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Bring Him Back? Houston's Potential Non-Tenders

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It's been a good couple days to be a baseball fan in Texas...    unless you root for the Astros. But hey, at least you guys get to see how your arbitration-eligible class stacks up today. Keeping with what I did with the Marlins, we're going to split these guys up into sections given how large Houston's batch of arbitration eligibles (arbigibles?) is. With ten players set to go to arbitration this winter, Houston clearly will have their hands full.

For those of you who missed earlier installments or simply need a refresher, here are some quick explanations of the arbitration system, non-tenders, service time, and "Super Twos" for those who aren't totally familiar, courtesy of MLBTR.

As I noted before, we're doing Houston's post like we did with Florida- instead of doing each player ordered by their 2010 salary, the players have been divided up into sections. Keeps things a tad simpler, I think.. So, yeah. Let's take a look at some of the guys that helped Houston to put up a 59-52 record from June 1 until the end of the season.

 

THEY'LL DEFINITELY BE BACK... 

 LHP Wandy Rodriguez - 3rd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $5M

OF Hunter Pence - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $3.5M

OF Michael Bourn - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $2.4M

2B Jeff Keppinger - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $1.15M

RHP Felipe Paulino - 1st season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $0.415M

The team's three best position players and two of their five best pitchers from 2010, these are all guys that can be expected to contribute to next year's Astros.

The soon-to-be 31-year-old Rodriguez has developed into one of the more underrated pitchers in the game- he's put up 12.9 wins in the past four years, including 7.6 in the past two seasons. He doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but uses good offspeed stuff and command to miss bats, induce grounders and limit walks. He's got a 3.82 xFIP over the past four years, quietly emerging as a solid No. 2 starter for the Astros. And because Houston won their arbitration case with Rodriguez last year, when he submitted $7M against the Astros' $5M submission, they'll continue to benefit from that victory this offseason, as his raise will be based on a $5M salary rather than $7M.

Pence and Bourn have emerged as the team's top players with the departure of Lance Berkman, the decline of Carlos Lee, and the general suckiness of the rest of the lineup. Pence, 27, has never quite built on his big rookie season a few years ago. But he's developed into a plus defensive right fielder that can give you 25 homers, a solid batting average, a few walks and a few steals, and that's been good enough to make him a 3-4 WAR player year-in, year-out. He doesn't walk as much as one would hope and he's not a particularly efficient base-stealer, but generally speaking he's a good player that should be around for a while.

Bourn, on the other hand, doesn't offer much power at all, but provides huge value with his defense, on-base skills and speed. He's only hit five home runs in the past two seasons combined, but that's okay when you're a plus defensive center fielder with a .340-.350 OBP that steals at least 50 bases a year. The lack of power will always hold him back, but it's tough to deny his defensive value, and he's a useful offensive player as long as he's getting on base. His 8.6 WAR over the past two season puts him among the top center fielders in the game, although this may be his peak.

Keppinger, like Bourn, doesn't have much power, but he can provide value with exceptional contact skills and a good enough walk rate. He swung and missed only 2.5% of the time, the lowest rate for any MLB player that qualified for the batting title. The 29-year-old does an unreal job of controlling the strike zone and putting the ball into play. He ended up finishing the year with a .288/.351/.393 line- not great, but good for a middle infielder. Without a quality alternative, it's likely that Keppinger is Houston's second baseman again coming into next season.

Paulino's is obviously not based on the results so far- guys who go 6-21 with a 5.83 ERA generally aren't worth keeping around. But Paulino's underlying numbers were much stronger than his ERA this year (3.34 FIP, 4.54 xFIP), and we're also talking about a guy who can sustain a legitimate mid-90's fastball. His command is shaky and he can get himself into some trouble, but he's worth giving another shot even if Houston decides that he's better off in the bullpen.

THEY MIGHT BE BACK...

RHP Matt Lindstrom - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $1.625M

C Humberto Quintero - 3rd season of arbitration - Non-tender

RHP Nelson Figueroa - 1st season of arbitration - Non-tender

The inconsistency with Lindstrom is truly nerve-wracking, but he's still got great velocity, shown flashes of dominance, and won't make more than $2.5M or so in 2011. He induces a lot of groundballs with a heavy, mid-90's fastball, but doesn't miss as many bats as you would expect for someone who can look so overpowering. The problem with the former Marlin, though, has always been consistency. Lindstrom had a 2.41 ERA on August 1 of this year, but put up a 10.95 ERA over the final two months of the season. If Houston can get more of the early-season Lindstrom and less of the late-season one, this could be a really solid investment.

As for Quintero and Figueroa, I'm just not sure if it's worth it to give money and playing time to aging veterans with minimal upside. The Astros presumably hoped that Quintero, a strong defensive catcher, would be a mentor for the young Jason Castro, but apparently Quintero's offensive ineptitude rubbed off on the former first round pick, too. The 31-year-old catcher has a .231/.269/.320 line in 763 PA with Houston over the past six years, so it's hard to see him improving much from here. I know that having a good defensive catcher is important, but it's not nearly as useful when the guy's getting the bat knocked out of his hands. Figueroa, 36, actually pitched decently for Houston this year. But it's easy to see him declining given that he hasn't pitched this well since 2001, and it's not like there's much upside there.

THEY WON'T BE BACK...

LHP Tim Byrdak - 4th season of arbitration (Super Two) - Non-tender

RHP Gustavo Chacin - 1st season of arbitration - Non-tender

I honestly don't know how Byrdak's put up sub-4 ERA's in each of the past four seasons with such middling peripherals. But I'm just not going to bet on a 37-year-old LOOGY continuing to get crazy good luck, particularly one whose seen his xFIP climb in each of the past four years. If he gets tendered, then Houston is putting way too much stock in reliever ERA.

With Chacin, you got a guy who really only got another opportunity because he put up lucky ERA's in the minors for all of 2009 and part of 2010. This is a guy that once put up a 3.72 ERA in 203 innings of ball as a 25-year-old starter for the Blue Jays, but he was running on smoke and mirrors that didn't really trick MLB hitters for too long. He wasn't awful for Houston this year, but they should have better bullpen options.