Springtime Storylines: Will the Astros ever rebuild?

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Colt .45s logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The ‘Stros. I’ll explain my use of the logo to the right in a moment.


The
big question: Will the Astros ever rebuild?

Houston has been treading water for a few years now, not good enough to compete and not bad enough to rebuild. Well, not bad enough to convince them to rebuild, anyway.  And not that they could effectively rebuild even if they wanted to given that the most marketable trade candidates — Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee* — all have full no-trade clauses and none of those guys have shown the slightest inclination to waive them. And not that the Astros have really asked them to do so, because Drayton McLane has a famous fetish for veterans. It’s a loyalty that, while admirable on some level, has really hamstrung this team.

As have years and years of poor drafting and scouting, leaving their system near the bottom of everyone’s organizational rankings.  Law says that things are slowly on the upswing, but he still has them at 28.  As a result there is very little help on the way.

Because they still have Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman the team will still portray itself as trying to win now — thus the pickups of Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon, each of whom could be spare parts on a contender but do not themselves a winner make — but with their current talent (more below) they’re not going to come close to winning anything.  They should have torn this thing down two years ago and started again, but that’s just something the Astros never, ever seem to want to do.  

*Lee isn’t marketable as-is, but if the Astros picked up loads of that salary of his he could bring something in the way of prospects. 

So what
else is
going on?

  • While the talent is declining the mood of the place should improve. Gone is Cecil Cooper, who lost the clubhouse approximately seventeen minutes after being hired and in comes Brad Mills, who is enthusiastic and apparently quite popular so far. The Astros may be one of those rare teams that lose 90+ games and gets lauded for having good chemistry.
  • The rotation looks like so: Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris
    and Felipe Paulino. I think Oswalt will bounce back after a poor 2009 and Wandy Rodriguez should be OK assuming is brutal spring was just one of those spring things and not evidence of an injury or something. Beyond that, ick. Myers is capable of excellence on one day and putridity the next. Norris is a power guy who strikes out a lot of guys but walks a lot of guys too. Paulino has an injury history and got beat up last season.  Whatever that amounts to, the rotation is the team’s strength, it would seem.

  • The offense is nothing if not ugly. The Astros were 14th in scoring in the NL last year and did basically nothing to get better offensively this year. Oh, and Lance Berkman is hurt. Given that they play in a hitters park, this is an attack that simply won’t play.
  • Check out the anniversary patches the Astros are wearing. Sweet! Except the franchise didn’t begin in 1965. It began in 1962 and played for three seasons as the Colt .45s. I realize we all hate gun violence and everything, but celebrating 1965 as the team’s anniversary is like my wife and I celebrating our wedding anniversary on the date she got her social security card with her new last name in the mail. Weak. Which is why I have decided to go with their old logo. Never forget, Colt .45s fans. Never forget.

So
how
are they gonna do?

It’s going to be an ugly season. If Berkman manages to get healthy there will come the time when it dawns on him that the team isn’t picking up his big option for 2011. If Oswalt bounces back he will be pestered to drop his no-trade clause. They won’t score, there aren’t many young players to get anyone excited and the only thing keeping them out of last place will be a terrible Pirates team which, perversely, will likely post a winning season before the Astros do.

Prediction: Fifth place, NL Central.

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Video: Bryce Harper crushes a home run to the Chase Field concourse

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Aaron Judge may be the talk of the town right now, but let’s not forget some of Major League Baseball’s more established sluggers. Take the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, for instance, who jumped on a full count during the first inning of Saturday’s game and postmarked the ball to the center field concourse in Chase Field.

Harper’s mammoth hit was the first career home run allowed by Diamondbacks’ rookie Anthony Banda. Banda quickly recovered with an inning-ending strikeout to Ryan Zimmerman, but was booted from his big league debut after Harper, Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon combined for a three-run spread in the sixth.

The first-inning homer also served another purpose: it extended Harper’s hitting streak to 15 games, the longest current streak in MLB this season. He’ll need four more games to tie the 19-game streak Royals’ infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield established back in June.

The Nationals currently lead the Diamondbacks 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Chi Chi Gonzalez to undergo Tommy John surgery

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Rangers’ right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez is slated for Tommy John surgery, according to a report by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Gonzalez was placed on the 60-day disabled list back in early April with a partial UCL tear and was working towards a throwing program before getting sidelined with more elbow pain. He’s expected to miss the entirety of the 2018 season while recovering from the surgery.

This is the second straight season that has been derailed for Gonzalez due to injury. The 25-year-old starter pitched just 10 1/3 innings in 2016 after recovering from a torn UCL, and was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock to finish out the year after compiling an 8.71 ERA, 7.8 BB/9 and 6.1 SO/9 in three starts with the club. He showed more promise in Triple-A with a 4.70 ERA, 2.9 BB/9 and 5.9 SO/9 through 24 starts and 138 innings.

It’s a tough blow for the Rangers, who have seen Gonzalez healthy in just one major league season to date. General manager Jon Daniels told reporters that a recent MRI showed signs of weakening in the ligament, which disrupted the team’s plans to have the right-hander stick to a six- to eight-week recovery timetable after getting a platelet-rich plasma injection (via Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). The surgery is expected to take place next week and will put Gonzalez’s earliest return date sometime in September 2018.