Well, the Astros sure made it interesting toward the end of September, but the 2006 season was simply a case of "too little, too late." After a hot 19-9 start, the team just seemed stuck in doldrums of summer, always waiting for the "big run" to take them back to the postseason.
In a way, it might be a good thing that we didn't make the playoffs this year. Lets face it: we didn't deserve it, and to make the playoffs would have sent the message that the organization is making the right moves. It's not.
Not to place all the blame on the front office. Much of the team's futility can be traced to underperformance by many players, specifially the "locks": that is, the guys we all KNEW would produce. We didn't have to worry about them because they had a history of solid production and seemed to be on track for solid years. I'm talking, of course, about Ensberg, Pettitte, Lidge, and to a lesser extent, Wilson. Coming into the year, these were the guys we said would have very good, if not spectacular, seasons. And while they each showed flashes of brilliance (Wilson and Ensberg in the first month, Lidge and Pettitte in the second half), they quite simply did not come through.
Almost everyone else performed as predicted: Oswalt, Berkman and Clemens absolutely dominated. Biggio kept up his ridiculous home/away splits and slumped horrifically in the second half. Taveras went through a sophomore slump and was benched before turning it up in the second half. Burke progressed nicely with more playing time, although he was prone to extended slumps. Wandy got run support but proved that he's nothing special. Our young pitchers Buchholz and Hirsh struggled but showed some promise for the future. Our bullpen started slow, but Wheeler, Qualls, Springer and Miller were all very good, particularly in the second half.
Ausmus and Everett... well, they combined for 950 mostly worthless at-bats. Everett was magnificent on defense and is likely in line for the Gold Glove award. He actually did improve at the plate in the second half, and I do recall seeing him hit singles to right field a few times. So that says something. I don't want to discuss Ausmus because there's really nothing positive to say.
Believe it or not, the offseason is very exciting to me. So much can happen... so many different ways to go. Everyone gets to act like a GM and criticize, complement or chastise every small move that's made.
The first move Purpura made was adding reliever Paul Estrada to the 40-man roster and sending down Eric Munson and J.R. House. Though he went hitless in nine major league at-bats this year (although Ryan Freel robbed him of an extra-base hit), House went NUTS in the minor leagues this year and could really do some good things at the plate for the Astros in the future. I hope we can hold onto him, although I think by sending him down, we are subjecting him to the Rule 5 draft. I don't know the rules on this... maybe Jack can clue me in.
Purpura will have a lot do this this winter. He'll resign Biggio (somewhere in the $3 million neighborhood), and he'll have to think long and hard about resigning Pettitte. Clemens is another story altogether. We'll have plenty of time to discuss free agents throughout the next few months (I've renewed my pledge to be more involved with The Juicebox), but here's a list of potential free agents I think we should consider:
Tony Armas Jr.
Chan Ho Park
(* = option with current team)
Oh yeah, and there's also the issue that A-Rod might be traded from the Yankees. The Yanks are so funny... could any other team hate a guy who consistently puts up All-Star numbers? Did any other vaunted Yankee sluggers really do well against the Tigers' pitching? It's crazy.
So a big question is, should we pursue A-Rod? I say Yes. The Yanks need pitching, bullpen help... and a thirdbaseman if they trade A-Rod. I'd give up Ensberg, Lidge and a prospect for A-Rod and cash. While I'm at it, I'd sign Piazza to split time with Ausmus. Then sign Alou, who's put up a .900 OPS for three straight years!
For the rotation, I'd like to take a chance on some starters. Brian Lawrence particularly interests me. He put up three good years in San Diego (pre-Petco), throwing 200+ IP with an ERA hovering around 4.00. Not sure what his injury status is, but he could be a valuable pickup. Also on my mind are Batista and Williams. They;re old and they don't strike out anyone, but they seem like they'd fit well in the clubhouse, and with Ausmus half the time, they could put up some decent innings.
OK, enough rambling. Here's hoping good things are on the way this offseason.