November 2006

Feud over Lane

Retrieveimage The bitter rivalry between the Caracas and Magallanes teams in the Venezuelan League takes on a new chapter, and this time is off the field: Journalist Ismael Granadillo, a writer for the Caracas-based daily Lider and our peer over at astrosdehouston.com, reports the feud between both squads over the services of Astros outfielder Jason Lane.

Lane played with Caracas a few years ago, and he left a pretty nice memory tearing up the League and piling up amazing offensive numbers. Lane himself is very fond of the experience and he has let us know about that during the few times we have talked to him.

Magallanes announced recently that Houston gave them the go-ahead sign in order to assure Lane; while Caracas replies, telling Lider they have already talked to the player, and he promised to talk to Astros brass so they can get their decision reversed.

"We had a verbal agreement with Lane", said Ariel Pratt, Caracas President. "The thing is, the Astros granted permission to Magallanes in order to sign him, when they didn’t ask for anything regarding him, while we used the proper channels of communication. He has said he wants to play with us and we are waiting to ask once again for permission. Jason is talking to Houston to see if Management changes its mind".

On the Magallanes front, Sports Manager Juan Francisco Castillo said: "We asked for permission at the same time as Caracas did, but our request was accepted and theirs wasn’t. If, by any chance, Caracas had any previous agreements, that would be against the regulations set by the Caribbean Baseball Confederation and that could mean fines".

"Lane is a player we’re interested in, but the fact we have gotten the permission doesn’t mean we’ve signed him already", Castillo said. Regardless of the outcome, Jason Lane is no doubt a very interesting piece that could mean a huge help for any  ballclub. Lane would make a decision on coming to Venezuela after the outcome of the presidential elections that will be held this Sunday. We’ll wait and see.

Here comes El Caballo

Capt48915a583aa84180a2cdecdc6c9c0af5astrSay whaaaaaaa? That’s what everyone told me when they got the news today. The Houston Astros have stepped up to the plate and they’ve done what fans all over the place have demanded: getting not just a respectable bat in Carlos Lee; but also solid pitching in Woody Williams.

Let’s face it: they have upped the ante, and that’s something that, at first sight, is not usual Astros behavior (unless you count offers made to Roger Clemens and the unfinished Carlos Beltran proposal). This also sends people a message: We are not kidding. We mean business.

And that’s something gladly welcome, considering Tim Purpura had not made a blockbuster deal in his tenure as Astros GM, until now. He has not just adressed one but two needs the Astros had. Williams and Lee will certainly help fill some seats.

Not just that. It might also be the catalyst Roger Clemens needs in order to sign one more year with Houston, something that might be on Purpura’s agenda, might scare him and Drayton McLane a bit and they are certainly forced to do if Clemens agrees. Andy Pettitte must make up his mind as well. Now.

The $100 million figure offered to Lee is definitely the product of an overblown market thanks in large part to what the Cubs offered to Alfonso Soriano (and are willing to pay a more deserving Carlos Zambrano). Not precisely fair, but it became a requirement.

Purpura told us he was going to be aggressive during the Winter Meetings. After his previous history, we were a bit skeptical; and we are glad to see he proved us wrong.

Here’s the official press release from the Astros:

ASTROS SIGN LEE AND WILLIAMS

Two-time All-Star outfielder and Houston native right-hander sign multi-year contracts

HOUSTON ? The Houston Astros announced today that the club has signed free-agent outfielder Carlos Lee to a six-year, $100 million contract and right-handed pitcher Woody Williams to a two-year, $12.50 million contract plus incentives with a club option for 2009. The announcement was made by General Manager Tim Purpura.

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The 30-year-old Lee hit .300 (187×624) with 37 home runs and 116 RBI in a combined 161 games between Milwaukee and Texas in 2006.  He hit .286 (111×388) with 28 home runs and 81 RBI in 102 games for the Brewers last year before being traded to the Rangers along with outfielder Nelson Cruz on July 28, 2006, in exchange for right-handed pitcher Francisco Cordero, outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, and left-handed pitcher Julian Cordero. After joining Texas, Lee hit .322 (76×236) with nine home runs and 35 RBI in 59 games.

?This is a historic day for our franchise,? said Purpura. ?We succeeded in fulfilling two of our off-season objectives, obtaining a run-producing middle-of-the-order power hitter, and we bolstered our starting pitching staff. Carlos Lee is one of the finest offensive players in the game today, and he will fit very nicely in the middle of our batting order for years to come. Woody Williams is a veteran pitcher who pitches with guts and guile. He will be an integral part of our rotation and will be a mentor to our young pitchers.?

Lee is a veteran of eight Major League seasons and has hit .286 (1308×4570) with 221 home runs and 782 RBI in 1,203 career big league games for the Chicago White Sox (1999-04), Milwaukee (2005-06) and Texas (2006). Lee set career-highs in home runs (37), runs batted in (116), hits (187) and stolen bases (19) in 2006. He collected 300-plus total bases for the fourth consecutive season, finishing eighth in the Majors with 337 total bases. Lee has posted five consecutive seasons of 25 or more home runs since 2002, and 2006 marked the fourth consecutive season that his home run total increased or tied the previous season. The slugger struck out only 65 times in 624 at-bats in 2006, and he has never struck out more than 94 times in a Major League season.

In 2005, Lee earned his first All-Star appearance and received the Silver Slugger award from Louisville Slugger, an award given to the best offensive player at each position in each league. He ranked sixth in the National League with 114 RBI and set the Brewers franchise record for the most before the All-Star Break, plating 76 runs in the first half. Lee was named the Brewers team MVP and finished eighth in the National League in balloting for the Most Valuable Player.

Williams, 40, joins the Astros after spending the past two seasons with the San Diego Padres, where the right-hander compiled a 21-17 record with a 4.28 ERA (145ER/305IP). He was 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA (59ER/145.1IP) for the National League West Division champions in 2006 and was one of eight NL pitchers to record eight or more wins after the All-Star Break. He also pitched for San Diego from 1999-2001.

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A veteran of 14 Major League seasons, Williams is 124-101 with a 4.09 ERA (921ER/2028.1IP). The Fresno resident ranks 12th all-time among active pitchers with nine wins at Minute Maid Park. In 13 career starts at the ballpark, Williams is 9-3 with a 4.42 ERA (37ER/75.1IP). A Houston native, Williams was an All-District shortstop at Cypress-Fairbanks High School and attended the University of Houston, where he was an All-Region shortstop after receiving an Associate of Arts degree from Alvin Community College (Texas).

Stop the insanity

Captef437af51baa4aaa8ea385af5f921966cubsNow we know: Alfonso Soriano is going to the Chicago Cubs in a huge megadeal. This has emerged tonight and we are only waiting for official confirmation.
This tells me two things: Divisional rivals for the Astros are being agressive on the market, and Houston is now forced to follow suit. Otherwise, it would be a huge disappointment for Tim Purpura and crew. Rita is elaborating about this on Hot Stove and Beyond.

Soriano wasn’t definitely the answer to the Astros’ prayers, at least in my humble opinion. A player with a high strikeout ratio, a dubious OBP and some age to go along with it, is not exactly what’s needed, as much pop or power he might be able to provide. I have always believed the way to go is with a player with stable production and occasional power. But then again, that’s not sexy, is it?

Then again, when the rest of your division is not resting and making an impact on the market, you are forced to follow because of survival instincts. This doesn’t mean to go crazy and accept a scalping of Soriano’s proportion, but of not staying quiet.

The market might be influenced by the Soriano deal (some might even say rip-off) in a very negative way.

Many agents will think, hey, if the Cubs are willing to pay such an amount of money to a guy who yes, drives in runs and hits the longball, but is also aging and has a terrible plate discipline, other guys’ prices will go upwards just like oil prices go right after any threat on the Middle East.

The Astros are obliged to act now. If they at least don’t show a respectable offer, or make a meaningful trade (even if that means sending some of Houston’s precious pieces packing) it will become a disaster in terms of public perception. This will only make it harder for the Astros to keep on their philosophy of sound spending, considered by many as frugal.

Attention, shoppers

Kklfl5drI had not written in a long while since, let’s face it, everything going on with the Astros was so predictable, all I would have done is keep on repeating the same old tired clichés you have heard elsewhere. Biggio coming back? Awesome. I never thought he’d call it quits by now. Probably next year.
Clemens and Pettitte being ho-hum about their chances for an encore next season? It just sounds like I’m watching yet another sitcom rerun on Nick at Nite.

Things here have been great so far (in Venezuela, I mean). Good baseball, interesting prospects, bitter rivalries, two fired managers already (and a third one probably in the mix) and even a 20-minute-long bench-clearing brawl. Not that I’m endorsing those, but hey, it gives you some variety.

What is relatively new for me is hearing GM Tim Purpura saying at the Winter Meetings that the Astros will be aggressively shopping during the event. They have already talked about Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee. Wow. After two years of relative inaction in this field, it is refreshing. And it was unavoidable and bound to happen.

I’m not saying Purpura has done a lousy job; the team have been to a World Series and were eliminated in the last day of the regular season in the two years of his administration. It’s just that the moment for something like this was slowly brewing until there was no way they could escape from it. Last year’s weak offensive numbers were more than enough to get it started.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t return to his Minute Maid office empty-handed.