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Justice denied

I’m going to join with Tom here in a little Richard Justice-bashing for his lame column today.

If people keep reminding Tim Purpura he has been on the job 14 months without acquiring a player of consequence, he’s going to feel compelled to do something stupid.

Maybe that’s why he offered Nomar Garciaparra $6 million. That’s a lot of money for a player out much of the last two seasons with injuries.

Maybe that’s also why there are reports Purpura would be willing to trade Brad Lidge.

If Purpura had signed Garciaparra, the next move should have been docking him a month’s pay. If he trades Lidge, he should be fired.

Money is too tight to throw at a player with a history of breaking down. And trading Lidge would be so monumentally stupid, it’s almost beyond discussion.

Sure the Astros need a hitter. Before they run out and get one, they’d better take stock of what they have.

Their bullpen is a strength. With Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler and Lidge, they have the seventh, eighth and ninth innings taken care of on most nights.

Go ahead and get rid of one of baseball’s best closers. Start watching the other guys try to do what he did. Pitching the eighth is different than pitching the ninth. Ask Octavio Dotel.

Truth is, a left-field platoon of Luke Scott and Chris Burke might be as productive as Garciaparra.

The Astros are still in transition. They still don’t know how good Willy Taveras, Jason Lane and others are going to be. This season will be about them attempting to adjust to pitchers who have seen enough to exploit their weaknesses.

Where to start? First, the case for and against Nomar Garciaparra goes beyond the injury risk, which is real and reasonably worrisome. The thing about Nomar is that if he were healthy, he’d probably do pretty well at Minute Maid Park, which is a pretty friendly place for right-handhed hitters. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, Nomar has hit a lot better at Fenway Park the last three years than he has on the road. It’s not at all unreasonable to assume that he’d perform similarly at the Juice Box, and for $6 million, that seems like a decent risk-to-reward ratio. I’ll say this: A healthy Nomar would have a much better year in Houston than he will in Los Angeles. It’s not unrealistic to worry about paying for someone who’s only played 143 games the last two seasons, but the question to ask is whether a half season of Nomar would still be more productive than a full season of Luke Scott and Chris Burke. It’s not at all clearcut to me that it wouldn’t.

We may not know how good the likes of Burke, Scott, and Willy Taveras may be, but there are various projection systems that can give you a rough but decent idea. Despite the hype for Taveras, players like him historically don’t generate a lot of value, and there’s a real chance he could turn into a world-class outmaker. The upside for a guy like Taveras is that he adds enough points to his batting average that his low walk rate (25 in 592 at-bats) and lack of power (13 doubles) don’t drag him down past the point of usefulness. The downside is too gruesome to contemplate, but on a good overall offensive team, you could maybe hide him for while he’s a good fielder. In other words, the Yankees could have used him, but the Stros need to keep an open mind.

Still, the best bit of unintentional comedy is “Pitching the eighth is different than pitching the ninth. Ask Octavio Dotel.” Why not ask Lidge himself? Who do you think was pitching the eighth inning while Dotel was struggling as the Astros’ closer? The fact of the matter is that very few 80-inning-per-year pitchers are worth the kind of money that routinely gets thrown at guys who’ve claimed the vaunted “Closer” label. The Astros may not have gotten much for their trade of Billy Wagner, but dumping his salary made all kinds of sense. Brad Lidge is a heck of a pitcher, but he’s sure to be overpaid very soon now. Flipping him for a bat would certainly be reasonable and may very well be a steal. Besides, that would mean a promotion for Chad Qualls, and it’d be worth it to see Lair do the Happy Dance. Saying that the idea of moving Lidge is beyond discussion is what’s really stupid.

Justice can be a smart guy when he wants to, but efforts like this one remind me why I prefer to consume my serious sports news from other sources.

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  1. Sue says:

    If I were a baseball GM, there are a handful of players I’d never consider signing/trading for. Nomar’s one of them. Ken Griffey, Jr. is another. Both are far too expensive and injury-prone to be worth the effort.

    Another is Jason Giambi, who probably wouldn’t sign with somebody who called him Judas or Steroid Boy all the time, anyway.

  2. Pete says:

    If you want an immediate demonstration of the differences between good and bad “journalist bloggers” at the Chronicle, read Eric Berger’s SciGuy column, then read Justice. Berger answers questions and comments in an even-handed and civil way, Justice’s style is so defensive and petulant it’s almost beside the point getting into a dialogue with him. You can tell he was the guy at the Chron who whined the loudest when they were told they had to start keeping blogs in the first place.

  3. Anne says:

    It’s not the Happy Dance Laurence does — it’s the Ooogah Boogah dance. I think he’s trademarked it.

  4. kevin whited says:

    Justice’s style is so defensive and petulant it’s almost beside the point getting into a dialogue with him. You can tell he was the guy at the Chron who whined the loudest when they were told they had to start keeping blogs in the first place.

    I don’t think any Chron journalists got told they HAD to keep a blog. I think there was probably some encouragement, and the more forward-looking people actually said “sure, sounds fun, what the heck.” I’m pretty sure some folks have been encouraged to start a blog and have declined. So I don’t think you’re being fair with this criticism of Justice.

    Personally, I’ve grown to like his blog, and it’s generated more interest for me in his column. And I kind of like that he’s prickly sometimes. I wonder sometimes if some of it’s schtick….

    Anyway, I’m more inclined to offer praise to all the Chron people who have blogs and who do engage readers, however prickly or petulant they might seem.

  5. Gary says:

    Even though I think he’s whacked, I gotta admit that I like reading his blog. Mr. Kuffner is right about closers – they’re overrated, overvalued, and probably oversexed.