State of the Astros: Off-season to Date


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The Astros have come a long way since January of 2013.  This time last year, we were looking into off-season acquisitions like Rick Ankiel and Carlos Pena… neither of which panned out to be anything but strikeout machines and “a veteran presence in the clubhouse”.

What was it really?  A cheap attempt to pull in MLB players with name recognition to hopefully put some extra butts in the seats.

Did it work?  No.

We Houston fans are not easily entertained.  Other teams in other cities have the ability to go out and aggressively spend on top tier talent whenever they please.  We haven’t been so lucky.

There are a multitude of reasons for which we’ve been cast out of playoff contention.  No matter what you choose as your argument, everyone always seems to roll back on ownership and the GM… and rightfully so.  In the last few years, however, the clouds have appeared to clear and things are starting to look a bit brighter at Minute Maid.

After another DISMAL season, the Astros seem to have taken some serious strides in the right direction.  It appears as though the losing end of the rebuild process has completed, and it’s time to look toward winning.

With that, comes spending and trading.

When Jeff Luhnow was hired, it seemed like the baseball fans in this city grew more and more restless.  There was a sense of urgency when the change was made, knowing that Jim Crane was up for the task of spending RESPONSIBLY on free agents and working to develop a majorly depleted farm system.

So far, it looks like he’s made good on that promise.  Our MiLB affiliates have collectively gone from one of the worst, to 1st or 2nd in the entire MLB.  That’s saying something.

Yes, it’s painful to watch the major league product lose game after game after game; at least it was for those of us that watched it.  Most people didn’t.  I can’t blame them either.  It was a difficult thing to go through over and over again.

I keep going back to the fact that relatively speaking, however, we’ve had this whole “Worst Team in Baseball” thing pretty easy.  (e.g., Pittsburgh Pirates going from 1993-2012 without going over .500 proves it could be a bit worse)

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s lineup (as I previously mentioned) looks to be quite a bit better.  With the additions of Dexter Fowler, our leadoff spot has been solidified. Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, and Jesse Crain have redefined our bullpen, which was just terrible last year. But there is still time left in this off-season.  Some very publicized free agents have yet to sign and will do so quickly as Spring Training nears… so we could very well have a few new faces to add to the Opening Day roster.

Even if we don’t, I’d say our 2014 lineup is a major improvement over 2013.  Some of you might say, “But Ryan, there haven’t been many changes made.”

I disagree.

The important things that needed to change, such as an established leadoff hitter, and strong pitching capable of both long relief and closing, have been addressed.
Dexter Fowler is a career .270 hitter with an OBP of .365.  Those numbers aren’t Hall of Fame caliber or anything, but it’s a step up from last year… a big step.

I don’t have to go any further into how the bullpen additions have improved our situation from last year except to say this:

Our bullpen had a collective 4.92 ERA last season with a WHIP over 1.50.
Analysis:  HORRIBLE.

Albers’ 2013 Stats:  3.14 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Crain’s 2013 Stats:  0.74 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Qualls’ 2013 Stats:  2.61 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

With these guys in our bullpen, we’ll certainly save more than 32 games… all season.

The difference here between what we’ve seen in the past from Drayton & Co., and what we’re seeing here with the new regime is the fact that this isn’t the grand ending to what ownership deems as a “legitimate solution” to contend.

They didn’t just go out and grab a position player or two and overpay on one big name free agent.

You can consider this my bitter acceptance of the Yankees taking Tanaka for 7 years at $155 million.

They aren’t trying to pull the wool over our eyes.  We’re all aware of what has transpired over the last few years.

The time has finally come for us to see some of the top prospects in our organization rise to the Major League level and hopefully produce some Major League numbers.

With Spring Training around the corner, what do you think our Opening Day Starting Roster will look like?  Will there be any surprise additions, or will our team break camp with a load of rookies ready to get their first shot at the show?

Remain hopeful, Houston.  The madness will end soon….