“If you'll look, this is the most expensive baseball team the Houston Astros have ever had,” McLane said. “It's a huge investment we've had here. It's over $100 million. And we invested it in players that we thought could be championship players."
This may be an attempt to justify the firing of their manager with nothing to lose at the end of a bad season, but it is just as much an indictment of the front office for how they spent that money. In 2005, the Astros spent their money on pitching. The team didn't have a great offense. But they had Roy Oswalt in his prime, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Their fourth and fifth starters, Brandon Backe and a young Wandy Rodriguez, were decent and they had a light's out bullpen. They were first in the league in walks allowed, runs, hits and third in strikeouts. They had a team ERA+ of 120.
This year's team is worse than that team offensively and much worse on the mound, particularly in the rotation. A fading Oswalt was league average at best. Wandy Rodriguez had a great year, but the rest of their starters went 25-36 with 771 base runners allowed in 483 innings. Despite a fairly dependable bullpen, the team is next to last in hits allowed twelfth out of sixteen in homers allowed.
The defense is also a big difference. The 2005 team was first in the NL in defensive efficiency and second in fewest errors made. This year, the team is second from the bottom in defensive efficiency.
Everyone points to Berkman as having an off year. But his OPS is .900, hardly banal. The problem is that the Astros gave too much money to Kazuo Matsui and brought in Ivan Rodriguez. Ivan the Terrible did pretty well behind the plate, but his OBP was .280. Since he was traded to Texas, his replacement's OBP is .278. We won't even talk about poor J. R. Towles. The Astros also have stuck way too long with Geoff Blum.
Much like the situation with the Cubs, the General Manager has to take the fall for this team. McLane may have shelled out more than he ever has, but it has been on the wrong players. Cecil Cooper may or may not have been the wrong guy in the dugout, but McLane really needs to evaluate his front office and if he takes a hard look, Ed Wade will be following Cooper out the door.
P.S. I love that the Astros provided a nifty word play for a title.