The Astros' Smoldering Ember Sale

added 2/7/2013 by Bob Hulsey

GM Jeff Luhnow has had his fire sale. Now he's even selling off the smoldering embers of what was once the Houston Astros. The latest to go were oft-injured shortstop Jed Lowrie and reliever Fernando Rodriguez. What came back in return was the now-cliche three prospects, although one has some significant playing time in the majors and another had an impressive cup of coffee in 2011 before face-planting at AAA last season.

Apparently the next to go will be pitcher Bud Norris who had the nerve to sign a $3 million one-year contract last month despite a 7-14 record last year. That's the high-rent district on this club which immediately made him a trade target.

It was one thing to jettison the over-30 crowd that was making over $10 million per season and were not going to be around when the Astros return to contention. Now, Luhnow is purging 20-somethings who are still under club control.

To listen to the true believers, this is all part of the plan and we have to build a nucleus that will be reaching the majors and puberty all at the same time. New 34-year-old DH Carlos Pena is going to feel like Methuselah in this clubhouse.

Here are two sobering thoughts: The entire projected Astros payroll would fit comfortably in the salary the Yankees are paying to one player (Alex Rodriguez at $28 million) and if Norris is traded for more kids, the Astros could come in at under 2/3rds of Rodriguez’ salary. Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia will also get paid more than the entire Houston roster.

And should the Astros choose the Scott Boras-repped pitcher Mark Appel with this June's first overall draft selection, he will instantly become the highest-paid person in the organization.

I find it interesting that one of the alleged suitors for Norris is the St. Louis Cardinals who now find themselves without Chris Carpenter yet again and seem unwilling to re-sign free agent Kyle Lohse so are said to be in need of rotation help. Norris has been an amazing 8-5 (2.74 ERA) against the Redbirds in his career but that means he has been 20-32 in his career versus everyone else. So he may become a star in St. Louis or he could become a Fukushima-grade disaster depending on how you look at it.

It’s curious, too, to note that the Cards are eyeing our table scraps when their farm system was left in such spectacular shape by scouting genius Jeff Luhnow. Oops.

However, I think I have finally made sense of the madness. The Astros were unwilling hostages in the move to the Arena League so their response is to put the most hideously uncompetitive team on the field possible as a way to damage the league's credibility - a tall order given the sustained failure of the Kansas City Royals. But even the Royals have never committed Seppuku the way the Astros have been doing.

Already there are rumblings from AL East cities about how unfair it is for the other four West Division neighbors to feast on 19 games apiece against the AAAstros, perhaps guaranteeing that the Angels, Rangers and A's all make the playoffs and leaving the East with only one postseason representative.

Maybe the AL will be so disgusted that they will demand the Astros go back to the National League at the next available opportunity. If that was Jim Crane's plan all along, it was a stroke of incredible genius and I'll never question him and his decision scientists again.

It sure beats my alternate explanation for this that the Astros are actually so broke they can't afford to make a payroll above $20 million but don't want to go public about it.