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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Season Preview: Houston Astros

2008 Record: 86-75   .534

Run differential: -31 (10th)

2008 payroll: $88,930,414

Look at the first two lines above.  That’s right, this team had a winning record despite being outscored by 31 runs last season.  In a normal season a team with that run differential would probably have a 75-86 season, not a good record.  In defiance of this statistic, Astro management has failed to realize they don’t have a contending team.  Last season they traded for Randy Wolf at the deadline shore up their rotation in case they had another miraculous surge like 2005 and 2006.  Unfortunately a late fade doomed them.  Although they won 86 games, the Astros finished third in the division and missed the playoffs. 

Gone this season are #3 starter Randy Wolf, starting 3B Ty Wigginton, and utility infielder Mark Loretta.  Houston signed Mr. Glass Mike Hampton to replace Wolf and two players who appeared washed up a couple a years ago in Aaron Boone and Jason Michaels.  Adding insult to injury here is the fact that Houston has the worst minor league system in baseball due to owner Drayton McLane’s draft debacles.  There’s only one prospect that could possibly make any kind of impact in 2009 in Brian Bogusevic and he is not projected to be much more than a borderline starter.  The entire rotation runs the risk of missing time with an injury (Oswalt has back issues, Backe had TJ surgery and missed time w/ a sore forearm last year, Hampton is Mr. Glass, Wandy Rodriguez is hurt all the time).  With Tejada at shortstop and Bourn and Lee in the outfield the defense is one of the worst in the league too. According to Baseball Prospectus, Houston was the oldest team in the league last year so there is little reason to expect improvement.  In fact it’s one Oswalt/Berkman/Lee injury away from mission control turning off radio contact and letting this team just float away into space.

Likely opening day roster:

Pos. Name Salary How Acquired
C J.R. Towles $.402M Drafted 20th rd 2004
C Humberto Quintero $.61 M Acquired in trade w/ SD 3/28/05
1b Lance Berkman $14.5 M Drafted #16 overall 1997. Signed extension 3/05
2b Kaz Matsui $5 M Signed as FA 12/2/07
3b Geoff Blum $1.2 M Signed as FA 11/20/07
SS Miguel Tejada $13 M Acquired in trade w/ Bal 12/12/07
LF Carlos Lee $18.5 M Signed as FA 11/06
CF Michael Bourn $.435 M Acquired in trade w/ Phi 11/7/07
RF Hunter Pence $.45 M Drafted 2nd rd 2004.
Inf Aaron Boone $.75 M Signed as FA 12/17/08
UT David Newhan   Non Roster Invitee
Of Darin Erstad $1.75 M Signed as FA 12/27/07. Signed extension 8/08
Of Jason Michaels $.75 M Signed as FA 12/15/08
SP Roy Oswalt $14 M Drafted 23rd rd 1996. Signed extension 8/06
SP Wandy Rodriguez $2.6 M Signed as amateur FA 1/12/99
SP Mike Hampton $2 M Signed as FA 12/3/08
SP Brandon Backe $1.55 M Acquired in trade w/ TB 12/14/03
SP Brian Moehler $2.3 M Signed as FA 1/07. Signed extension 8/08
Cl Jose Valverde $8M Acquired in trade w/ Ari 12/14/07
SU LaTroy Hawkins $3.5 M Acquired in trade w/ NYY 7/30/08. Resigned 11/6/08
RP Doug Brocail $2.5 M Signed as FA 11/07. Resigned 12/08
RP Geoff Geary $1.7 M Acquired in trade w/ Phi 11/7/07
RP Chris Sampson $.449M Drafted 8th rd 1999
RP Wesley Wright $.425M Selected in 2007 Rule V draft
RP Fernando Nieve $.414M Signed as amateur FA from Venezuela 1999

Say hello to: Tyler Lumdsen, Aaron Boone, Jason Michaels, Mike Hampton, Jeff Fulchino

Wave goodbye: Mark Loretta, Randy Wolf, Ty Wigginton, Brad Ausmus

Rookies: Brian Bogusevic

Non-Roster Invitees to Watch: Reggie Abercrombie, Russ Ortiz, Toby Hall

Potential breakout: Wandy Rodriguez

Welcome to Earth: Kaz Matsui, José Valverde,

Likely to rebound: Hunter Pence, Brandon Backe, J.R. Towles

Strengths: Berkman, Lee, and Oswalt are perennial all-stars.

Weaknesses: The rotation is fragile. The lineup is made up of 4 guys that should not be playing everyday.  The outfield defense is poor.  The bullpen is an afterthought. Nineteen of the 25 players on the roster are over 30 and 11 are 33 or older.

Payroll obligations to former players: none

Optimal batting lineup (position, name, bats, Avg/OBP/Slg, HR, SB, EqA):

2B Matsui  B .293/.354/.427  6, 20  .281

RF Pence R  .269/.318/.466  25, 11  .269

1B Berkman  B  .312/.420/.534  29, 18  .336

LF Lee  R .314/.368/.569  28, 4  .316

SS Tejada  R  .283/.314/.415  13, 7  .253

3B Blum  B  .240/.287/.418  14, 1  .245

C  Towles R  .137/.250/.253  4, 0 .183

CF Bourn L  .229/.288/.300  5, 41  .227

Prediction: 6th in the NL Central 

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