THE PALLILOG

Latest evidence indicates Houston Astros owner isn’t playing games

Astros owner Jim Crane is ready to spend. Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

It’s still autumn for another three weeks but Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings get going this Sunday in San Diego. The Astros didn’t wait until then to crank up the burner on the Hot Stove League. The next week could find resolution to Justin Verlander’s future amidst billions of dollars worth of moves.

Interesting remarks from Not General Manager Jeff Bagwell this week. Bagwell remains the greatest offensive player in Astros’ history. He was a brilliant and smart player. But Baggy’s assertion that the Astros were too numbers geeky under the pushed out James Click is silly. Unless you somehow think the Astros were underachievers the past couple of years. If anything Jeff Luhnow was more hardcore analytics oriented than Click. It was Click who beefed up the number of old school bird dogs on the road scouting talent after Luhnow had slashed the staff to one of the smallest numbers in MLB. Deep use of analytics, breathtaking talent, and the development of pitchers (using analytics) are the roots of what built this Astros’ juggernaut.

The Abreu effect?

Long ago Astros General Manager Gerry Hunsicker said his biggest mistake while here was losing outfielder Bobby Abreu in the expansion draft to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after the 1997 season. The D-Rays were dumb enough to immediately trade Abreu to the Phillies for an offensively feeble shortstop named Kevin Stocker who three years later was out of baseball. Abreu went on to have a tremendous career with a .395 on base percentage, eight times driving in 100 or more runs in a season, eight times scoring 100 or more runs. I’m not saying Bobby Abreu is a Hall of Famer but he has some worthy credentials, and was damn sure better than some other outfielders in the Hall (ahem, Harold Baines and Lloyd Waner to name two).

Anyway, 25 years later it’s not as if the Astros are making up for Gerry’s Abreu gaffe, but they have nearly cornered the market on Abreus. After the All-Star break this year Bryan Abreu was a devastatingly effective relief pitcher who strengthened the Astros’ already outstanding bullpen. Abreu’s earned run average post-break was 0.66, which he followed with a 0.00 ERA over 11 1/3 postseason innings.

Now the Astros have added Jose Abreu to their lineup. Going three years on the contract (at 19.5 million dollars per) to sign him is one year longer than ideal, but it closed the deal on what right now anyway is a terrific addition. Yes Abreu turns 36 next month and older guys can lose it in a hurry. It happened to Yuli Gurriel in 2022. Abreu’s power fell off a cliff the last two months of last season. He mustered just one home run over his last 55 games played. On the other hand, over those 55 games Abreu had a .310 batting average and .372 on base percentage. Over nine seasons with the Chicago White Sox he’s been a quality and durable performer. Yuli’s career OPS is .776. In his worst season Abreu’s OPS was .798. He posted an .824 OPS in 2022. It’s a huge offensive upgrade over “La Pina.” Defense is another matter, but the net result is the best gets better.

All business

Jim Crane isn’t fiddling around. The Astros are more than fine with their present roster, but Crane says they’re not done. Remember, the Astros’ 2022 payroll was lower than it was in 2021. Revenues will be at record levels in 2023. Maybe they just re-sign Gurriel and/or Michael Brantley for reduced roles. It would almost seem unfair to the rest of the American League if the Astros land Brandon Nimmo as a perfect fit lefthanded hitting centerfielder. Or, if you prefer a two-fer how about Willson Contreras to take a chunk of the catching and designated hitter duties, with Cody Bellinger as an on the cheaper side flyer. Bellinger’s offense has been laughingstock bad the last two seasons, but the former National League Rookie of the Year (2017) and NL Most Valuable Player (2019) is still only 27 years old, and is a superior defensive player at both first base and in the outfield. Bellinger was among the more outspoken “The Astros are evil cheats!” guys, but Astros fans would need to get over that if he joins (well, provided he plays at least halfway decently). What, Dodger or Yankee fans won’t root for Carlos Correa if he signs with them?

Everything the Astros are considering/doing is foremost about winning World Series number three. Just for fun though, I close noting that the MLB record for most wins in a regular season is 116.

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