I sat here on the couch last night watching the Astros-Pirates game on my MLB Extra Innings package when the play-by-play man made the announcement:
“The Astros have acquired Carlos Beltran in a two-team deal with the Kansas City Royals.”
He said it with all the enthusiasm of announcing the daily lottery numbers. That surprised me. I would’ve expected more excitement at acquiring the A-Rod of the outfield.
You know, C-Belt.
(And seriously, what is it with the Astros and their “Killer Bs”? Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman, now Beltran? They used to have David Bell in that mix. They traded catching prospect John Buck in the deal, who very well could’ve become another one. If they were in the American League, they’d probably get Barry Bonds in another year.)
For about an hour, I fretted. I own Octavio Dotel in my primary fantasy league. I kicked myself at not acting on my urge a month ago to try to acquire setup man Brad Lidge, a player I covet not only for his ability, but because he was drafted out of Notre Dame as the Astros’ first-round pick in 1998. I searched the rosters, considering possible trades, coming back to some deals I considered proposing weeks ago. Dotel in Kansas City wouldn’t have been that bad. He wasn’t getting too many save chances with the 37-34 Astros; or at least they were sporadic. I read an analysis earlier in the season that proved that better teams — winning teams — do not necessarily get more save opportunities than bad ones. But I just didn’t feel as comfortable with Octavio Dotel, Royals closer as I did with Octavio Dotel, Astros closer.
Then, just after Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker left the booth, the announcer came back with the same low-key monotone:
“Octavio Dotel is now an Athletic. The Royals have turned around and traded him to Oakland for third-base prospect Mark Teahen and pitcher Mike Wood.”
Whew. Now I feel better. Octavio Dotel, A’s closer. That’s better. Oakland has done well with closers during their successful run these past few years. There’s a winning attitude around that clubhouse, and with a reliable pitcher at the back of the bullpen, they’ve thrived. Arthur Rhodes is not a reliable pitcher at the back of the bullpen, that’s been their problem this year. The only problem I could foresee is that Oakland no longer has pitching coach Rick Peterson — he’s in New York now, helping the Mets to the best ERA in the majors.
But as for the Astros, they made out well in this deal. They gave up one young closer who has struggled just a bit this year, but certainly looks like he’s on his way to being a reliable stopper. They traded a catching prospect who likely would’ve replaced Brad Ausmus next year, but he’s not a sure thing. And they got a five-tool player, even if it’s only for three months. In dealing Richard Hidalgo for David Weathers last week, Houston got itself another reliable setup man who can step into the seventh/eighth inning role vacated by Lidge now that he’s coming on in the ninth.
What makes it such a great move for the Astros is perhaps more than any team outside Boston, they’re built to win Now. You hear that a lot, but no where is it more true than Minute Maid Park. Bagwell and Biggio are not getting any younger, faster or healthier. Who knows if Robot Roger Clemens will return next season — or if he’ll have the same amazing success? Their pitching staff, outside Clemens and Weathers, is on the young side, and when Clemens does retire, Andy Pettitte can assume the experienced veteran leader role. Taylor Buchholz, acquired in the Billy Wagner trade, could very well become a No. 3/4 starter someday. But the bulk of the offense is aging, and replacing Bagwell, Biggio, Ausmus and Jeff Kent will be the more pressing needs in the coming seasons.
If Houston is going to win its first playoff series — ever — it will need to make a run with this team.