Additions: Mike Hampton, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Michaels, Doug Brocail (re-signed), LaTroy Hawkins (re-signed), Jose Capellan, Clay Hensley, Russ Ortiz
Subtractions: Randy Wolf, Ty Wigginton, Mark Loretta, Brad Ausmus, David Newhan. Midseason: Shawn Chacon, Oscar Villarreal, Dave Borkowski, Jack Cassel.
The Astros' offense was an issue last year, ranking 11th in the NL with 4.42 runs per game. Losing Wigginton hurts, but getting a full season from Lee helps. Also, Pence and Tejada are projected to have better seasons. And even a declining Pudge offers 100 points in slugging over Ausmus. The end result: a lineup that will score 4.46 runs per game, using Baseball Musings' lineup analysis tool and CHONE projections. Sure, they'd score more with Wiggy at third, but in hindsight it was right to non-tender him. You'd just like to see a better solution than Blum at the hot corner.
Coupled with last year's 743 runs allowed, the Astros would profile as a 79 win team. Can they improve in run prevention?
Last year's starters were good for 908.3 innings of 4.56 ball. Wolf and Chacon are gone. Brandon Backe will start the season on the DL, and Chris Sampson may not have a chance to start again. The Opening Day rotation of Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Hampton, Brian Moehler, and Ortiz projects at a similar ERA, especially if Oswalt beats the projection of a career-high 3.83 mark. But this group does carry a lot of health risk and lacks depth. The Astros' middle of the pack bullpen should be a little better in 2009 given the re-signings of Hawkins and Brocail and the lack of Villarreal and Borkowski.
According to The Fielding Bible II, the Astros' defense ranked 7th in the NL last year. Less Wigginton is good for the defense, but more Matsui is bad. Otherwise it's a similar cast of characters.
The Astros seem like a team that will be average at everything and fall a few wins short of .500. Thinking optimistically, perhaps they can contend if everyone stays healthy while Ed Wade finds a third baseman and starting pitcher on the trade market.
Bottom line: Strapped for cash, the Astros went for bargains on the free agent market. They don't seem to have the talent to match last year's 86 wins.