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What are the Astros aiming for exactly?

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Having finished with baseball’s worst record three straight years, the Astros have mastered the art of being bad. And it’s worked out for them; thanks to their early draft picks and some veteran-for-prospects trades, they now boast one of the game’s very best farm systems.

That left the Astros with a decision to make entering 2014. Was it time to start going in the other direction and try to put a competitive team on the field? Or was it worth going for one more No. 1 overall draft pick?

It seems like they’ve chosen the former. Kind of. Sort of. Maybe.

The Astros made their biggest signing in years when they added starting pitcher Scott Feldman on a three-year, $30 million contract. They also traded one of their youngest pitchers in Jordan Lyles for a legitimate starting center fielder in Dexter Fowler. Plus, they signed three veterans for their bullpen in Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and the rehabbing Jesse Crain.

Those all seemed like solid moves with the idea of regaining respectability. It’s certainly not the kind of transition needed to contend in the tough AL West, but it should be sufficient to avoid a fourth straight 100-loss season in 2014.

Their latest move Monday, the signing of Jerome Williams, makes it even more evident that just not losing 100 games is the goal. Williams has no upside; his function is solely to soak up innings. He’s made 40 starts and 29 relief appearances for the Angels the last two seasons, posting a 4.57 ERA. That he can alternate between middle relief and the rotation gives him value, but really, that value comes in the form of not having to throw some 22-year-old minor league prospect to the wolves instead. Basically, he takes away that worst-case scenario of having to continue starting the youngster with the 5.50 ERA.

The Astros of the past could have used a guy like that. But the 2014 Astros? After already adding four veteran pitchers? Honestly, if they think they need a guy like Williams, then doesn’t that mean they’ve failed?

The Astros have 24 pitchers on their 40-man roster. 21 of those guys are 25 or older. Two of the three that aren’t, 23-year-old Jarred Cosart and 24-year-old Brett Oberholtzer, are expected to be a part of their rotation anyway. What does it say about all of these 25, 26 and 27-year-old pitchers the Astros are carrying that the team still thinks it needs Williams around?

The early word is that Williams will be in the rotation. The pitcher he’s most likely to bump is left-hander Dallas Keuchel, a 26-year-old who struck out 7.2 batters and walked 3.0 per nine innings in 22 starts and nine relief appearances last season. That K/BB ratio, combined with a very strong groundball rate (56%), would seem to give him some upside. Certainly more than Williams has. If not Keuchel, maybe it will instead be Brad Peacock, who averaged 8.3 K/9 IP in his 14 starts and four relief appearances last season.

Perhaps the early word is wrong. Maybe Williams will be employed in the swing role that Lucas Harrell figured to fill. If so, there’s little harm in that. But that the Astros believed they needed Williams to patch a hole now speaks to the lack of faith they have in all of those options in hand.

63-99, here we come!

The Phillies have shut down Jake Thompson

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 03:  Jake Thompson #75 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the Houston Astros at Bright House Field on March 3, 2016 in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Phillies rookie starter Jake Thompson has been shut down for the year. Not that there’s much of the year left, but he will not make what would’ve been his last start.

Thompson allowed three earned runs over four innings in the Phillies’ 17-0 blowout loss to the Mets. That leaves him with a 5.70 ERA in 53.2 innings for the season. Which, while that’s kind of ugly, it was a function of some bad starts mixed in with good starts as opposed to overall badness.

Everything about his 2016 should be viewed as “get yourself used to the big leagues, because you’re going to be part of this rotation in 2017 and beyond,” and from that perspective, you can call 2016 a success.

Congressional candidate uses Jose Fernandez’s death to score political points

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As a horrible Sunday unfolded yesterday there was at least one thing buoying the public mood: the overwhelming outpouring of emotion and love for Jose Fernandez and warm remembrances of his all-too-brief time on Earth.

But it wasn’t a unanimous sentiment. Some people, like this Florida state representative who is currently running for Congress, thought it was a great time to make a political point:

Setting aside the tastelessness of Gaetz’s timing and intent, one wonders if he appreciates that the reason Fernandez risked his life on multiple occasions was specifically so he could live in a country where protesting and not exhibiting a reflexive loyalty and patriotism is a fundamental right and does not get you thrown in jail.

But really, it’s the tastelessness which most galls here.