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2014 Preview: Houston Astros

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Houston Astros.

The Big Question: One hundred losses again, right?

Depends on how long the Astros keep their prospects on the farm.

While every fan likes to think of their team’s prospects as the answers to all of the team’s problems, they usually aren’t. The guys in the bigs are better and they’re there for a reason. That isn’t quite so cut-and-dried with the Astros. Yes, adding Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman improve this club, as does revamping the worst bullpen in all of baseball. But it really is the case that the team’s top prospects could not only provide hope for the future, but cold make the team better than it would otherwise be without them.

This is partially a function of the major leaguers beyond Fowler, Feldman, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro not being any great shakes, but it’s also because there is some quality about to come of age for the Astros. George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Mark Appel could all see time in the bigs this year, and all of them could improve this team. Brett Wallace could possibly help out. Behind those guys are Delino DeShields, Max Stassi and others. If the guys in the majors aren’t cutting it and some of these guys are given time to play, it could be a lot of fun. If instead the Astros are more concerned with service time than 2014 wins — a defensible position for a team like this to take, I should add — then, yeah, they could lose 100 games for the fourth straight year. This is the very essence of rebuilding, and with Houston the rebuild was bigger and more extreme than most.

No matter the case, the Astros are still going to lose a lot of games, so a fixation on 100 losses is probably a bad idea. Especially given that, no matter how bad the product is on the field this year, there is hope for the future.

What else is going on?

The Astros lost their last 15 games of the 2013 season. Granted people come and people go and they’re not technically the same team, but if they lost their first six of 2014 — which can totally happen — they’ll tie that 21-game losing streak from the 1988 Orioles, which is the longest such streak since the turn of the 20th century. Eleven losses and they break the 1889 Louisville Colonels all-time record. Good times!

The Astros’ 1-2 in the rotation might be decent. Feldman we know about: he pitched 180+ quality innings for the Cubs and Orioles and if he can do that again it’ll help everyone. Jarred Cosart is interesting too, but not necessarily “solid.” He had a 1.95 ERA in ten starts last season, but he also walked 35 guys and only struck out 33 in 60 innings, so don’t count on that ERA holding up, even if he could be good.

Fowler is the big offseason acquisition, but it’s probably worth noting that, for his career, he has hit .298/.395/.485 in Coors Field, .241/.333/.361 everyplace else. Minute Maid Park is part of the Greater Everyplace Else metro area.

A 100-loss team doesn’t really have a huge use for a closer, but the Astros have a couple of guys who could close. Chad Qualls, who they signed for the job and who will hold it out of camp and, possibly, Jesse Crain, assuming he’s healthy. One thing a 100-loss team can do with a closer? Flip him at the deadline to a contender when relief pitchers tend to bring their highest prices. I’d be shocked if Houston doesn’t do this with one or both of these cats.

Prediction: No surprises here: Fifth place, AL West.

Report: Rockies want a “front-of-rotation-type pitcher” through trade

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 29:  Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on September 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Rockies are looking for a “front-of-rotation-type pitcher,” per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. He notes that the club is also in on free agent slugger Mark Trumbo.

Starting pitching has not been the Rockies’ strong suit in recent years. The club had baseball’s fifth-worst rotation ERA in baseball this past season at 4.79. It’s tough to entice big-name free agent pitchers to pitch given how their stats are adversely affected by the hitter-friendly nature of Coors Field. Trading would be one way around that.

Though Chris Sale is off the board, the Rockies could still try to pry Chris Archer from the Rays or Jose Quintana from the White Sox.

As presently constructed, the Rockies’ rotation includes Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, and German Marquez.

Matt Holliday’s contract with Yankees allows him to block a trade to one team

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 10:  Matt Holliday #7 of the St. Louis Cardinals follows through on a swing during a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the St. Louis Cardinals at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 10, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 8-1.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo passes along an interesting piece of information. New Yankees OF/DH Matt Holliday has a no-trade clause in his contract that allows him to block a trade to exactly one team: the Athletics.

Holliday was briefly a member of the A’s back in 2009. He had a decent two months in Oakland, so it isn’t as if he feels he couldn’t produce there. However, the A’s do play their home games at Oakland Alameda Coliseum, which is the fifth-oldest stadium in baseball, having opened in 1966. You may recall that the Coliseum has had some issues recently. Three years ago, the coaches’ bathroom overflowed with sewage and sewage also came out of faucets. Earlier this year, there were more plumbing issues as the Yankees’ clubhouse toilet was backed up and water overflowed into the dugout. It’s understandable why Holliday might not want to play half his games there.