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Why Pudge Is a Huge Step For Houston

On Monday, the Astros reached agreement on a one-year, $1.5 million deal with veteran catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. On Tuesday, they rested.

Just as significantly, members of the Astros organization raved about what Rodriguez might bring to the team, adding veteran leadership and a more reliable bat. All the hype is legitimate for a team that expected to start the season with either Humberto Quintero or J.R. Towles behind the dish. Sure, either one of them could have turned out to be a Jesus Flores or Giovani Soto (hey, maybe one still will), but Rodriguez is more than just an upgrade at catcher, he's a player who immediately puts the Astros in the mix for the Wild Card or Division race, assuming they stay healthy.

Yes, Pudge is getting older, but if you discount his slumptacular stretch with the Yankees last summer, Rodriguez has always hit above .273 (at least since his third season in 1993), and while his OPS (on-base percentage plus sligging) has dropped significant since a monstrous season in 2004, he still making contact with the ball and, as he showed with Puerto Rico, he still has the potential to be a game changer.

Adding Rodriguez was clearly a big step for the Astros, but they could go even further before the end of the week. There were rumors of a potential deal for Pedro Martinez on Tuesday night from Baseball Prospectus, but multiple sources are countering what Baseball Prospectus was reporting.

That's a shame, because Pedro Martinez might be exactly what the Astros need to reach the thick of the playoff race. Think about it: Heading into the stretch last September, the Astros were within a long run of the Wild Card or an NL Central playoff bid. That followed a slow start that easily could have flushed Houston's entire season. Instead, Hurricane Ike intervened, the Astros were forced to face the Cubs in Milwaukee, were dumped aside by a Carlos Zambrano no-hitter and faded into the offseason.

Add Pudge Rodriguez and a healthy Pedro Martinez (if he's as healthy and locates as well as he did in the WBC), and the Astros might not fade out so quickly. With Pedro possibly available at a bargain price -- the pair might cost less than $5 million up front in total -- why not give both a run?

Evidently that's not the case ... yet. Of course, that doesn't mean it won't happen eventually, and adding Martinez might make just enough sense that the Astros eventually cave and sign the check.

That's my take, but what's yours? Should the Astros go throw money after Pedro? Or was Pudge the final piece needed for Houston to contend? If Pedro doesn't land in Houston, where should he go? Back to L.A.? Hold out for a chance to return to the Mets?

By Cameron Smith  |  March 18, 2009; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  Astros  
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Ditto what I said earlier. For 1.5 million he's an enormous upgrade. Towles and Quintero are overmatched in the bigs right now, and haven't shown any signs of catching up.

Pedro would be a solid #4 or 5 starter and it would also make me happy to go see a game thrown by Pedro and caught by Pudge, if only for nostalgia sake. They're both past their prime, but they're still solid (if healthy).

Posted by: adampschroeder | March 18, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Thing is, in addition to decent numbers at the plate, he improves pitching staffs. And while you can make the argument that his offensive contributions are down, it's his defensive contributions that are going to bump the Astros up a level or so.

Posted by: kolbkl | March 18, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Did I miss something? Baseball Prospectus has the Astros at 67 wins. They are terrible. Adding an aging catcher who stunk last summer is meaningless. Yeah, he's better than JR Towles - for now. Mark the 'Stros down for 71 wins. Sweet. Add that to the worst farm system in baseball. These are the kinds of moves the Orioles spent a decade perfecting. Well played, Houston.

Posted by: Irish4 | March 18, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

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