I’m making a concerted effort to do more interviews this year and get more voices talking here at Ducksnorts. With that in mind, it’s my great pleasure to bring you Lisa Gray, of the excellent Astros Dugout, who will tell us a little more about the Padres’ first opponent of 2008.
Ducksnorts: The Astros and Padres are similar in many respects. Both teams entered the league during the ’60s and still are largely ignored by the national media. With the retirement of Jeff Bagwell and now Craig Biggio, how does the franchise go about re-establishing itself in an environment where so much emphasis is placed on individual players, particularly those in large media markets?
Gray: That is a very good question. Unfortunately, there is no way to get rid of the media infatuation and obsession with the Red Sox/Yankees/Mets/Cubs. Even the acquisition of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in 2004 did very little to interest the East Coast obsessed media and consequently, the vast majority of the country, including the vast majority of mainstream media baseball analysts, missed one of the best NLCS ever played.
There really is no way to fight the media’s prejudices, so it is in the best interest of the franchise to, as best it can, ignore that prejudice and concentrate on its own home base.
At this point, I would guess that the team may try to market Hunter Pence and/or Michael Bourn as its new stars; Roy Oswalt is simply too quiet and seemingly bland, and Lance Berkman’s personality is not compatible with what the public wants to see in a “star.”
Ducksnorts: Former Padres staffer Ed Wade is the new GM in Houston. What has he brought to the ballclub thus far, and do you like what you see?
Gray: Ed Wade has made most Astros fans deliriously happy by trading away all the players they hated and wanted off the team, and by obtaining steroid-user Miguel Tejada, long coveted by both the fans and owner. Wade has replaced the entire bullpen, again, elating most of the fans, as they wanted this. The only thing he has not done that could have pleased the fans more would have been to re-acquire fan favorite Willy Taveras. The fans will undoubtedly forgive him for that if Michael Bourn steals plenty of bases.
As for me, I understand that Wade was (most likely) instructed to get rid of certain players and to trade for Tejada, and having to do so with an almost barren farm was a challenge: he did the best he could with what little he had. I don’t know if it is even reasonable to criticize his trades and signings because I have no idea how much freedom he actually has: when he was hired, it was made more than plain that he had been hired because he was the only candidate who had agreed to “work with” Tal Smith.
I do think that the signing of second baseman [Kazuo] Matsui, who has never exceeded 114 games played in a single season, to a 3 year contract was not sensible, nor is batting him second simply because he runs fast. Wade has also signed a significant number of mediocre middle relievers, as is his habit, and we’ll have to see how that works out. I will reserve judgement until I see how he does with this year’s draft, unless the owner again makes it plain that no player will be signed again for higher than slot, restricting the quality of draftees.
Ducksnorts: What did you think of the Miguel Tejada trade? What are your expectations for Tejada in 2008 and beyond?
Gray: I wasn’t particularly happy with the Tejada trade. I know the local media and fans expect him to outhomer Lance Berkman, but he is a poor defender whose power has been steadily decreasing since steroid testing began, and 13 million a year is a lot to pay for a fairly powerless .300 BA. I would have been a lot happier had ownership installed Tejada at third, retained Adam Everett at short and not signed Ty Wigginton to play third.
Ducksnorts: Why don’t more people realize how good Lance Berkman is?
Gray: People don’t know who Lance Berkman is because he doesn’t act or talk like the stereotyped leader (translation — unpleasant jerk who pushes young guys around and “calls out” other players — just what the media loves) but instead is more of a clubhouse clown who tries to keep the guys loose. Too many people equate an easygoing personality with sloth, and contrary to public opinion, Berkman is a very hard worker. He also doesn’t play for one of the media’s glamour teams, and he never finished first in the three statistical offensive categories that the media deems important, so they don’t bother to write about him.
Ducksnorts: How good can outfielder/blogger Hunter Pence be?
Gray: Pence, like any other sophomore, will have to make adjustments to the pitchers, who have been busy studying video on him. He seems to have been able to make adjustments when necessary last year and has always been a good hitter. His numbers may decrease somewhat, but they should be solid. Unfortunately, he is (until Matsui returns) slated to bat sixth instead of second, behind GIDP kings Lee and Tejada, so his RBI opportunities will be decreased. Also, he is scheduled to bat in front of slow pull hitter Ty Wigginton, so he may have more steals than expected so he can stay out of the double play.
As for blogging, Hunter is already an expert at saying things that are chatty, yet say absolutely nothing except how excited he about this, that and the other.
Ducksnorts: Who has the best hair in baseball?
Gray: Matt Murton. I like red hair and his is the reddest.
Fair enough. We still have a soft spot for Geoff Blum’s hair (although we won’t miss watching him chase sliders down and in). Thanks again to Lisa for taking the time to chat with us. Here’s hoping for an entertaining series (with a favorable outcome, of course).
. . .
First pitch tonight is 7:05 p.m. PT. We’ll have the IGD up and running about an hour before then. Meanwhile, be sure to get your predictions in for 2008. Go Padres!