Tagged: michael bourn

Calm after the storm, or eye of the hurricane?

So the 2011 MLB non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, and the Astros were expectedly very active. Though perhaps surprisingly less active than some/most had expected or predicted. But I don’t believe that they’re done dealing yet.

Hunter Pence is gone. Michael Bourn is gone. Jeff Keppinger is gone, too, and 9 prospects have come back in return for that trio so far, with one more yet to be named. I’m… numb. Sad. And worn out. Though less sad at this time this year than I was one year ago (Bourn & Pence don’t have nearly the Houston legacy that Oswalt & Berkman did). And maybe… more hopeful for the future now, too. Last year’s trades were a sign that the Astros recognized the need to rebuild, but other moves (like the Wandy/Myers extensions) were signs that they hadn’t yet fully embraced the idea. There’s no question that they’re in full-on rebuilding mode now. As well they should be.

It would be easy to argue that Ed Wade should have received more in return on any or all of the deals he made this month, and I might even agree with that. I’d be a good deal more enthusiastic if Domonic Brown and Mike Minor were wearing Astros pinstripes tomorrow. But regardless of what anyone – myself included – may think, reality is that the trade value for Pence & Bourn was never going to be higher than it was this week. They needed to be dealt now for the best possible return, and if this was the best than anyone else was willing to give up for them – so be it. Pull the trigger. We’ll never know if a better deal could have been had, so there’s no point in wasting further energy moaning about it now. We’ll take what we’ve got and move on. As is always true in any trade involving prospects, we won’t know for years whether these deals were honestly good ones or bad ones anyway.

What we do know now is this – the Houston farm system is notably stronger today than it was a month ago. I believe it will get stronger still this month, too, as I expect at least Wandy to find a new home before September 1, and very possibly Myers or Michaels or Barmes as well. If Myers and Wandy aren’t dealt in August, they’ll be traded over the winter, which is fine, as they don’t have the same urgency for maximum value as Bourn & Pence. Michaels and Barmes will (and should be) allowed to walk as free agents if not dealt, leaving Carlos Lee (35) as by far the elder statesman on the 2012 club. Unless by some miracle they manage to move Lee too, which would be great news for Brett Wallace and which should perhaps be the top priority for a rebuilding club. That would leave Brandon Lyon (31) as the highest paid and oldest regular on the 2012 club; I don’t expect they’ll be able to get anyone to take him on after his health & performance this season.

We also know that the Astros should officially have a new owner by the end of August. I expect we’ll have a new GM this winter, as well, and it wouldn’t shock me to see a new field manager too. Whatever else may happen, the 2012 Astros will be much younger, much less experienced… but hopefully the start of great new things. Only time will tell, but at least we know now they’re not holding onto delusions of past glories any longer. The fastest way back to success from here is to tear it down and start over.

So… how about that 2012 Draft?

Astros fans, want to see your team dominate atop the standings again? Then look no further: http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/reversestandings/

Maybe that’s tacky, but as bad as this season has been already, I’d feel even worse about it if they somehow put on another huge late surge and play themselves out of the #1 draft spot. Fortunately (or unfortunately, take your pick), they’ve buried themselves far enough down that it will take a huge late surge to look down on anyone else. The Mariners have lost 16 straight and still lag 10 games back of worst.

So who do you like for 2012? Mock drafts abound, though of course it’s much, much too early to consider anything even remotely concrete. It’s one of the few things Astros fans have to look forward to these days, however, so it’s fun to speculate. The consensus seems to be that there’s no consensus – no Bryce Harper or Steven Strasburg this year – but there does seem to be a lot of chatter about Lance McCullers and Mark Appel. Both are exciting prospects, I’ll grant, but I’m leery of taking any pitcher #1 overall. Sure, you’ve got David Price, but you’ve got a longer list of luminaries such as Brian Bullington, Matt Anderson, Paul Wilson, Kris Benson, Ben McDonald and Brien Taylor. Even Strasburg is still hurt, and who knows if he’ll be the same? The Astros are a team sorely lacking in power, so I’d much rather see them go after a Trey Williams or a Victor Roache. Or… I’m really starting to like this Nick Williams kid out of Galveston Ball. We shall see what we shall see…

Our other hope of a bright spot right now is Sunday’s looming trade deadline, and is it bad that I’d be most excited to see Bourn, Pence, Myers, Wandy and Barmes all wearing opposing uniforms on August 1? Not that I have anything against any of those guys – Bourn, Pence and Wandy in particular are favorites – but the 2011 Astros are truly, historically bad. Their bad-ness may be the best thing that could happen to this franchise right now, as it’s unmasked entirely the need for rebuilding, with no false hope of contention left to hide behind. For a team with this many holes, the fastest way back to contention is to trade every veteran you can for the best prospects that you can, then let the young guys grow up together (see: 1991 Astros, who laid the groundwork for the most successful decade in franchise history).

I’m as eager as anyone for the Astros to get on with the future and blow up the roster now, but I don’t expect all five of those guys to be gone by next week. But, y’know – that’s okay. With the exception of Barmes, it’s important to remember that none of the Astros’ key veterans are in line for free agency this winter. So anybody they don’t trade now, they could still move for prospects in the off-season. It could be argued that they’ll get better value in the heat of a pennant race, but that’s not always necessarily the case, so it behooves the club to find the best possible deal. No, they shouldn’t set their asking price so high now that they’ll be forced to take a lesser deal later, but neither should they trade anybody now just for the sake of offloading them immediately. It’s an inexact science, and it’s maddening, but the flexibility is ultimately better than having their hand forced by expiring contracts right now. Or it should be. I’ll be most upset if the team doesn’t look drastically different – and younger – by 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Cooperstown Calling

As we count down the final days to the start to Spring Training, I’ve been wanting to take the opportunity to talk about the one other big bit of Astros-related news this winter: Jeff Bagwell and the Hall of Fame.

We already know the results of this year’s voting. Bagwell became a buzzword and an unfair scapegoat this winter for PED usage and how it affects HOF induction. I won’t argue in depth a case that’s already been argued to death, but the bottom line is that Bagwell has never, ever been connected to PED usage. I didn’t expect him to get elected this year, because he didn’t reach the magic 500-homer or 3000-hit plateaus that seem to be required for first-ballot election. But it’s absurd to label him a “marginal” candidate because of that, and even more absurd to try and exclude him from the Hall based on the possible chance that maybe he might have at some point potentially considered using PEDs during his playing days. Unless concrete evidence to the contrary suddenly emerges, the PED issue should have no effect on Bagwell’s candidacy. Period. And as for his “marginal” status – Baseball Prospectus ranks Bagwell as the fourth-greatest first baseman of all-time based on their JAWS metric, ahead of other such “marginal” candidates as Jimmie Foxx, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey, Rod Carew and Eddie Murray. He belongs in Cooperstown, end of discussion, and it will be a crime if he never makes it in.

Fortunately, the voting results this year actually weren’t that bad for Bagwell, so it seems now more of a question of when he gets in than if. The purpose of this post is to examine that question. To that end, let’s look at other HOF candidates who posted similar percentages in their first year on the ballot.

In the last 30 years, five other players besides Bagwell have received vote totals in the 40% range their first go round:

1993: Steve Garvey (41.6%)
1998: Gary Carter (42.3%)
2002: Andre Dawson (45.3%)
2003: Lee Smith (42.3%)
2003: Ryne Sandberg (49.2%)
2011: Jeff Bagwell (41.7%)

Of those other five, three (Carter, Dawson, Sandberg) are now enshrined in Cooperstown, one (Smith) is still on the ballot, and one (Garvey) stayed on the ballot for 15 years before he ran out of chances. Examining their cases one by one:

Steve Garvey: Garvey was a long-time Dodgers first baseman, a ten-time All-Star and the 1974 NL MVP. He racked up 2599 career hits (to Bagwell’s 2314) with a .294 career batting average (to Bagwell’s .297), so the two would at first seem comparable. Bagwell and Garvey also both won Gold Gloves and MVP awards. But Bagwell put up much better numbers in HRs (449 v. 272), RBIs (1529 v. 1308), and OPS (.948 v. .775), and that in four fewer seasons. Bagwell also ranks 57th all-time in career WAR (79.9), leading the league twice and posting top 10 finishes six times, whereas Garvey never broke the top 10 and ranks 513th all-time. Garvey was a very good player, but not a great one, and that’s reflected in that he only once ever posted a higher percentage in HOF voting (42.6% in ’95) than in his first year on the ballot.

Gary Carter: The great Expos and Mets catcher was elected to the Hall in 2003 after his sixth appearance on the ballot. After earning 42.3% of the vote on his first go, he dropped to 33.8% the next year, then gained ground every year after that (49.7%, 64.9%, 72.7%) before he finally received 78% in ’03. The Kid’s career 66.3 WAR is good for 106th all-time, but significantly lower than Bagwell’s 79.9.

Andre Dawson: The Hawk was finally a member of the HOF class last year on his 9th try. After posting 45.3% on his first ballot, he held or gained ground every year thereafter but one (50%, 50%, 52.3%, 61%, 56.7%, 65.9%, 67%) until 2010’s 77.9% pushed him over the 75% required for election. Dawson was four times in the top 10 in WAR, earning 57.0 for his career, 178th best ever.

Lee Smith: Lee Smith has had nine turns on the ballot so far, earning 42.3% on his first go round and hovering in that neighborhood ever since. Since his first year on the ballot in 2003, Smith has received 36.6%, 38.8%, 45%, 39.8%, 43.3%, 44.5%, 47.3% and 45.3% of the HOF vote. He’s #3 on the all-time career saves list and one of the pioneers of the modern “closer” role in baseball, which is what his candidacy is primarily based on. But it seems that the BBWAA is still struggling to decide what to do with relievers when it comes to the Hall of Fame. WAR has become an increasingly important stat to voters in recent years, so Smith’s ranking as 698th all-time doesn’t do him many favors (though it does put him well ahead of fellow closer and Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers at 927th). He may or may not eventually make it in – he’ll get six more tries – but his situation is so different from Bagwell’s that comparisons are almost impossible.

Ryne Sandberg: Ryno was one of my favorite non-Astros as a kid, so I was well pleased when he got elected to the Hall in 2005, his third time on the ballot. After gathering 49.2% for his initial tally, he got 61.1% in 2004, then made it in with 76.2% of the vote. Sandberg has weaker career stats than Bagwell in almost every major offensive category (though Sandberg did get 72 more hits, but in about 600 more at bats). However, Sandberg played most of his career at 2B – a traditionally weaker offensive position than 1B – so he’s rightfully regarded as one of the best offensive second basemen of all-time. He has a career WAR rank of #139, finishing in the top 10 in the league five times.

All other things being equal, it would seem that Jeff Bagwell has a stronger Hall of Fame argument than all of these other five players, three of whom are already in Cooperstown and one of whom may yet make it. One made it in three tries, one made it in six and one in nine, so there’s no clear trend in the voting history, making it hard to predict when Baggy might finally get the call, but I’ll venture a guess anyway.

Looking at the most recent two years of voting, Roberto Alomar saw a jump of 16.3% from his first year on the ballot to his second. We know that, whether justifiable or not, a certain percentage of the HOF voting body believes in the sanctity of the first ballot. This is reflected perhaps most dramatically in Alomar’s percentages, as he’s the first player ever to be elected with 90% of the vote not on the first ballot. A certain percentage of voters no doubt withheld their votes for him in 2010 based on his 1996 spitting incident involving umpire John Hirschbeck, but it’s impossible to know what that exact percentage is. So, for argument’s sake, let’s say that those 16.3% are the first ballot purists. If Bagwell were to see a similar jump in his votes next year, that would place him at 58%; if for two years, that would place him at an excruciatingly close 74.3% in 2013.

So it’s a fairly sure bet that Bagwell won’t make it in next year either, but 2013 ought to afford him his first great chance. Alomar has a career WAR total of 63.5 and a career rank of 126th (as opposed to Bagwell’s 79.9 and 57th), so it’s not unrealistic to imagine Bagwell gaining at least an equal or greater percentage each year. 2013 will be Craig Biggio’s first year on the ballot, too, and of course Biggio did reach that magic 3000 hit mark, so he’s got a great shot on his first ballot (every other 3000-hit club member since 1953 has been elected on the first ballot except for Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro). How many career teammates like Bagwell and Biggio have there been in recent years? How many people would love to see them enshrined together?

The concern about 2013 that some have expressed is the number of other stellar candidates appearing on the ballot then and soon thereafter. But this is wh
ere the PED controversy might actually help Bagwell’s chances rather than hurt him. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling will all be first-time candidates along with Craig Biggio that year. But Bonds, Clemens and Sosa all have ties to PEDs, and Bagwell should have a much stronger case – especially in his third year – than both Schilling and Piazza. With Bagwell and Biggio both clear of any PED evidence, wouldn’t the voters love to honor them in contrast?

I’ve never been to Cooperstown, but I’ve always wanted to go. Summer of 2013 will be, I expect, a once-in-a-lifetime event for all Astros fans. I’m planning a trip already.

OTHER NEWS

Joel Roza of the Corpus Christi Caller agrees with me on a Carlos Lee for Michael Young trade. Luke Truxal of MLBcenter.com also says that Lee-for-Young “makes the most sense.” At this point I still expect either 1. Colorado or 2. no one to end up acquiring Young, but we still haven’t heard an official “nay” from anyone in the Astros camp, which we have heard from pretty much every other club that has been linked to him. C’mon, Ed & Drayton!

And now we get the news that Michael Bourn has hired Scott Boras as his agent. Michael, I am disappoint. You’re still my favorite Astro these days, but I don’t expect to see you in Houston after 2012, and I won’t shed a tear when you (or your agent) is gone.

Carl’s Crawford Boxes?

crawford.catch_.jpg

Coming soon to an outfield near you?
The regular season isn’t even over yet, and already the off-season rumors are starting… which is not surprising in the least, really. But it’s drawing some attention in Houston today as the Boston Herald has linked one of the biggest names in this year’s market to the Astros.
Let me start off by saying that I will be VERY surprised if we see Carl Crawford in an Astros uniform next year. If he doesn’t stay in Tampa, I expect he’ll be lured away by the deeper pockets of the Angels or Yankees. Plus Crawford went on record recently saying that he loves the city of Houston, but “the Astros are not really winning right now,” and his friends “want to see [him] on a team that’s winning.” The Astros and their 33-18 record since July 27 can argue against that, but I’ll be surprised if their efforts are successful. I’ll be surprised, but I’ll also be surprised if they don’t at least make Crawford an offer.
The biggest barrier standing between Crawford and the Astros isn’t money; it’s Carlos Lee. Or maybe it is money, due to Lee’s contract and the difficulty that Ed Wade is certain to have in trying to get rid of it. While Lee has somewhat redeemed his season in the second half, he’s still unlikely to be worth the money he’s owed on the remainder of his contract – at least to a National League, non-DH team. His no-trade clause expires after this season, but he’ll fall into MLB’s 10/5 no-trade category if he spends next year in Houston, so it’s likely now or never if the Astros want to unload him. They’d be foolish not to try. The good news about Lee’s offensive improvement since the All-Star Break, besides the fact that he’s helped Houston win a few games, is that he’s not quite the “most untradeable player in the history of untradeable players” any longer, as Alyson Footer once put it. Some AL team ought to be willing to take a chance on him as a DH, if Houston eats a portion of his salary; I honestly suspect that his being played at 1B is an attempt by management to increase his market value, as well. Ed will still have his hands full attempting to move him, but I think it can be done.
If they can find El Caballo a happy new home, then Carl Crawford starts to make a lot more sense. Trading Lee’s -1.6 WAR for Crawford’s 4.4 instantly makes your team 6 games better. An outfield lineup of Crawford, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence would be among the best defensive trios in baseball, which would in turn make Houston’s pitching staff better (especially fly-ball lovers like J.A. Happ). Replacing Lee with Crawford would mean losing 10-15 HRs per season, which is a problem for a team that’s already last in the league in power, but Carl has actually outslugged Carlos this season – .489 v. .425 – and he helps your team win in plenty of other ways. Could you imagine the havoc wreaked on opposing pitchers with Crawford and Bourn together at the top of the lineup? Plus, of course, Crawford is a Houston native and Bourn’s (and Jason Bourgeois’) old Little League teammate. Astros fans would LOVE him.
There remains the issue of money. Crawford is likely to command a $100-million, long-term contract, or something close to it… something close to what Houston paid for Carlos Lee, come to think of it. Those kinds of contracts are rarely worth the cost in their final years, but Crawford is two years younger than Lee was when he got his six-year deal, and he’s in better physical shape to theoretically hold up longer. A few months ago, adding any kind of big name free agent this winter would have made NO sense for Houston, as the Astros seemed too far away from contending. But ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume has already predicted an NL Central title for Houston in 2011, and the amazing part is that the possibility really could be there. These Astros have been a non-losing team since June 1 and a winning team since late July, with a cast that is likely to return almost entirely next season. An entire season played at their post-May pace would put them pretty much exactly where Cincinnati is right now. Add a six-game swing like Crawford-for-Lee, and you’re looking at 97-98 wins. That’s good enough for the playoffs almost every year.
Drayton McLane likes to show the fans that he’s committed to winning. Signing Carl Crawford wouldn’t quite be like signing Roger Clemens, but it could be close. And if you’re going to spend $100 million on a player, it’s better spent on an all-around talent like Crawford than on a bat-only guy like Carlos Lee. The Astros likely wouldn’t even have to lose their 1st round draft pick next year, as they’re still sitting at #12 in the draft order right now, and all picks through #18 are protected. Those awful first two months this year may end up being the best thing that could have happened to this team.
I do have one big caveat to bringing Carl Crawford on board: J.D. Martinez. You’re not going to get Crawford on a two-year deal, which guarantees that he would still be in town by the time you expect Martinez to be ready for the majors. But consider this: Michael Bourn’s arbitration years will be up and he’ll be eligible to hit free agency following the 2012 season. I like Michael a lot, but if he continues to improve, he may price himself out of the Astros’ range by then. You figure that Martinez will start next season in Corpus, then probably move up to Oklahoma City by season’s end. He could start 2012 in OKC, or he could compete for a starting job then – making Bourn (or Hunter Pence) expendable as trade bait to fill other holes. It’s sad to think about either one of those guys leaving right now, but that’s the reason a strong farm system is so important, and that’s how good teams stay competitive for years at a time – replacing old players with new, trading surplus parts to meet needs in other areas. That’s how Houston won four NL Central titles in five years, 1997-2001.
All of that said – I still don’t expect that Crawford will sign here. I do expect that Ed Wade will try very, very hard to move Carlos Lee, if not this winter, then by July 31 next season. If that happens, and they miss out on Carl, then a guy like Pat Burrell might make a lot of sense – lower cost, would make up for most of the power lost in Lee’s departure, and likely wouldn’t still be a barrier by the time Martinez or others were ready for the bigs. I’ve been a Brian Bogusevic fan for a couple of years now, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him given a shot at the LF starting role, either. In any event, this winter is shaping up to be much more interesting than I once thought it would be…

Goin’ deep, lookin’ to sweep

The Astros’ weekend series in San Diego ended much the same as their other recent encounters with playoff-caliber clubs. The frustrating part is that they legitimately could have left town 4-0 instead of 1-3, as Houston’s starters were brilliant. But the Padres wouldn’t be where they are this year without some brilliant pitching of their own, and when you pit the league’s worst offense against the league’s best pitching, you don’t expect to score a lot. The opportunities were there for the Astros, but like any good team, the Padres found a way to work out of trouble and come up with just enough to win. I’m seriously impressed by San Diego’s squad this year, and I think they’re the real deal – very reminiscent of the ’05 Astros, with stellar pitching and just enough offense. Mat Latos is a hoss. (Peavy who?)

Of course what could be a better remedy for another mini-losing streak than the Pittsburgh Pirates? I don’t mean to rag on the Pirates the way that most have ragged on the Astros this year; I really do feel bad for Pirate fans. Houston baseball fans have nothing to complain about compared to those in Pittsburgh. But the Pirates continue to be the only team in the NL Central worse than the Astros this year, which has been reinforced by their head-to-head play. Houston looks this afternoon to make it 6-0 against the Bucs, and Roy O makes his fourth attempt at career win #143. Please? Please?? Brad Mills has already announced that Roy will be first out of the gate on July 16 following the All-Star Break – also against Pittsburgh – so he’s got as good a shot as ever to at least tie Joe Niekro’s 144 Astro wins before he’s wearing a different uniform. I still expect Roy to be traded this month, but it looks more and more like that will happen later than sooner, so he could potentially make as many as three more starts for Houston following that July 16 game, including their game against Milwaukee on the July 31 trading deadline. It would be a crying shame for Roy to leave Houston without that career wins record in his pocket, after all that he’s done here and as well as he’s pitched this season.
Almost last night felt like 2004 again. Four home runs in one game? Lance has now homered in three straight games, Carlos Lee in two straight, and last night Hunter Pence (along with Jeff Keppinger) decided to join the party too. Two or three good games does not a turnaround make, but that’s hugely encouraging for Houston fans nonetheless. The 3-4-5 slots have slumped together this year more than they’ve surged, which has arguably been the greatest source of this team’s struggles. Chris Johnson has also been a huge breath of fresh air at the plate; it may be unreasonable to expect him to continue hitting over .300 the rest of the year, but if he can maintain a respectable average and toss in the power that he’s capable of, the lineup suddenly doesn’t look too bad 1-6. Houston fans are used to a “black hole” in the 7-9 slots from the Ausmus/Everett days, but the 3-4-5 struggles this year have been made even more frustrating (or despairing) by an even bigger black hole 6-9. Whenever Brad Mills rested one of the Big 3, the lineup fell off a cliff after 1-4. If the new 1-6 can sustain production from here on, Houston is poised for a much better post-All Star season than pre – still not a playoff-caliber club, but at least respectable. Of course, this is all subject to who gets traded this month, too…
The Astros All-Star question has been answered since my last entry, and I’ll confess I was surprised that Michael Bourn was the answer. I still think that Roy was arguably the only Astro this year actually deserving of the honor, but his candidacy was hurt by a logjam of pitchers with stellar stats. It’s been suggested that Roy could have legitimately been chosen over Chris Carpenter of the Cards, which I agree with, but if you’re going to replace Carpenter with anybody, Mat Latos has the strongest case. That said, I’m not unhappy with the Bourn selection, and I actually think it’s rather cool. I had hoped (and still hope) that Michael will develop into an All-Star caliber player one day, so I’m glad to see him get this honor, even if it wasn’t expected this soon. He is the Astros’ only league leader in a major stat (stolen bases), and he was a Gold Glover last year; with several spectacular catches recently, including a game changer last night, he’s demonstrated why he should be well on his way to Gold Glove #2 this season. So he’s already a star in those aspects. His batting average is just that – average – but I can also understand Charlie Manuel’s desire to have him on the team, as he’s exactly the kind of player who could prove extremely valuable in the right situation if it’s a close game. He was the Astros MVP last season, and he may be en route to repeating that honor this year, so I don’t think it’s a bad pick, and I look forward to seeing him play (hopefully) next Tuesday. Congrats to Michael!
Bernardo Fallas tweets that the Astros have given Russ Springer a tryout today. I honestly didn’t think he was still playing! But given the bullpen struggles (and frequent injuries) this season, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to give Russ another shot, if he’s up to it. We’ll find out soon, I assume.
And one further note about last night’s game – Brian Moehler. You hate to hear any time that a guy gets hurt, but if it has to happen, at least it couldn’t really happen at a better time than this. After starting last night, Mo wouldn’t pitch again before the All-Star Break anyway, so he’s got until the end of next week to recover. Felipe Paulino should be ready to come off the DL after the Break himself, so he could take Mo’s rotation slot if Mo needs to miss some time. If they’re both healthy after the break, it’s decision time for Brad Mills, but he’s got plenty of time for now to wait and see.
No runs on one hit for Roy in the top of the first, and Big Puma just homered in his fourth straight game, so it’s 1-0. Let’s go ‘Stros!

Escape from Arlington

Both the Astros and I left Texas following their game Sunday night. The Rangers Ballpark was everything that I’d been told to expect – a beautiful facility, and we had great seats. I got my wish, as both Roy and Lance were in the starting lineup, and the weather was actually quite pleasant with the breeze, so I couldn’t have scripted a better night to see the boys again. I only wish that the game had turned out differently, or at least more competitively; it was a great night for Rangers fans, but it was an ugly game for Houston. Disappointing that Roy was at his most un-Wizard-like on the night when I finally got to see him pitch. Disappointing that Hunter Pence never got into the game, although Oswalt and Berkman were those I cared most about. Josh Hamilton did his best Jim Edmonds impersonation, killing the Astros on both sides of the ball – if he maintains numbers anything like what he’s done so far, he absolutely has my vote for AL MVP. At least the pigeon provided some comic relief as the game drew to its inevitable conclusion.

But still, I can’t honestly complain. We had a great weekend in Arlington apart from the Astros game, which was intended to be the weekend’s highlight. And really, it was, in spite of the less-that-ideal outcome. I consoled myself with the fact that Texas needed the win more than Houston did; it’s clear that the Astros are going nowhere this year, but the Rangers and Angels will likely be locked in a pennant race for the rest of the summer. Texas was always my #2 team as a kid, and that’s never really changed, so I can’t begrudge them their success. We also got the unexpected bonus of seeing the TCU baseball team on the field before the game, to congratulate them on their first CWS appearance, and their coach threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Astros signed Paul Gerrish today, so I hope we’ll see more of him again.
Houston pulled off the big comeback on Monday that I’d been hoping for the previous night. It was nice seeing Michael Bourn pull a Jim Edmonds on Jim Edmonds last night. The Astros are going this afternoon for another series win, and for a .500 record in June. July will bring the All-Star Game, Roy’s continued pursuit of Joe Niekro (still two wins back), and all of the questions about how different the roster will look on July 31 v. July 1. A fellow Astros fan in Arlington – one of many, as it turned out – commented to me that it’s been a long year already. And I agree, but I hope this next month sets the stage for a brighter future.