Season Preview: Houston Astros
Projected MLB Rank: 23rd — NL Rank: 13th — NL Central Rank: 5th — Record: (73-89)
Bringing in Mike Hampton, Aaron Boone, and Jason Michaels isn’t exactly building your team for another playoff run. The timid offseason is probably due to all the money they owe to their offensive threats. Those very offensive threats are also getting older.
The Astros boast the second oldest team in the league with an average age of 29.5. Take a look at their players and ages (on opening day):
RP Doug Brocail – 41
SP Brian Moehler – 37
SP Mike Hampton – 36
IF Aaron Boone – 36
RP LaTroy Hawkins – 36
3B Geoff Blum – 35
SS Miguel Tejada – 34
OF Darin Erstad – 34
1B Lance Berkman – 33
2B Kazuo Matsui – 33
LF Carlos Lee – 32
RP Geoff Geary – 32
OF Jason Michaels – 32
SP Roy Oswalt – 31
SP Brandon Backe – 31
SP Wandy Rodriguez – 30
RP Chris Sampson – 30
CP Jose Valverde – 30
C Humberto Quintero – 29
The only projected starters not in that list are centerfielder Michael Bourn (26) and rightfielder Hunter Pence (25). I’m not saying 30 or even Berkman at 33 is old. I’m just saying it’s older than most of the league’s starting lineup. Now I’m sure Bourn will be sharing time with Erstad and Michaels. All five pitchers projected to be in the starting rotation will be 30 by opening day. When players get older, they get hurt easier. So the fact that most of their arms are aging along with a lot of their starting lineup — this season just looks questionable for Houston.
They do boast a very talented lineup with some big bats. Berkman and Lee have a good chance at over 100 RBI every year and Tejada, although not the hitter he once was, should contribute day in and day out. They are extremely weak at the catcher position and Blum at third base isn’t exactly prime. They would also like Bourn to have an average that somewhat resembles a leadoff man’s average–and that’s not .229. So among the producers, Houston does have a bunch of holes.
After Oswalt, the rotation is subpar. Wandy Rodriguez has been improving the past two years but still isn’t a number two starter. Injury-prone Mike Hampton joins the squad this season. Then the back of the rotation is questionable. Brandon Backe and Brian Moehler need some serious work in the ERA sense.
Jose Valverde has proved to be one of the best closers in the game and he is the highlight of this Astros bullpen. He has totaled 91 saves the past two season, both seasons leading the NL in that category. LaTroy Hawkins, Doug Brocail, and Geoff Geary are solid options out of the bullpen. As far as I know, it is yet to be determined to who will be the setup man to Valverde. Brocail looks like the leader right now but don’t count out Hawkins.
This team just seems shaky to me. The rotation isn’t very good. There are a few holes in the starting lineup. The scariest of all, is the injury risk as players age. Well the Astros are certainly aging. If they can’t be competitive this season, last season may have been the last hurrah for these guys as a whole (disclaimer: I never count out any team). Maybe they should start over and build the future around Hunter Pence? Just kidding.
The World Baseball Classic rosters are set. The United States roster looks more promising than last time. The US is in Pool C with Canada, Venezula, and Italy and opens up the tournament playing in Toronto.
The tournament runs from March 5th-23rd in anywhere from Tokyo to San Juan and ending in Los Angeles. (http://mlb.mlb.com/wbc/2009/schedule/brackets.jsp) You can find the official WBC bracket there.
The US roster consists of players from 21 different MLB teams and is one of only two rosters that are made up of all MLB players. Here is how I think the lineup should be:
SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Grady Sizemore
LF Ryan Braun
DH Chipper Jones
1B Kevin Youkilis
RF Brad Hawpe
3B David Wright
C Brian McCann
2B Dustin Pedrioa
However, I am not Davey Johnson and I’m almost positive that Derek Jeter will start at shortstop. Curtis Granderson would be the first pinch runner most likely and Mark DeRosa looks like he will be the infield utility guy. Chris Iannetta backs up McCann behind the dish. The starting pitchers featured on the roster are Jeremy Guthrie, Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt, and Jake Peavy. The rotation may shape up to look something along the lines of Peavy, Oswalt, Lilly, then Guthrie.
The bullpen is probably one of the strongest in the whole classic. The US boasts established closers like Brian Fuentes, Joe Nathan, JJ Putz, and BJ Ryan. The bullpen features emerging closers like Jonathan Broxton, Matt Lindstrom, and Brad Ziegler. It also contains guys like JP Howell, Scot Shields, and Matt Thornton. In the ninth I would hand the ball to Fuentes to face lefthanded hitters and Nathan to face righties.
I am most excited to watch the US play and to see how Brad Hawpe plays among all stars and how Johnson utilizes the extremely talented bullpen he has.
In other notes, how great is it to see mlb.com with the games of the day on the left side bar again? I am so relieved to hear that everyday we are getting closer to the season. The first spring training games start tomorrow with most of them at 1pm or 3pm. However at 7pm the Twins take on the Red Sox as Tim Wakefield takes the mound.
In honor of the first spring training games, I will start to release my projections for this season (as I mentioned in the previous post). I will start from who I think will finish last in the league working my way up to the best record previewing the teams’ seasons along the way. Tomorrow I’ll release who I think will be at the bottom of the barrel and here’s a clue, it’s one of these four teams…
Alex Rodriguez had his press conference yesterday and it seems as if maybe this whole thing will blow over. Yea, right. Up until mid-April we will be hearing about this everyday. I’m sure yesterday won’t be last time we hear adjectives such as young, naive, stupid, ignorant, and the like come out of his mouth.
Many players such as Roy Oswalt, Jamie Moyer, Francisco Rodriguez, and others have come out and said that A-Rod’s credibility to this point has been diminished and that when substances are bought in other countries, you know if they’re legal or not in the United States. To these statements, A-Rod said,
“I mean, I’m sorry Jamie feels that way, and he’s definitely entitled to his opinion. And the baseball world and all the fans we have, I understand their doubt. I understand their concerns.”
“Well again, I’m sorry Roy feels that way. Look, everyone has their opinions and their beliefs. And I’m sorry he feels that way.”
He claims to have gotten the drug, that he tested positive for while in Texas, in the Dominican Republic through his cousin George. Royals pitcher John Bale asked the question if his cousin even existed. It’s clear that it will be hard to gain back trust from players and fans around the nation and world. He may never even regain that trust. Concerning the drug that he had taken, he stated,
“…I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs. I knew that it was something potentially that perhaps was wrong. I really didn’t get into the investigation, perhaps like I would’ve. I wouldn’t imagine thinking of doing something like that today, obviously. It’s a different world, a different culture.”
It wasn’t the tic-tacs, well obviously. Last time I checked you can’t inject breathmints and then suddenly you will never have bad breath again. Regarding the drug he also said,
“I didn’t think they were steroids at the time. Again, that’s part of being young and stupid. It was over the counter, it was pretty basic and it was really amateur hour. It was two guys, we couldn’t go outside, who couldn’t ask anyone, didn’t want to ask anyone…”
There’s the young and stupid again. Throughout the whole spring training interview and the Peter Gammons interview, he goes without saying that he still thinks that he should be a hall of famer. He was young and stupid. He says going to college may have changed that because he never really grew up–
“I’m here to say that in some ways I wish I went to college and had an opportunity to grow up at my own pace. You know, I guess when you are young and stupid, you are young and stupid. And I’m very guilty of both those.”
It cannot be clearer that he knows he made a mistake and that the drugs are a thing of his past and as he claims, a short part of his past. He said, “foul pole to foul pole” his career has been unbelievable and that his best years have been when he broke into the league (pre-Texas) and 2007. It may be hard for young and stupid to get to Cooperstown but I think that if indeed, he is telling the truth and if he continues to hit at the pace he has been year after year, these apologies that we find so annoying right now, may save him five years after he retires. He may not be forever, stuck in the shadows.