30 Clubs in 30 Days: Houston Astros

Posted: February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

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No team enters 2013 with lower expectations than the Houston Astros. Once a proud franchise and winners of the 2005 National League pennant, Houston has fallen on epically hard times in recent years. The team formerly known as the Colt 45s has not enjoyed a winning season since 2008, and has lost a league high 213 games the past two years. Will new ownership, young prospects, and a new league be a propeller to a new era of prosperity in the Lone Star State? Or will the daunting task of playing in the ultra-competitive American League West doom the Astros for decades to come?

Not much went right for former manager Brad Mills in his two and a half years with the team. After going 76-86 his first campaign, Mills saw the front office ship off talented veterans in return for high-ceiling prospects. Those ceilings have yet to be reached, and the Astros have paid the price with their first two 100+ loss seasons in franchise history. Gone are Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, and Wandy Rodriguez; players who were just good enough to keep the team competitive. But, not enough to propel them to October glory.

This three year firesale continued into the offseason, when veterans like Francisco Cordero, Jed Lowrie, and Wilton Lopez saw their stays with the team end. The Astros will have youngest team in baseball in 2013. After two years of futility in a weaker league and division, what should we really expect in 2013 from the Astros? Former Ray Carlos Pena was signed in the offseason to man the designated hitter spot. This would be a fine move, if it were 2008. Instead, the Astros just acquired a cleanup hitter with no OBP or contact ability. An athlete whose greatest challenge will be merely reaching the Mendoza-line in a division rife with stout pitching.

Bo Porter, the former bench coach for the Washington Nationals, takes over as manager. He will have his work cut out for him with this bunch. The Astros have promise for the future. Youngsters like Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock, Jonathan Singleton, and Carlos Correa offer a light beyond the horizon. But, that prosperous era, one that will hopefully bring the first world championship to Houston, does not appear anywhere close to the present.

Five Year Review:
2012: 55-107
2011: 56-106
2010: 76-86
2009: 74-88
2008: 86-75

2012 Team MVP: RHP Lucas Harrell: As evidenced by their 107 losses, Houston did not have many valuable players on their 2012 roster. A combination of midseason trades and the trials and tribulations of youth left the Astros without a .300 BA or .800 OPS. Their team leader in HR, the recently exiled Jed Lowrie, only played 97 games. Enter Lucas Harrell, a little-regarded throwaway claimed off waivers in July, 2011 from the Chicago White Sox. A fourth round pick in 2004, Harrell had just one career victory heading into 2012. With the lack of talent on Houston’s roster, if any team was going to take a chance on a player like Harrell, this was it. The 27-year old took his opportunity and ran with it to the tune of an 11-11, 3.76 record. Setting career highs in every major category, Harrell became the de facto ace of the staff heading into the new year. Houston must be impressed with Harrell’s ability to improve as the season went on. After the All-Star break, the right-hander was 4-5, 2.87 on a team that won just 22 games after the midseason mark and seven from July 8th to September 1st.

2012 Team LVP: CF Jordan Schafer: It is obvious that 98% of the players who put on a uniform in Houston last season deserved this recognition. But, Schafer gets the nod not merely for his on-field troubles. Rather, it was a combination of failure on the diamond and the impact that his failure on on the franchise. Now 26, Schafer was once a top-prospect in the Atlanta Braves’ organization. Handed the starting nod out of spring training in 2009, the then 22-year old struggled mightily at the dish, delivering just a .204-2-8 line in 50 games before losing his job. Houston’s backwards front office thought so highly of this audition that they made him the centerpiece of their 2011 trade of Michael Bourn to Atlanta. For a month, Schafer showed minor improvement, hitting .245-1-6 in 30 games in 2011 with the Astros. Handed the starting CF job in 2012, the Hammond, Indiana native once again went into a season-long slump, finishing .211-4-23 in 106 games. This putrid performance was further exacerbated by his struggles in the field, where Schafer finished in the negatives in Rtot (number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made) and Rdrs (a total defensive contribution statistic) for the third consecutive year. To make matters worse, Schafer was claimed off waivers this offseason by Atlanta. So, the Astros are left with very little in return for trading their former All-Star CF in 2011, and Schafer can take most of the blame for that.

Key Acquisitions:

1B/DH Carlos Pena (Tampa Bay Rays)
1B/LF Chris Carter (Oakland Athletics)
OF Rick Ankiel (Washington Nationals)
RHP Phil Humber (Chicago White Sox)
RHP Josh Fields (Boston Red Sox)
RHP Alex White (Colorado Rockies)
LHP Erik Bedard (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Key Departures:

C Chris Snyder (Washington Nationals)
SS Jed Lowrie (Oakland Athletics)
3B Matt Downs (Miami Marlins)
CF Jordan Schafer (Atlanta Braves)
OF Brian Bogusevic (Chicago Cubs)
RHP Wilton Lopez (Colorado Rockies)
RHP Francisco Cordero (unsigned)
LHP Fernando Abad (Washington Nationals)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

1. 2B Jose Altuve (.286-10-55-30 SB)
2. RF Fernando Martinez (.244-15-49)
3. DH Carlos Pena (.211-21-61)
4. LF Chris Carter (.239-26-75)
5. 1B Brett Wallace (.251-14-53)
6. CF Justin Maxwell (.224-18-53-15 SB)
7. C Jason Castro (.256-8-40)
8. SS Tyler Greene (.240-12-41)
9. 3B Matt Dominguez (.249-10-44)

1. RHP Bud Norris (9-12, 4.45)
2. RHP Lucas Harrell (8-12, 4.53)
3. RHP Jordan Lyles (7-12, 4.75)
4. RHP Philip Humber (7-11, 4.90)
5. LHP Erik Bedard (6-8, 4.50)
CP. RHP Jose Veras (3-2, 3.92, 15 SV)
SU. LHP Wesley Wright (3-2, 3.86)

2013 Outlook:

The Astros, as mentioned, were the worst team in baseball the past two years. Now, they move into a tougher league and division with a lineup that only offers token differences from last season. Their rotation, whilst young, does not inspire a whole lot of confidence or come with much of a track record of consistency. The bullpen is relying on young arms and a closer with zero closing experience. Outside of Carlos Pena, no one on the Houston roster has hit 20 HR or driven in 100 runs.

This looks like another difficult season for the Astros. Unless players like Singleton (suspended for 50 games due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy/aka: admitting to smoking weed over the winter), and Cosart are promoted and immediately start paying dividends, it is not out of the question that Houston could lose more games this season than they did the last two. Instead of Pittsburgh and Chicago 18 times a year, the Astros have to contend with the Angels and Rangers. In the end, it will be a rough ride for Bo Porter in his inaugural season as a manager. I have the Astros winning between 50-56 games, and reaching the century mark in losses for the third consecutive season.

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