By The Common Mn
Boy, it's a bad week for the Astros and their fans. First, Jeff Bagwell gets totally jobbed in the Hall of Fame voting, and now their in our crosshairs. As always, you can find complete list of the 3 Questions series, including your favorite team, here.
The Astros finally took a hint in 2010, and realized that they needed to tear the team down in order to build their franchise back up. Gone are longtime stars Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. And the team has refrained from making any long-term commitments that will cripple the team. Even the extension they handed out to Brett Myers is just two years and an option. So given the team is in a definite rebuilding mode, here are three related questions for the Astros.
Question 1: How bad will the team be in 2011?
Dan Szymborski, for one, is not optimistic. According to ZIPS, only two players (Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee) project as above average offensively. And only two pitchers on the entire staff (Wandy Rodriguez and Myers) figure to be better than average. This could be an abysmal team.
Chris Johnson had a completely solid half-season in 2010, but probably was over his head and is already 26. Prospects Jason Castro (.205/.286/.287) and Brett Wallace (.222/.296/.319) certainly can’t play worse. And Tommy Manzella (.225/.267/.264) is not likely to get any real playing time this year with Clint Barmes and Bill Hall around.
At least Carlos Lee (.246/.291/.417) is probably not going to be this bad again. While his power is greatly diminished over his prime (and he remains a horrible defender), his .238 BABIP in 2010 is due to rebound somewhat, pushing his OBP back into the .320s or .330s. But it’s still probably not good for more than 625 runs or so, just a slight upgrade from 2010.
Meanwhile, without a half-season from Oswalt, and with a reduced bullpen, the Astros figure to give up a lot of runs in 2011, a stat in which they already finished 11th in the NL in 2010. A conservative estimate would put them at between 95-100 losses. And it’s certainly possible for them to hit 100.
Question 2: Is there anyone on the farm who’s going to be able to help this year?
Heck no. The cupboard is still very bare, a victim of "cheapskate ownership" according to John Sickles. For Oswalt, Houston picked up JA Happ and a couple of 19 year olds, one of whom they flipped for Wallace. Likewise, they got a youngster for Berkman, with a reliever thrown in. Meanwhile, the organization’s eight minor league clubs finished more than a combined 100 games under .500. The only team with a winning record was in the Class A SALLY League. At AAA, both the hitters and pitchers averaged more than 27 years old. Meanwhile, their hitting and pitching at AA averaged 24.7 and 25.0 years old respectively. So they're not only not talented, but they're not young either. And most of their young players who were at all promising already played major roles last year.
Jordan Lyles, who will be 20 in 2011, is one youngster who might contribute in the next year. But given his age, and the fact that he skipped across the high minors in 2010, Houston would be smart to let him get at least a half-season at Round Rock before even thinking about moving him up. The rest of the talent is still 2-3 years away, including surprise 2010 1st round choice Delino DeShields Jr.
Question 3: So when will the Astros be competitive again?
It’s going to be a while. Drayton McLane is reportedly looking to sell, and will be hesitant to make long-term commitments that might weaken his ability to get a good price. And as long as Carlos Lee is on the books (until 2013), the Astros will have limited resources to spend. So with Free Agency not an option for improving the club, and with the next wave of talent still years away, Houston needs to continue to be active in the trade market. That probably means looking to deal Wandy Rodriguez this season. Wandy, believe it or not, is already going to be 32 and is unlikely to be around the next time the Astros are contenders. For now, he’s one of the better pitchers in the National League (a solid 1A or 2), and could command a nice return, particularly from a pitching desperate team like the Yankees. The team may also need to look into dealing the resurgent Brett Myers to bring in more building blocks. Michael Bourn, Bill Hall, Clint Barmes, whoever starts out hot and can command a fair price. It took years of bad decisions that propped up the sagging foundation of the Astros for the team to fall into such disrepair. And it’s going to be years digging back out.