There are certain implicit benefits that come from a major-league worst 56-106 record for the Houston Astros franchise. In addition to ‘earning’ the rights to the first overall selection in the 2012 MLB amateur player draft, the organization was given the highest waiver priority among all clubs for the duration of the off-season.
Preparing for what will be its final season competing as a member of the National League, the Astros successfully executed an intriguing under-the-radar claim on January 11th, acquiring the services of New York Mets farmhand Fernando Martinez, an outfielder. The roster move serves as the second significant one of the Winter for new General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who recently traded the team’s closer, Mark Melancon, to the Boston Red Sox.
After leaving his native Dominican Republic to sign with the Mets at the ripe age of 16, ‘F-Mart’ was named New York’s best prospect in both ’07 and ’08 by Baseball America. He again received such accolades in ’09 and ’10, this time from Scout.com. He has struggled to find success at the major-league level, admittedly. That being said, he saw action in only 11 MLB games last year. At just 23 years old, the potential to harness the superb raw talent that baseball execs have long drooled over makes it easy to understand why Houston was so quick to act when they saw Martinez’ name flash across the waiver wire.
Now here is the question that will ought to make manager Brad Mills’ head spin:
On any given night, who mans the outfield for the Astros?
Allow me to lay things out as I see them:
I really like Brian Bogusevic. I really, really like J.D. Martinez. In that pair you have arguably the two best hitters on this team (I am arguing for this). Feels like every ball that comes off either of their bats is a laser. They need to be in the line-up. They need to be. They NEED to be. Moving on.
How are you going to tell Jason Bourgeois he can’t play everyday? He barely played in half of the team’s games last season yet still managed to steal 31 (!!!) bags, while getting on base at a .321 clip. Those numbers scream top-of-the-order regular. Oh, and his defense isn’t too shabby either. He possesses blazing speed and the willingness to lay out for any ball. If you’re into that sorta thing.
The center-piece of the Michael Bourn trade deadline departure was the gritty Jordan Schafer, who has struggled to overcome a number of injuries and off-the-field issues but fully expects to play a significant role in Houston’s resurgence. If he’s as good as advertised, and considering who he was traded for, should he not be?
Then comes the $19 million (I’ll pause while each of you collectively throw up in your mouth a little bit) liability known as Carlos Lee. The ignorant baseball mind may suggest that the easy solution to the ‘El Caballo’ problem is to just stick him at first-base and forget about him. Yeah, that’d work, except for the fact that this franchise is not about to give up on Brett Wallace’s bat quite yet, nor are they going to disregard the sneaky good season that Matt Downs just turned in by keeping him glued to the bench. Unless a miraculous trade is made to remove Lee from the equation, he is going to play some outfield. Yuck.
And now there is Fernando Martinez. A real wild card in all of this.
This all spells very bad news for fringe minor-leaguers like J.B. Shuck, Travis Buck, and Brett Snyder, whose hopes of seeing substantial big-league outfield action in 2012 look slim to none right now.
Let me remind everyone again that Mills has just three outfield spots to be utilized.
Maybe this whole switching leagues thing will have its perks after all.
*note: upon writing this, Brian McTaggart has since reported that the Astros have come to terms on a one-year agreement with outfielder Jack Cust, formerly of the Oakland A’s… I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks