PLAYER TO WATCH
Brett Myers's once-promising career with the Phillies ended abruptly after 11 years with the organization: He was cleaning out his locker in November when G.M. Ruben Amaro called him to his office to tell the starter turned closer turned starter he wouldn't be re-signed. "It was a short conversation," says the hotheaded hurler, whose rocky tenure in Philly included a verbal altercation with a reporter, a domestic violence arrest (charges were dropped) and an ill-considered dig at starter Cole Hamels during the 2009 World Series. "It was time for a change for everyone."
Two months later Myers, 29, was picked up by the man who had taken him at No. 12 in the 1999 draft: former Phillies G.M. Ed Wade, now in charge of an Astros team desperate for starting pitching behind longtime ace Roy Oswalt and solid lefty Wandy Rodriguez. "Brett is a great competitor and as motivated as ever," says Wade. "His fastball isn't what it was when he was 22, but his breaking ball and changeup are still above average."
Myers's ERA has risen in each of the last four years, and hip and shoulder injuries limited him to 10 starts and eight relief appearances last season, but a one-year, $5 million contract makes him a low-risk, high-potential addition. "With the pitching we have, we're going to surprise people," says rightfielder Hunter Pence.
He could be right—if Myers is close to the pitcher Wade always thought he would be.
Percentage of the Astros' '09 plate appearances in which the ball was put in play, the majors' second-highest contact rate after the Mets (73%). Much of that contact was feeble though: Houston had the NL's sixth-worst slugging percentage (.400) and the third-fewest runs (643).
The Carlos Lee signing has worked out as well as could be expected for the Astros, who have gotten 86 homers, a .305 average, .354 on-base and .524 slugging percentage halfway through his six-year, $100-million deal. It's time to declare victory and get out. A big guy, Lee is losing what speed he had and is already a liability in the field. He slipped at the plate in 2009, not unusual for a 33-year-old, and the likely further decline will make him an $18.5-million-a-year paperweight through 2012. The Astros would be better off getting Lee's contract off the payroll rather than having the most expensive 75-win team in baseball over the next three years. The Astros need to start over. Trading Lee, who would have short-term value to an offense-challenged club such as the White Sox, is the first, most cost-effective step in that direction.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Brad Mills
1ST SEASON WITH ASTROS
*Triple A stats
JOHN IACONO (MYERS)
FRESH START The hotheaded Myers thinks joining a new team will help get his career back on track.
JOSH THOMPSON/CAL SPORT MEDIA (LEE)