Running down the rosters: Houston Astros

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The 2012 Astros are pretty sure bets to lose 100 games, with the big question being whether they’ll top last year’s mark of 106 losses. That achievement will be tied to their ability to move the contracts of Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Carlos Lee. Ideally, they’d be able to sell off at least the latter two. Still, as marginal as Myers and Lee have become, they still rank among the team’s better players.

Rotation
Wandy Rodriguez – L
Brett Myers – R
Bud Norris – R
J.A. Happ – L
Livan Hernandez – R

Bullpen
Wilton Lopez – R
David Carpenter – R
Sergio Escalona – L
Wesley Wright – L
Juan Abreu – R
Fernando Rodriguez – R
Rhiner Cruz – R (Rule 5)

Disabled list: Brandon Lyon – R
SP next in line: Jordan Lyles (R), Zach Duke (L), Kyle Weiland (R), Henry Sosa (R), Paul Clemens (R), Lucas Harrell (R)
RP next in line: Fernando Abad (L), Aneury Rodriguez (R), Jose Valdez (R), Enerio Del Rosario (R)

I had Lyles penciled into the rotation before the Hernandez and Duke signings, but unless Rodriguez or Myers is dealt this spring, now it seems likely that he’ll get some additional minor league seasoning. That’s probably for the best. Lyles held his own in the majors last season, but he’s just 21 and he still has some work to do.

The bullpen will be one of the game’s least experienced even if Lyon makes it back from shoulder surgery and contributes this season. I think it’s a long shot that he’ll prove useful, but since he’s making $5.5 million, he’ll probably get a chance to close if he proves healthy. In the meantime, just about anyone could win the job. Lopez has far and away the best track record, but no one seems to buy him as a long-term option as a closer. Carpenter might be the better bet. Abreu has the best stuff of the group, but his control is awful.

I’m giving Cruz a spot initially, though I’m skeptical he’ll be of any use.

Lineup
CF Jordan Schafer – L
2B Jose Altuve – R
SS Jed Lowrie – S
1B Carlos Lee – R
LF J.D. Martinez – R
RF Brian Bogusevic – L
3B Jimmy Paredes – S
C Jason Castro – R

Bench
C Chris Snyder – R
INF Matt Downs – R
INF Marwin Gonzalez – S (Rule 5)
OF Jack Cust – L
OF Jason Bourgeois – R

Next in line: C Humberto Quintero (R), INF Angel Sanchez (R), 3B Chris Johnson (R), 1B Brett Wallace (L), INF-OF Brian Bixler (R), OF Travis Buck (L), OF Fernando Martinez (L), OF J.B. Shuck (L), OF Justin Ruggiano (R)

That’s the lineup of a team that simply doesn’t figure to score many runs. The Astros would probably be better off for 2012 with Downs at third base and Cust in left field, with Martinez sliding to right, but those make for small gains and they might as well see if Paredes and Bogusevic belong in their future plans. I’m not really expecting either to stick.

The more important players here are Schafer, Lowrie and Castro. If they can overcome their injury histories, then they might join Altuve on a competitive Astros team come 2014. No one from the group ever figures to become an All-Star (well, except for the fact that someone will have to represent the Astros in the Midsummer Classic), but they can be solid players at key positions. When the Astros are ready to contend again someday, it’ll be easier to upgrade at the corners than it will be up the middle.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.