Tuesday, March 15, 2005


2005 Season Preview: Houston Astros

A funny thing happened when Carlos Beltran chose the Mets over the Astros; in the time it took Beltran to sign his contract, the Astros went from playoff contender to 3rd or 4th place team. I'm not saying Beltran is worth 3 spots in a division, but his bat and defense and youth would have helped an aging Astros team considerably. The Astros problem is not a lack of identity; they might have a little more identity than they need. The Killer B's may have turned into mashers in the playoffs last year, but there season statistics were down again. Bagwell and Biggo, the faces of this organization, are both in their decline phase, and Lance Berkman will miss at least a month with a torn ACL. The Berkman problem is not as bad as it seems, because Jason Lane will get his last chance to win an outfield spot. He is capable and deserving of an outfield spot, which brings me to the identity crisis point. Craig Biggio either needs to move back to second base for one more season, giving top prospect Chris Burke more time in the minors (or part time play in the majors) or lose out on massive amounts of playing time. If Jason Lane is not allowed to start in the outfield all season long, the Astros will have lost out on their 2nd or 3rd best hitter. This is not a good thing for a team that already lost Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran's bats, as well as the little Bagwell and Biggio will continue to lose with time. Bagwell can't really be moved due to his massive contract, but maybe resting him more often to give other options playing time would be wise.

Dave Burba, RP: …Whatever.

Roger Clemens, SP: A wee bit more cash than last time, but in perspective the Astros paid Clemens a 2 year, $23 million contract…and that ain’t bad. Good choice you know, retaining him and all.

John Franco, RP: Didn’t really pitch well in 2004, so I’m not sure what the Astros are shooting for there. Having someone older than Clemens maybe?

Orlando Palmeiro, PH: Well he didn’t have a negative VORP, so I guess he is doing well enough. Plus they are not paying him well or anything. It is kind of a meh move, like if they did not do it would it matter so much? But then again doing it does not really hurt them.

Phil Norton, RP: Another bad Cincinnati reliever. If Cinci doesn’t want them why should you? Maybe its because they ignore good players. I’m really confused, seriously.

Jose Vizcaino, Util: He doesn’t walk. He hits (sort of). VORP of 7.8, which is right around what Craig Counsell did (8.7). Counsell is making over $3 million this season (and last). So I guess considering you can deal with it.
Houston also tendered contracts to everyone and their brother not named Wade Miller. They were afraid of getting hit hard in arbitration, and since they planned to unload all of their $$ on Beltran I guess that is acceptable. Plus they got to the NLCS without him and have Pettite coming back.

Turk Wendell, RP: His numbers were uh…less than impressive in a short 04’ stint. But it could have just been the injury he had. We’ll see; a minor league deal is inexpensive and they will know in spring training if he’s got any stuff left.

1) Craig Biggio
2) Adam Everett
3) Jeff Bagwell
4) Lance Berkman
5) Jason Lane
6) Morgan Ensberg
7) Chris Burke
8) Brad Ausmus

Biggio still his a lot of doubles, and hit 24 homeruns last year. His problem is that his average and walk rate are both dropping, and that is not good for a leadoff hitter, especially one who happens to be a corner outfielder. Adam Everett isn't really known for his offense, and his spot as the #2 hitter is questionable (.273/.317/.385). Bagwell had his worst statistical season last year, batting .266 and only slugging .465. His walk rate remains good with a .377 OBP, but if the average and slugging continue to drop that can only get you so far out of the #3 hole in the lineup. Lance Berkman is one of the better hitters in the National League, and this lineup will need him back. Jason Lane is capable of putting up some real good numbers if he can keep the starting job for the season, but will probably have to fight for a job at some point. Ensberg's power completely vanished (1o HR's) last year after hitting 25 homeruns the year before. Hopefully for the Astros sake he can bounce back some. Chris Burke takes over the job at second base for Jeff Kent. BP feels he is a good candidate for NL Rookie of the Year, so he is someone to watch. He is excellent defensively, according to Baseball America, but BP has him at -3 Runs Above Average at second base in 04'. Brad Ausmus used to be acceptable to have in the lineup, because of his defense and throwing arm. It comes to a point where you need to let go though, and that seems to be the Astros problem.

1) Roger Clemens
2) Roy Oswalt
3) Andy Pettite
4) Brandon Backe
5) Pete Munro

Clemens and Oswalt are one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball. On that note, Backe and Munro are one of the sketchiest 4-5 combos for a supposed contending team in baseball. The strength of this rotation rests on Pettite's elbow, and Backe's ability to pitch adequately. I'd include Pete Munro in the discussion, but whats the point? Maybe Tim Redding can find his old form and save the #5 spot in the rotation.

The bullpen is anchored by Lidge, and the main problem will be getting to him. Chad Harville is good, Chad Qualls pitched well enough, but Mike Gallo isn't really a capable LOOGY. Carlos Hernandez will stay in the pen unless he shows he can pitch like he could before getting hurt (of course then he may get moved into the rotation.) The bullpen is pretty weak, and depends entirely on Brad Lidge. He can't pitch like its the playoffs all season long, not if he wants to pitch longer than this year.

The Astros best hope this year is third place, and if things fall into place in Milwaukee or Cincinnati a little more I can see the 'Stros finishing in 4th. All it'll take for that is one healthy Austin Kearns or Ken Griffey Jr., or the Brewers smartening up and giving Russell Branyan the starting job at third base.

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