Fresh off his nice work in making not one, but two trades, for the tough-to-trade high-priced aging slugger Carlos Lee, new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow still has a quite a bit more selling to do.
Now that the Astros have settled into their expected spot near the bottom of the N.L. Central, Luhnow's next goals are to find worthwhile trades for the team's few remaining high-paid veterans, specifically Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon.
"There's interest in all three of those players,'' Luhnow said by phone. "Whether we're going to trade them depends on a lot of factors.''
Rodriguez would appear to be the most attractive of the three, but the expected takes for all three cases may be mitigated to some degree by meaty salaries. Rodriguez reportedly has drawn interest from multiple teams, though one competing GM provided a lukewarm review. "Wandy is OK,'' one N.L. GM said. "I don't think he is as good as he was a couple years ago.''
But Luhnow asserted, "He can help any team in baseball. If you look at what he's done, his walk ratio is down, and his groundball rate is up.''
The Orioles, who seek a veteran starter, reportedly have Rodriguez (6-6 with a 3.54 ERA) on their list, though some other A.L. teams have enough questions about Rodriquez's stuff to give them pause. The Yankees were only willing tp pay $7 million per year of Rodriguez's contract, only a fraction of his pay. An acquiring team now would be on the hook for less: $31 million, including the $13-million 2014 option that converts from a team option to player choice if he is traded.
While the Rockies claimed Rodriguez last summer, which would have obligated them to pay the remainder of his contract, other teams see his contract as a hindrance. The Tigers, who prefer harder throwers, don't seem so interested even though they seek a starter and currently have no lefthanders in their rotation.
No matter, Wandy is more attractive than either of the two relievers. The move to closer for Myers probably enhanced his value, but an acquiring team would be on the hook for $8-million-plus, counting the $3-million buyout on next year's untenable $10-million salary. Plus, one N.L. scout said, "He's not a closer for a contending team, he's probably an 8th-nning guy or maybe even a 7th-inning guy.''
Myers is 17 for 19 in saves with a 3.58 ERA, though he was better earlier. "Myers has value,'' Luhnow asserted, "because he can do anything. And because he hasn't been used that much, he really has a fresh arm.''
Lyon has bounced back to have a four-to-one strikeout ration and 3.13 ERA, meaning he'd be a useful piece for the teams looking for a middle reliever, though the Astros might need to be prepared to offset what's left of his $5.5-million salary.
"He has value, not only because he gives you quality innings but he also gives you a good presence in the pen,'' Luhnow said.
The Astros' first Lee deal fell through when the Dodgers pulled out of it after Lee hesitated to come after asking Los Angeles to pay for the 11-percent California tax burden he'd have to endure once a Dodger, but Luhnow and the Astros soon found another taker in the Marlins. Though the Astros have to pay all but the prorated portion of what's left on Lee's 2013 salary (Houston is responsible for close to $9 million), Luhnow likes the prospects he got back.
"When the Dodger deal blew up, it ended up being OK for us,'' Luhnow said. "I would have been happy with the Dodgers deal, obviously, but I am very happy with the Marlins deal.''
Luhnow said he's been a Matt Dominiguez fan ever since the Marlins beat him to the pinch and took the third baseman in the first round when Luhnow was the Cardinals scouting director and that he thinks enough of the smallish lefthander Rob Rasmussen, who has a plus changeup, that they will try to develop him as a starter.
Luhnow is in a spot with the rebuilding Astros where he's willing to try just about anything, but the Astros are telling folks they intend to hang on to emerging shortstop star Jed Lowrie, who is having a good enough first half to be considered an All-Star snub. "We'll engage in any conversation, but for a young player producing at that level, it would take an awful lot,'' Luhnow said.
Though Jose Altuve, who actually did make the All-Star team may not be quite as untouchable as Lowrie, Luhnow spoke so highly about him it's clear a deal for him would take quite a haul, as well.
Anyway, the focus for now is on Rodriguez, Myers and Lyon.