Can Astros juggle new owners, trades?
For all the talk about the Dodgers and Mets, an ownership change for another franchise is more imminent — and more relevant to the trade activity that could occur at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Astros owner Drayton McLane wants to complete his $680 million sale of the club to Jim Crane before that date, but the transaction might not become official that quickly, according to major league sources.
The team likely will be an aggressive seller regardless, entertaining offers for left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, center fielder Michael Bourn and others, sources say.
The Astros should be a seller — their 29-57 record is the worst in the majors, and their farm system is largely devoid of upper-level prospects, according to rival executives.
General manager Ed Wade is in an awkward position with the franchise and his own future in limbo. However, one source with knowledge of the team’s plans says he expects Wade to “weigh any (trade) proposition.”
Crane has yet to outline his immediate goals and probably will remain silent until he receives the requisite 75 percent approval from the other 29 owners. But he privately will exert influence on the team’s direction, according to one rival executive familiar with ownership transfers.
“The owner definitely will have a voice at the deadline regardless of whether they have transferred (ownership) officially,” the exec says. “No way he won’t have a voice. McLane will make sure of that. He will want the guy who is buying the club to have a voice.”
A look, then, at where the Astros stand — in the approval process for Crane, in potential trade discussions and in the decision on whether to retain Wade as GM.
The approval process
The sale of the Astros to Crane was announced in mid-May. Astros officials expected that baseball would approve the deal within 60 days, a time frame that expires just after the All-Star break.
Numerous baseball sources, though, say that a decision is not yet near — in part because of complications arising from baseball’s ongoing dispute with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
The Astros’ potential role in realignment is not part of the holdup. While the team is a candidate to be moved from the NL Central to the AL West, baseball has not broached the subject with Crane as a condition of approval, sources say.
McLane, the franchise’s owner since 1993, is close with commissioner Bud Selig and believes a rapid approval of the sale would be in the club’s best interests. Still, a vote on the Astros could be delayed until the next owners’ meetings in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Aug. 17-18.
The vote can be conducted by mail, according to one ownership source, and in normal circumstances, Selig might try to expedite approval for McLane’s benefit. But no such action seems imminent.
In 2000, Crane’s Texas freight company, Eagle Global Logistics, was the subject of a troubling report by the federal agency that monitors workplace discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The findings by the EEOC are not expected to prevent baseball from approving Crane, sources say.
The trade market
Many in baseball say the Astros need to completely rebuild, a strategy that McLane strenuously avoided. If the Astros traded high-salaried players, they could get younger and cheaper and infuse much-needed talent.
Crane ultimately might execute such a plan, but only to a point.
The Astros would find it difficult to move their underachieving left fielder, Carlos Lee, even if they paid a significant portion of his remaining salary — the balance of $18.5 million this season and $18.5 million next season.
The team, sources say, does not want to trade right fielder Hunter Pence, 28, viewing him as a cornerstone. Pence, earning $6.9 million this season, is under club control for two more years and a candidate for an extension.
Two emerging pitchers, right-handers Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles, also are considered part of the Astros’ future.
Virtually everyone else, however, figures to be in play.
Rodriguez, 32, is perhaps the Astros’ most attractive commodity. His contract guarantees him a combined $23 million in 2012 and ’13, plus a $2.5 million buyout. But his 2.44 ERA since June 23, 2010, is the second lowest in the majors, ahead of the Angels’ Jered Weaver and Phillies’ Roy Halladay, behind only the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez.
Bourn, 28, is another interesting player, a dynamic leadoff hitter, strong defender and accomplished base stealer who would fit the Braves, Giants and Nationals, among other clubs. The Astros likely will be motivated to move Bourn, who is represented by Scott Boras and eligible for free agency after next season.
Right-hander Brett Myers, 30, and infielder Jeff Keppinger, 31, also figure to attract trade interest.
Most in baseball expect Crane to fire Wade, but a change in GMs is not likely to happen immediately, sources say.
Instead, Crane will take time — perhaps as long as the rest of the season — evaluating Wade and the rest of the organization, then conduct a full-blown search for a new GM.
Rays GM Andrew Friedman, one of the game’s bright young executives, is an almost certain target. Friedman, a native of Houston, grew up an Astros fan. His level of interest in the Astros’ job, however, is not known; Friedman enjoys working for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg.
Former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker, currently a senior vice president with the Rays, would be another possibility. Under Hunsicker, the Astros won four division titles and reached the 2005 World Series. His return would be a public-relations coup for the new ownership, but he is not necessarily the right fit.
Crane’s incoming CEO, George Postolos, has said he wants the Astros to use more statistical analysis, an objective that could lead the team away from Hunsicker, who favors more old-school practices.
Postolos was president of the NBA’s Houston Rockets when the team hired Daryl Morey, who applied baseball’s theories on statistical analysis to basketball as the team’s GM.
One way or another, change is coming to the Astros.
The only question is when.