For the last few weeks, faithful reader Woodrow has been prodding me for a Save This Franchise profile on the Astros. I ignored the guy, partly because he didn't say "please" but mostly because the Astros are, as of 2:08 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008, one of the few franchises that appear beyond saving.
Don't get me wrong: They'll finish no worse than fourth in their junior-league division this season and could inch toward wild-card contention if the starters not named Roy Oswalt somehow surprise.
|Hey Astros! How about dumping still-acey Roy Oswalt? (Getty Images)|
In other words, the core of the 2008 and 2009 Astros is more or less set in stone, and there's not a single player on the roster beyond Pence and Towles who hasn't peaked. That's the pesky thing about older players: they generally don't get younger, at least not without the type of "nutrition" and "weight training" baseball has tripped over itself to outlaw during the last few years.
Nonetheless, because I'm a man of the people and the people asked semi-nicely, let's see what we have here. Let's Save This (Unsaveable) Franchise!™©®! To the Batcave! I mean, the Batting Cage!
Short-term outlook: Nowhere near as good as the team seems to think, given its empty-the-coffers trades for Valverde and Tejada and the free-agent purchase of middling second baseman Kaz Matsui. Those are the types of moves made by franchises who are only a player or two away, not by ones with a three-man-deep pitching staff.
The Astros do, however, have a bunch of names on their roster. Lance Berkman! Miguel Tejada! Carlos Lee! You recognize these guys and you love them. Unfortunately, all three are statue-esque in the field, and not in the legs-up-to-her-neck Selita Ebanks way. Along those lines, the defensive downgrade at short from Adam Everett to Tejada will cost the team plenty of runs and possibly send Oswalt into a murderous rage.
Assets: More right-handed power than any team located east, south or west of Detroit. Given the welcoming left-field porch at Orangina Tang Stadium, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the trio of Tejada, Lee and switch-hitter Berkman will combine for 90-plus dingers. Pence and Ty Wigginton, if given enough at-bats, could add 30 more.
And say what you want about owner Drayton McLane -- and I will in the paragraphs below -- but the guy is willing to throw bushels of cash at players. It's too bad that the league's blind-lunatic spenders (McLane and Peter Angelos in particular) have such toxic people skills that they scare off any GM who might put all that cash to good use.
Liabilities: The list of the players upon whom the Astros will rely for depth reads like the first round of a bizarro-world rotisserie draft: Geoff Blum, Mark Loretta, Darin Erstad. Why not ink Miguel Cairo and complete the useless-utility potpourri? Just because the average fan has heard of a player doesn't make him any good. How the Astros consistently confuse familiarity with ability boggles the mind.
Then there's the projected rotation behind the still-acey Oswalt. It includes dainty lefty Wandy Rodriguez, whose out-of-character competent second half might have the 'Stros believing that he's something he isn't (namely, good); Brandon Backe and his surgically reattached elbow, shoulder, labrum and pinky; old fogey Woody Williams, with his batting-practice velocity; and dippy righty Felipe Paulino, who has a thunderbolt for an arm and a bowl of porridge for a head.
Unless the Astros score 1,100 runs, these four won't keep the team in many games.
As potent as the aforementioned bats may be, that ain't gonna happen. The two top spots in the lineup will be occupied by untested speed merchant Michael Bourn (no relation to Jason) and Matsui -- who, it should be noted, probably earned himself an extra two years and $10 million with his high-profile dinger against the Sillies during the playoffs. Neither of these guys have shown much inclination in the past to accept a walk. Sure, they'll scurry around the bags with abandon, but like dad always said: You can't steal first base.