Tagged: angel sanchez

Wish List for a Lost Season

“Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us.” -Heinrich Heine

These are sad days to be an Astros fan. The first domino has fallen with the trade of Jeff Keppinger this week, and over the next 10 days we expect to hear of several more. I’m on board with that; our Astros, in their 50th season, appear to be worse in 2011 than they’ve ever been before. I feel like it will be a huge upset if they don’t end up beating the 1991 squad for the worst record in Houston history, if they don’t end up over 100 losses and last in the big leagues this year. Admittedly, nothing that happens the remainder of this month will likely be quite as depressing as the weekend before July 31 last year, when we learned how it would have felt to see Bagwell and Biggio in opposing uniforms. But as we wait for news about who else is leaving town, and as we wait to face nemesis Carlos Zambrano this afternoon, my mind turns to thoughts of the ways that Brad Mills & Co. can make the remainder of 2011 more exciting than a race for the #1 draft pick.

Catcher: We love Humberto Quintero. He’s not Brad Ausmus, and he’s not Tony Eusebio, but we love him nonetheless. Q paired with any available backup on hand is fine; there’s not much wrong you can do here, other than rushing Jason Castro back from his knee surgery. If Castro is legitimately ready to go by September, then I’d love to see him, as Q really shouldn’t be more than a backup. But as long as Jason gets the lion’s share of the starts in 2012, then I’ll be happy.

First Base: Brett Wallace. All the way. Let’s start seeing Brick every day regardless, and quit with this Carlos-Lee-at-1B-versus-lefties nonsense. Whether Astros management manages to trade El Caballo, releases him, benches him or just lets him play out his contract, it’s certain that Lee won’t be here beyond September 2012. Brett Wallace will. You’re not gonna win this season, it’s overwhelmingly likely that you won’t win next season either, and Brick is one of the few young talents that Houston has, so let him play and prove for himself whether he’s an everyday guy or only a platoon player.

Second Base: Jose Altuve is the brightest spot in the 2011 season so far. I certainly didn’t expect to see him before September at the soonest, or 2012, but I’m all about running him out there every day now that he’s here. I like Matt Downs a lot, but giving him or Angel Sanchez even 1/4 of the starts here would be infuriating. Let’s go, Mighty Mouse!!

Third Base: I’m a Chris Johnson kinda guy. Sure, I know that his defense is less than great, and his bat has dropped off even more than expected from last year, but his bat has also been a lot better the last several weeks than it was during a dismal start to the season, so his overall numbers are misleading. I know that Matt Downs deserves more time, too, but CJ has not (IMO) played himself out of this job yet. Let him keep it for the rest of 2011, unless he gets awful again, then let him and Downs duke it out in Kissimmee next Spring.

Shortstop: This is a tough one. As long as Clint Barmes is here, the job should be his, but I don’t see Clint in our long-term plans. He may not even be in our plans at all (hello, Milwaukee) after the next 10 days. But if/when he’s gone? Angel Sanchez is great off the bench, and I know that Matt Downs is more of a 2B/3B guy than SS, but this is where I’d be inclined to give Downs more time. If you want to give Angel the majority of the starts, that’s fine, but don’t let him take time away from Altuve and CJ. And don’t go back to Tommy Manzella. This is a stop-gap position until one of our middle infield prospects (Paredes? Villar? Mier? …Sutil?) is ready for the Show.

Outfield: No one knows what to expect here. I strongly doubt that Ed Wade will be able to send Carlos Lee anywhere, so as long as he’s here, leave him in LF. Michael Bourn is (or should be) serious trade bait, but Hunter Pence’s name is drawing a lot more attention than Michael’s, so who knows if he’ll be moved at all. I really… don’t want the Astros to trade Hunter, but reality is that he’ll likely hit free agency by the time that Houston is a legitimate contender again, and he should fetch better prospects than anyone else on the current Astros roster. So moving him might be the smartest thing that they could do, and I kind of expect now that it will happen. I’d really like to see Bourn traded, too; he’ll hit free agency – under Scott Boras – a year before Hunter, so you’ll probably get more for him now than next year, when he would be a “rental.” Jason Bourgeois is back from the DL today, so assuming that Pence and Bourn move and Lee doesn’t, I’d like to see a Lee-Bourgeois-Bogusevic outfield to finish out 2011. Though I know we’re more likely to see Jason Michaels than Bogey, but I don’t see Jason here beyond this year either, so I’ll be frustrated if they don’t give Bogey the shot. Unless they get somebody back in trade that can play outfield immediately, too. Or they put J.D. Martinez on the Altuve Express and don’t make him wait for a call until El Caballo rides off into the sunset. Summary: Whatever. But just not Michaels.

Pitching: Jordan Lyles is the other brightest spot for the 2011 Astros, and I’m thrilled to hear that he’s on an innings limit. If that means we get a month of Nelson Figueroa or Ryan Rowland-Smith in September, so be it; Jordan Lyles is VERY much a part of Houston’s future plans, so he needs to be protected more than the 2011 squad needs to win one or two more games. Bud Norris has been another big bright spot, better than I thought he’d be, so he should be a part of the grander plan as well. J.A. Happ has been mostly a black hole this season, but he is still young, so there’s no harm in continuing to run him out there and hope that he figures it out. Really though, we might see a lot more of Figgy or Hyphen before September, because I don’t expect Wandy or Brett Myers to be wearing Houston pinstripes after next week either. So let’s move Aneury Rodriguez back to the rotation and see what he’s got. Old or not, I’d love to see Andy Van Hekken get a shot. Then if you need a starter after those two guys, give Figgy or Hyphen a call. Of course trade acquisitions are the wild card here, too, but based on who we know we’ve got, I’ll be happy to finish the year with Aneury and Andy at the back end of the rotation.

I know that I haven’t touched on the bullpen, but that’s been so fluid for the last few years that I hesitate to name names. I like Mark Melancon a lot, and Wilton Lopez. We know that Brandon Lyon is under contract for next season – fine. He’s good when healthy. But the fundamental point of this whole exercise is to say: Give the young guys a chance. Angel Sanchez is not your savior for the future, nor is Jason Michaels. Nor is Carlos Lee at first base. If we can see more Castro, and Wallace, and Altuve, and CJ, more Bogey and Bourgeois and maybe some J.D. next year, then I’ll be excited even if we lose 100 games again. I know that even all of those guys aren’t likely the long-term answers, but they’re all a step in the right direction until the pipeline on the farm starts a steady flow again. If “these are our Astros,” then let’s make that so and stop giving time to guys that won’t be here when our future Astros arrive.

A play in three acts

As we enter the final two weeks of the 2010 regular season (and, in all likelihood, the final two weeks of the Astros’ 2010 season), many have taken the opportunity to look back at all that has happened since April 5 and analyze the season in hindsight. Much has been written about “the Astros since June 1” or “the Astros since the All-Star Break,” but either one of these views shortchanges just how far this team has come in so little time.

Every Astro fan would love to forget April and May of this year. The 2010 Astros matched the 2005 Astros’ 15-30 start, but the comparisons would never hold up. The Clemens/Pettitte-led 2005 squad went 4-2 to finish May and begin a turnaround that ended, of course, in the World Series. The 2010 edition maintained their lose-two-of-three pace to enter June at 17-34, and the infamous tombstone would have looked much more appropriate five years later. Houston was on pace for their worst-ever season by far, 2005 hero Roy Oswalt asked to be traded, and it seemed the Astros had picked up right where they left off in their abysmal ending to 2009.
From June 1 through July 28, Houston alternated stretches of continued futility with runs of improved play, and they went 25-25 over their next 50 games. They showed, as many had expected, that they were not as bad of a baseball team as their first two months seemed to indicate. At the same time, however, they also showed they were far from a first division club, as they posted a 4-15 record against contending clubs (Yankees, Rangers, Padres, Cardinals, Reds) during that stretch. The overall improvement was helped by an infusion of youth, with the callups of Chris Johnson, Jason Castro and Jason Bourgeois, and the acquisition of Angel Sanchez from Boston, but it was clear every time the club ran up against elite competition that there was still work to be done.
July 29 was a day off for Houston’s players, but not for Ed Wade and the front office. Soon came the move that had been hanging over the team since May – Roy Oswalt was traded. When the Astros returned to the field on the evening of July 30, Lance Berkman was out of the lineup too, as it turned out he had also been traded in a move that would be officially announced the next day. It may have been the darkest weekend in franchise history for Astros fans, but the blow was softened at least slightly by a weekend sweep of the Brewers. July 30 marked the beginning of the post-Berkman/Oswalt era in Houston, but it also marked the beginning of the 2010 Astros’ final act. Since that dark day in late July, Houston has gone 30-18, climbed from 5th to 3rd in the NL Central, and they’re knocking on the door of a .500 season that no one dared to fathom even eight weeks ago. Perhaps even more telling, they’re 12-4 against the elite competition (Cardinals, Braves, Phillies, Reds) that gave them so much grief in June and July. Now the comparisons to 2005 would seem more appropriate, as they look like a team that could actually have a shot in October, if they hadn’t buried themselves alive in April and May.
Here’s a wild thought: if these Astros manage to win every game the rest of the way, if the Reds lose every game, and if the Cardinals only win half of their remaining schedule, then the Astros are your 2010 NL Central Division champs. Will it happen? No, it won’t. 2006 was once in a lifetime, when the Astros shaved a 9.5-game Cardinals lead to just half a game in the last two weeks of the season, but even that run ultimately fell short (and St. Louis ultimately won the World Series). The Astros could be eliminated from contention as early as tonight, if they lose to the Nationals and if Cincinnati beats Milwaukee. But the fact that they still have any chance at all on September 20, no matter how slim, is a testament to the incredible job that these young guys have done in a remarkably short period of time. Earlier this year, most would have written them off by some date in August.
The 2010 Houston Astros have gone from awful to interesting to exciting – it’s almost felt like three seasons in one. Following the big trades in July, Ed Wade and Drayton McLane refused to say that the franchise was “rebuilding,” preferring the term “retooling” instead, but I scoffed and dismissed it as PR semantics. But maybe Ed was right after all. The last time this team truly “rebuilt” was in the early ’90s before Drayton came on board. 1990 was the aging team trying unsuccessfully to hold onto past glories (1986) – see April/May 2010. 1991 was the young team that often got their butts whupped but that held promise for the future – see June/July. Then 1992 saw the youngsters growing up and clawing their way to a .500 record that no one expected – see August/September this year. 1993 brought new promise and new hope. Even if the 2010 Astros fall short of .500, the new promise and new hope for next year are already shining through. Of course it took until ’97 for McLane’s Astros to finally reach the playoffs (though we’ll never know about ’94), but at this condensed rate, that’s 2012 at worst… 2011 at best.
Encore!

Wonder What’s Next

Did you see that game last night? Did you believe what you saw? If they’re aiming to ease our pain over the loss of Lance and Roy, they’re doing a dang good job of it. Stomping on the Cardinals – it’s good for what ails ya!

If nothing else, the Astros have at least been interesting to watch over the past week, which is more than can be said about most of their 2010 season so far. While Houston is riding a 7 game winning streak, the Phillies are 2-2 and the Yankees are 0-3 since acquiring our old friends. Irony much? The Astros have climbed past the Cubs into fourth place in the NL Central, 2 games back of the Brewers for third and 12 back of Cincinnati for the lead. But as fun as the recent string of wins has been, I honestly hope they don’t climb much higher than this. Because if they somehow miraculously, ridiculously began to gain serious ground on the Cards and Reds, you can bet that Drayton will be tempted to move back into “buy” mode, where he’d spent his entire 17-year ownership until last week. This team is finally moving in the right direction, after four years seemingly without one, and turning “buyer” anytime before at least 2012 would only short circuit that.
Drayton has been reluctant to say that the Astros are in rebuilding mode now, even as it looks to everyone outside of his office that they are (or certainly should be), but I sincerely hope that’s just Drayton playing spin doctor for the press, trying to make things look better than they are as he struggles to repair a damaged franchise. Following last week’s trades, my off-season wishlist for the Astros is pretty simple:
1. Eat as much salary as you have to and trade Carlos Lee anywhere. I’m not even that picky about what they get in return. I like Carlos, but the Astros have outfield depth in the minors, and Carlos isn’t what he once was, so it’s time to move on.
2. Let Brian Bogusevic and Jason Bourgeois compete to win the starting LF job, with the other in the big leagues on the bench.
3. Bring back Jason Michaels and Geoff Blum strictly for bench roles. Do NOT bring back Pedro Feliz. Possibly bring back Berkman in Blum’s place, if he’ll accept a bench job, but I don’t see that happening. Otherwise fill out the bench with youngsters.
4. Bring back pretty much everybody else.
5. Let ’em play!
In a better year, my number one off-season desire would be to sign Carl Crawford. Even if that meant Michael Bourn’s departure; Crawford is another Houston native, and he’s my favorite non-Astros player. I would LOVE to see him play here. But adding Crawford, or any other big name free agent, doesn’t make sense for this team at this time; maybe in a couple of years, if the youngsters come of age by then, but not now. Plus adding any Type A free agent would cost the Astros what is still the #9 pick in next year’s draft, and for our still-weakened farm system, giving away draft picks and prospects is the last thing this team needs to do. So let the youngsters play in 2011, and see where you are after that.
One more immediate concern: Hey, Millsie? I like Geoff Blum. I do. But please, please, please keep him on the bench most games, and let Angel Sanchez have the shortstop job. Even before last night’s 6-RBI showcase, Sanchez has proven himself everything the Astros hoped Tommy Manzella would be, and more. He’s one of only two Houston regulars (along with Chris Johnson) hitting over .300, so for a team that has struggled so much offensively all year, why would you pull the plug on him in favor of Blum’s .252? And for a team that’s seemingly trying to get younger, why would you pull the plug on 26-year-old Sanchez for 37-year-old Blum? I enjoy watching the Astros much more when the youngsters are in the lineup, even when they make mistakes.
And Ed, while I’ve got your ear – when Tommy comes back, let Pedro go. I know you’re loyal to your former Phillies, and I know you still owe Pedro a pile of cash, but he’s played himself out of a role on this team. What I expect to happen is that either Manzella will be sent to Round Rock, or else Jason Bourgeois. But they’re both more likely to help the Astros next year than Feliz is. Maybe you’ll just wait until after September 1 to activate Tommy, then you can keep both guys on the big league roster, which is okay, I suppose. But if he comes back before then, give Pedro a chance to latch on somewhere else and finish his season strong, for his own sake as much as ours. His place is just not here.
Going for sweep #2 in St. Louis tonight, with tall Mr. Happ on the hill. Four rookies in the lineup around him. please. Seven is heaven, but eight would be great!

At the midway mark

Great win for Houston last night over a great San Diego club. Given Houston’s performance against the first-place Yankees and Rangers last month (1-8), I wasn’t too optimistic going into this series, but with Roy pitching tonight, they’ve got a chance to take the first two. That is, if they can solve San Diego ace Mat Latos; the Astros haven’t done so great against opposing aces this year. Regardless, if they can pull off a split of this four-game set, I’ll be pleased.

The Astros ended up splitting the month of June at 14-14. That’s unspectacular for any team, but for a team that was 17 games under .500 by the end of May, to remain 17 games under .500 by the end of June means they’re making progress. Much has been said already about their 12-4 record against NL opponents in June, but unfortunately you can’t selectively ignore portions of the schedule, so the 2-10 in Interleague remains. That 1-8 v. NYY and Texas underscores that these Astros cannot compete with the elite, but I think that their 13-6 record against everybody else reinforces that this club is not as bad as their first two months. They may actually be set up for a pretty good July: after this weekend in San Diego, they’ve got nothing more challenging this month than one series each in Houston against the Cardinals and Reds. Who are virtually tied for first in the NL Central, granted, but the NL Central is baseball’s weakest division this year. And these Astros have already swept St. Louis once. Not that I expect another late season run – I don’t – but I don’t expect these Astros to lose 100 games any more either.
A trade! A trade! Only July 1, and Ed Wade is already dealing! Nothing of nearly the magnitude that we were (and still are) expecting, however – swapping Kevin Cash to the BoSox for AAA SS Angel Sanchez. Sanchez reportedly joined the Astros in San Diego yesterday, which implies that he’s being brought up to the big club, but no corresponding roster move has been announced yet. Zach Levine analyzed the possibilities and concluded that the unlucky victim will be either Pedro Feliz or Oswaldo Navarro, which seems logical. I doubt that Houston is ready to cut Feliz loose yet, though, especially after his recent 3-for-5 game. It’s more likely they’ve decided that Navarro’s .063 batting average isn’t likely to improve much, which is perhaps unfair after only 19 plate appearances. I would rather they give Navarro an extended trial than increase Geoff Blum’s time at shortstop. I believe this move is in response to the same problem I blogged about when discussing Adam Everett: neither Blum nor Navarro is a natural shortshop. Sanchez is, so he figures to be a stopgap until Tommy Manzella is ready to return next month, and unlike Everett, Sanchez can be expected to accept a minor league assignment later on. Cash was not going to make it back to Houston this year, so I like the move.
Tonight’s game will be #81 in the books for 2010. I know it’s been a “long year,” but are we really halfway done already?