Want proof of the irrationality of this winter’s free agent market? There’s little better than this Jayson Stark column, which suggests that the Astros refused to increase their offer to Andy Pettitte — they could have gotten him for $2 million less than the Yankees paid for him — because they were afraid of drawing Major League Baseball’s ire after the Carlos Lee signing.
This brings up a couple of important questions. Will Mr. Selig take Jim Hendry and Theo Epstein, who were just as responsible for setting the tone of the free agent market, off his Christmas card list? But more importantly, do the Astros go about making $100 million investments willy-nilly?
The Lee signing is probably bad however you slice it, but it’s certainly a lot better if it makes Astros contenders for the playoffs; our oft-cited research for Baseball Between the Numbers suggests that a single playoff appearance can be worth as much as $30 million. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really do that. Take a look at this lineup. With three offensive ciphers in the form of Brad Ausmus, Willy Taveras and Adam Everett, the presence of three pitchers who had ERAs of 5.64 or higher in the projected starting rotation, and the uncertainty surrounding mainstays like Craig Biggio and Brad Lidge, the Astros are probably more likely to go 70-92 than 92-70.
With Pettitte in the fold, on the other hand, who is a huge marginal upgrade over someone like Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros might well have contended. They’d still have needed a big year out of a Morgan Ensberg or a Luke Scott or a Jason Hirsh, but they’d be in on the discussion. Right now, they aren’t.
In other words, sometimes two wrongs make a right. Overspending on Lee makes more sense if you’re also going to overspend on Pettitte (and perhaps, by extension, Roger Clemens). The Astros are caught in no-man’s land, and if Stark’s supposition is correct, it’s entirely their own fault. They deserve an “F” for their off-season efforts so far.