Drayton steps up

added 6/4/2006 by Scott Barzilla

"I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him." William Shakespeare

As the buzz from Roger Clemens press conference wears off and the hang over of the club's slumping ways remains, we are left with many thoughts. One thought says, "thank god Clemens is coming back and can he pitch tommorrow?" Another thought says, "can he hit cleanup and also serve as our setup man, middle reliever, and left specialist?"

John Lopez for his part criticized McLane for tying Tim Purpura's hands. I am not here to criticize McLane or Lopez because they were both right in the instance. McLane has tied the hands of his general manager, but he also went well beyond the scale of what any of us thought he would spend. Following is the ranking of payrolls as they now stand.

New York Yankees   194 million
Boston Red Sox     120 million
Houston Astros     105 million
LA Angels          102 million
New York Mets      101 million

Everyone catch that? We are actually ahead of the Mets in team payroll. So, how in the heck are we below .500? Well, the answer probably starts with the fact that two of the highest paid players aren't in uniform at the moment. Roger Clemens will arrive on the 22nd of this month, but Jeff Bagwell will probably never arrive again. When you throw in Andy Pettitte and his robust 6.03 ERA you have huge problems at the top of your payroll.

It would be easy to turn around and suggest that if McLane had allowed Purpura to build the team the way he wanted to we would be higher in the standings. Gerry Hunsicker left under those exact circumstances. All we did the year after he left was go to a World Series. People heaped praise and scorn upon Purpura, but this has always been McLane's team.

A History Lesson

I shouldn't have to tell anyone this, but sometimes it's important to remind ourselves. Before McLane came on the scene, this team had been to two NLCSs in a little over thirty years. In the last fifteen yeas they've been to six different series and their first World Series. McLane is certainly not responsible for all of this or even most it, but his instincts have been right most of the time.

We also can't ignore the financial state of the franchise. McLane has overseen the construnction of a new stadium, and if we believe him, a club that has gone from losing money to making it by the Hefty bag. More than anything, this has been the area where McLane has put his biggest stamp. All of this has been done while keeping a careful eye on the budget. This is why the Clemens signing has to be at least somewhat surprising. We all knew McLane wanted him, but we also knew he hated to see his budget spiral past the 100 million mark.

While the Astros have been thrilling us in October, the Rockets and Texans have been putting the town to sleep. McLane knows this and knows he can get Houston's first professional sports dollar with another knockout blow. He desperately hopes Clemens can resurrect this current team the way he did the last two. At least he knows he will draw when the Rocket pitches at home. If he can hold on long enough to draw another 2.5+ million fans he will make money again.

Where do we go from here?

It might be tempting to give up on this season. In our heart of hearts we know that it's foolish to expect a miracle three years in a row. Yet, none of us wants to turn the lights out until the fat lady has cleared her lungs. While the club is only three games under .500, there are major holes due to the fact that a lot of key players are underperforming. It would take three or four additional good players to replace them. Either they peform or the season goes down in flames.

Additionally, this team was set up to go on one last run. When you see the amount of money that is being cleared from the payroll you'll see there is a tremendous amount of hope for the future even if the current team doesn't pull itself out of the fire. Following are the players clearing off the payroll at the completion of the season and their salaries according to CBSsportsline.com.

Roger Clemens    13.500*
Andy Pettitte    16.428
Jeff Bagwell     19.369
Roy Oswalt       11.000
Preston Wilson    4.000
Mike Lamb         1.700
Adam Everett      1.900
Morgan Ensberg    3.800
Brad Lidge        3.975

Total            75.672

Of course, Clemens salary is a gross estimate based on when he will actually make his debut. These are only the millionaires that will see their contract lapse. Obviously, some of these guys (Ensberg and Oswalt namely) will hopefully back, but the club could clear as much as 50 million dollars of deadwood. Where that money goes is the important question.

While we can hope that Drayton will pony up another 105 million next season, a return to the 90 million mark is more understandable. Still, if allows Purpura to reshape this team, that should be plenty of money to retool the club. The team has enough young players to build a very competitive team. A few key free agents could breathe some life into the 2007 Astros. Yet, it's still 2006, so let's enjoy watching the Rocket in action one last season.