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Houston Astros: 8 Ways They Can Stay Relevant in Houston

You know the story by now. The team is in last place and hasn’t played a relevant game since 2008. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2005 and haven’t seriously competed since 2006.

When you go five years without being relevant, you risk losing the fan base. This is particularly true in a society that expects instant gratification. Houston fans tend to be of the bandwagon variety and the Texans are the hot ticket in town.

Still, the Astros have a richer history than the other two major league franchises in town. They are poised to have new ownership. They are finally beginning the process of rebuilding.

The elements are in place for the Astros to keep their place in the Houston landscape, but they are going to have to do some work this offseason to make it happen.

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Chicago Cubs and Jim Hendry in the Final Analysis

Jim Hendry has already gotten the pink slip, so a lot of the venom Cubs fans may have felt is gone. Now, it is time to pick up the pieces and move on. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pieces to pick up. The Cubs have a top-five payroll and stand in fifth place in their division. That alone tells you the kind of analysis that has been done. Furthermore, they haven’t been a factor in the division for several years.

Interestingly enough, this team is not devoid of good players. Quite the contrary, when you look of the number of good players they have, you wonder how they stand in fifth place. This is one of those organizations that consistently makes you scratch your head. Some teams (say the Angels or Rays) make you wonder how they win. With the Cubs, you wonder how they lose. It takes some creativity.


Key Statistics

Team Payroll: 125.0 million (sixth)

Lineup: 17.6

Rotation: 16.6

Bullpen: 18.1

Composite: 17.4

Analysis Score: -11.4


The secret to Hendry’s success (if you can call it that) is that he was not terrible in any phase of the game. The problem was that he was just bad enough to field a losing team. Still, fans could point to players like Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Starling Castro and even Marlon Byrd and say the talent is there. Yes it is, but then there were the contracts for Kosuke Fukodome, Alfonso Soriano and the maddening inconsistency of Geovany Soto.

They weren’t terrible, but they were paying through the nose for mediocre players. Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukodome all made more than 10 million dollars this year. Ramirez may have been the only one who came close to producing on that kind of level. Mind you, I said close. Keeping your job without the benefit of results takes effort. You can’t completely botch moves. They simply have to underachieve enough to the point where the powers that be won’t notice.



In reality, the starting staff isn’t really that bad. Sure, Carlos Zambrano has a toxic personality and the contract to match, but you have three solid starters including Randy Wells, Ryan Dempster and the newly acquired Matt Garza. All of them have pitched well even if their collective ERA doesn’t show it. See, the Cubs are currently last in the National League (and all of MLB) in defense efficiency rating (DER). DER is the inverse of BABIP. The Cubs have a .675 team DER this season. That means that their opponents have a collective .325 BABIP this year. So, Matt Garza is the only starter with a sub 4.00 ERA, but with better luck they could have two or three pitchers there.

That’s also one of the ways in which you can underachieve and still keep your job. While they’ve committed the most errors in the league, that doesn’t always have to be the case. It just means the team makes fewer plays. That’s usually due to lack of range. Range is not something casual fans or owners notice. The Cubs could use a serviceable fifth starter but, then again, so could most of the league. What they really need is for Carlos Zambrano to either start earning his money or go away.



Carlos Marmol has been filthy in the past, but something happened on the way to him becoming the best closer in the National League. He suddenly became hittable. Andrew Cashner was supposed to be the heir apparent, but he got hurt and has been ineffective. Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Jeff Samardzija have been fine, but none are good enough to hold down the closer’s spot in Marmol’s stead. So, they have been stuck with his inconsistent performance.


Response to Crisis

The Cubs were out of it before the season got going and Hendry was out too as it turned out. So, the main crisis is how the organization is going to move forward. They traded Fukodome to Cleveland, but that just cleared a few million dollars. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano are signed long-term. Zambrano will clear the books after next season and Soriano will clear after 2014. Finding takers for them would be ideal, but they are going to have to get someone drunk to do it.

Part of the crisis will be to avoid the temptation to spend their way out of the mess. Carlos Pena is a free agent, so they have his money and the money dedicated to Fukodome clearing the books. The temptation is there to go after Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. Neither of them will be enough to take the Cubs anywhere. They would energize the fan base, but this fan base needs winning more than glitz.


Analysis Score: -11.4 (29th)

Final Analysis

Actually, this rank seems pretty close. The only thing that remains a mystery is why it took ownership so long to pull the plug on Hendry. The emperor had no clothes and was running around in the buff for several seasons. Chicago is an intriguing job, so chances are they will attract a big name. Don’t be surprised if that guy gets this team competitive in a hurry.

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Boston Red Sox and Theo Epstein in the Final Analysis

The Red Sox and Yankees have been battling for the AL East so long it is hard to remember anyone other than Tampa Bay Rays actually competing with them. This year has been no different. Honestly, no one outside of Boston or New York particularly cares who wins the division. Both teams are going to the playoffs again and that is all that matters.

Theo Epstein has abandoned his principles some in the past couple of seasons. He added Carl Crawford for a huge sum of money this season and added John Lackey last season. Neither lived up to his advanced billing, but in the new economic order, Boston doesn’t have to worry about bad contracts as much as they used to.

Key Statistics

Team Payroll: $161.7 million (3rd)

Lineup: 3.4

Starting Rotation: 10.1

Bullpen: 7.0

Composite Ranking: 6.8

Analysis Score: -3.8



The Carl Crawford signing was significantly out of character for Theo Epstein. For one, his style of play doesn’t fit the mold of the player the Red Sox typically go for. Most of their players have great plate discipline, and Crawford isn’t that player. Moreover, the contract itself seemed really foolish. Crawford is a versatile player who brings a lot of value to the table when all things are considered.

Unfortunately, most of that value is tied up in speed. Speed tends to leave when players start getting into their early 30s. So, we can’t hold Crawford’s bad season against Epstein, but we can hold the bad contract against him. Otherwise, this is a very good lineup with a lot of patient hitters. Adrian Gonzalez was a stroke of genius, but again, the contract seems a bit bloated.


Red Sox haters were pointing and laughing about Josh Beckett’s extension at the beginning of the season. His first two starts were on the rough side. Epstein has the last laugh for now, as Beckett sports a 2.49 ERA over the whole season. He is “only” 12-5 despite the low mark, but this has been his best season as a Red Sox.

Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have been as good as advertised when healthy. If both are healthy they will settle in as the second and third starters in the playoffs. Buchholz should be back by playoff time, but might not have enough strength to start. That will leave either the ageless Tim Wakefield and/or the struggling John Lackey as the third starter.

Looking at Lackey’s numbers, it is hard to fathom how he has a 6.00-plus ERA this year. At any rate, they may have to bite their lip and let him get a start in the ALDS.

We almost forgot the artist formally known as Dice-K. He has been Boston’s most famous disappearing act since Harry Houdini. He is out for the season with right elbow surgery, but he still has another year on his contract. Andrew Miller is taking his spot for the time being, but with $10 million on the books, Matsuzaka will likely get another chance.


Epstein tried to make the Red Sox bullpen the deepest in baseball. He already had Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard. He turned around and added Dan Wheeler, Bobby Howry and Matt Albers. So far, none of them have exactly lived up to advanced billing, but at least Wheeler and Albers have been productive. Howry has been yet another disappearing act.

In fact, a look up and down the 2011 roster is a veritable who’s who from the past several seasons. Franklin Morales also appears on the list. His numbers have actually been pretty good. Alfredo Aceves might be the biggest surprise of the campaign and all playoff teams have at least one player in each phase that surprises.

Response to Crisis

The injury to Dice-K and the ineffectiveness of John Lackey put the Red Sox behind the eight ball in terms of starting pitching depth. They were able to maintain for awhile, but when Clay Buchholz went down with a stress fracture in his back, Epstein had to act. He had a deal worked out with the Athletics for Rich Harden, but Harden failed his physical. So, he turned to the Mariners and acquired Erik Bedard. Somehow, he passed his physical.

Bedard made six starts as a Red Sox and actually was productive before he went on the shelf. He is officially listed as day-to-day (aren’t we all), but he may not make another start this season. The Red Sox will keep him on the postseason roster as a situational lefty. He did bridge the gap between Buchholz and Andrew Miller though.

Analysis Score: -3.8 (22nd)

Final Analysis

There is no way that Theo Epstein ranks this low in reality, but when you spend as much money as the Red Sox there is no way you can get bang for your buck. A number of players on the roster have either been ineffective or hurt. In the lineup alone, you have J.D. Drew and Carl Crawford. The mound has more names on that list.

On the other hand, if the AL MVP doesn’t go to Jose Bautista, it will likely go to either Adrian Gonzalez or Jacoby Ellsbury. Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have also been excellent when healthy.

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Baltimore Orioles and Andy MacPhail in the Final Analysis

The 2011 campaign was supposed to be a better year for the Orioles. Andy MacPhail is on the hot seat and may not return. Of course, we have to remember that analysis and performance is not the same thing. When we look at analysis, we go back further than 2011. We look at performance going back to 2007 and sometimes further. Sometimes players just have down seasons and sometimes they get hurt without warning.

It is hard to look at the Orioles and feel good about what they have done so far. The organization feels like an Etch-a-Sketch that seems to get partially erased every couple of seasons. Nothing seems to be sustained and so they are looking up at their rivals for another season. Furthermore, there is nothing on the horizon to make you think that won’t be the case in 2012.

Key Statistics

Team Payroll: $85.3 million (18th)

Lineup: 11.4

Starting Rotation: 22.5

Bullpen: 17.8

Composite Ranking: 17.2

Analysis Score: +0.8



The lineup represents the greatest hope that MacPhail had for competitiveness and where a majority of the payroll rests. He added Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds in the offseason. The general idea was to pair them with established hitters like Brian Roberts, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. If everything broke right it would have been a formidable attack.

Some of it was out of everyone’s control. Brian Roberts has been hurt for going on two years. Derrek Lee was not effective and later traded in a salary dump. Furthermore, Nick Markakis and Vladimir Guerrero did not produce the normal numbers they had in the past. Even the consistent Luke Scott went down with an injury.

Out of the group, only J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones produced as they had hoped. Matt Wieters continues to improve behind the dish and at the dish. He represents the direction the Orioles should be going.



Again, the performance has been worse than what the analysis dictates should have happened. Unfortunately, managers and general managers usually aren’t judged on the quality of their decisions, but on the results of their decisions. Brian Matusz seemed destined to be a No. 2 or 3 starter before his season devolved into a 1-7, 9.84 ERA disaster.

The same could be said for Jeremy Guthrie. He has the unfortunate role of being the No. 1 pitcher. Going up against the league’s No. 1 pitchers has taken its toll. He is mathematically in the running to lose 20 games. Zach Britton has been solid, but no one in this rotation knocked your socks off this year. The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for him to bounce back next season. Still, there isn’t enough here to make a good rotation.



The Orioles bullpen has been okay. Kevin Gregg is a decent enough closer and they had support from veterans like Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez was traded to the Rangers before the August 31 roster deadline. Koji Uehara was a revelation and MacPhail did a good job trading him while his value was high. Jim Johnson is also solid in the pen, but right now the pen amounts to Gregg, Johnson and a bunch of crap.


Response to Crisis

It is clear that Andy MacPhail thought he had made enough moves to make the Orioles respectable. I’m not sure that was the right way to go. He really didn’t have any answers for when Brian Roberts, Luke Scott and the young pitchers went down with injuries. It seems the plan was to hope everything went according to plan. He did trade veterans Lee, Uehara and Gonzalez down the stretch. He didn’t net much for any of them, but the financial savings should help some.


Analysis Score: +0.8 (15th)

Final Analysis: There is no way in heck that Andy MacPhail is in the middle of the pack. Even if we assume that everything would have broken right for the Orioles, they would have finished no higher than fourth in the AL East and probably still fifth.

If you add all of the free-agent money together, you get in excess of $20 million. Their payroll could be in the neighborhood of the Blue Jays or Nationals and probably have similar scores for the three phases. He likely will end up being at least in the bottom ten if not the bottom five.

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