Are the Astros a better team when Carlos Lee plays first base?
During Brad Mills’ daily session with the media on Tuesday, the skipper revealed that he and Ed Wade had talked extensively last winter about moving Carlos Lee to first base and Lance Berkman to left field.
Berkman had volunteered to do so if management felt that would give them the best chance to win, and although they ultimately decided against pulling the switch-a-roo, it does raise an interesting question about what the Astros might have in mind for 2011.
Lee has played a lot at first base lately, more than Brett Wallace, and you have to assume that Lee, at this point, has the edge on Wallace as to who might be playing over there come Opening Day next year.
This isn’t so much about Wallace’s performance so far as it’s about the team putting Lee at a position that best helps the ballclub. And I think it’s pretty obvious that Lee is much better at first base than we thought he’d be, and he’s also a much better first baseman than he is a left fielder.
You also have to wonder if playing first base has helped Lee at the plate. Is playing a position where he is involved in nearly every play, which in turn requires non-stop concentration, helping him focus better at the plate? There seems to be long stretches of nothingness while standing in the outfield, and I can see where it would be easy to become distracted or let your mind wander. Maybe the concentration that’s there when Carlos plays first base lingers when he is hitting. It could be the best explanation as to why his bat has come to life after hitting around .240 for the better part of four months.
So if Carlos plays first base next year, where does that leave Wallace? More than likely, it would leave him in Oklahoma City, which on Wednesday will be formally introduced as the Astros’ new Triple-A affiliate.
Wallace is a young player with options on his contract, which means the Astros can send him to the Minor Leagues without penalty. And when you’re a young player, sometimes the numbers game — not statistical numbers, but rather, the numbers that total what a team is paying a veteran player — trumps productivity, or potential for productivity, on the field.
Wallace playing first base at Triple-A gives the Astros depth at the first base position — a plus for the club. It’s probably not what Wallace wants to hear, and we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves by even trying to look seven months down the road. But it’s an interesting discussion nonetheless.
The other question is, if Carlos plays first, who plays left field? I went back and forth on this topic with a lot of you over Twitter, and many of you suggested Brian Bogusevic. My response? I am all for taking a look at him out there, but I have not seen him play enough to make a concrete judgment on how he’ll perform if he plays, say, 150 games out there. That would be one of the many questions the front office and field staff would have to answer between now and Opening Day next year.
Some suggested Jason Michaels be given a chance to start, but I do not believe that is the answer. It’s easy to look at the nice year Michaels is having and assume he should be an every day player. But I believe Michaels is perfectly suited for what he’s doing right now — starting once or twice a week to stay fresh, and coming off the bench as a late-game pinch-hitter in RBI situations. That’s what he’s here for, and it’s what he does well.
The Astros will have some money to spend — how much is to be determined — and could pursue a free agent outfielder. Or they could take a look at Jason Bourgeois or other outfielders currently in the system. First and foremost, they must decide where they want Lee to play. I still think Wallace is the long-term solution at first base, but there’s nothing that says that long term has to begin in 2011.
If you were a decision-maker, what would you do?
The Astros made their annual trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center Tuesday morning, and by my count, they batted 1.000 in attendance. The entire team (which, you’ve probably noticed, is pretty expansive this time of year), the coaching staff and the athletic training staff were accounted for, as were Wade, Dave Gottfried and the Grand Poobah himself, owner Drayton McLane.
That there were not as many wounded soldiers to meet this time was a blessing, of course. Those who were there rehabbing were gracious with their time when the Astros approached, and as usual, in terms of lifting spirits, the players left feeling they got more out of the visit than the soldiers.
“They tell you they wish they could go back (to the Middle East),” Mills said. “Because they’re soldiers, and that’s what they do. There’s a sense of gratitude for that.”
We were asked not to take pictures or film video inside the medical center, but I did manage to capture a few images with my iphone before we went in…
And finally, here are some images from batting practice at the Nationals’ (really impressive, fan-friendly) ballpark:
Press box view:
Michael Bourn, who will be out at least a couple more days with a strained oblique, hangs out at the cage with hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and tries not to lose his mind with boredom. Not playing appears to be not sitting well with the speedy center fielder.
Lots of Astros fans in the stands for the first two games. Here’s a shot of one particularly interesting fan we met Tuesday.
Jim Deshaies found him interesting, too. I think JD made a ZZ Top reference during the exchange.
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