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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Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: