Another cold, rainy Sunday, with no ballgames to watch. (I brag about being the only native Texan to have escaped the football bug.) But in keeping with the "hot stove" theme, and the dismal weather, I've got three burners of my stove going, with pots of whole wheat berries and various dals cooking. On the baseball side of the hot stove, there's plenty of recent news, as Ed Wade & Co are reshaping the team for next year.
It's hard for me to really comment intelligently on the changes, since I don't really know the new players well. My personal 27 cents on the personnel moves will have to wait until I get to Kissimmee in March. The Astros set some goals for the offseason - add to the bullpen, score a third baseman, all without spending too much, or making too many long-term commitments. Money freed up after Valverde jumped ship, with Hawkins right on his heels, when the Astros declined to make a multi-year offer. That opened up some funds for an offensive upgrade at third base, and heated up the need to add to the 'pen.
The first move was a trade with Florida - 3 minor leaguers (no hot prospects) for reliever Matt Lindstrom. Next, they signed a free agent, ex-Phillie Pedro Feliz to a one-year contract. Finally, they picked up Brandon Lyon as a closer in a three-year $15M deal. I'm going to have to do some reading up on these guys to get more of a sense of who they are, how they play, etc. And I'll also take a look through my old Spring Training photos to see if they appear in any, wearing Marlins, Tigers, or Phillies uniforms. If you're looking for more intelligent assessments, check out McTaggert or Footer's blogs. Or my blogging colleague Austin's Bottom Line - she's put some thought into all of this and netted it out with a seasonal "Bah, Humbug."
Overall a couple of observations: We're going to be fielding a younger team next year. (Well, we couldn't really have done otherwise - that was a squad that should have had a big party on Veteran's Day.) Some of the youngsters may have growing pains, but some could also surprise us too. You never know with rookies. The way that the Astros tried to stick to short term contracts (costing them Valverde and Hawkins) looks like a team that's playing for time, as their much maligned farm system is slowly improving. Losing Valverde will give them a couple of extra draft picks, further investments in the future.
So, I'll admit that we might not be seeing the Astros in the playoffs in 2010. But we might get to see the bones of a future championship team start to develop, as some of the youngsters edge their way into the roster. And it's probably going to be worth spending more time watching what's going on in Lexington and Corpus and Round Rock in the next few years. I'll have to do my homework before March, so I'll have a list of kids to photograph at the practice field.
Meanwhile, I'm posting some farewell pictures of Valverde on my Astros Daily Booth. He was always a fun guy to photograph - clowning around before Spring Training games, being ferocious out on the mound. I don't know if Lyon will be as entertaining in front of the camera. Let me know who else you'd like to see pictures of...