I can't decide whether I hate the Jennings trade or just dislike it. No matter how you look at it, we overpaid. But big-league experience is crucial in evaluating pitchers. I'm not saying I value 'veteran presence,' but Hirsh's minor-league dominance might not translate into major-league success. At least not for a while.
Jennings is hard to evaluate: His walk totals over the course of his career have been scary, but all the signs are there for an improvement on last year's breakout performance. Here's hoping he pitches well and likes the ballclub enough to re-sign here.
The funny thing is, we immediately improve at centerfield. Burke, who struggled mightily in the second half, is easily a better offensive player than Taveras. He'll likely be the new lead-off man, and a .280/.360/.440 line should be attainable. Burke is one of the handful of players who will determine the Astros' success next year. We all know Oswalt, Berkman, and Lee are goig to dominate, and we know Everett and Ausmus are going to suck. Biggio will start off hot before declining rapidly, and Wheeler, Qualls and Miller are going to be steady in the bullpen. Last year, we relied on Ensberg, Pettitte and Lidge, and as they went south, so did our team. This year, we still need Ensberg and Lidge, but a few other guys need to come through and produce.
• Morgan Ensberg. I've ranted enough about The Ensberg Situation, so I won't go into great detail here. Basically, we know he's capable of hitting 30 bombs and putting up a .950 OPS. But he's also capable of getting into extended slumps and frustrating everyone with bad swings and letting good pitches go by. If he can put up another .380 OBP and stay healthy enough to keep the slugging up, he'll have a good year by my book.
• Brad Lidge. Hoo boy. Here we go again. Lidge has always had the potential to be the best closer in baseball, but two things can implode on him: his control and his mental toughness. He really had problems commanding the fastball last year, so hopefully he can correct that. His 1.40 WHIP scares me more than his 5.28 ERA from last year. The early going will be critical for him. If he starts out hot, getting his first 9 of 10 saves or so, I think he'll do okay on the year.
• Woody Williams. It's not his talent I'm worried about: He's a lock for a mid-4 ERA. The question is how many starts he'll make. Two hundred innings is asking a lot, but 25 starts and a 4.20-4.50 ERA would be fine.
• Jason Jennings. I wonder if he'll benefit from Ausmus catching him. Either way, his sinker should benefit from being at sea-level. Unlike Woody, his health isn't an issue. Can he get the job done in a much better offensive division? Our playoff hopes may hinge on that question. I hope he can produce a 4 ERA over 200 innings, but 4.30 is more likely.
• Chris Burke. Like Ensberg, he had injury problems that clearly affected his production last year. If he stays healthy, and is able to pull himself out of slumps more quickly, I think he'll have a fine year. I worry about his arm and his ability to catch on the run. I still have nightmares about the ball that got over his head in left field in the 2005 NLCS. Man that was ugly. Anyway, I'm still hoping for a 280/.360/.440 line.
• Luke Scott. OK, Luke. You carry a gun and you have ridiculous TV ads about your relationship with Darth Vader. You've also got a starting corner outfield position. Can you dominate like last year? Obviously he was over his head last year with his 1.047 OPS, but a .290/.350/.500 would be perfectly acceptable.