added 3/4/2012 by Bob Hulsey
If closing games were easy, more people would do it. As fewer pitchers toss complete games, managers depend more and more on one guy to finish the night. If that guy doesn't do it well, everyone knows it. If he does extremely well, that "air of invincibility" surrounds the guy and managers then plan for eight-inning games, knowing the ninth is in the bag.
Brett Myers has been mostly a starting pitcher in his career but, in 2007, with a surplus of starters and with Myers coming back from surgery, the Phillies moved Brett to the closer role. While he saved 21 games, remember the Phillies opted to trade for Brad Lidge in the offseason, so they weren't totally wowed by the Myers experiment.
Myers rebounded from surgery with the Astros in 2010 and had a great season. On a better team, he would have won more than the 14 games he did. But he had a dropoff in 2011 and was victimized by first-inning woes. So it was a curious decision that the Astros approached Myers to switch back to the bullpen for 2012.
With Mark Melancon traded and Brandon Lyon still mending from mid-season surgery, the Astros really didn't have very many good candidates although David Carpenter has some closer experience in the minors and Juan Abreu has the type of fastball that could make him a future closer. Myers was as safe a gamble as anything else in camp.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow also believes he has more options in the starting rotation than he does in the bullpen. He has three spots likely reserved for Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ with Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke also veteran possibilities. The move opens the door for younger prospects like Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland, Aneury Rodriguez and Paul Clemens to fight for a job although each are more likely to spend April at AAA Oklahoma City than in Houston.
While roster dynamics are probably the principal reason to move Myers to the pen, there is also a subtle reminder to other teams that Myers can wear more than one hat on a pitching staff and this could improve his trade value. At $11 million dollars, he's a very pricey closer but teams like the Yankees and Red Sox might still bite if their pitching struggles.
Towards the end of last season, young prospects had numerous chances to test their mettle in the majors. I'm learning that Luhnow isn't as comfortable living on the ledge. This is a bad team. Should we give the kids a trial by fire and see who survives or should we give one more chance to veterans who likely won't contribute by 2014-15 but won't embarrass us so badly in 2012?
I read Luhnow's moves as the latter. Can't say I blame him. Who wants on their resume that they took over a 106-loss ballclub and made them worse, even for the long term gain of giving experience to the kids?
So the Astros might be a 90-loss team rather than a 100-loss team. Some will say it's worth it while others will say that 70 wins with Hernandez, Duke or Jack Cust as the stars isn't really building for the future but treading water.
The AL West could be a steep climb. The Rangers and Angels are spending like Yankees while the Mariners and Athletics sputter. The Athletics are desperate to move south to Silicon Valley and, if or when they do, they will switch away from the cheapskate mode they are in now and start spending again. The Mariners are probably in a similar boat as the Astros - a medium market that is going to get outspent by the others for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of the AL West, it looks like MLB has pushed through their plans to have an extra wild card round beginning this season, making the whole league switch seem even more unjustifiable.
What was truly behind forcing the Astros to move? Was it to push year-round interleague play? Was it to mollify the unions with more designated hitters? Was it to pacify the Rangers who complain (legitimately) about being in a division where the rest of the competition is two time zones away? I still fail to see any advantage this switch gives the Astros or the fans of Houston and it only makes it worse that the league continues to lie to Houston fans about why this move was so necessary that it was worth twisting our arms, smearing the new owner's reputation and discarding 50 years of National League ties.
I've yet to hear a compelling reason why the two leagues could not have continued as a 16-14 split. Geez, they even screwed an outgoing owner out of $35 million dollars and themselves out of $35 million more just to make this abomination happen. Houston fans are justified in their outrage.