beltran the full no-trade clause that he demanded. I can fully understand why the Astros, a team with a $75 million payroll might want an out from committing 20% of it to one player. I can also understand why Carlos Beltran, a player who has been in every trade rumor since he entered the league, would want a no-trade clause. My question is: how could the Astros not know about this little detail sooner?

Losing Beltran means that the Astros will start 2005 without their three biggest run producers of 2004. Jeff Kent went to the green pastures of Dodgertown while Lance Berkman will start the season on the DL. Their remaining studs, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, are well into their decline years (Edgar, Olerud & Boonie, anyone?) And if anyone thinks that Roger Clemens is dying to return to this team in its current condition is crazy.

The Astros look like they are heading for a collapse of 2004 Mariner proportions. Their Opening Day outfield right now looks consists of three of the following:
Jason Lane, a promising rookie (for the past three years) who the Astros have bent over backward to avoid giving an opportunity to.
Willy Taveras, a AA player with incredible speed who could at least cover the spacious and hilly center field in the field formerly known as Enron.
Craig Biggio, who plays the outfield like the second baseman that he is.
Orlando Palmeiro, whose face shows up in the dictionary under the definition of "Replacement Level Player."

The Astros are going to have to deal to improve their team. Randy Winn would be an excellent fit for this team, in that he provides speed to cover centerfield, and could bat leadoff in place of Beltran.

The Astros are currently rumored to be dealing with the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano. This would certainly mean that Craig Biggio would go to the outfield, and would block prospect Chris Burke. This deal makes little sense for the Astros, and hopefully Bill Bavasi is on the phone right now with Astros GM Tim Purpura convincing him of just that. (The Rangers would use the Soriano savings to pursue Carlos Delgado, who M's fans do NOT want to see in Arlington).

If the M's were to deal Winn to the Astros, who might they ask for in return?
First in the list would be 27 year old right-hander Brandon Backe, who almost won the NLCS for the Astros. But after losing Wade Miller, and with the fate of Roger Clemens in doubt, the Astros may not be willing to deal major league pitching. The Astros' two most intriguing pitching prospects are reliever Mike Burns, who was 11-3, 9 saves, 1.67 ERA for AA Round Rock last year, and 24-year-old Ezequiel Astacio, who was 13-10 with a 3.89 ERA for Round Rock. Both pitchers dominate opponents: Burns had 94 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings, and Astacio struck out 185 in 176 innings.
Finally, if the Astros aren't planning on playing him, the M's should certainly ask for second base prospect Chris Burke. He started out as a shortstop, but moved to second base to make room for Adam Everett at short. Last year, in AAA New Orleans, he had a 310/400/500 line with 16 HRs and 37 SBs. His defense at second base is excellent, and would allow Jose Lopez to continue to concentrate on shortstop, as each battles to place themselves somewhere in Seattle's middle infield in 2005. A pretty trade would be Winn for Burke and any of those three pitchers.

Meanwhile, the Mets find themselves with Mike Cameron wasting his defensive talent in right field. Already suitors may be lining up to get the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Could a return to the Pacific Northwest be in the cards for Mr. Cameron? Stranger things would happen, but a Randy Winn trade would have to happen first.

Suffice to say, the ramifications of the Carlos Beltran are not limited to where Mr. Beltran will play centerfield. An opportunity exists for the M's to be affected greatly by this signing.

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