As I sit waiting for the plane to take me on what will likely be my last business trip of the year, I can’t help but wonder when the Astros are going to get into the game. By “game”, I mean the off-season game, of course.
Everyday, players come off the board. Everyday, trades are being announced. Everyday, rumors abound for virtually all of the other 29 teams. A little discouraging — okay, a lot discouraging — but I’m also convinced the Astros will make news by Christmas. And, I mean good news.
There are several mid-level or low-risk players that could have helped the Astros next season. But they’ve already committed to other teams for reasonable contracts. Thinking about Josh Johnson, Manny Parra or even Dan Haren or Ryan Vogelsong. Sure, those players were probably looking for contenders or better scenarios and therein lies the biggest hurdle for Jeff Luhnow this winter.
Unfortunately — at least in part — the Astros are being forced to wait until the dominoes fall even farther to get much traction. Other teams will need to fill more of their holes before many free agents will turn to Houston. It’s a tough course for Luhnow and the Astros, but it’s the curse of back-to-back-to-back 100-loss seasons and the turmoil that has become this organization. That’s just a cold, hard fact.
Are they headed in the right direction on the field. Most of us believe the answer to that question is “yes”. Does it change the fact that the road to respectability contains road blocks, detours, “bridge out” signs and other distractions? No, it does not.
Still, the pool of possibilities got bigger on Monday when teams non-tendered 43 players, making them immediate free agents. Guessing Luhnow anticipated many of those and has already determined which players might be targets. Here are a couple I might suggest:
- John Axford. Yes, he comes from the Cardinal bloodline, barely. But he’s a strong candidate to handle late innings and would provide stability.
- Andrew Bailey. Not to mention that he’s got a great last name, he’s also pitched well in the past couple of years. He’ll miss a good bit of 2014 after shoulder surgery, so this may not be a great pickup for Houston, which needs immediate help. If they’re convinced he’s healthy though, a one-year deal with a team option for 2015 might be a good bet.
- Chris Coghlan. Former first rounder and Rookie of the Year who could probably use a change of scenery. If there’s been a worse place to play than Houston in recent years, it’s Miami. He’s 28 and it would be worth checking into to see if he can regain his stroke from a few years back.
- Ryan Webb. Another Florida surprise non-tender. Could shore up Houston’s bullpen quickly.
- Daniel Hudson. Didn’t pitch in 2013, but seems ready to return after his second Tommy John surgery. He seems determined to return to Arizona (which non-tendered him), but could be one of those low-risk signings if he’s interested in a rotation shot.
There’s still room for optimism this off-season, but those half-glass-full moments will be fleeting and fans will need to savor those moments while waiting to see which one of the prospects the Astros will start to build around in 2014.