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Houston, We Have a Problem

June 27, 2008 | By RotoRob | comment on this post

Can you believe it was just three years ago that Houston was the NL Champions, representing the Senior Circuit in the 2005 World Series?

Man, have things ever spiraled out of control since then.

The team barely finished over .500 in 2006, and then plummeted even further last year. While they’ve shown modest improvements this season, in looking at the big picture, things appear bleak.

Even with the retirements of long-time franchise faces Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, the average age of the roster is still close to 31 years of age – the oldest of all major league clubs.

On the horizon, there isn’t much help coming in the near future. Baseball America ranks the Astro minor league system as the thinnest in all of baseball besides the White Sox. (Of course, surrendering their second round pick last year for a clearly done Woody Williams and failing to sign three of their top six picks didn’t help breath life into the system.)

Now, the drama begins.

Shawn Chacon, signed for $2 million in the offseason (when a few extra bucks would have landed Livan Hernandez or Kyle Lohse), finally imploded this week, hurling his own GM to the ground and landing on waivers Thursday afternoon.

He’ll likely never pitch again in the majors after this stunt.

Even though the ‘Stros are scuffling a bit lately, they are just five games under .500, and still somewhat close to the Wild Card leading Cardinals (7.5 games back).

But if this Chacon situation is the start of a major unraveling in Houston, it’s time to consider blowing it up and attempting a major rebuilding program – clearly a bitter pill to swallow for an organization that made the postseason six times in nine years, culminating in the 2005 World Series club.

So should Houston part with its stars and bring back in some much-needed minor league depth in the process? Let’s examine who might be the likeliest of candidates to go should the team opt to empty the cupboards.

Miguel Tejada is signed through the end of next year and owed another $13 million for 2009. His bat has slipped somewhat this year, but he’s slumping badly right now, so it’s not the best time to consider trading him. Tejada is a good team leader, but a declining bat on a 34-year-old shortstop not known for his defensive prowess is not a luxury a rebuilding team should be carrying.

Then you’ve got Lance Berkman, in the midst of a career year at the age of 32. Although he’s cooled somewhat this month, Berkman is still mashing, and he’s under contract until the end of the 2010 season, with a $15 million club option for 2011. He’d bring in a king’s ransom from a team needing an injection of offense, but would it would be horribly demoralizing to see this Texas boy and former Rice star leave Houston. Complicating matters further is his full no-trade clause.

Roy Oswalt is signed through the end of the 2011 with a 2012 club option, but he’s struggling through his worst season yet, so his value isn’t exactly through the roof right now. On the plus side, Oswalt is trending in the right direction, with June being his finest month of the season to date, and more along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from him. Imagine how much he’d bring in return, although, again, there’s a no-trade clause in play here.

Carlos Lee is under contract until 2012, and has been in slow decline for the last three years. Getting anything near market value for him would be huge, but Lee can veto any deal until 2010, so would need to waive his no-trade clause first. It would likely take a team offering him an extension to do so, and I’m not sure anyone would be interested in going there, so Lee is unlikely to be shed.

It will be interesting to see how the Astros decide to handle this situation. But unless by some bizarre happenstance this Chacon episode galvanizes the team and starts a roll, I think owner Drayton McLane, and GM Ed Wade (once he picks his ass off the ground, that is) really need to take a hard look at the long-term future of this club and make some tough decisions as we near the trading deadline.

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