*After trying to think of ideas for entries today, this is what I kept coming back to. Everyone is writing about the Royals Minor League system right now. Hell, it seemed like it was Kansas City Royals Week on ESPN (dot) com. I know I needed a change of pace, so I elected to look at this
For as shitty an experience as being a Royals fan has been post-strike, there is no way I would trade those years of pain and frustration for being a fan of the Houston Astros.
As someone who lives in Texas and has for almost seven years now, I see a good deal of Astros games. I have also seen an inordinate amount of Round Rock Express games, who for the past five years were the Astros' AAA affiliate. Even after the departures of Zack Greinke and David DeJesus during this offseason, I can say with confidence that I like where the Royals stand a lot more than the Astros.
As a team last season, the Houston Astros offense compiled 8.1 fWAR. Of all the teams in baseball, only the Mariners (6.1) and the Pirates (2.8) were worse. They had the lowest BB% in baseball*, tied with the Orioles at 6.9%. As a team, they triple-slashed .247/.303/.362 with their mark of .295 being good the second-worst wOBA in baseball, better than only the Mariners.
*Weirdly, the Royals had the lowest K% in baseball last season with 16.1%, comfortably lower than the second-place ChiSox at 16.8%. Apparently the Royals did something well last year--although there isn't necessarily anything that ties this thing they do well to winning ballgames.
Thanks in large part to a shockingly useful 4.0 fWAR season out of Brett Myers and the 2.6 fWAR that Roy Oswalt provided them while he was still in an Astros uniform last season, the Astros pitching staff was much more middle of the road last year with their 16.0 fWAR being good for 16th in baseball. Again, they got 4.0 fWAR out of Brett Myers, whose 3.82 xFIP would indicate that his 3.14 ERA was at least partially a product of luck. Myers hadn't posted an fWAR higher than 2.0 since 2006, so this may or may not have been an aberration.
I do distinctly remember a time in which Brett Myers was not good at throwing baseballs that ended up in getting batters out. Some might say that qualifies as sucking, but we all have our different standards for assigning suckage to people.
He was solid last year.
Their lineup looks to consist of the following players with '10 fWAR after their name:
|Chris Johnson not worrying about his abysmal BB% in Next|
1B - Brett Wallace | 0.0
2B - Bill Hall | 1.0
SS - Clint Barmes | 0.4
3B - Chris Johnson | 1.6
LF - Carlos Lee | -0.8
CF - Michael Bourn | 4.2
RF - Hunter Pence | 3.1
C - Humberto Quintero | 0.5
IF - Jeff Keppinger | 2.4
OF - Jason Michael | 1.1
SP - Wandy Rodriguez | 3.6
SP - Brett Myers | 4.0
SP - J.A. Happ | 0.8
SP - Bud Norris | 1.6
SP - Nelson Figueroa | 0.5
CL - Brandon Lyon | 1.0
RP - Jeff Fulchino | -0.2
RP - Alberto Arias | 0.5 ('09 fWAR - missed '10)
RP - Wilton Lopez | 1.3
RP - Mark Melancon | 0.3
RP - Wesley Wright | -0.1
That's 22 players based on the depth chart at the Astros MLB.com page. Of those contributors, it should be noted that Chris Johnson is unlikely to replicate the level of production he gave them in 2010, as his BABIP was .387 and he had his 4.1 BB% and 26.7 K% equated to a shockingly low 0.16 BB/K. Of hitters with over 300 PA, only John Buck had a lower BB/K than Chris Johnson in '10.
All of Michael Bourn's value is tied up in his defense. For their all-speed-and-defense 28-year-old center fielder, the Astros will pay $4.4MM with one more year of arbitration-elibigility to go.
Wandy Rodriguez just turned 32 and is owed at least $32.5MM over the next three seasons. He has a lame first name that evokes images pig-tails, Baconators, and Doogie Howser's girlfriend.
Hunter Pence was eligible for arbitration last year as a 27-year-old Super-Two and is set to make somewhere between $5.15MM and $6.9MM as a 28-year-old in '11 depending on what arbitrators decide, with two more years of arbitration-eligibility to go. Rooting for him also means having to root for someone named Hunter (what, is he eight years old?) and whose last name is the most worthless of British coinage. The only way he makes up for this fact is if he embraces it fully and selects this for his walk-up music:
The Rentals - Friends of P. from The Rentals History on Vimeo.
The aforementioned Myers is due a guaranteed $21MM over two years (with a buyout for the third) that turns into $28MM over three if an option vests.
Barring a violation of the 'nominal weight clause' in his contract, the negative-value Carlos Lee is still due $18.5MM in each of the next two seasons. Despite his nickname, he cannot actually be taken to the glue factory. Whether or not that is still the case if his clause comes into play is conceivably another story altogether.
Clint Barmes will inexplicably by making $3.925MM this season to presumably play over super-sub Jeff Keppinger. I use the qualifier 'inexplicably' because he is somehow 32 years old come Opening Day, yet the former prospect has compiled a mere 4.4 fWAR since playing sporadically beginning in 2003. He is coming off a 0.4 fWAR season yet is getting paid money that would indicate that (a) he is decent, and (b) he is better than Jeff Keppinger. Neither of those statements would seem to be accurate. I am sure he is a really nice guy, though.
The club is also still paying roughly $7MM of Roy Oswalt's salary in 2011.
Before factoring in the salaries of any of their league-minimum players, the Astros are currently looking at $64.748MM guaranteed (not counting what Pence is awarded in arbitration)on the books in '11 and $47.25 still in '12. And for what? They have a solid RHSP and a solid LHSP, an all-glove CF, a solid RF, and a remaining roster of filler.
Moreover, their farm system is not going to be helping anytime soon. FanGraphs had their farm system ranked 29th overall. This was before Milwaukee traded away its then first- and third-ranked prospects for Greinke, but Milwaukee was five spots ahead of them. Having done their drafts on the cheap for years under the reign of tight-fisted Drayton MacLane, the system is well shallow.
Jordan Lyles, their top prospect was a 19-year-old in AAA-Round Rock last year but does not have overpowering stuff. It is also entirely possible that they are detrimentally rushing their only inarguably top flight talent through the minors. He profiles as a #3 starter. Delino DeSheilds Jr. is their only other four-star prospect according to Kevin Goldstein, and he was thought to be an over-draft at the eighth overall pick last year. John Sickels had Lyles as the only B+ grade he handed out to anyone in the system, being much less bullish on DeShields, who he had tentatively lumped in with other B- players, Mike Foltynewicz, Austin Wates, and J.D. Martinez.
If Jason Castro were still a prospect, Kevin Goldstein would have him in between Lyles and DeShields on his Top 10 Talents 25 and Under in the system, with Brett Wallace ranked fourth. Let's just say that after three trades (that means four organizations) in two years, a bit of the luster of Brett Wallace's prospect sheen has come off.
Obviously, there is a lot more that is still up in the air for the Royals, but Billy Butler's 3.4 fWAR was higher than every Astros offensive player other than Michael Bourn. The Royals bullpen looks to be solid. At his peak, Jeff Francis was a 4.1 fWAR player, and he was a 1.9 fWAR pitcher in 19 starts last season.
And then there's the farm. What is there left to say?
Optimistically, the Astros could be competitive in, what, five years? That's a best-case scenario and is also operating under the assumption that the Mayans were wrong. At least in 2012, when the world ends, Royals fans will have been looking hopefully to the future with the Holy Trinity (or perhaps the Unholy Triumvirate given the circumstances) of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Wil "One-L" Myers having taken the field at The K together. Can Lastros fans say the same?
Obviously, this is just a cursory glance at another organization--one that I am somewhat familiar with as a result of living where Astros games are locally broadcast. Cheap ownership has hamstrung this franchise, which is now a shell of what it was in the middle of the last decade. They never equipped themselves to rebuild after the core of their roster got too old to play. Jeff Bagwell was just on his first Hall of Fame ballot, and it has been nearly that long since they've resembled a contending ballclub. Things would not appear to be much brighter on the horizon.