Lots to watch as Astros’ hope springs eternal


It’s spring training, so get the full perspective from the chipalatta team.

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by Chip Bailey

As spring training begins, the checklist for the Astros is long and could bring plenty of disappointment mixed with some moments of anticipation and excitement.

There is reason for hope, but fans recognize that  the spring training they’ve been waiting for is still one or two years — and a few more high draft picks — away.

So, here’s a short list of things that this onlooker will be keeping an eye on over the coming days and weeks

1. Who will break through this spring?  With perhaps the youngest roster in baseball, there are few guaranteed spots for the Astros. But watch these guys closely to see if they have breakout springs to push their way onto the opening day roster. George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, Asher Wojciechowski. You could argue that Springer and Singleton should be in Houston on April 1 regardless, but a solid spring could remove any doubt.

2. Yes, the dang TV deal.  How can you not keep an eye on the courts and Comcast? Apparently, Comcast will broadcast 10 spring training games, but many of us won’t be able to see them anyway. Jim Crane needs to get this thing done and out of the way. Whatever it takes.

3. The rotation. Specifically, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock. Frankly, these three could be the difference between a 20 game improvement and another 100+ loss season.  More than first base, more than George Springer, the rotation may hold the key to the season. If those three can pick up where they left off in 2013, they could provide the stability for the strongest rotation since 2010.

4. Jeff Luhnow. Call it a hunch, but here’s wondering if the Astros’ GM is finished with his off season shopping. There are some free agents remaining on the horizon and roster movement over the next 4-5 weeks is likely to provide some options. Prediction: Expect 2 trades and one more significant acquisition before opening day.

5. First base. There are many options, but this could create a domino effect for the Astros. Believe it or not, Max Stassi could be the determining factor if he has a good spring. The depth chart says it’s Jesus Guzman, Jonathan Singleton and Chris Carter and the Astros say “no” (for now) to Jason Castro. NRI Japhet Amador is  in the wings though Luhnow has hinted he would like to add another bat in this spot. It’s Singleton’s to lose, but don’t count out Castro if Stassi plays well enough to become the everyday catcher. Regardless, the final decision could force a roster juggle.

That’s some of what I’ll be watching starting next week. How ’bout you?

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18 comments on “Lots to watch as Astros’ hope springs eternal

  1. Hey Chip – some thoughts on your thoughts:
    1) Break throughs – I think Springer is the most obvious (unless Brian Ts – voodoo lady takes him down). I just don’t know about Singleton, who performed so poorly at AAA last season.
    2) TV deal – We all know it is all about the money – but I am so confused right now on what could possibly be the tipping point to make this happen.
    3) The rotation – You figure that Feldman, Cosart and Oberholtzer are sure things to start the season – are Jerome Williams and/or Brad Peacock sure things? Does an Asher Wojalphabet stand a chance?
    4) Luhnow is sharp, but not perfect – he has gathered a lot of trading chips – is he going to wait until he is sure what will and won’t work and then pull the trigger towards the end of ST. Can he pick up FA help on the cheap as desperation sets in?
    5) First Base – I’m one of the proponents of the Castro to 1B option, but I have no confidence it will happen. Maybe Singleton will step up and rip the lefty role down – but then where does Guzman go?

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  2. Chip, your #3 is really important. But it also includes young players like Grossman, Altuve and Dominguez progessing at the rates expected of them, too. Can Grossman be the player he was when he came back. Can Dominguez raise his average a little, walk a little more and cut his errors down to 10. The 3 pitchers you mention and these three players will determine a lot about how the Astros play this year.

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    • Agreed. No. 3 is vital. Our bullpen is better. Leaps and bounds better? I don’t know, but it won’t be the worst in MLB this year. Probably in the middle.

      So if our rotation can improve — even just a little — that’ll help us move toward 70 wins.

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  3. No 3 is important, but NO2 IS VITAL.

    Here’s a koolaid sip for you: Crane said payroll would approach $60mil this season. That’s what he SAID. Right?

    The reality is payroll is around $42mil.

    42/60 is 70%. He’s a whopping 30% short of what he claimed. That is not insignificant.

    Just pointing out the reality. Again, it’s important to focus on what he actually DOES, not what he proclaims.

    Keep sipping y’all. In 5-6 years you may have had your fill.

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    • Looked back at an article from November 2013 where they quoted Crane that he might raise the payroll from $30 to 50 million. 42/50 is about 84% a less than whopping 16% short and there is still a bit of room if they pick up anyone else between now and the start of the season.
      I frankly will be more upset if Springer does make the big club out of ST than if they fall short of $50 million.
      They now have the top ranked minor leagues in the majors and if they follow the Cardinals model (16 of their 25 players in the WS were from their own farm system) I’m not complaining.

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    • Dude, get a grip. Spring training hasn’t even started, just seems like you’re looking for something to pounce on. And the figure is actually at $46.8 million if you consider the 8 players under contract plus another 17 at the league minimum (app $500,000). Payroll can reach $50-$60 million at any point this season. Luhnow could add another player by April 1 or pick up another player through trade that bumps it up. Even in July. Castro could get an extension and the value of the ’14 deal can increase. Many things can still happen.

      Frankly, I’m thrilled he’s allowed himself some leeway so he can add another player or two when he can.

      As I’ve said earlier, willing to wait to see. If it’s still mid 40s by July or August, then let’s talk. This is a work-in-progress and you can’t take snapshots along the way to give a accurate grade on the final goal.

      Hard to research all teams’ figures at this point in the spring and everything is very volatile considering many under-team-control players aren’t yet signed.

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      • I think that’s fair and reasonable. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see if they actually exceed the $60mil threshold that Crane SAID (all caps for emphasis) in 2014.

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      • I should know better than to get between Chip and Bo – but apparently I do not. First to nit pick a little, my total for the 9 signed is about $35 + Wandy at $5.5. However, 2nd, I have not seen anyone yet that was a FA that I could say “Boy I just wish we had signed him at what the (insert team(s)) paid! !” In my opinion, this was an overpaid and underperforming group of FAs. So to just throw out another $10 would probably not helped much, if any. And when you look at the roster, Luhnow is at the point of him having to worry about trying to pass too many through waivers. Especially those that are still 25 or less in age. I didn’t like “the plan” to wait 3-5 years to get good again, but we have already waited 3 of them. We have to show at least 2 more years of patience. Lets hope we don’t all die of old age, before this gets turned around.

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      • Astro45, here’s a quick rundown of Astros’ contracts: Feldman $12 million, Fowler $7.35, Crain $3.25, Qualls $2.75, Castro $2.45, Albers $2.45, Altuve $1.25, Guzman $1.3. Wandy is at $5.5 as you say. What you have to factor is the 17 remaining players. At this point, the projected players would likely earn about $500,000 each, bringing the current payroll to the mid-40s.

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  4. First I have to say I love Baseball because come Spring, we always have a chance to be better, etc. etc. Contrast with football and Bill Snyder probably saying this Fall “Kansas State is really worried about Stephen F. and we better have our “A” game, etc. etc”. Baseballers are optimists and footballers are pessimists. So I am optimistic about this team being improved. I doubt they can “compete” (whatever that means to each one) but are on the up tick. But I agree Luhnow has the tough part of his job now. He has to determine over the next couple years, which guys are just “prospects” (like Wallace) and who can actually play (like Castro or Altuve). He can not continue to hold on to everyone down on the farm, so his plan will be tough to navigate over next few seasons. I wish him well. It is much better than “Nobody” on the farm.

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  5. Chip, all good thoughts. Regarding # 1, I really hope that at least one of the guys makes it impossible for Luhnow not to be able to send him off to OKC. Wouldn’t it be a stunner to see multiple guys force the issue?

    As for # 2, it’s the most absurd thing to be taking place with any professional club, in this day and age, in any large city in America. Just absurd. But I will ignore it. When away from the park, there is always a way to follow, if not watch every game on line, even from a small island in the Caribbean.

    #3. Odds are that we’ll have at least a minor injury within the rotation, maybe just the 15 day variety, that will allow the 6th guy to get a couple of starts in. Remember Wally Pipp?

    4 and 5? You’re preaching to the choir. The longer certain guys go without the multi year contract they’ve been looking for, the better the chance of Luhnow making a deal. There are still guys out there that could pretty much resolve any question marks we might have at first or short. One season? I don’t care what it costs.

    And of course, if first base does remain a jumble, Stassi, of all guys, could well play an indirect role there. He’s already a better backstop than Castro. What if they both hit .400 this spring? I still think Castro has a new mitt packed in his bag.

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