Needs and Luxuries: Houston Astros

Today, we’ll take a look at the Astros.  They’ll install a fresh regime this winter and may do some major retooling.  It’s about time.

C – J.R. Towles
1B – Lance Berkman
2B – Chris Burke
SS – Adam Everett
3B – Ty Wigginton
LF – Carlos Lee
CF – Hunter Pence
RF – Luke Scott

SP – Roy Oswalt
SP – Wandy Rodriguez
SP – Woody Williams
SP – Chris Sampson
SP – Brandon Backe/Matt Albers/Troy Patton/Juan Gutierrez

Closer – Brad Lidge
Setup – Chad Qualls


Needs

Houston’s needs aren’t as bad as I originally suspected, but they still have some holes.  Can J.R. Towles take over as the full-time catcher in 2008 despite just 11 games in Triple A and a month in the bigs?  He plays good defense, mashed at Double A this year, and is athletic for a catcher.  He’s had some injury problems and it’d be asking a lot for him to handle the pitching staff as a rookie.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Brad Ausmus return strictly as a backup or a defensive-minded backup like Jose Molina signed.  The kid will need some tutelage but they can’t keep going back to Ausmus. 

Biggio is retiring, and he’s been a drain on the offense this year.  But Burke hasn’t been much better.  I like the idea of importing a veteran, hopefully one with more pop than Loretta.  Tadahito Iguchi would be a nice fit and his solid presence would help the team move on from Biggio.

Everett has been mentioned as a non-tender candidate.  It takes a whole lotta defense to support a .600 OPS, and he’ll have to regain his stride after breaking his leg this season.  It seems kind of cruel to cut him, but hey, this is a business.  Nice guys finish last.  The problem is that the free agent market for shortstops is bleak.  Tim Purpura had many trade discussions about Miguel Tejada; will the new GM resume those talks?  That kind of acquisition would really get people talking in Houston; a package could center around Troy Patton or Wandy RodriguezEdgar Renteria would be another fine option.

Luxuries

I wouldn’t go so far as to call the outfield situation a luxury, but I think the Astros are fine here.  Lee is entrenched in left field.  I feel Scott is underrated.  Pence has obviously arrived.  While he’s better suited for right field, playing him in center again isn’t the end of the world.  Scott has been named as trade bait in the past but he’s a good player and his loss would create a new hole to fill.  An ugly April has masked his work since: .266/.362/.529 in 263 ABs.

The closest the Astros have to a luxury might be starting pitching, something I never expected to be saying after their losses of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.  Oswalt is the rock.  Wandy makes a nice #3, Williams a respectable #4.  In my mind there’s no real #2 (Jason Jennings was supposed to fill that role).  But they have a lot of respectable options for the last two spots in Sampson, Albers, Backe, and Patton.  Sampson hasn’t been talked about much this year but he was doing a nice job until a sprained elbow ligament got the best of him in July.  There’s talk of bringing Jennings back on a one-year make good deal, an idea I like. 

It’s true that you can never have too much pitching but if the Astros have to part with Wandy, Albers, or Patton to get Tejada or Renteria I support it.  A new regime could make the Astros’ offense respectable again just by plugging in some league average bats.  It’ll be addition by subtraction to ditch Loretta, Ausmus, Biggio, Burke, and Everett.  This year those five combined for 1675 ABs.  The highest OPS of the bunch was Loretta’s .688. 


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