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Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Houston Astros team preview

2009 Record: 74-88   .463

Run Differential: -127

Houston is a team whose demise I've been predicting for three seasons now.  With an aging roster full of overpaid former stars, a pathetic minor league system, and a meddling owner, the Astros continue to exceed my expectations.  Somehow they just missed making the playoffs in 2008, causing many media outlets and the owner to believe they were on the brink of rebounding as a contender.  Last season should have removed all optimism.  There are two culprits which have caused Houston's fall as the dominant team in the division.  First, is their inexcusable effort in past drafts.  2009 marked the first time they paid over slot recommendation for a pick in years.  In fact, this draft strategy has prevented them from signing several high draft picks.  When your highest drafted player to sign is a fifth rounder as was the case in 2008, your franchise's future as a playoff contender is greatly compromised.  The other culprit is as simple as roster construction. Perhaps owner Drayton McLane feels his hands are tied with an already high payroll but after perusing his free agent signings the last couple of seasons, there's clearly a lack of ingenuity.  When Darin Erstad and Jason Michaels are signed to play significant roles on your club, too much pressure is placed on the starters to not only perform but to play every day.  It also means Dallas Cowboy playoff games are the highlight your offseason.

2010 seems to arrive with the realization that changes need to be made for Houston to become competitive once again.
Apparently the first step taken by the organization was to trim payroll. Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde were two high priced veterans allowed to leave as free agents.  Mike Hampton was not offered a contract after finishing another year on the disabled list and while the club tried to re-sign LaTroy Hawkins, they weren't willing to break the bank to keep him.  The team took a flier on Brett Myers, hoping he'll regain his form, Matt Lindstrom was acquired in a buy-low situation to help shore up the late innings, and three young players were assured they'd make the 25 man roster in catcher JR Towles, shortstop Tommy Manzella, and starting pitcher Bud Norris.  Evidently Ed Wade couldn't help himself when he signed Brandon Lyons to be the closer even though no other team was seriously pursuing him.  Top prospect Jio Meier was selected in the first round of the amateur draft and appears to have a bright future.  But really, if this team is serious about a rebuild it needs to go a step further than simply listening to offers for its core of players and actually trade one - or three - of them.  Without making some bold moves, this team will slowly fade as its stars get older and the younger players promoted to fill holes fail to perform at a major league level.

Likely Opening Day Roster:
Pos.
Name
My Two Cents
C
Humberto Quintero
Failed to claim starting job two straight years. Third time's the charm?
C
JR Towles
Team hopes third chance to stick will prove he's not a AAAA player.
1b
Lance Berkman
Last season's numbers skewed by .182 BA in April
2b
Kaz Matsui
If he really wants to be an offensive asset he should learn to walk more
3b
Pedro Feliz
Best defensive 3b in the NL may set career high in HR at Citrus Fruit Juice Park
SS
Tommy Manzella
Excellent defense but bat is not ready for the majors
LF
Carlos Lee
Regressing in every phase of the game except hitting. How long can/will he play D?
CF
Michael Bourn
Expect 2010 to be somewhere between great '09 and horrible '08
RF
Hunter Pence
Solid player has unreasonable expectations after fluky rookie season
IF
Jeff Keppinger
Lefty masher should make nice platoon with Manzella
IF
Geoff Blum
The fewer ABs Houston gives him the better off they'll be
OF
Jason Michaels
Seems more and more likely his last season in Philadelphia was a fluke.
OF
Cory Sullivan
Signed to minor league deal, I think he's a lock for the roster
SP
Roy Oswalt
Team needs him healthy if they are going to compete
SP
Wandy Rodriguez
SP
Bud Norris
Good rookie campaign leaves team optimistic about his future
SP
Brett Myers
If he can regain form Houston will likely flip him to a contender
SP
Brian Moehler
At 38, it's probably his last season in the bigs
Cl
Brandon Lyon
Hard throwing righty is severely overpaid this season
SU
Matt Lindstrom
Harder throwing righty has serious control woes
RP
Jeff Fulchino
Stolen from KC, Fulchino could be best reliever on team
RP
Tim Byrdak
Lefty reliever is playing with fire with that BB rate
RP
Wesley Wright
Fly ball pitchers in Houston don't tend to fare well
RP
Chris Sampson
Looks to improve in second season as reliever
RP
Felipe Paulino
First in line for rotation spot when Oswalt goes down or if Myers is traded

Say Hello To: Cory Sullivan, Brett Myers, Pedro Feliz, Kevin Cash, Matt Lindstrom

Wave Goodbye: Jose Valverde, Miguel Tejada, Mike Hampton, Latroy Hawkins, Darin Erstad, Chris Coste, Doug Brocail

Rookies: Tommy Manzella - This no-hit, all-glove rookie hopes to remind Houston fans of Adam Everett.  Not sure if that's a good thing.

Potential Breakout: JR Towles - His minor league numbers show why the team keeps giving him chances. More ABs should eliminate sample size and build confidence.

Welcome to Earth:  Tim Byrdak - Sooner or later his BB rate will catch up to him. Last season's BABIP (batting average of balls in play) was the lowest in baseball.

Likely to Rebound: Roy Oswalt's ERA was over 4.00 for the first time in his career last season. Don't expect a repeat performance.

Top 3 players: Berkman, Rodriguez, Oswalt - Oswalt would rank higher but he has trouble staying healthy.

Top Prospect: Jio Mier SS - 2009 first round pick showed he was more than just a defensive whiz in A ball last year.

Prediction: 74-88  5th place N.L. Central
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