Tagged: brad mills

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.

To Messrs. Mills and Wade

Dear Mr. Mills,

Great job out there. In spite of the team’s struggles this year, you seem to have brought all of the leadership and respect that was advertised when you were hired, and the team has been looking MUCH better in the last two weeks. Not that any of the mess before this was your fault, but winning never hurts a manager’s image. I hope that Drayton keeps you around beyond the rebuilding/retooling years so that you’ll have the chance to truly show your stuff.
But to the point: please don’t mess with the starting rotation this month. You see, I’ve been an Astros fan since before I can remember, and I just bought tickets last night to see my boys play in person for the first time in over a decade. The game is June 27, against the Rangers in Arlington. And right now, barring injury or reshuffling, Roy Oswalt should be slated to start that game. Please don’t take upcoming days off as an opportunity to skip somebody’s turn to pitch, and if Bud Norris returns from rehab before then, don’t switch guys around to get him back in the rotation. Just keep going as you have so far this year, and let the days off mean extra rest for your starters.
Perhaps I’m a bad diehard fan in that I haven’t been to an Astros game in so long, but, y’know. Life. I left Houston for college in Arkansas back in 1999, and I’ve really only been back to Houston for the holidays – during the off-season – since. I lost count of how many times I visited the Dome, but I’ve never been to Minute Maid Park. I’ve never seen Roy O pitch in person. I’m fairly certain that I’ve never seen Lance Berkman play in person either, unless it was during his first month in the big leagues back in July ’99, but I don’t think so. Berkman & Oswalt have defined the Houston franchise in the 2000’s the same way that Bagwell & Biggio did in the 1990’s. And while I know that we’re starting a new decade this year, and that Roy’s and Lance’s days with the team may well be numbered, please give me the chance to see them play together in Houston uniforms at least this once before they go. I know that Puma will probably play that day regardless, but Roy is only the greatest pitcher in franchise history… and after this month, I may never get another chance to see him at all.
Please pass on the message to Mr. Wade too: don’t trade Roy this month. Or Lance, if he’s got suitors likewise. I know that Roy has asked to be given a better shot at the World Series again than the Astros are likely to be able to provide during his self-defined remaining two-year window. I can respect that, and I’m not upset with him for it. In spite of the recent improved play, it will still take more miracles than 2005 for this team to make the playoffs, so it’s probably best for our boys if Roy is moved for prospects this summer. The same is likely true of Puma too. But it doesn’t have to be done this month. You’ll make at least one lifelong fan very happy if you hold off on the trigger until then.
Either way, thanks for reading. I’ll see you at the Ballpark in Arlington two weeks from Sunday; I’ll be up behind our on-deck circle, cheering on the good guys. I look forward to it, and I look forward to the future. Let’s go, ‘Stros!

Bad Days, Sad Days

Hello, baseball blog. How have you been? It’s been too long, I know, but a lot has happened. I may not be around every day, but I’m back now and I’ll be back again.

The last nine months have been eventful for Astros fans, and the last week perhaps even more so. The end of the 2009 season saw Houston drop off a cliff in a most demotivational way, but it brought on changes that spelled brighter days ahead for the franchise. I like the hiring of Brad Mills, from perhaps baseball’s smartest franchise, to take the place of Cecil Cooper, whom I never could quite trust in spite of Phil Garner’s endorsement. I like the off-season signing of Pedro Feliz, to bring solid glovework and championship experience to third base, and of Brett Myers, to bring a genuine innings-eater to the middle of the rotation. I like the non-signing of Miguel Tejada, despite the loss of his enthusiasm and his .300+ batting average – trading for him was a mistake, and it was time to move on. And even though Jose Valverde was one of my favorite Astros while he was here, I’m kinda more glad for the draft pick bounty reaped by his departure to Detroit than I would have been if he’d stayed. I wasn’t sure what to make of Matt Lindstrom over the winter, but he’s certainly proven his worth by now.
The problem with those off-season moves is that, while they should at least make the 2010 Houston Astros more interesting than their 2009 predecessors, they’re not really likely to get the 2010 squad any closer to the playoffs than they were the year before. Then again, aside from George Steinbrenner’s brain suddenly being transplanted into Drayton McLane’s body and going on a Sabathia/Burnett/Texeira-like shopping spree, I don’t know that there was really much that could be done to make THIS Astros team THAT much better RIGHT NOW. Ever since Gerry Hunsicker left in the winter of 2004, the Houston Astros have been a broken franchise. The 2005 World Series was the peak before an increasingly ugly decline. Gradually, the pieces have been put back in place to get the Astros back to their standing as one of baseball’s best franchises, as they were for Drayton’s first decade, but that time is not yet. Brad Mills’ second season as an Astros manager will be better than his first.
In the past week came Kaz Matsui’s release, and I’ll admit I was surprised – not that it happened, but that it happened this soon. I expected Drayton and Ed Wade to hold onto their $15 million mistake a little longer, but perhaps it’s another sign of the slow turnaround that they’re willing to admit a mistake sooner. I feel it’s unfair to refer to Kaz as only a “mistake”; Ed was right about Matsui for one year. The mistake was signing an injury-prone player to a multi-year deal, but of course, hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I was annoyed at all of the “good riddance!!” comments from Houston fans upon Matsui’s release; it was time for him and the Astros to part ways, but I wish him well wherever he ends up.
On Friday came the news that Roy Oswalt has asked for a trade, and it was a sad, sad day for Astros fans. Roy has since clarified that this was a request, not a demand, but I still don’t expect him to be wearing a Houston jersey any longer come August 1 – pitching is at too much of a premium for some contender NOT to come calling with a golden offer this summer. It seems that Roy has no ill will towards the franchise, stating that he’d even play an extra year just to end his career here, but the hope for Houston fans had been that Oswalt & Berkman would be the next Bagwell & Biggio – lifelong teammates who never played anywhere else. As much as I’d like to be angry that Roy seemingly wants to bail on a sinking ship this year, I can’t harbor ill will against him either; he’d like to win a championship before his career is done, and he knows as well as anybody that that’s unlikely to happen in Houston during the two years he feels he has left to give. Every kid that ever picks up a bat and glove dreams of one day winning the World Series (including me), so I can’t fault Roy for that; I’d be much angrier if the team had traded him against his will (hello, Billy Wagner), or if Roy had fled via free agency for bigger bucks elsewhere. Whenever he leaves, he’ll be leaving as the greatest pitcher in franchise history, but if the Astros can get a deal like the one they gave up for Randy Johnson – a pair of solid young starters and a future All-Star middle infielder – then maybe it’s best for the franchise in the long run anyway. But the fan’s reality is still sad. Early rumors have Roy going to the Dodgers, Twins or Rangers… my wife and I have discussed driving down to Arlington to catch the Golden Boot Series there in late June. I may finally get to see Roy pitch in person for the first time that weekend, but for the opposite team…
And then came yesterday. The last time I saw the Astros play in person was over a decade ago, in the Summer of ’99 and their last year in the Dome. That was the summer before I left for college in Arkansas, so I was barely still a “kid,” but I got my first (and last) autograph in person from a big leaguer at that game. The big leaguer was Jose Lima, in the midst of his magical career year; he signed my navy & gold Astros cap, and I treasured that cap until repeated soakings in the rain caused his signature to bleed into nothing more than a black smudge underneath the bill. But the memory was worth more than the cap, and that memory has never faded. I know that Bagwell or Biggio would have done the same thing for a fan given the chance, but Jose went out of his way to create those chances. He drove his opponents to madness with his antics, but you loved him if he was yours, and few players are remembered as fondly and as well. My last memory of watching “Lima Time” was on television for the 2004 NLDS with the Dodgers. Of course Los Angeles ultimately lost that series, but I remember being proud that Lima – our Lima – had done his part to keep the dream alive. Gone too soon, Jose. You will be sorely missed.
The good news for the 2010 Astros is that with a win tomorrow night in Milwaukee, they would actually be ahead of the pace of the 2005 World Series team. The difference is that this team doesn’t have Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens to anchor the rotation behind Roy O, and there’s no one this year swinging the way that Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman, Biggio and Jason Lane did that year, including Berkman himself. I believe, like Berkman, that things will get better, and the Astros aren’t as bad as they have been for the last three months of baseball. I hope they’ve finally hit bottom. But there’s still a long climb to get back to the top.