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2013 Team Preview: Houston Astros

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

For the poor, miserable Houston Astros, it's all about the future. Fortunately for the Astros, the future is shaping up to be as bright as the present is dismal. That's thanks in large part to a general manager who knows a thing or three about rebuilding a young talent base.

Let's break down the AL West's newest combatant ...

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Probable lineup
1. Jose Altuve, 2B
2. Ronny Cedeno/Marwin Gonzalez, SS
3. Carlos Pena, DH
4. Chris Carter, LF
5. Brett Wallace, 1B
6. Justin Maxwell, CF
7. Jason Castro, C
8. Fernando Martinez, RF
9. Matt Dominguez, 3B

Probable rotation
1. Bud Norris
2. Lucas Harrell
3. Philip Humber
4. Erik Bedard
5. Alex White or Brad Peacock

Bullpen construction
Closer: Jose Veras
Setup: Hector Ambriz, Wesley Wright

Notable bench players
C Carlos Corporan, IF Marwin Gonzalez

Under-the-radar offseason transaction
When you trade an infielder -- Jed Lowrie, in this instance -- who's stretched defensively at short and who has never managed more than 97 games played in a season, and you get in return a haul that includes the useful likes of Chris Carter, Max Stassi and Brad Peacock, you've made a nifty little move. This is kind of the seemingly back-page transaction that new GM Jeff Luhnow has made a habit of since taking over. From the Astros' standpoint, that's a very good thing.

Fantasy "buyer beware": Jose Veras
"It appears Veras will get a chance to close for the Astros, and to look at his double-digit strikeout rates per nine innings from the last three seasons, one might think he could succeed in the role. Veras is able to get Ks as a result of recording a high rate of called strikes, but far too often his pitches fall outside the strike zone. Of this season's prospective closers, only Carlos Marmol threw strikes at a lower rate last season. Marmol has had his problems in the ninth inning, and Veras doesn't miss as many bats as the Cubs' closer. Even in deeper leagues, owners can find safer options than Veras, and he could very well lose his job to Wesley Wright, Jarred Cosart or Josh Fields by midseason." -- Al Melchior [Full Astros fantasy preview]

Biggest strength
Full, unqualified embrace of the rebuilding process.

Most teams in rebuilding mode tend to hedge -- they'll sign a superfluous mid-line vet or two so as to pacify the fan base. Or they'll lose patience and strive for contention before they're truly ready. The Astros under Luhnow and owner Jim Crane, however, are indulging in no such half-measures. As noted in this Wall Street Journal piece on the Astros' top-to-bottom effort, just two players remain from the team's 2011 opening-day roster. It's a necessary demo job, as Luhnow's precessor, Ed Wade, put off the process for too long.

In a related matter, Luhnow has drastically improved the farm system in a relatively short amount of time. It's not just the high-ceiling likes of 2012 top overall pick Carlos Correa; it's also about the incredible system-wide depth that Luhnow has built by pawning off veterans who couldn't possibly be a part of the next good Astros team.

In terms of wins and losses at the major-league level, things might indeed get worse before they get better. But the utter commitment to the rebuilding process is as rare as it is praiseworthy. Slowly but surely, Luhnow and the Astros will get this done. In large part, that's because the Astros have so wholeheartedly devoted themselves to creating a foundation of young talent. Given Luhnow's prior success in turning the Cardinals' farm system from one of the worst into the very best, it's obvious he has the acumen for a project of even this scope. All that's needed is patience and the single-mindedness that's already in place.

Also, the new uniforms are awesome.

Biggest weakness
Pretty much the entire major-league roster.

All you need to do is survey the above lineup and rotation and bullpen and bench, and you'll quickly realize that the Astros are going to lose an indecent number of games in 2013. Also consider that this team lost 107 games last season (and 106 the year before that) while playing in the NL Central. Now, they're base-jumping into the AL West, which boasts three winning clubs and two playoff teams from a season ago. Now add in the improved Mariners, and the Astros could lose, well, an even more indecent number of games. Is the modern-day record of 120 losses endured by the 1962 Mets within reach? Probably not, but it will be a "chase" that bears monitoring.

Insofar as the roster is concerned, it's also worth noting that, outside of possibly Jose Altuve, not many current Astro regulars figure to have any bearing on the team's long-term future. This franchise truly is "all-in" on the replenished farm system. The consoling news is that the Astros will almost certainly lock up the top overall pick in the draft for the third straight year.

Best-case scenario
Last place by respectable margin but not good enough to needlessly squander their draft position, fewer than 100 losses.

Also, with any luck, nothing like this will happen in 2013 ...

Or this ...

Worst-case scenario
Last place by a disrespectable margin and enough losses to dislodge the '62 Mets from the bottom rung of infamy.

Most likely scenario
Last place by a margin that skews more disrespectable than respectable. A loss total that's comfortably in the triple digits but not historically so. Top overall draft pick!

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook. Also, individually interact with us on Twitter: @MattSnyder27, @daynperry and @mikeaxisa.

 
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