I don’t get it. Jason Castro, sadly, tears his ACL and is out for the season, so the Astros start poking around to find another catcher. How many wins do they think that is going to buy them? The Astros are terrible. According to Dan Szymborski’s projections, they have just two hitters and two pitchers capable of being above average. Baseball Prospectus thinks they’ll be worse than the Pirates. This is a team with absolutely no chance of going anywhere in 2011. Ninety-plus losses is a virtual certainty. That’s going to happen whether Houston picks up Jesus Flores, or Ryan Doumit, or even if they manage to kidnap Joe Mauer. They can’t actually think they’re going anywhere, can they? If they do, well, they could be poised to make themselves even worse in the long run.
Castro is likely out for the entire season, but he’ll still just be 25 in 2012, and a decent young player who will need major league reps in order to succeed. The chances of him coming back strong in 2012 are actually pretty good. So it doesn’t make sense for Houston to add anyone with a chance of helping the team beyond 2011, when they’ll be at the bottom of the NL Central anyway.
And for 2011, the club already has two catchers ready to go, Humberto Quintero (a terrible journeyman with a .232/.271/.322 career line) and former catcher-of-the-future J.R. Towles (who will be 27 and has only had 319 MLB plate appearances in four years, despite a .861 OPS at AAA). Neither of them are likely to be long-term solutions for the Astros, but doesn’t it make more sense to finally give Towles a half-season behind the dish to see if he can recover his promise? What exactly do the Astros have to lose?
Are they going to be competitive in the NL Central? Not with the Cubs, Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers each with legitimate shots to win 85-plus games. Not with the wild card likely to go to the NL East runner-up. Attendance in Houston has fallen every year since 2006, and is not likely to rebound just because the team improves from 76 wins to 78. Aside from Jordan Lyles, a 20-year-old with the potential to eventually be a No. 2 or 3 starter, help isn’t close to arriving from the minors. Every young player with a chance to help the club now has already been called up. Frankly, they don’t have any talent to spare to bring back a marginal improvement in 2011.
Really, the only smart play for the Astros is to sit on their hands. If they get worse, they improve their draft spot, which would allow them to take some truly talented players in 2012. If Towles finds the talent that once made him a prospect, he can be dealt to a team desperate for catching help and bring in talent that way. There is simply no upside to expending resources to win a game or two more this year.
This is something the Mets seem to have grasped under new GM Sandy Alderson. New York has an extremely top-heavy team of extremely disappointing players, and like the Astros, the Mets have absolutely nothing in the way of prospects ready to help the club in the next year. But they also are going to see at least $38 million come off the books next year, and perhaps more if they don’t re-sign Jose Reyes or if Francisco Rodriguez gets in more trouble. They spent virtually nothing in terms of resources and prospects to bring in guys that would fill out the back end of the rotation, thus keeping the path clear for Jenrry Mejia to eventually rejoin the club. The Mets finally seem to understand that stopping up leaks was only keeping them afloat. They need to build a better boat if they’re going to sail anywhere.