While scanning the AP's list of top ten team payrolls , one team name sticks out like Chipper Jones' sore thumb among the usual big spenders like the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox. Yes, at nearly $103 million spent on various over-the-hill spare parts, the Houston Astros have the eighth highest team payroll in the big leagues this year. That's higher than four teams who made the playoffs last year (the Dodgers, Brewers, White Sox and Rays) and higher than four teams who are certainly gunning for the '09 postseason (the Diamondbacks, Braves, Indians, and Cardinals). Besides the Rays, these are not small market struggling teams.
True, this is an Astros team that finished just four games out of the playoffs last year, but with no capable arms past Roy Oswalt in the rotation and a worsening offense, Houston fans have little to look forward to in '09. They played way over their head last year, winning 86 games despite being outscored by their opponents. If they come back down to earth, they'll finish with a losing record. If they fall even further, the 'Stros might duplicate the Mariners 2008 achievement of spending $100 million to lose 100 games.
Is that a brazen statement? Sure. But it's not nearly as brazen as Ed Wade's recklessness with money since taking over as Astros GM nineteen months ago. He's traded for a declining Miguel Tejada and traded away Luke Scott. He's traded for outmaking machine Michael Bourn and traded away Brad Lidge.
Via the incomparable Cot's Baseball Contracts, let's break down the wasteful ways the Astros increased their spending over the offseason:
- Roy Oswalt: $13M to $14M = $1 million increase
- Carlos Lee: $12M to $18.5M = $6.5 million increase
- Jose Valverde: $4.7M to $8M = $3.3 million increase
- Wandy Rodriguez: $450K to $2.6M = $2.55 million increase
- Brian Moehler: $500K to $2.3M = $1.8 million increase
- Mike Hampton: $0 to $2M = $2 million increase
- Ivan Rodriguez: $0 to $1.5M = $1.5 million increase
Now, Carlos Lee's huge increase was built into his contract that he signed in 2006, while Valverde and Rodriguez's pay raises are due to that pesky arbitration process. And the two "big-name" free agents that Wade signed were worth the $3.5 million risk. But still: that's almost a $20 million increase among those seven players and the team didn't get a lick better. None of them are difference makers, except maybe Brian Moehler whose bad mojo might rub off on the rest of the pitching staff and make them worse.
To top it off, Houston owner Drayton McLane called for a $65 million salary cap this past December. Brilliant. He'd field the same sub-par team created by an incompetent general manager and pocket a cool $40 million extra towards his own tidy retirement plan. How about instead of a salary cap McLane breaks out a few sheckels and buys Ed Wade a dunce cap?