30 Clubs in 30 Days: Houston Astros

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

astros1If one were to ask who the worst franchise in sports is, he would likely receive a lot of different answers. Based strictly on recent win/loss percentage, the Houston Astros have to be at or near the cellar. After finishing 51-111 in 2013, their third consecutive 100+ loss campaign, the Astros cemented their status as baseball’s futile franchise. Despite their “rebuilding” mantra, Houston has lost more games every year since 2010. Second year manager Bo Porter hopes to halt the slide in 2014 despite a lineup devoid of any noticeable improvements.

Now, that’s not to say that Houston didn’t grab a few difference makers this offseason. The Astros landed a leadoff man in CF Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies. Young starter Jordan Lyles went in exchange. But, Houston felt as though they had enough solid arms in the farm to part with the former top prospect. Fowler brings electric speed and strong fielding fundamentals to a team that was dead last in the NL in fielding a year ago. Joining Fowler as a new addition is RHP Scott Feldman, who signed a three year contract this winter. The 31-year old once won 17-games with Texas, and has been a solid third starter throughout his career. With Houston, he’ll likely start opening day. That just goes to show how futile a franchise the Astros have become.

Other than that duo of acquisitions, the Astros didn’t do much once again. Now, they do have a few solid offensive pieces returning. Infielder Jose Altuve was solid as one of the team’s leading hitters in 2013. He’ll be counted on to contribute right behind Fowler at the top of the order. Chris Carter, who broke out with 29 homers a year ago, will combine with Jason Castro to form a raw but formidable middle of the order. Other than that, Houston has a boat load of complimentary pieces comprising their starting lineup. Matt Dominguez hit 21 homers in 2013. But, his poor average (.241) and lack of any semblance of on-base skills (.286) means he’s less of a contributor than the power numbers suggest. Other youngsters in the order include Robbie Grossman, LJ Hoes, and former Phillies’ prospect Jonathan Villar, who was acquired in the 2010 Roy Oswalt deal. If Houston is to avoid the dreaded fourth consecutive 100-loss campaign, they’ll need to get at least league average production from these young fielders.

Their pitching staff behind Feldman leaves a lot to be desired. Young Brett Oberholtzer was incredibly solid during his rookie campaign (4-5, 2.76). The 23-year old is a bright spot in an otherwise drab rotation. Another former Philadelphia phenom, Jarred Cosart, had spectacular traditional numbers (1-1, 1.95). But, his putrid peripherals, including a 33:35 strikeout:walk ratio suggest that he’s still way too raw to be considered reliable. The rest of the rotation will be a competition between Jerome Williams, Dallas Keuchel, Lucas Harrell, and Brad Peacock. Unless Cosart figures out how to hit the strikezone and one or two of those previously mentioned emerges as a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm, Houston will find themselves trailing in most of their games once again.

Even if they have the lead late, the Astros cannot exactly rely on their less-that-stellar bullpen to lock it down. Chad Qualls will be relied on to close out games (at least in the short term). The veteran righthander has bounced around in recent years and has never been a shutdown guy even during his prime. Free agent acquisition Jesse Crain could absorb that closers role sooner rather than later if Qualls falters..

All in all, the Astros have a long road ahead of them. While their young players should improve at least marginally, they still don’t have the talent to compete in an uber-difficult AL West.

Key Acquisitions

1B Jesus Guzman (Padres)
OF Dexter Fowler (Rockies)
RHP Scott Feldman (Orioles)
RHP Jesse Crain (Rays)
RHP Jerome Williams (Angels)
RHP Chad Qualls (Marlins)

Key Departures

1B Brett Wallace (Released)
OF Brandon Barnes (Rockies)
DH Carlos Pena (Angels)
RHP Jordan Lyles (Rockies)
LHP Erik Bedard (Rays)
LHP Wesley Wright (Cubs)

Projected Lineup and Rotation

OF Dexter Fowler – .264-12-44
2B Jose Altuve – .285-7-53
C Jason Castro – .254-16-59
DH Chris Carter – .223-26-72
1B Jesus Guzman – .242-11-55
OF Robbie Grossman – .240-7-38
3B Matt Dominguez – .248-16-61
OF LJ Hoes – .256-4-33
SS Jonathan Villar – .236-9-46

RHP Scott Feldman – 9-11, 4.35
LHP Brett Oberholtzer – 6-10, 4.84
RHP Jerome Williams – 6-8, 4.57
RHP Jarred Cosart – 6-10, 4.73
LHP Dallas Keuchel – 4-6, 4.59

RHP Chad Qualls – 3-3, 3.90, 16 Sv

Outlook

The best that the Astros can hope for is a marginal improvement in the standings and an emergence from the futility of the century loss mark. After all, they haven’t lost fewer than 100 games since 2010. If they’re going to do that, they’ll need their veterans like Fowler and Feldman to stay healthy coupled with significant growth from the plethora of young pieces that they’ve compiled over years of rebuilding.

astros2If Altuve continues his progression and their young pitchers perform above their expectations, it’s reasonable to suggest 70 wins for the Astros. Since good fortune hasn’t been Houston’s forte over the last half-decade, one shouldn’t expect such a progression in such a short period of time. Realistically, Houston will struggle to score with a lineup devoid of players who can get on base. The Astros will likely win between 60-66 games, toiling at the bottom of the AL West once again.

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