CHIPALATTA

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Is Luhnow’s reconstruction project off course?


The tradition continues! September in July in Houston. For the fourth consecutive year, the Astros have shuffled the deck, but it’s only the beginning. How many teams beat the deadline with trades and bring up top prospects, all in the space of a few weeks?

Top Astros’ prospects Jarred Cosart (#4) and Jonathan Villar (#12) have made the major league roster significantly younger after Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno were designated for assignment Sunday.

Is Jeff Luhnow’s reconstruction project off course? Or has it just taken some detours this season?

With every move under the microscope, Luhnow is bound to miss some. But frankly, it’s time he hits on a couple. Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno were gambles, Pena more so than Cedeno. Chris Carter, Erik Bedard, Rick Ankiel, Philip Humber, all risks. Even Lucas Harrell and Travis Blackley were somewhat of a gamble.

But, answer this: Which move this season was not a gamble? There were few sure bets. Sure, Luhnow perhaps could have minimized the liability, but there were only a handful of “sure things” when spring training started. Jose Altuve, Bud Norris and…  Well, Jose Altuve and Bud Norris.

Luhnow still has a shot to turn a couple of his gambles into wins for the Astros.

It would be shocking if Bedard isn’t traded this week or next. Same for Jose Veras, who’s proven to be a low-risk, high-yield gamble. Here are some Sunday evening questions to finish up a weekend in a season that seems to get bleaker and bleaker.

  • With Pena and Cedeno goners, who else should follow?
  • Assuming he can get major-league ready or upper echelon minor league talent in a trade, which position should Luhnow target?
  • Is Luhnow’s reconstruction project in trouble? Or just delayed?
  • Should Bo Porter be on the hot seat?
  • Why hasn’t anyone thought of playing Jason Castro either at first base or everyday DH?
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About Chip Bailey

Chip Bailey lives in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO, and wakes up each morning to the tallest spot in the region, Pikes Peak. He is an author and former sports editor and sportswriter who has followed the Astros for more than 50 years. A native of another picturesque city, Natchitoches, La., Chip enjoys watching baseball at most any level, especially pro and college. Several years ago, he worked as an associate of Pastor John Bosman, who enjoyed giving nick names to his staff. Pastor Bosman came up with Chipalatta, and it has stuck.

21 comments on “Is Luhnow’s reconstruction project off course?

  1. Astro45
    July 21, 2013

    By ST in 2014, at least 10 more will be gone. I don’t see getting upper echelon prospects for anyone in a trade except perhaps for Norris. Luhnow’s plan was delayed a year by skipping FAs last winter (in my opinion). So let’s hope the plan is just delayed. Too soon to make a call on Porter. You have to give him a least another year. I think he over-manages, but no reason to can him for that, as he may be told to move everyone around just for a “look see.” I am looking forward to seeing how Villar and Cosart respond, and in September, at least 4 or more others. Even if it means just DFAing several Non-Future guys.

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  2. Dan P
    July 22, 2013

    The first problem Luhnow faced coming in before the 2012 season…really a dearth of prospects towards the top of the minor league system. The second problem he faced was a lack of budget to chase competent place keeper FAs.
    Both of these problems together resulted in the major league club being filled in 2012 and 2013 with sub-par AAAA type players and FAs that nobody else wanted.
    His trades and his drafting have brought the light at the end of the tunnel closer to us. But the re-build is just getting traction now and there are few warm and fuzzy feelings among the fans yet.
    Young folks better be carrying us a bit in 2014.
    On the subject of Porter – I think he is in no risk this year, but he better learn and grow like his youngsters do or he will be back waving folks around as a base coach elsewhere in 2015.

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  3. devin_
    July 22, 2013

    Chip, did you save the blogs and comments from our evaluation of positions for 2013 v. the 2012 squad and whether we felt the situation had improved? I’m hoping you can give us a recap of our collective wisdom v. what the end result ends up being.

    When I read this post regarding the reconstruction project last night, I at first thought it was a bit of predictive fiction for the Astros dumping Pena and Cedeno. For what it’s worth, I actually like Pena a lot more now than I did before he was signed. I’m not sure Villar can jump start our offense, but he can’t be any worse than Cedeno or Marwin offensively, Defensively, Brett Wallace would probably provide more value than Elmore…so a move had to be made.

    At this point, however, I have to wonder how much our awful performances should be attributed to the players and how much should fall on the coaches? Castro’s inability to catch a thrown ball is a player issue. The pitching staff’s inability to force hitters to swing the bat (2nd worst in MLB) is bad. The team fielding (71 errors in 97 games, 2nd worst in MLB) is bad. The offensive strikeout total of 900 for the team (worst in MLB) is atrocious. At least the uniforms are pretty.

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    • chipalatta
      July 22, 2013

      Devin, the blogs are still on the Chron site. While the comments are deleted automatically after a period of weeks, the actual entries remain. They’ll probably remain there until and if they change platforms. I did not save the comments unfortunately.

      Like

    • Steven
      July 22, 2013

      Well, I for one, hope to NOT see them lol! I’ve spent the last 2 years bagging on Springer, calling him everything from overblown to overrated, and he is about to make me look stupid!

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  4. Steven
    July 22, 2013

    Dan – most of the guys about to show their faces are Wade draft picks, not Luhnow – Springer, Folty, Wojo, drafted by Wade, Singleton, Cosart, Villar, acquired by Wade. Goes back to Chip’s premise that Luhnow will probably at least owe him a Christmas card every year as without them the Astros aren’t climbing out of anything – and even the Genius could find himself unemployed if he was waiting on his guys.

    Devin – collectively the pitching staff is full of “no command” guys. They aren’t very good at making people swing at pitches out of the strike zone because when they miss, they miss badly.

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    • Dan P
      July 22, 2013

      All I was saying Steven was that when Luhnow got here – there was a dearth of talent in the upper minors leading into 2012 and 2013 – which Wade and Drayton were responsible for. Yes, going forward we will have a pupu platter (hopefully not a poo-poo platter) of guys brought in from Wade and from Luhnow.

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      • Rich
        July 24, 2013

        Dan, I think Drayton and Wade’s predecessor’s were more responsible for the death of talent in the upper minors than Wade. The cupboard was bare when he arrived and it does take time to pack the pipeline. Though Wade appears to have whiffed on a few highly touted picks (and some FA’s), he was the one who got the minor league rebuilding effort started.

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    • Astro45
      July 22, 2013

      Steven, I read an old story about Branch Rickey going to ST with the Dodgers. Don’t remember the prospect but he had a great arm, but lacked command. Rickey yelled out to the kid, “I’ll give you $20 if you can throw a strike on your next pitch.” Of course, the ball was right down the middle. Rickey walked out and gave the kid $20 and came back by the coach and said, “You don’t teach them how to pitch, you teach them how to concentrate.”

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  5. daveb
    July 22, 2013

    Luhnow should not be held fully accountable at this point. His pool of resources came from the scrap head. It would have been nice to have the shortstop position covered this year. With Lowrie still in place, I know the pitching staff would have been happier. On the flipside, Max Stassi has 10 homers and 37 RBI’s in 50 games at CC and has thrown out 34% of would be base stealers. So we might not know the outcome of this deal for another year or two. But I don’t think a guy as one dimensional as Carter fits in long term.

    Almost everyone should follow. Realistically, how many guys on the club today will be on the next contending Astro team? Less than five.

    Luhnow does not need real good aim. We still need help all over the field, including the rotation and bullpen.

    The reconstruction project, assuming another absurd payroll in 2014, will be very slow in coming. Hypothetically, had Luhnow been able to spend 50 million in 2013, he might have a couple of guys today worth multiple prospects. And if we had had that 50 million payroll in 2013, we’d be better able to judge him on his transactions.

    Porter will get a free pass into mid next season. But if he gets some help on the roster going into 2014, he’ll be expected to get something out of the club.

    I’m sure everyone has thought about playing Castro at first, but what options do we have behind the plate at this point? And Castro can’t DH everyday. As previously discussed he can’t hit lefties. In the long term, Castro has limited value, because he’s just a bad catcher.

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    • chipalatta
      July 22, 2013

      daveb, totally agree on most points. Luhnow is not yet on the clock. Crane will measure his success on the blueprint they agreed upon two years ago. That likely is the competitive-in-2015 barometer. Indeed, he does “not need real good aim”. Goes back to my pre-season commentary that he needs to find another 2-3 everyday players this season to go alongside Altuve. If he comes out of this season with some progress and continues to add to the foundation in 2014, then things could be interesting in 2015.

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      • daveb
        July 22, 2013

        Indeed Chip, hopefully guys like Springer and Villar give us those two everyday players. I’m not sold on Villar as of yet, too many misses at the plate and still quite error prone as he steps into a faster game.

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    • Steven
      July 22, 2013

      Dave – I know his movement behind the plate is not the same as it was before the injuries – and he is better at throwing out runners this year than last, but still not good – but there are other aspects.

      I agree that he probably won’t be catching in the big leagues 5 years from now – probably at 1st or 3rd by then, but what is your take on his game calling? I can’t see the games, so I go by the box score, and the box score says the pitching is awful. Would a 28 year old Ausmus make this pitching staff significantly better? What do the statistics say about Corporan caught ERA versus Castro caught ERA? Would be interesting for someone to find those numbers. Also have to keep in mind batteries usually work together, so Corporan may have the advantage of limited time with better pitchers.

      My take is the poor pitching isn’t helping Castro’s cause – the pitchers we are using are not great command guys. Watch Norris pitch – he will throw a masterful slider followed by a fastball that misses by a foot, not an inch. It’s a wonder he can get anyone out but somehow he does.

      I agree that Castro, at this point, has proven that he cannot hit a lefty, and shouldn’t play against them. If he was playing any other position I would be concerned by his status as an “everyday” guy, but as a catcher he isn’t going to play 150 games anyway, so you have your chance to rest him. Ideally he should be catching about 110 games and used as a PH against righties situationally.

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      • daveb
        July 22, 2013

        Steven, someone had those stats earlier in the year: Team ERA broken down with Castro and Corporan behind the plate. It would be interesting to have an update. My own impression is that the guys on the mound don’t feel all that comfortable when throwing to Castro, especially when there’s a runner on third. He just does not look at home back there. Most all good teams have a guy behind the plate, maybe with less offensive ability, but a guy that runs the field, takes charge, acts as the quarterback. For now, he’s our starting catcher because he provides offense. I just don’t think he’s the guy to have back there in a seven game playoff series. What happens if we get into a short series and there are two lefties throwing against us? You don’t want to sit your starting catcher four times.

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      • chipalatta
        July 22, 2013

        Here’s the thing on Castro — and every other player on this team. Every flaw, mistake (whether mental or physical), every decision is magnified. There’s no where for any of these things to hide. Those two recent passed balls are game changers when the team can’t push across a few runs. Not defending Castro and agree that his best “position” may be elsewhere in the future. It’s just that there is so much “bad” now, it all shows that more glaringly. Don’t know his game-calling skills or if some or all calls are being made from the bench either. There’s no doubt that a 28-year-old or 38-year-old Ausmus would improve the pitching staff.

        As for ERAs, just small samples, but here are some figures, with #games and ERA: Norris (Castro: 18/4.05; Corporan: 2/2.77). Bedard (Castro: 14/4.68; Corporan 6/3.86). Lyles (Castro: 10/4.82; Corporan 5/4.71). Keuchel (Castro 13/4.23; Corporan 6/5.46).

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  6. Steven
    July 22, 2013

    Not sure you will see any more moves. Springer maybe – but unlike Villar that affects the 40 man also – so you may not see it until September. A September call also doesn’t affect his service time – but since he has probably already missed super 2 status that is less important than affecting the 40 man right now.

    Luhnow still isn’t in a position to shop a position – if he does move Norris he should simply target the best return regardless of position. I am not sure that happens given the fact that Norris has shown just enough inconsistency this year that shoppers will be wary – afftecting what Luhnow wants in return, keeping Bud in Houston.

    Way too soon to judge his reconstruction project – Cosart, Villar, and Elmore are just the tip of the prospect iceberg, not even the best ones we will see.

    Any manager that loses 100 games should be on the hot seat – but we have to take in consideration that he overmanages because noone is performing. He is forced to start so many “situational” players like Barnes, Maxwell, Pena, Cedeno, Dominguez, Wallace, and a many others that he has to take them out when the situation dictates, giving us the impression of over managing. It will be more telling when he is writing Singleton, Springer, Villar, Altuve and Castro in the lineup regularly and using the situational guys situationally.

    I am sure someone has thought of playing Castro other places, but we need a catcher. Count me as part of the majority that likes what Corporan has done this year, but is doubtful that it continues with any significant playing time. Again, a situational player that needs to stay situational.

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  7. tedf1948
    July 22, 2013

    hold

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  8. tedf1948
    July 22, 2013

    Sorry about the “hold” on the previous comment, I have two sites that use the WordPress application and I struggle with the passwords for them. As to the questions, I don’t think Porter should be on the hot seat yet. He doesn’t perform on the field and with all of these errors, Tony LaRussa would look bad. I think we should cut our line with Wallace, he is already back to the low .200’s. I’m not sold on Carter, either. A one tool player. Also agree with Chipalatta’s comment on the magnification of errors. We expect them to happen now and in the worst possible situations, but Castro was lauded in his first year as a defensive catcher if I remember correctly and now he seems to be a sieve. Its really bad when you don’t have anybody else to protect Altuve’s bat and he’s only a singles hitter.

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  9. Eric Girard
    July 22, 2013

    Same old problem that’s been plaguing these Astros for awhile now — their “prospects” aren’t really prospects at all. J.D. Martinez needs to be gone. Brett Wallace needs to be gone. Starting to look like Lyles needs to be gone. Altuve needs another year in AAA to learn more plate discipline. Castro’s still not much of a catcher so DHing him isn’t a bad idea. Carter is worthless despite his 18 HRs. All these guys would probably catch fire with a fresh start somewhere else. Dominquez — what happened to him? As Astros, though, it’s time to move on to the next batch of “prospects.” Time to get some HR hitters into this ballpark and quit making it only a positive for the visiting team.

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  10. Astro45
    July 22, 2013

    If someone wants to look at the previous chron dot com comments on Chip’s blog, you go to the site, and click “stats” (or perhaps other links at top of page). Voices show up there today. Click voices, and at the bottom of page will be 1 going back 123 pages. Earliest post on Chip’s blog is “Who said Astros weren’t real deal?”
    Posted on October 4, 2005 at 8:00 pm by Chip Bailey. I would imagine these will be deleted soon.

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  11. Dan P
    July 22, 2013

    Astro45 – thanks for that hint. Funny – when we would go to the archive of the blogs the normal way – they did not hold onto more than the last few columns with comments – but you are right – going in thru Stats to Voices and the comments are there (for now).

    Like

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This entry was posted on July 21, 2013 by in Astros and tagged , , , .
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