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The Astros, Catchers, And Payroll Flexibility

It would have been nice for the Astros to have Jason Castro around so that they could at least say they were trying someone young at catcher this season, even if he did look completely overmatched at the plate in his cup of coffee last year. Instead, with his torn ACL, Houston will be going into the 2011 season with J.R. Towles and Humberto Quintero likely splitting the job.

Sure, the Astros could find out which of the two is better suited to be a backup catcher. Sure, they could give Towles the half-season of at-bats he's likely deserved for a few years now rather than bailing on him as soon as he starts off cold. But why would they do that when they could try to find a potential starter at the position? They've been linked to catchers like Jesus Flores of the Nationals, Ryan Doumit of the Pirates, and Drew Butera of the Twins. Frankly, Castro has a terrific defensive skillset and may one day hit enough at the bigs to back it up, but he's no sure thing right now.

Instead though, the Astros are shackled by their self-imposed budget restrictions. They're not willing to make a move because they can't afford to make a move.

I know that part of this is wishcasting to an extent, but why were the Astros not built with a little payroll flexibility in mind for injuries? Injuries are a part of the game. You shouldn't expect the best-case scenario. 

To put it another way: some of my colleagues here have defended contracts like Brandon Lyon's by saying that they're not franchise crippling. Well, no, it's hard for a contract of that size to cripple anything. But it can still keep moves from being made. If in a vacuum, I'm choosing between a starting catcher and a closer, particularly when the one thing that Ed Wade might be best at is cobbling together a decent set of bullpen options on the cheap, I'm taking the catcher. Instead, the Astros don't have the money to make that happen. Bill Hall and Clint Barmes are probably upgrades over the players the Astros started last year--were they big enough upgrades that it was worth robbing the club of flexibility?

I don't think the Astros are a terrible club, and I don't think they're completely illogical. But going into the season with nothing but Towles and Quintero behind the plate and nobody who has proven that they could even be serviceable in the big leagues behind them is a damning indictment of any baseball team, let alone one that is spending a decent chunk of change on short-term upgrades while they're supposedly trying to rebuild. 

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.