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.
Johan Santana
Roy Oswalt
Wandy Rodriguez
Bud Norris
Tim Redding
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.
2B Ben Zobrist
RF Bobby Abreu
1B Lance Berkman
CF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Guillen
C Ramon Castro
3B Melvin Mora
SS Julio Lugo
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.
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.

The Cubs acquire Rex Brothers from the Rockies

Rex Brothers Rockies

The number of people who, if you held a gun to their head, would say that “Rex Brothers” was a game show host and/or local TV news personality from the late 1970s or early 80s is not insignificant. But if you’re a Rockies fan or if spend all day thinking about baseball you know that he’s a reliever who has played in Colorado for the past five years. Now you know him as a reliever for the Cubs:

Brothers — a former Best Shape of His Life All-Star — was pretty good until he hit a brick wall in 2014 and spent most of 2015 in Triple-A. He had something of a bounceback after being called up when rosters expanded in September, but that’s not the sort of thing to excite anyone. He could be useful for the Cubs or just spring training cannon fodder and organizational depth.

Cabrera just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and pitched a grand total of 14 games in the Dominican Summer League. He’s young and was a $250,000 signee from the Dominican as a 16-year-old so, by definition, he’s a project. Worth giving up Rex Brothers for him if you’re the Rockies, worth risking for some depth in the pen if you’re the Cubs.

Diamondbacks hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Dave Magadan Rangers
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Steve Gilbert of reports that the Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach is Dave Magadan, who “parted ways” with the Rangers last month after three years filling the same role in Texas.

Magadan also previously was the Red Sox’s hitting coach and his teams have generally done pretty well, including the Rangers scoring the third-most runs in the league this year.

He’ll have plenty of talent to work with in Arizona, as the Diamondbacks scored the second-most runs in the league led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. Turner Ward, who had been Arizona’s hitting coach, chose to leave the team two weeks ago.

A’s reacquire Jed Lowrie in trade with Astros

Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie, who was traded from the Astros to the A’s in 2013 and then re-signed with the Astros as a free agent last offseason, has now been traded back to the A’s.

Lowrie got a three-year, $23 million deal from the Astros with the idea that he’d play shortstop in the first season and then move to another position whenever stud prospect Carlos Correa arrived. Instead he got hurt right away, Correa became an immediate star, and the Astros weren’t so keen on paying him $15 million over the next two seasons.

He could resume playing shortstop for the A’s, who watched rookie Marcus Semien make an absurd number of errors there this year. Lowrie hit .271 with a .738 OPS in two seasons in Oakland, which is similar to his career totals and makes him a solidly above-average offensive shortstop. There’s a decent chance the A’s will have a Lowrie-Lawrie double-play duo in 2016.

In return the Astros get minor leaguer Brendan McCurry, a 24-year-old right-hander who split 2015 between high Single-A and Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 63 relief innings. He was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 and doesn’t have exceptional raw stuff, but McCurry’s numbers are incredible so far.

White Sox sign catcher Alex Avila to a one-year deal

Detroit Tigers' Alex Avila, right, is congratulated by third base coach Dave Clark after his solo home run in the third inning in the second game of a baseball doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

There have been a lot of articles published in the past few days about how to navigate awkward Thanksgiving conversations with your relatives. Heck, we even wrote one.

But there’s always room for more! Such as “How to talk to your father at Thanksgiving dinner about the fact that he let you walk away from the only team you’ve ever known to sign with a division rival.” Which is what Alex Avila will likely be talking about with his father, Tigers GM Al Avila:

The older Avila can’t even say he did it because he’s opposed to nepotism. After all, he just hired his other son — who has had his law degree for just over a year — as the Tigers assistant legal counsel for baseball operations. Though I’m sure that wasn’t nepotism. He probably just aced the interview and impressed everyone more than the other candidates did.

OK, those are jokes. In all seriousness, this is a good move for Alex and Al and, probably, the White Sox. With the emergence of James McCann, there really is not space for Alex Avila in Detroit in anything other than a backup capacity. In Chicago, he’ll get more playing time. At least if he can (a) stay healthy; and (b) not hit .191/.339/.287 again like he did in 2015.