What to do in 2002?
added 1/7/2001 by Matthew Becker
A fresh start. Many new faces. A revitalized bullpen. A brand new contract for the best player to put on an Astros uniform. The 2000-2001 offseason has been quite a show by the Astros’ front office. However, I'm afraid that this team is putting on the same old show.
First of all, is anyone else concerned with the catcher situation? Brad Ausmus and Tony Eusebio will both be free agents after this season. If you haven't been following the minor league situation, there is very little help there, as well. Unless an extension for Ausmus is in the works, major problems loom on the horizon for 2002.
Speaking of extensions, where is all this money coming from? The club is now talking to both Richard Hidalgo and Moises Alou about extensions...is anyone else concerned that after these two are signed, there will be no more money to go elsewhere? The Astros will have major holes at third base, catcher, and shortstop after the 2001 season, without any money to do anything about them.
What happens now? If both Alou and Hidalgo get extensions (which I fully support), the payroll will already approach 50-52 million at the beginning of the 2002 season. However, that figure only includes those players signed to that point (courtesy of Ray's contract status page). That figure only includes 6 players, with Glen Barker, Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel, Scott Elarton, and Daryle Ward up for arbitration. On the conservative end, those players will cost at least 13-15 million to keep, bringing the projected payroll up to 63-67 million.
We're not finished yet. Assuming the best, we’ll say that the Truby/Hayes monster and Adam Everett are both effective. Therefore, the left side of the infield can remain intact for around 1-1.5 million. That gives the team 14 players. Re-signing Ausmus will cost around 5-6 million per year. Assuming the rotation and bullpen are filled out with a mix of rookies and veterans, which gives the team 7 more roster spots to fill. However, veterans cost money, and assuming that 3-4 are signed, that will cost in the neighborhood of 10-12 million dollars. Then, the remaining bench players can be signed at the MLB minimum salary. Plugging those numbers into the budget, the Astros now are looking at a payroll in the neighborhood of 80-86 million dollars.
Time for a reality check here. Eighty million dollars?! Can Drayton financially support this kind of a lineup? It is indeed impressive, but the pitching is still a major question mark, and given McClane’s history, it does not look good for keeping this team together.
So what can be done? To figure this out, I have put myself in Hunsicker’s shoes. Giving myself a reasonable budget goal (around 65-68 million), and playing with the numbers, I will trade, re-sign, release, and fail to sign players in order to meet this budget with a competitive team. However, all moves must be reasonable (for example, no trading Glen Barker for Mike Piazza). Here’s a table of projected 2002 salaries.
So, how exactly can the payroll be reduced to 68 million? There are obviously many solutions to this, but the most obvious (to me) seems to be trimming the fat in the bullpen. Billy Wagner is my personal hero (I smell next week’s column already). However, paying market rate for a pitcher that only throws around 70 innings per year is a waste of money. Yes, he is important to this team, but not vital, so he gets cut. In his place, another 2 million dollar veteran is signed, making a closer by committee, and reducing the payroll by 6.5 million, to 72.07 million. Also, I would get whatever I can for Jose Lima and sign a veteran starter, saving an additional 4 million.
Quickly, the payroll problem doesn’t seem that bad. If you replace Generic Veteran with a rookie, such as Tony McKnight, the payroll quickly becomes 68.77 million, which is near perfect. However, although the hitting remains constantly strong, the pitching now becomes terribly weak:
Remember, in 2000, the team set records for hitting, but the pitching kept the Astros under .500 for the entire season. However, what I have proposed here seems like the only viable solution. The other players just aren’t expendable. If you see a better way, please either e-mail me or post your thoughts on the forum.