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!

Attempting to complete cycle, Robinson Chirinos thrown out to end game

Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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With his Astros trailing the Tigers 2-1, catcher Robinson Chirinos began his at-bat in the bottom of the ninth a triple shy of the cycle. He doubled in the second inning, singled in the fourth, and hit a solo homer in the seventh. Yordan Álvarez and Yuli Gurriel both struck out, leaving the Astros’ fate in the hands of Chirinos against Joe Jiménez. After working the count to 2-1, Chirinos slapped an 85 MPH slider to the gap in right-center field. A diving Travis Demeritte could not come up with the ball, but center fielder Harold Castro fired the ball back in to Gordon Beckham, who then made a perfect throw to Dawel Lugo at third base. Chirinos was tagged out for the final out of the game. No triple, no cycle. The Astros lost 2-1.

Chirinos was attempting to become the first Astro to hit for the cycle since Brandon Barnes on July 19, 2013 against the Mariners.

The Astros entered Wednesday’s game as the largest favorite in 15 seasons, according to ESPN’s David Purdum. The Astros were -500 per Caesars Sportsbook. Other sportsbooks had them at -550. So the Tigers’ win was quite the upset.

Justin Verlander went the distance in the loss. The only blemishes on his line were solo homers to Ronny Rodríguez in the fifth and John Hicks in the ninth. They were the only hits he allowed while walking none and striking out 11.