Yesterday, the Houston Astros made moves to restructure the back of their bullpen with the departures of closer Jose Valverde and set-up man LaTroy Hawkins, who's already signed with Milwaukee. In the afternoon, the Astros agreed to trade two fringe prospects, right-hander Robert Bono and shortstop Luis Bryan, along with their Rule 5 pick to the Florida Marlins for right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom. Later that night, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Astros agreed to a three-year, $15M deal with right-hander Brandon Lyon.
While the Astros made a good move in buying low on Lindstrom, who clearly had little value around the league considering how little Florida received for him, it's almost inexplicable that Ed Wade gave $15M to a decent, but essentially fungible, reliever, considering the other options on the market.
Lindstrom, 30 in February, primarily works off of a powerful, but straight, fastball that generally sits in the 95-98 range, mixing in a slider to keep hitters off-balanced. He doesn't miss as many bats as one would expect given his velocity because of the lack of movement on his fastball, but he's also consistently shown the ability to induce groundballs. He did a great job of avoiding the long ball in 2007 and 2008, leading to very good performance for a relief pitcher, but his HR/FB ratio shot up from the 2-3% range in those seasons to an essentially league average 9.3% in 2009. In his debut year with the Marlins he flashed good command, posting a 2.82 BB/9 and a 2.95 K/BB, leading to a 2.85 FIP, although his xFIP was a much less impressive 3.89. His contact rate shot up after 2007, and while it came down in 2008, that was primarily because hitters were laying off pitches, as Lindstrom consistently had trouble hitting the strike zone.
But considering the low cost, Lindstrom is probably due around $2M in arbitration and the prospects they gave up wouldn't have even made BA's Top 30 according to Ben Badler, it seems that the Astros made a solid move for a power arm that's shown the ability to excel in the majors fairly recently.
Unfortunately, Wade quickly offset the good, cheap addition of Lindstrom by vastly overpaying Brandon Lyon. Lyon is a decent reliever, but his 4.23 career FIP, 4.20 career ERA, and 4.40 career xFIP are all below-average for a reliever. In the past three seasons, he's posted two years with sub-2.90 ERA's, but each of those marks were unsupported by his peripheral statistics. In 2007 he posted a 2.68 ERA for Arizona, but hitters posted a .287 BABIP and a 2.2% HR/FB against him, numbers that both are far below the league average and his previous track record. In 2009 he posted a 2.86 ERA for Detroit, but a .229 BABIP and a 80.8% strand rate were primarily the cause for his exceptional performance, as his underlying numbers don't come close to indicating that he can repeat that kind of performance.
Lyon just got more money than any other reliever (or pitcher outside of Randy Wolf) has been guaranteed this offseason, in spite of being an essentially mediocre middle reliever that could easily be replaced for a fraction of the $5M per season that Houston is paying him. Just a blatant overpayment and a horrid allocation of resources considering how many other holes the Astros have, unless Wade is really, really high on Chris Johnson, Tommy Manzella, Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino and J.R. Towles being key cogs on a contending 2010 Astros team. I'm not so optimistic.