By most accounts, owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow have had a strong first offseason with the Astros, putting in place the foundation on which a Houston contender can eventually be built.
Just a week into his tenure, Luhnow sent closer Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. The move drew praise from the baseball community, as the Astros gained a potential everyday infielder and cost-controlled starter in exchange for a reliever. Melancon has great stuff and is under team control for five more years, but he held limited value to the rebuilding Astros, and Luhnow took advantage of a team in need.
The downside, though, is that Melancon’s departure created a void at the top of manager Brad Mills’ bullpen. Having some level of stability in the ninth inning is important for any team—even a non-contender—and that consideration ultimately led to the Astros’ decision to move starter Brett Myers into the role on Tuesday. Luhnow noted after announcing the move that he wanted to “take some pressure off of Brandon Lyon and (less experienced) guys like David Carpenter and Wilton Lopez.”
Luhnow’s logic seems easy to follow. Lyon is recovering from surgery. Carpenter and Lopez need time to show whether they can eventually be key cogs in the Houston bullpen. Myers has experience pitching in the ninth—he saved 21 games in 24 tries for the Phillies in 2007—and an impressive 72-to-22 K/BB in 63
Yet, in spite of that, the move was largely panned. Myers' $11 million salary for 2012 makes him one of the highest-paid relievers in the league. His value as an innings-eater is negated by the shift to the bullpen. The options to replace him include, well, replacement-level veterans like Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke. And, as BP’s own Colin Wyers asked, “What does God need with a starship?”
Ultimately, the fate of the decision to make Myers the closer will depend on what Luhnow and Mills do with the opportunity it creates—namely, the opening in the rotation. If that job is simply handed to Hernandez or Duke, then the move makes little sense. On the other hand, if the Astros use it to audition their stable of young pitchers—such as Weiland, Henry Sosa, Lucas Harrell, and top prospect Jordan Lyles—and evaluate their future potential, the knowledge gained could prove valuable, as Luhnow tries to salvage what he can from a depleted farm system.
The Astros’ retooled front office has stayed on track since taking over for Ed Wade and co. in early-December. Until we know exactly what they plan to do to replace Myers’ 200 innings in the rotation, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.