Unless someone knows something I don’t, as best I know right now, the Astros plan to start Chris Burke at second, Adam Everett at short and Ty Wigginton at third. There is no Chase Utley, A-Rod (pre-Yankees) or Scott Rolen on our AA or AAA team who could take over, so let’s not go there please. Let’s talk about each guy and his position in turn, remembering what happened when we played guys at second, third AND short who were terrible defenders – and yes, I know that hitting the baseball is a necessary component of a baseball game. Winning one, anyway.
Oh yeah, and let’s remember that Tal Smith and his, uh, underling, Ed Wade, are stating that pitching and DEFENSE wins ball games, which means that Loretta will NOT be the starting SS or second baseman. (Don’t ask me to explain Ty Wigginton. And, by the way, let’s not get started on the put Wiggy at second bandwagon. His glove at second is – looking for a word – abysmal. Which means it is so bad it makes his glove at third look like Brooks Robinson.)
First, Chris Burke. Drafted as our first round pick in the 01 draft, an outstanding college SS. The Organization decided his arm wasn’t strong enough to play short and put him at second, where he excelled. After a standout year at AAA in 2004 – .315/.396/.517 with 35 SB, he was clearly ready for the Show. Problem was that McLane had already decided to keep Biggio until he collected 3000 hits and Biggio was an unmitigated disaster in left (to be kind about it) and the Organization decided to keep Burke hanging around instead of trading him – he was QUITE valuable, for obvious reasons.
In 2005, as we all know, he started the season platooning in left with Luke Scott, an arrangement that didn’t do either of them any good. He was sent back to AAA for a few months, essentially repeated his excellent numbers from the previous year, then was called back up, with mixed results. It MUST be noted that unlike AAA, he didn’t bat leadoff OR play second, his natural position AND he continued to be platooned, in spite of the fact that he didn’t have huge lefty righty splits that would justify such a move.
Then, of course, we all know that Burke separated his left (no-throwing) shoulder in the 05 Series, and twice more during 06. He had an operation to prevent it from dislocating it again after season ended. As I’ve discussed before, he played really well in center field in 06, betwen the two times he injured his shoulder that year and in fact, I doubt that Willy Taveras would have played full time again in center if Burke hadn’t re-injured himself – in case yall forgot, in those games in which he played every day, he hit .295/.381/.500 – no wonder the Astros thought he could replace Willy.
At the start of 07, he faced significant fan displeasure because he 1) replaced popular Willy T; 2) was going to play center instead of Hunter Pence, the new darling; 3) he started ST and the 07 year in a terrible slump.
I seriously wonder if the shoulder operation somehow interfered with his swing, because for the first time, he didn’t hit at AAA either – .651 OPS in 66 AB (or am I gonna get the dreaded Small Sample Size complaint here too???)
He’s going to be 28 years old at the beginning of the season and will not have played winter ball. I have absolutely no idea whether or not he’s been ruined by his injury. I DO know, however, that his defense is better than Loretta’s (yes, Loretta is a butcher at second too – equal opportunity butcher) as his throwing was not affected by the injury. He will have had an entire year to heal and it is possible that if he is playing his actual position and leading off, he will be relaxed enough to do well. I will admit that at this point, I can’t/won’t predict how he will do. I thought Mo Ensberg would recover once his shoulder healed and I was wrong about him as his swing was permanently gone. Although I can’t describe it well, it was more than obvious that something was VERY wrong with Burke’s swing this year and I hope he works with a video/hitting coach this offseason.
Let’s look at his FA competition:
Luis Castillo, age 32. Just finished a 5.75 mill option year. Dude can hit – since he became a full time player in 99, he’s hit right around 300 every year except 01, in which he had a down year. His lifetime averages are .295/.368/.358/.726 (translation – a Mark Loretta singles hitter only 5 years younger). He was a good base stealer when he was much younger, but he’s slowed down a great deal and is caught far too frequently – not even a 70% success rate these past few years. Needless to say, his glove ain’t what it used to be now that he weighs (snicker) 190 – has a ZR of .798 (yikes) and a RF of 4.41 (well, at least Jeff Kent was worse) so let’s say he’s Loretta with a slightly worse glove. Yes, you read that right.
Damion Easley, age 38. Has been a utilityman, IF and OF, for 4 years now and hasn’t exceeded 300 AB since 02. Obviously, he can’t be a full time 2B and as a utility guy, Bruntlett is younger and better.
Marcus Giles, age 29. Just finished a 1 year 3.25 mill contract with the Padres, who have just let him go. I have NO idea what on earth happened to this guy. From 03-05, he hit for average (.312) and power (.480), then had a substantial decrease in those numbers last year with the Braves – his OPS dropped 100 points from .826 to .726, and the Braves chose not to offer arb and waived him. The Padres picked him up, and he was even worse, even away from Petco – .252/.318/.354/.662. I know what conspiracy theorists are saying about, uh, substances, but he fell off 2 years after testing started. I really don’t see the point of substituting Giles for Burke. Giles, by the way, still has a very solid glove – RF of 5.08 and a ZR of .829.
Tadahito Iguchi, age 33. Just finished his 3 year contract and was paid 3.25 mill this year. The White Sox traded him to the Phils when Utley broke his wrist, so at least in the NL, Iguchi played second for a solid month, did VERY well – .304/.361/.462/.803 in 45 games, then was relegated to bench/utility when Utley returned. His ML numbers are solid – .276/.347/.421/.768 (please remember that most second basemen are Iguchis, not Utleys/Biggio ‘97.) He doesn’t GIDP very often, just 6 in 533 PA this year and 7 over 627 PA last year. He strikes out quite a bit, around 110 times a year, walks around 44 times a year and will steal 12-14 bases a year with a 77% success rate. His glove is solid if not golden – RF of 4.85 and ZR .830. I could see signing him – and someone surely give him 3 years. Adam Kennedy, who was expected to produce similar numbers, was given a 3 year 10 mill contract by the Cards last year, so I would expect Iguchi to get a good 4-5 mill a year contract, which is hardly out of line.
Mark Loretta, age 36. Finished a 1 year 2.5 mill contract. He’s a good singles hitter, .287/.352/.372/.724 for the year – as we all know, who clearly tired significantly in the second half. Pre ASB, he hit .317/.394/.410/.810 over 243 AB and post ASB, hit .253/.303/.323/.626 over 217 AB. Glove at short simply dreadful. He didn’t play much at second, but the previous year he had a ZR of .805 and a RF of 4.88 and was rated something like 12th of 14 AL second basemen by UZR and Chris Dial (as soon as they post ths year’s data, I will re-post it.)
Kaz Matsui, age 32. Was supposed to be an Ichiro sort of star when the Mets signed him 4 years ago. Unfortunately, the Big Apple took a bite out of him and the Mets traded him the Rockies at the trade deadline in 06 for some chewing gum, if I remember rightly. The booing had completely screwed him up, and when the Rockies signed him, they sent him to AAA for a few weeks to clear his head, and he seemed to be a new guy when he came back up. Of course, he has the usual extreme Coors splits, so just looking at his away numbers, he hit .249/.303/.333/.638, which is not exactly, uh, good. He almost never walks (around 15 a year), strikes out (around 30 a year) or GIDP (about 2-3 a year). As for his glove, well, he was a SS in Japan and started there when he signed with the Mets. Unfortunately, that was a, uh, disaster, so they switched him to second, which worked a little better, and it was clear that he had been improving when they traded him. He’s been really great since he hit Colorado and had a 5.33 ZR and a .866 RF, which is almost as good as Chase Utley, the top dog. I would guess he will get a 1 year contract somewhere with an option, probably a couple mill a year. I’m not convinced that he is even Tad Iguchi with the bat
Jose Valentin, age 38. Was a SS for most of his career, didn’t play second until 06, when he was actually used more as a utility guy until the Mets decided that Matsui HAD to go and inserted Valentin into his spot. He was hurt and on the DL since the middle of July, not that he’d been either hitting or fieldoing very well. He’d had a career year in 06, but hadn’t hit over his lifetime OPS of .765 since 2001. Actually, he’s been hurt or played part-time for the past 3 years and I doubt he could be a full time second baseman any more. He’s really a utility guy at his age – we ALREADY have a younger better utility guy, as I said before.
Conclusions? Well, Burke will cost around 500K. Iguchi, the only decent looking ballplayer on the list will cost around 4 mill a year for 3 years and I’m not kidding myself that he’s this great ballplayer. If the Astros waived/traded Burke and signed Iguchi, don’t guess I’d scream as the Willy T luuuuvvvvvers did when their boy got traded.
So who would I most like to see at second? Bill Hall, that’s who. He’s just a few months older than Burke and is a solid bat who could play second, third or short with a GOOD glove, who has been tossed aside by the Brewers. Hall, like Burke, was put into center, where he didn’t belong, given a very VERY short time in which to excell and once he hurt himself, was relegated to the bench and is MORE than obviously not in the Brewers plans. He’ll be starting the second year of a 4 year 24 mill contract and would cost 4.8 mill next year. In 05 and 06, when he played full time, he hit .280/.331/.530/.870.
As for glove, well, he hasn’t played much second since 04 and he doesn’t, uh, fit the defense profile as his RF is 4.84 and his ZR is .804. His numbers had been improving every year, however, and I heard from Brewers fans that Bill works VERY hard to improve himself. I would bet he could be had for 1 young starting pitcher and I would agree to trade pretty much any of the ones we have, as they all look like #4 type guys to me.
Anyone who has trade suggestions, let’s hear em – except the ones that go – let’s trade Woody Williams for Chase Utley and we can throw in Borkowski too…