July 03, 2004
Beltran revisited

Well, the Astros' trade for Carlos Beltran has been a mixed success so far. Beltran himself has been spectacular as advertised, but the Stros remain in a struggle to stay over .500, let alone challenge the suddenly surging Cardinals for the NL Central. This has gotten several people to speculate that Houston may turn around and deal Beltran to a real contender later this month. Here's Albert Chen from Sports Illustrated:

Last week's Carlos Beltran-Octavio Dotel-bunch of minor leaguers three-way swap was not small stuff, but it's a trade that could easily blow up for both the A's and Astros. There are a dozen closers out there that I'd trust more with my ninth-inning lead than Dotel, who despite his 14 saves hasn't exactly proven that he's got the closer's mentality to lock down games. (Sorry, Bill James, but makeup is just as important as strikeout-to-walk ratios for closers.)

You probably missed this because the A's ended up winning in 10 innings, but in Dotel's first outing in an Oakland uni on Saturday night, he entered the game in the eighth inning and promptly gave up a four-run lead. Yes, Dotel is a significant upgrade from Arthur Lee Rhodes, but he's no Keith Foulke.

In Houston, Brad Lidge probably will turn out to be a better closer than Dotel (he's got better stuff, and as a prospect in the minors, Lidge actually was more highly regarded than Roy Oswalt). But by getting rid of Dotel, eighth innings in Houston, formerly a sure thing with Lidge, will now be an adventure. Which leads to the ridiculous prediction of the day: In a month, the Astros will find themselves 10 games behind the surging Cubs, then will deal Beltran to another contender and ax manager Jimy Williams. ...

Kevin, from whom I got that link, agrees with the assessment (and like me looks forward to the Astros' pending de-Jimyfication), and Baseball Prospectus' Chris Karhl joins in as well. Unless things turn around quickly, look for more of this trade-Beltran-now talk.

With all due respect, I think that's exactly bass-ackwards. Carlos Beltran is the kind of player you can build a championship caliber team around. He's a great hitter who plays a difficult position well, and has speed and on-base skills to boot. Trading him for prospects on the grounds that he's unsignable is the kind of mediocre no-desire-to-win thinking that made the Royals dump him in the first place.

Whatever happens this year, the Stros have the core of a good team going forward in the likes of Berkman, Ensberg, Lidge, Pettite, Oswalt, Miller, Everett, and maybe Jason Lane (we'll see about him). They have some decent talent on the farm (more on that in a bit), and most importantly, they have some high-priced veteran talent that could not only bring a nice price on the trade market, but also would help to free up the funds needed to keep Beltran (and Berkman) around for a few more years.

Yes, I'm talking about the original Killer B's, Biggio and Bagwell, along with Jeff Kent. Biggio would be a good fit for the Giants, who could use someone (anyone!) with on-base ability to bat ahead of Barry Bonds. The Yankees might be persuaded to give up (say) Brad Halsey and a pot of gold for Kent, as second base is the one weak spot in their lineup. Several teams could use a first baseman that can still hit - the Angels, the Twins, maybe the Padres, the Dodgers, and so on. My point is that all three would not lack for suitors if they were offered.

In return, the Astros could concentrate on getting some pitching depth, another corner outfielder or two, and maybe a first baseman (though they could easily shift Berkman there if they wanted to - he played first at Rice). These are usually commodities that many teams have and can part with. The Stros have a couple of decent second base prospects in Chris Burke at New Orleans and Brooks Conrad at Round Rock, so filling Kent's shoes should be doable.

I know, trading a couple of fan favorites is never easy and could risk a dropoff in attendance. I think, though, that Beltran's play has been good enough that if these moves were complemented by a genuine effort to sign him, the fans would be mollified. They might even be happy to let Bidge and Bags go to a team that really can win now if it looks like it can't or won't happen here.

Will that free up enough cash for Beltran, enough to keep the Yankees and other big-money teams at bay in the winter? Maybe, maybe not. There's no guarantees in this business, especially when dealing with a Scott Boras client. The Stros do have one big advantage, though, which is that they alone can talk contract to Beltran for the next five months. What do they have to lose by giving it their best shot and convincing him that he's the key to their quick turnaround? They can try that before making any trade offers, and if they feel it won't happen, they can still fall back on dealing him. But why not reach for the brass ring first?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 03, 2004 to Baseball | TrackBack

I don't disagree with your sentiment. Let's build the Astros of the future around Beltran, Berkman, and Oswalt (two current Killer Bs and a badass). I just don't think Drayton McLane will go there. He'll keep the seats full the rest of the season, he'll try somewhat to win, and he may even sign Biggio to an extension that handcuffs the next owner (I see Drayton selling out after this season, when the getting is good).

Bagwell should have been moved LAST year to an AL team, when he still had value. We get less now, but he could still be moved I think (others have questioned me on that). Kent would have value, but you hate to move a player who's still producing. Biggio? I dunno if we get anything for him, but I'll leave it to you guys who follow the Astros on that one (I'm just waiting for NFL training camps to open).

Do I think any of that will happen? Nope. I think we largely have the team that's going to get it done (or not). And I don't know if Jimy going would help. But he's starting to remind me of UT's Mack Brown -- he just always seems to make the wrong decision at a critical time.

Fortunately, NFL training camps are close. Really close.

Hey, it's unrelated to this post, but while I'm thinking of it -- we need to plan a Rice-UH football get together. We should be able to involve Greg and any number of other bloggers in it.

Posted by: kevin whited on July 3, 2004 10:02 PM

Bagwell's going nowhere. His contract will keep him an Astro because no other team is going to be willing to pick up a 35 year old 1B with a bum shoulder. The only chance of moving him is for him to find a home in the AL and DH.

I don't think Biggio is going anywhere either. The club has an option on him for next season but beyond that he's a free agent. His defense in the OF is below average and offensively he's good but not great certainly not the kind of guy that you would say gets you over the hump. That said he's having a great year compared to last couple of seasons and would be worth the Astros keeping for his extension price.

Kent is a free agent after this year and has some value in the trade market as a guy you can rent for the stretch drive. But the drawback is nagging injuries. The Yankees make a good fit since the Boss doesn't worry about developing talent as buying it from smaller market teams.

The Astros will have to be careful with Beltran. They would be wise to try to keep him but his contract is going to be for big bucks and Drayton is not likely to be willing (or able with Bagwell's contract) to pay Beltran the kind of money Boras will ask for. There are no ties to Houston for Beltran and if they continue to fade, then trading him is not a terrible idea.

After this season they have to build around Berkman, Everett, Oswalt, Lidge, Miller and Ensberg. They need to bring up Burke and either play or trade Lane. Somewhere they've got to find a quality set-up man for the bullpen.

But right now, they need to fire Jimy Williams. The situation is not all his fault but he's not making the it any better with his goofy substitution patterns. Bob Brenly's on the market after getting the axe from Arizona last week. He can't be any worse.

Posted by: Patrick on July 6, 2004 8:15 AM