Astros still not a realistic contender
December, 15, 2007
It appears that no matter who's on the roster, when Astros general manager Ed Wade looks at a baseball team, the first thing he thinks is, "I need to fix that bullpen." At least this time around, he landed a great catch by trading for closer Jose Valverde. Valverde was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2007, pitching extremely well and doing so in a lot of highly-leveraged situations (that is, tight games where every out he recorded had a big impact on Arizona's chances of winning the game). His stuff is electric -- a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s splitter without much bottom but that looks like a weak fastball out of his hand, and a tight-breaking slider with velocity right around that of the splitter. His control is fair and his command isn't great, but his stuff is so consistently good that he gets swings and misses and hasn't been homer-prone despite being a flyball pitcher. So why was Valverde available? He's about to earn a raise of $3 million or so in arbitration -- arbitrators are easily impressed by things like saves, RBIs, and shiny objects -- and Arizona has plenty of in-house closer alternatives, including Tony Peña and Juan Cruz. Valverde also was as bad in 2006 as he was good in 2007, posting an ERA near 6.00 despite similar peripherals. But the biggest reason might be the probability that Valverde is going to blow out at some point in the near future. He hasn't thrown 70 innings in a pro season since 2003, and his delivery puts a good amount of stress on his arm, with a stabbing action at the start and a very quick whipping motion as he brings his arm through. Shoulder surgery ended his 2004 season, but he's been healthy since.