Restoring the rosters: No. 19 – Houston

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
No. 21 – Tampa Bay
No. 20 – New York (NL)
Over the last decade, the Astros have done as poor of a job as any team in baseball in bringing in talent both in the draft and internationally. That they rank above 11 teams here is largely due to the treasure trove of prospects they signed out of Venezuela in the 1990s.
Rotation
Johan Santana
Roy Oswalt
Wandy Rodriguez
Bud Norris
Tim Redding
Bullpen
Brad Lidge
Chad Qualls
Billy Wagner
Juan Gutierrez
Fernando Nieve
Chris Sampson
Jamie Walker
Santana, of course, was plucked by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft in Dec. 1999.
The Astros lack depth because so few youngsters have come through the minor league system of late, but they do have a great front three in the rotation and a solid enough bullpen, even if Lidge and Wagner aren’t the properties they were.
Noris was an easy choice as the fourth starter, though I still think there’s a good chance he’ll prove to be a long-term reliever. Considered along with Redding for the fifth spot in the rotation were Freddy Garcia, Felipe Paulino and Matt Albers.
Lineup
2B Ben Zobrist
RF Bobby Abreu
1B Lance Berkman
CF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Guillen
C Ramon Castro
3B Melvin Mora
SS Julio Lugo
Bench
OF Josh Anderson
OF Jason Lane
INF-OF Eric Bruntlett
INF Aaron Miles
C John Buck
J.R. Towles was also considered for a bench spot, more as a third catcher/pinch-hitter than as a true backup for Castro. Lane was in the greatest danger of being bumped.
It’s an old lineup, but still a pretty good one, particularly if you want to believe that Zobrist is for real and Lugo has something left. There’s an awful lot of OBP at the top and no real liabilities besides maybe Mora at third base. Defense is a problem, and it does take a toll on the team’s ranking, as does the lack of depth. Pence is stretched in center, so Anderson will push him to left with a late lead. It might be that the team would be better off with Zobrist at shortstop and Lugo at second, but I’ve left the two where they’re playing now.
Summary
Santana, Abreu, Guillen, Mora, Garcia and Richard Hidalgo were all signed by the Astros out of Venezuela in the 1990s. Rodriguez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1999. The only key players here brought in this decade were Pence and Zobrist, both of whom were drafted in 2004. The Astros come in 19th for now, but with even guys like Oswalt and Berkman having seen their best years, they could rank in the bottom five in two years time. In five years, they might be dead last. At least the Astros seem to be valuing their draft picks higher now than they used to. They didn’t have any in 2003, 2004 or 2007. The team’s only first-round pick over the last 10 years to reach the majors was Chris Burke.

How not to enjoy what Aaron Judge is doing

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the biggest and best stories in all of baseball this year. While he held promise entering his rookie season, most experts figured he’d provide some low-average, low-OBP power. That he’d be a guy who, based on his size, could send a pitcher’s mistake 500 feet in the wrong direction, but who would probably be shown to have big holes in his swing once he’d been around the league a little bit.

Judge defied expectations, however, and has put together an amazing rookie season. He broke the rookie home run record yesterday with his 50th blast. He still strikes out a lot but so does everyone. He nonetheless has hit for a great average and has gotten on base at a fantastic clip. He has also showed some uncommon resilience, overcoming a lengthy slump in July and August and returning to the dominant form he showed in the first half while helping a Yankees team not many figured to be a strong contender into the playoffs. Such a great story!

Sadly, however, this sentiment, which appeared from a commenter on my Facebook page yesterday, has become increasingly common:

I’ve seen it in a lot of comments sections and message boards around the Internet too, including our own comment section. From yesterday:

This is not exactly the same thing we’ve seen in the past with other breakout home run hitters such as Jose Bautista a few years back. This is not an accusation that Judge is taking drugs or anything. It’s more of a preemptive and defensive diminishment of excitement. And I find it rather sad.

Yes, I understand that past PED users have made fans wonder whether the players they watch are using something to get an extra edge, but it really does not need to be this way. We’ve had drug testing in baseball for over a decade and, while no drug testing regime is perfect, it just seems bizarre, several years after Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did their thing — and a few years after Alex Rodriguez and others were caught and disciplined for trying to do more — to assume, out of hand, that great baseball performances are the product of undetected cheating. Yes, it’s possible, but such assumptions should not be the default stance, only to be disproved (somehow) at a later date.

The same goes for the juiced baseball, right? Yes, there is strong evidence that the baseball was changed a couple of years back leading to a home run spike, but aren’t all players using the same baseball? It’s also worth remembering that the season Mark McGwire hit 49 homers — 1987 — is strongly suspected of being a juiced ball year as well. It’s a concern that may be based in fact, but it’s a large concern over a fact thrown out with little regard for context to sketch out a threat that is either remote or without consequence.

The point here is not to argue that Aaron Judge is undeniably clean or that the baseball isn’t different. The former is unknown and the latter is likely false. The point is that it’s super sad and self-defeating to qualify every amazing feat you see with preemptive concern about such things. Years and years of sports writers writing McCarthy-esque “Yes, but is he clean?” articles does not require you, as a fan, to do the same. You can enjoy a cool thing in the moment. If it’s found out later to have been tainted, fine, we have a lot of practice in contextualizing such things and we’ll do so pretty quickly, but what’s the harm in going with it in real time?

I suspect the answer to that is rooted in some desire not to look like a sucker or something. Not to find oneself like many did, in the mid-2000s, being told by sportswriters and politicians that they were dupes for enjoying Sosa and McGwire in 1998. But that’s idiotic, in my view. I enjoyed 1998 and all of the baseball I saw on either side of it, as did most baseball fans. When the PEDs stuff exploded in the 2000s I reassessed it somewhat as far as the magnitude of the accomplishments compared to other eras in history, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed what I had seen any less.

Likewise, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of watching Aaron Judge this year. Why can’t everyone? Why is it so hard? Why have we been conditioned to be skeptical of something that is supposed to be entertaining? When your personal stakes are low like they are with respect to any sporting event or form of entertainment, it’s OK to enjoy things while they’re enjoyable and worry about them being problematic if and when they ever become so. And hey, they may not!

I promise you: if Aaron Judge walks into the postseason awards banquet this winter carrying a briefcase that unexpectedly opens and 200 syringes full of nandrolone fall out, no one is going to say you were dumb for cheering for him yesterday. It will really be OK.

Yadier Molina leaves game after taking two foul balls to the mask

Associated Press
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The St. Louis Cardinals have been eliminated from contention for the NL Central crown and are hanging on by the thinnest of threads in the race for the second NL Wild Card, two and a half games back of the Rockies with the Brewers in between. Last night those dim playoff hopes took what may have been a fatal blow thanks to a couple of foul balls that knocked Yadier Molina out of the game and, possibly, out for the season.

In the seventh inning of last night’s Cubs-Cardinals game Molina took a Kris Bryant foul ball off of his mask. It sent him to his knees. He gathered himself, set back up and, on the very next pitch, took a second foul ball, right to the mask. He was much slower in rising that time and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny immediately — and wisely — pulled Molina from the game.

Molina is being monitored for a concussion. Whether he has one or not, prudence would dictate sitting him down for the rest of what are likely the Cardinals final six games of 2017.