The pre Hot Stove League

added 9/23/2007 by Scott Barzilla

"When you reach a fork in road, take it." Yogi Berra

The selection of Ed Wade has been a controversial one as all GM hires are. The sabermetric community collectively groaned after the hire. One internet commentator announced that the Astros now have the 30th best GM in baseball. I could go on and on about that pronouncement, but I prefer to be optimistic at this juncture. It is debatable as to why Drayton McLane didn't trust Tim Purpura to put his stamp on the team, but anyone can see that many of the decisions had the owner's stamp.

As any Dallas Cowboys fan will attest, you don't want the owner making a bulk of the decisions. Firing Purpura may not have been completely fair to him, but it was necessary. Similarly, many of us would have rather seen someone else at the helm, but that doesn't particularly matter if the owner is going to meddle. At the press conference, it was announced that Tal Smith would be a lot more involved in baseball decisions. Why not? Smith and Wade have been associates for 30 years. If both of them see eye to eye they will both have an easier time imposing their will on McLane. However you feel about Wade, everyone should agree that having Smith and Wade making decisions is better than the grocer making decisions.

All this being said, the pair have a lot of decisions to make in a short time. Both have to go about repairing an apparently broken farm system and they have perhaps the most important draft in recent franchise history to prepare for. If they choose to offer arbitration to Jason Jennings, Mark Loretta, and Mike Lamb they will have some extra picks in addition to the high draft choices they have. Things can't help but improve there.

More importantly, the direction this club will go will undoubtedly change. Craig Biggio is on way out and Brad Ausmus will have a reduced role at best. Jeff Bagwell, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens are also distant memories. The braintrust must decide whether to go young or use their ample financial resources to add veterans to the mix. Every team makes changes on the mound. The current free agency culture has made that a necessity. However, the club has holes at second base and maybe shortstop, centerfield, or right field.

Before these decisions are made, we will take a look at the options and go over what they could possibly be thinking on each option. First, we will start with the most obvious hole. There will be a new second baseman in Houston. There are a couple of options on the roster and a couple of options in free agency as well. Before we look at those options we probably should look at what they are replacing.

                 AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   SO   BB   ZR   FRAA
Craig Biggio    .249  .280  .380  .660  107   20  .760  -14

There isn't a stat there that you can praise Biggio on. Yes, he is arguably the sixth best second sacker in history. Yes, he might be the greatest player in franchise history, but there is no way to sugarcoat these numbers. Biggio's zone rating is very low. There were two regular second sackers with a worse zone rating. Simply put, there is very little chance that the Astros will not improve at this position. So, let's look at the candidates (keeping in mind that Burke and Loretta have both played multiple positions.)

                 AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   SO   BB   FRAA   ZR
Chris Burke     .234  .311  .363  .674   50   26    -8   .798
Orland Hudson   .294  .376  .441  .817   87   70    17   .814
Mark Loretta    .286  .353  .373  .726   41   44    -4   .808
Tadahito Iguchi .267  .347  .400  .747   88   57    -2   .828

On it's face, it appears Chris Burke shouldn't really be an option, but that would ignore the dynamics of the situation. Everyone remembers the home run he won to win the NLDS in 2005. He also has never been given an opportunity to play second base regularly. Most observers agree he is a superior defensive second baseman in comparison with Mark Loretta. It will be interesting to see how much rope the club gives Burke at this point.

The others offer a variety of different strengths. Hudson is clearly the best player here, but he will also garner a significant contract. If the club wants to make that kind of investment then it will limit what they can do in other areas. Hudson would give them the best top of the order option and Hudson was declared the best fielding second baseman by "The Fielding Bible" just two years ago. I doubt too much has changed there.

Mark Loretta offers affordability (relatively) and flexibility. He can play short and third in a pinch and he already is a familiar face. Loretta is also 38 years old. If Loretta is signed he would definitely be a temporary option. Loretta makes contact, but he isn't a power threat anymore. Taguchi is an accomplished hitter in the sense that he does offer some pop and he's willing to take a walk. However, he likely isn't that good of an option on top of the order.

The baseball market is unpredictable. Hudson could command as much as ten million a season on the open market. Taguchi will likely fall between five and ten million per season. Loretta is harder to predict because no one knows if he would accept arbitration or not. He was willing to take less this season, but if someone offers him an everyday job he might jump on it. Of course, Burke is still under club control, so his financial situation is a lot more predictable. He'll also be cheaper.

The second base decision could reflect what the club is thinking overall. If Wade and Smith want to rebuild then you can bet Burke will be at the helm. If they want to make a run at the Cubs and Brewers they will go with one of the veterans. Second base stands as one of the many interesting decisions the club has this off-season. Next time, we will look at shortstop.