© 2012 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- At Osceola County Stadium, the Astros' relievers sit out in the open in foul territory, just a few feet down from the end of the dugout.
And so when Brett Myers, the Astros' newly converted closer, did some customary in-game barking the other day, pumping up his teammates and riling up the opposition, manager Brad Mills could hear him loud and clear -- much like he used to hear every word when Myers was right beside him in the dugout.
"When he's 300 feet away [in the regular season]," Mills joked, "it will be a little bit different. That'll work out just fine."
The Astros, though, aren't moving Myers to the bullpen to save Mills' ear drums. That's merely an unintended benefit of the decision.
On the surface, it might seem the strangest decision of the spring to date. A team that won just 56 games and had just 50 save opportunities -- blowing 25 of them -- in 2011 is asking the veteran Myers to close out what few save chances it has in 2012. They're moving a guy who averaged 220 innings pitched over the last two seasons to a role in which he might work about 70.
And oh, by the way, they're going to pay him $11 million.
The Astros' new general manager, Jeff Luhnow, has generally been lauded for the decisions he's made and the direction he's plotted since taking over a flailing franchise in December. But this particular move has been viewed as a head-scratcher, especially when you note that the Astros will be investing about one-sixth of their player payroll into a single inning.
To that, Luhnow just laughs.
"It's funny," Luhnow said, "because there's a very basic concept that you learn in business school, which is forget sunk costs. From where I'm standing, it doesn't matter what we're paying Myers this year, because that contract is signed, and we owe him that. So it makes no sense to justify where that asset is based off the market value of that position externally.
"If he can help us more in the bullpen, then he can help us more in the bullpen. And then it opens up the opportunity to evaluate somebody else that's ready that maybe you wouldn't have a chance to."
And that's the crux of the matter right there.
With the Myers move, the Astros aren't being bone-headed, nor are they really being incredibly creative.
They're simply being realistic.
Were this a contending club, Myers' value would undoubtedly be at its height in a role in which he contributes 200 innings and, if the last two years are any indication, performance right around the league average.
But on a rebuilding
club -- a club where the greatest currency is young talent that can break into the big league level -- giving Myers the starting nod every fifth day would have closed the door on that day's opportunity to evaluate somebody else. Somebody younger. Somebody who might one day be a prominent piece.
Now, this might not be evident in the immediate. The Astros have Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ locked into their rotation. Among the six contenders for the two vacant rotation spots are two veteran retreads in Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke. Odds are, at least one and possibly both of them will claim a spot in the Opening Day rotation. And odds are, their performance won't provide much, if any, improvement on what Myers would have delivered in a starting role.
What will ultimately determine whether the Myers move was a success, though, will be the amount of innings given to Jordan Lyles, the top prospect in a depleted farm system, and Kyle Weiland, the long-armed right-hander with strikeout stuff who was brought aboard in the trade that sent Mark Melancon to the Red Sox.
Henry Sosa and Lucas Harrell are also contenders for a rotation spot, though both could also be moved to the bullpen. Brett Oberholtzer, the Michael Bourn trade acquisition who spent all of last season in Double-A, isn't viewed as a rotation candidate right now, but could emerge in-season.
For now, it's Lyles and Weiland, in particular, that stand out as intriguing possibilities for the Astros looking forward. And while this isn't a club with a Matt Moore in the pipeline, it is one that needs to find upside from within if it's going to put together a quality rotation down the road.
"These guys now have the opportunity to show us what they're capable of doing," Mills said. "And what a great opportunity it is."
So that's why the Astros are not caught up in the "sunk cost," as Luhnow put it, that the Myers contract can be perceived to be.
"I thought it was funny how all of a sudden people were talking about how expensive our bullpen is," Luhnow said. "It's not like we went out and signed an $11 million closer. It's just that he's here, and that's where he goes."
Besides, you can make the argument that it's where he best belongs. Myers was, of course, the Phillies' closer in 2007. And in a relief role, his career strikeout rate rises from 18.8 percent to 27.1 percent, while his ERA falls from 4.27 to 3.41. The Astros had a surplus of rotation options and a dearth of back-end bullpen options, and so the Myers move took root.
It wouldn't have taken root if Myers himself wasn't on board, and he certainly seems to be, provided his arm continues to feel as good as it has.
"I was kind of going out into the ocean, and all I knew how to do was dog paddle, because it's been a while," Myers said. "But I don't think it will be too tough. It's pitching. It's about getting up every day and seeing how my body can handle it. All I can do is prepare for it and work for it."
Myers went to work again Tuesday had a rough inning inning against the Mets, allowing a run on two hits with a walk.
But the Myers move won't be judged by the right-hander's results here in the Grapefruit League or even in the regular season. It will best be judged by the evolution of that open rotation spot and how the young arms rise to the occasion of opportunity.
And if, in the process, Mills doesn't have to listen to Myers in-game, well, all the better.
"I thought that's what he tried to do when he asked me to close was get me away from him," Myers said with a smile. "He was successful."