State of the Astros
What's new with the Astros? Phil Garner is still talking loudly about making the playoffs ("We have to win every game!"), but at this point it's fairly obvious that there are too many teams ahead of us to make another playoff surge very likely.
Brandon Backe is going to miss the rest of the season and all of 2007 from Tommy John surgery. It's not a huge loss - Backe has never pitched for an entire season and he's really not that good. He's had some great moments as an Astro but you could look at this as an opportunity to give some of our younger pitching prospects a chance. With that in mind, how does our team look for next year?
C Brad Ausmus / Humberto Quintero / J.R. House
1B Lance Berkman / Mike Lamb?
2B Craig Biggio / Chris Burke
SS Adam Everett
3B Morgan Ensberg / Aubrey Huff?
LF Luke Scott
CF Willy Taveras
RF Jason Lane
SP Roy Oswalt, ?,?,?,?
Bullpen Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, Trever Miller, ?, ?
Random Thoughts on the Above
I'm hoping that we don't give up on Ensberg just because he's had an injury-filled 2006 - if you want to know what he's capable of, look at his April (1232 OPS, 9 HR) of this year. Having to watch Brad Ausmus start another 100 games at catcher makes me sad. Craig Biggio should reach 3,000 hits around the All-Star Break; hopefully, once he does, we can start playing Chris Burke there a little more often. After reading a mini-article at Baseball Primer about various defensive ratings, I have reconciled myself that Adam Everett is at worse a slight net minus on the Astros. His offense is putrid but his defense is excellent at a key position. And he's not making much. That outfield is pretty damn open. I have mixed feelings about all of them. His recent tear aside, I don't think Luke Scott is a starting corner outfielder in the major leagues. I love him as a 4th/5th outfielder and pinch-hitter. I have mixed feelings about Willy T, but he is young and plays good defense, so there's no reason not to play him unless we're going for it all, which we shouldn't be. I still believe in Jason Lane - he's shown both patience and power this year, and if he can just hit .250 in the major leagues he'll be an asset.
So on the offensive side I hope we start looking at giving Quintero and/or House plenty of playing time, start resting Biggio once he gets his milestone, and look for a short-term left fielder. Hunter Pence is a possibility but I'd like to see us at least look at signing a cheap stopgap a la Preston Wilson or Jose Cruz Jr. or Reggie Sanders. I know Wilson didn't work out for us this year, but it wasn't a bad idea at the time.
The starting rotation is where things really get interesting. We have exactly 0 sure things after Oswalt. We might re-sign Pettitte or Clemens, and Wandy / Buccholz / Hirsh / Nieve are all possibilites. I sat down to look at the FA market for pitchers this offseason and it's not pretty (Zito / Schmidt are out of our price range, probably, and then you've got guys like Woody Williams, Randy Wolf, John Thomson, and Vicente Padilla. I wouldn't mind giving any of those guys a 2 or 3 year deal for the right price, but that might not be possible.
Combine everything that I've said so far and it should become clear that we're not likely to have a contending team next year. If everything goes right then it's definitely possible, but it's unlikely. With that in mind, next year (and particularly the 2nd half of next year, when we're 10 games under .500) becomes Rebuilding Year 1. I think the plan should be to play the kids (Willy T, Lane, Quintero / House, Burke, Buccholz, Nieve, Pence) in '07, keep rebuilding in '08, and hopefully make big push for the playoffs in 2009/10/11. Berkman is signed through 2010 and Oswalt through 2011, so that period would hopefully coincide with the last of their 'peak' years.
Anyway that's looking pretty far ahead, but that's what I do. Take it easy.