For the first time in what’s felt like forever, the Houston Astros are in the thick of the MLB playoff race. The Astros are jockeying with the Los Angeles Angels for the AL West crown, as well as a somewhat cozy cushion for one of the two wild card spots.
General manager Jeff Lunhow already pulled the trigger on one deal, swapping minor leaguers Jacob Nottingham and Daniel Mengden for Scott Kazmir from the Oakland A’s. The question is, will there be a second?
Kazmir is in the midst of a phenomenal season and can help his hometown team make a playoff run. He already pitched a gem in his Astros’ debut, throwing seven scoreless innings in a win over the Kansas City Royals. Houston now has two of the top-five American League pitchers in ERA, WHIP and wins. Kazmir joining the likes of Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers gives the Astros an above-average rotation to make the push for October.
Yet rumors continue to swirl around the Astros and other starting pitchers for sale. The club continues to push for Cole Hamels, even though Houston is on his no-trade list and several other teams are more likely suitors. Tigers’ lefty David Price, Padres’ pitchers Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, and other names have all come up over the past couple of weeks.
There hasn’t been much gossip about the bullpen. The Astros’ relievers are the best in batting average against and fourth in ERA. Luke Gregerson has done a solid job in the closer role with 21 saves, while Pat Neshek and Will Harris are two of the best setup men in the league with ERAs of 2.65 and 1.40 respectively. Even Chad Qualls has looked good since coming off the DL with that neck injury.
What about hitters?
We expected a lot of ups and downs with the Houston lineup, considering the power, speed, and surplus of strikeouts. The Astros have six regulars hitting below .250 and are 13th in average overall in the AL. Yet somehow, they get the job done, scoring the fourth most runs thanks to a league-leading 136 home runs.
It’s frustrating watching a Chris Carter or Jon Singleton struggle everyday in the lineup. The Astros can light up the scoreboard one night and get shut out the next because of the inconsistency from over half the team. The good news is, even without trading, Houston will be getting some big “acquisitions” in the lineup down the road.
Mar 7, 2015; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros right fielder George Springer (4) celebrates with shortstop Jed Lowrie (8) after scoring in the first inning during a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Jed Lowrie and George Springer will be coming back from injury. Lowrie has already started his rehab stint in the minors, getting reps at third base instead of shortstop where he started the season. Springer still has a cast on his fractured wrist and will be out another month or so. It’s hard to imagine him picking up from the torrid pace where he left off, but his power, speed and most importantly defense will be huge lifts.
I don’t think the Astros should make another big trade. As tempting as it seems, and as much help as they could use to become more consistent, this was never part of the plan.
The Astros were supposed to erupt from the cellar and emerge as contenders in 2017. After back-to-back-to-back seasons with triple-digit losses, years of trading away any decent player for a stockpile of prospects would finally pay off.
Well Christmas came early. It’s only 2015, yet the Astros have been in first place for most of the year. It’s been a lot of fun having a relevant baseball team for the first time in essentially a decade, but that shouldn’t completely assail the original blueprint.
While competing this season, Houston is still on track to continue to cycle in young players for the next several years and continue to get better. The whole idea is to contend for the next decade, which should not be put at risk to rush through the process.
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I’m not saying the Astros should just throw away this season and look forward because that would be wasteful of a great campaign and a chance to play in the postseason. If the price is right for another deal that could help the team, I’m all for it. There’s definitely room for another bat, and an additional arm either in the rotation or the pen never hurt anybody. But fans can’t let the frustration of delayed gratification get in the way of the big picture.
The Kazmir deal is done. The 31-year-old southpaw went to Cy Falls high school and grew up an Astros fan, so he could potentially re-sign after his contract expires this fall. He cost Lunhow two single-A players, including perhaps the most promising catcher in the farm system, but neither of them top-10 prospects.
There are still some movable pieces, but Houston shouldn’t get rid of anyone promising for a rental this season. The cost outweighs the benefits for a team that has the potential to wreak havoc for the next decade.
The MLB Trade Deadline is July 31st.
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