Robertson would be exactly what Astros need as closer, leader
By Richard Justice
SAN DIEGO -- David Robertson is an absolutely perfect fit for the Astros on so many levels that it's difficult to see it not happening.
OK, Robertson may not agree at this point. This is not just change -- going from the Yankees to the Astros -- this is dramatic change. It's going from a club with the highest of expectations to one still working on turning the corner.
Robertson probably needs to be convinced that Houston is close to turning that corner. The Astros are, but there are also no guarantees. When a team has averaged 104 losses over a four-year period, it's sometimes difficult to see the silver lining.
It's there, though. The Astros decided three years ago to strip their franchise to its bones and to start over. Their thinking was that they were going nowhere with an aging roster and a mediocre Minor League system.
So the Astros made the decision to replenish their farm system. Once that happened, they reasoned, they'd have a chance to be competitive for years to come.
They're almost there. They improved by 19 games in 2014. Their farm system is loaded.
Also impressive is that Houston used the past three seasons as sort of a revolving door for its big league roster to try to identify players who could stick around for the long haul.
Jose Altuve has emerged as a star, an amazing player, one to build a marketing campaign around. Altuve is important because, while everything begins with winning, it's critically important to have appealing players, dynamic players.
Astros fans got a glimpse of another one last summer when outfielder George Springer made his big league debut and was absolutely dazzling, hitting 20 home runs in 78 games.
Houston hopes to have an infusion of talent over the next two seasons as shortstop Carlos Correa and right-hander Mark Appel and other top prospects arrive.
Again, young players don't come with guarantees, but the Astros have compiled so much depth at so many positions that good times seem nearly inevitable.
General manager Jeff Luhnow will have to finish the roster building by adding power and experience and a host of other things.
Robertson fits. The Astros may have to overpay to get him, but that's OK. After getting zero dollars from local television last season -- you read that correctly -- their new deal will pay around $57 million a season.
Robertson would dramatically upgrade a bullpen that had an MLB-worst 4.80 ERA in 2014. Nothing tears at the guts of a young club like letting late leads get away. The Astros have some quality arms to line up in front of Robertson, but those don't matter if they can't get those last three outs.
There's also a leadership factor. Luhnow's signing of Scott Feldman a year ago turned out exactly as he'd hoped in that Feldman was productive on the mound, and he was a role model in the clubhouse.
Robertson would provide some of that leadership as well. His job with the Yanks was to pitch the ninth inning and nothing else. As for the clubhouse environment and team attitude and all that stuff, he had Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, etc., to take the lead.
In Houston, Robertson's demeanor, work ethic and professionalism would be critical to a club starting anew. The Astros already have a lot of that X factor in Altuve, Feldman, catcher Jason Castro and others, but winning isn't just about talent. It's about attitude and resilience and competitive fire.
Robertson, 29, stepped right into Mariano Rivera's role as the Yankees' closer last season and was terrific in converting 39 of 44 save chances. Yanks senior vice president and general manager Brian Cashman has been effusive in his praise of Robertson and may yet succeed in convincing him to return.
Robertson is said to be seeking a deal similar to the one the Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon -- $50 million over four years. That contract was signed after the 2011 season and was unprecedented ground for a closer at the time. But markets constantly change.
One reason they change is because of needs and circumstances. The Astros would like Robertson for what he will give them at the back of the bullpen and in the clubhouse.
But they also want to send a message to their fans that the worst times are over, that the franchise is headed upward, and rapidly.
Robertson surely has other options, but the Astros seem willing to make a greater financial commitment to him. If they don't land him, they'll continue down the list of available relievers.
But they're hopeful. This one feels like the right guy at the right time.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.