I must admit: When it snowed last week in Houston, I thought something had happened.
You know, hell had frozen over because the Houston Astros of the Drayton McLane Era were finally on the road to making great baseball decisions and building a team that will be taking champagne showers in a few years.
Gone would be the heartaches of 1980, of Bob Knepper running out of gas in Game Six of the 1986 NLCS, and of Houston's flat performance in the 2005 World Series.
False alarm, apparently.
The Houston Chronicle 's Jose De Jesus Ortiz reports that Houston apparently had offered closer Jose Valverde between $10 million to $12 million in arbitration for a one-year contract. Valverde rejected it and is now a free agent.
Ortiz quotes Astros general manager Ed Wade as saying, “We can still have the ability to sign him, and we certainly will reach out to see if there's an ability to sign him. But there are alternatives in the market, and we'll be aggressive exploring them.”
Need a translation?
"Jose Valverde has played his final game with the Houston Astros. Stick a fork in it. There's no way we'll be able to outbid another team for his services. There's more of a chance of Jerry Jones wearing a Houston Texans jersey and ripping off his toupee on live television than there is of Valverde returning to Houston."
I suspect in a few weeks Houston will officially have to add Relief Pitcher Who Specializes in Closing to its shopping cart of must-have players. We'll see a press conference in which Valverde, dressed in shirt and tie, dons a jersey and cap of another team.
Houston's consolation prize? Two draft picks as compensation.
Valverde especially seems unlikely to return to Houston when you consider his comments after rejecting the salary arbitration. As quoted by Ortiz:
"Houston had a chance. They traded me for three players in 2007, and I thought I did an excellent job for them. I feel good about the two years I played for them. They have great fans. I can't complain about them. They had me for two years doing an excellent job."
Translation: "I pitched my heart out and did a great job for the Astros, and this is how they want to thank me? I hope the two years I spent doing a great job helps me to secure a lucrative, long-term deal."
Ironically enough, Valverde's decision to reject the arbitration may work for Houston.
This means the team will now have $10 million or so to go toward its 2010 payroll. Maybe the Astros can use that to re-sign LaTroy Hawkins. Or clone Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard. Or bribe Morganna the Kissing Bandit to make a comeback and rush the field whenever a closer's bearing down against Houston or whenever Albert Pujols walks to the plate as the winning run.
I suspect the arbitration was Houston's way of trying to save money in the long run; sign Valverde to a one-year deal and see how he would've done in 2010. If more success, then lock him up into a long-term deal.
Now, unless there's a miracle sleeper free agent or some undiscovered gem who gets invited to Spring Training or who's been quietly laboring at Triple-A Round Rock, Houston's back to the drawing board.
It really makes me wonder just how effective Houston is at acquiring good, quality players to come to the Astros. Is there something about the organization that repels players (besides the obvious of more money elsewhere) from wanting to come to the Bayou City? The humidity? The monster cockroaches? The ugly uniforms? McLane? Wade?
Who knows. All I know is, Houston's giving me less and less cause to want to get cable TV and request the Fox Sports Southwest package.
Richard Zowie's a Bleacher Report blogger and long-suffering Houston Astros fan. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.