Friday, June 25, 2004

Houston, We Have a Hitter...

Just a week or so after prompting a lot of head-scratching with the trade that sent outfielder Richard Hidalgo to the Mets for mostly-harmless veteran relief pitcher David "Stormy" Weathers, Houston Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker silenced the doubters last night with a trade to bring in erstwhile Kansas City Royals centerfielder Carlos Beltran. In a three-team deal, the Astros sent closer Octavio Dotel to the Oakland A's and catcher John Buck to the Royals, who also got two good prospects from Oakland.

From Houston's perspective, I love this deal. Hunsicker dealt from a position of strength--he had a setup reliever, Brad Lidge, who probably will be as good as or better than Dotel in closing games--and brought in the best player on the market. Beltran should administer a shot in the arm to a very talented veteran team that has really underachieved (hmm... sounds familiar), trailing St. Louis in the NL Central by five games. Beltran adds power, speed and youth (he's just 27) to an Astros lineup that already featured Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and Jeff Kent. Best of all from my perspective, the trade of Dotel probably thrusts Lidge into the bullpen ace role; anytime a "new" closer succeeds in the context of a pennant race, we make progress toward the blanket realization that this whole role is vastly overstated and it doesn't require a cold-eyed, bearded fella with ice water in his veins to do that job.

Also I've got Lidge on a fantasy team in a league where I'm trying to win money. So the saves will be catnip.

The Astros are going for it this year. They've got Roger Clemens with one foot in the retirement community, aging stars in Bagwell, Kent and Craig Biggio, and now Beltran four months from free agency. They're determined to give their fans, who have never seen a playoff series win, a good ride at the least.

"When you have a chance to get an All-Star like Beltran, you do it, then you worry about filling in holes. He significantly makes us better, he is an impact player and will have an effect on our ballclub," Hunsicker said.

Something to keep in mind the next time Phils GM Ed Wade hails the addition of some Roberto Hernandez/Mike Williams-caliber reliever, who can blow leads in style with mucho "veteran presence."

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