Tagged: j.a. happ

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.

The times, they are a-changin’…

So. Wow. What is there for Astro fans to say about the past weekend that hasn’t already been said? Roy was expected, and while it was sad indeed to see him go, at least we had two and a half months to know that it was likely coming. We knew it might happen with Lance too, but I didn’t truly expect that it would until it was already upon us. Losing both him and Roy within 48 hours of each other made their departures all the sadder than losing either one alone. As fan blogger Chip Bailey said, has there ever been a darker weekend in Astros history? 

I know it was necessary. I know it’s for the good of the team. I know that the Astros are closer  today to being competitive again than they were four or five days ago, and I wanted these trades to happen – both of them – before they did happen, or at least that’s what I told myself. But as a lifelong Astros diehard, it still hurts.
There was one scary winter in the mid-’90s – 1995, I believe it was – when Craig Biggio became a free agent for the first time. He’d already been an Astro for eight years by that point, but the other teams came courting. The Yankees, in particular I recall, were interested, and New York is Bidge’s home state, so everyone in Houston feared that he would skip town for the Big Apple. That story had a happy ending, as he resigned with Houston, ultimately retiring as a career Astro 12 years later. I dreaded the thought that winter of seeing one of our own in Yankee pinstripes. I know exactly how that feels now. I tried watching Yankees and Phillies highlight reels over the weekend, but I had to walk away.
But I dwell too much in the darkness of these deals. I’m happy for Lance and Roy, excited for both of them. I’ll get used to seeing them in opposing uniforms, the same way I got used to seeing Billy Wagner with the Phillies after 9 years an Astro. I hope they both end up with championship rings, as Brad Lidge did two years ago. I’m excited for the youngsters that they’ve brought in, too – J.A. Happ impressing in his Houston debut, and Brett Wallace earning his first big league hit yesterday afternoon. I’m excited that Carlos Lee is the only everyday Astros regular over 30 years old now, and I hope that this winter, Ed Wade will do what he just did twice and take whatever steps necessary to move Carlos out of the way for younger talent to break through (Brian Bogusevic, I’m looking at you). Not that I hate El Caballo like it seems many do these days, but as with Lance and Roy, the team will be better off in the long run if they can move him for almost anything now. I like the Brett Myers extension, even though many wanted him traded too; he’s younger than Wandy, and without many or any additional youngsters ready to step into the rotation right now, his innings-eating tendencies should prove very valuable while the best of the youngsters rise to the top around him in the next few years.
It feels like 2010 may be the return of the 1990 Astros – a team that’s been hanging onto players from past glories (’86) finally trades a couple of fan favorites (Bill Doran, Glenn Davis) while a few youngsters are taking over (Biggio, Ken Caminiti). If Wade can move Lee in the off-season and doesn’t make any dumb veteran signings, then 2011 could be the return of 1991, with the oldest regular being a 30-year-old 2B (Casey Candaele vs. Jeff Keppinger). ’91 was a rough year in the standings, but watching all those kids was fun.
At least the Astros managed a sweep of Milwaukee while the off-field drama played itself out. May it be the sign of better things to come. At long last, things are looking up in Astroland.

Roy is gone

It’s not officially official, but by all accounts, Roy Oswalt is a Phillie. Or he’s still an Astro, but he’ll be playing for the Philadelphia Astros. Instead of the Houston Phillies. EDIT: Never mind, it IS official now – Bob Garber says so.

The Astros reportedly got back LHP J.A. Happ and a pair of 19-year-old A-ball kids: OF Anthony Gose & SS Jonathan Villar. My initial reaction is disappointment – “that’s really the best they could do?” But the stats on the two young kids don’t tell the whole story, we’re told, and it will be a few years before we can fairly evaluate this trade. EDIT 2: Still evolving… now Gose is being flipped to Toronto? For whom? Ah, Ed, you’re a busy man today… EDIT 3: Brett Wallace! THAT changes things, if it’s true. I don’t mind missing out on Jonathan Singleton, in that case. I think that Alyson Footer knows things
I like Happ. I do. And I really do think it was Phillies-or-bust for trading Oswalt, based on all that we were hearing. And I’m still of the opinion that Roy needed to be traded, somewhere, anywhere, because he obviously isn’t going to help the team win anything this year, and he more than likely wouldn’t have been able to contribute to any more winning seasons here before his career is done. So in that sense, getting anything at all in return for Roy, anyone that even might be able to help this team win in the future, is a smarter move than holding onto him. (Of course, the same could be said for Lance Berkman, Brett Myers or others, but that’s another argument for another day.) I’m willing to believe, due to all the obstacles, that this really is the best deal that Ed & Drayton could get for Roy. So from that perspective, I’ll accept it, and I’ll withhold final judgment on the deal until we see how Gose & Villar (and Happ, for that matter) pan out. I just wish there was more to get excited about up front.
Happ and Roy were both scheduled to start tomorrow, so I’m guessing we’ll see Happ’s Houston debut tomorrow night, instead of Roy’s final attempt to tie Joe Niekro. Or else we’ll see Wandy tomorrow on his normal rest and push Happ back to Saturday or Sunday. Attention now turns to who else will or won’t be with the club come Saturday night’s game.
So long, Roy. I wish you well, though I wish more that it hadn’t had to end this way. Good luck in Philly; tell Brad Lidge howdy for us. J.A. Happ? You and the teens are under the microscope now after being traded for a Houston icon. Good luck.