The Swami’s Crystal Ball: Astros’ 2015 Spring Training


While waiting for the Astro’s 2014 Spring Training to resolve itself, I became a little bored with the proceedings.  In the long run does DeLeon vs. Zeid, Harrell vs. Keuchel or Guzman vs. Krauss really matter? So, my imagination leapt forward to next season’s spring training session, when I was sure the seemingly eternal rebuilding program would begin to bear fruit.

A friend of mine told me about a guy who specialized in sports predictions and worked out of the back of an antique store on lower Westheimer. He was known as Swami Mil-Hamo. I decided to make a quick visit to his shop and let him peer into the Astros’ future for me.

I entered the shop and was met with an odor that seemed like a mix of Ben-Gay and Orange Metamucil. Swami Mil-Hamo appeared from behind a side curtain looking as ancient and over the hill as George Springer.

He sat at a small table and motioned me to sit across from him. In the middle of the table was a large crystal ball – but I swore that the crystal contained a child’s Magic 8 ball inside. Over Mil-Hamo’s shoulder was an autographed picture of Hank Aaron hitting his 715th HR. Floating in mid-air over the table was a can with the note “TIPS” on it. As my eyes adjusted to the low light I realized that the can was held up by fishing line which looped over a dim chandelier high above our heads and ended up somewhere around Mil-Hamo’s lap.

Mil-Hamo was wearing humongous black framed glasses, ridiculous, but somehow familiar. “Wait a minute – those look just like Harry Carey’s glasses.”

“Yeah – when Brickhouse retired from the Cubs broadcast booth in ’81 that was supposed to be my spot – but nooooooo – they brought in that son-of-a-gun, father-of-a-chip – the only guy with a bigger ego than I had. I hated him worse than Bo Weaver hates Jim Crane – so one day he left the booth to get 4 more Buds and I stole his glasses.  He accused me of taking them – I said he dropped them out of the booth singing ‘Take me out to the ballgame’. I figured they’d help me channel the baseball spirits here.

“So drop a 20 spot in my tip can and start asking away.”

I flipped a 20 into the can and asked my first question, “When the Astros go to the 2015 Spring Training – will Jeff Luhnow’s spot with the organization be secured long term?”

Mil-Hamo shook the crystal ball and then read – “Reply hazy – try again.”  The tip can shook vigorously – so I threw another 20 in there.

Mil-Hamo touched both temples with his fingertips, “I see an empty place at the table, I see a crutch with out an owner…oops…wrong scene – I see Jim Crane playing golf with Jerry Jones. I see Jim Crane’s eyes widening when Jerry explains he is his own GM and does not have to pay for one. I see an empty Astros’ GM’s office and an empty minor league system – next spring.”

“Yikes,” I said. “Swami – speaking of Jim Crane – will he have nailed down a TV deal by next Spring Training.”

“Ask again later” said the Swami as the can shook in mid-air. I tossed a 10 in this time and gave the Swami a pointed stare.

Mil-Hamo hesitates and then says, “I see the Astros on every cable network in the country. I see them being broadcast on PBS. I see 20 minute breaks between innings as Jim Crane and Jeff Bagwell beg the public to call-in with their Astro pledges.”

“Swami – will Bo Porter still be the manager next spring?”

“Signs point to yes.”

“Any details on Bo, Swami?”

The can shivered again and this time I reluctantly tossed in a fin, disdain clearly on my face.

“The Astros finish the season shattering the Mets modern record for futility with a 35-127 record. No one can understand why Porter is not fired until former GM Luhnow reveals that Porter signed a below market lifetime contract to be the manager  until his death. Rumors are that 1/4 of Porter’s income is spent on personal security.”

“Swami – will we finally see some of the young studs (Springer, Singleton, Correa, Folty or Wojo)  come to 2015 Spring Training with mlb jobs in their pockets or real chances to be on the big club?”

“Concentrate and ask again.”

I gave the Swami a death glare and as I tossed a quarter in the can I said, “You heard it the first time.”

The Swami gulped and said, “Well, none of those players actually make it to Spring Training 2015. After Jim Crane takes over the GM job from Jeff Luhnow, he decides to make some changes to save money by trading all the top prospects for rookie league and lower A ball players. He said this should stop all the complaints about not promoting the top prospects.”

I stood up and walked out without asking my last question. “Will I still be disappointed in this team come 2015?”  The Magic 8 ball in my head said “It is decidedly so.”

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40 comments on “The Swami’s Crystal Ball: Astros’ 2015 Spring Training

  1. Mil-Hamo wanted the Cubs job. Well, the fan base here has the optimism of that North Side ball club.

    Methinks Mil-Hamo is a bit of a charlatan. I think Springleton are ensconced at their positions by this time next year. I also think Foltynewicz and Wojo have made their MLB debuts, and Correa is knocking on the door with Santana and DDJ behind him.

    Am I crazy? You may rely on it.

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    • Brian T –
      I would rather have your best thoughts over Swami’s Magic 8 ball. I wonder if last spring the Mil-Hamo would have said that we would have no one making their major league debut starting the 2014 season?

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  2. Leaving aside my criticisms, I concentrate on Baseball.
    -I am worried about yesterday’s win over the Mets. Gee would not have been pulled from the game in the regular season and we were hitless against him in six innings.
    In 2015 ST I see Tucker, Folty, Wojo, Singleton, Stassi and possibly Heras fighting legitimately for jobs on the club. I think Springer has one sewed up. I see Grossman, Castro, Altuve, Carter, and Dominguez as starters. I see Correa and Appel and Santana in camp, but maybe starting in AAA until after their money cutoff dates occur. I see Thurman, DDJ and Torreyes in AAA,
    -I see Cosart, Ober, Feldman as in the rotation still.
    -I think Krauss may be this year’s Brandon Barnes, in that he has one year to make it as a player for Houston.
    All of this depends on what happens this year, but I think if the club has less then 60 wins this year, Luhnow may not want to turn these youngsters over to Porter. I hope Bo can pull off a miracle.
    -This is what I think will happen, not necessarily what I would like to happen.

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    • Seems like a reasonable list old pro. I would certainly flip a 20 into your tip can and Brian T’s if I could.
      Would you settle for some game tokens from Chuckie Cheese instead (I’m using the Crane/Luhnow negotiating tactic)?

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  3. Does anyone else suspect they are playing exhibition games against the Rojos Del Aguila Del Veracruz to avoid losing to the OKC squad?

    I’ll try not to keep commenting on this, but I suspect the decision to delay promotions is being fed by paranoia that the players are planning to leave at the earliest opportunity as much as greed / thrift.

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    • Devin – I prefer to think they are just playing business hard ball. Luhnow does not strike me as the kind of guy who makes decisions based on fear. I think they are doing all they can to take advantage of the CBA and save bucks – period.

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    • I can’t believe I’m defending the ball club here(watch out, Chicken Little!), but I think the reason they are doing it is to stagger out the arbitration years. If they start with Springer and Folty on rookie minimums this June, then bring in Tucker next year and sign him to a lowball deal in the future (because he is not a top 20 prospect, but is in Luhnow’s wheelhouse), then have Appel and Correa on rookie minmums the following year and maybe another top prospect the following year, it gives them time to wade through the maze of young prospects, not all of them ballooning into arbitrations at the same time, getting some to sign club-friendly contracts and sign the two or three super caliber guys to big deals by 2018 or 2019.
      By that time, they will know a lot about what they have with Hader, Velasquez, Thurman, Feliz, McCullers and perhaps Rodon/ whomever from this year and if one of their guys like Appel won’t sign a decent deal they trade him for a ton and replace him with the best of the ones I just mentioned.
      The indications I get is that they are going to pay the two or three franchise guys they have big bucks to stay as long as the projections call for it and keep filling the other positions with good drafts and an occasional trade and middle salaried free agents.
      Of all their guys, I think they would like to get Correa here as the starting SS in 2016, sign him to a long term semi club friendly deal by 2017 and if he turns out to be great, offer him the palace in a deal by his year 27. I really think they want him to be their Jeter.

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      • What you are saying makes sense – but they could have spread things out even more by bringing Springer up sooner….

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      • Dan: They didn’t need to spread it out farther because right now they don’t have any big long term deals on their current team and none looming. Castro may sign a good contract but it is not going to be a huge one. You see, the trick is: you invest $7 million up front in the best eligible player in the draft every year for at least four years. Those guys are like finding gold because even a miss there will still turn into a serviceable major league player and a valuable commodity before he surfaces in the majors. Then you string the guy out in the minors until you have him on the field at his peak beginning, not before his time. That way he could be a great major leaguer at a low salary for at least four years and it gives you time to try to sign him for a club friendly deal in those first four years, thereby giving you a group of potential 1.1 allstar players at a lower than normal salary versus their abilities for the seven or eight best years of their career.
        Every year you have forty chances to draft a two players who are eventually going to become good major league players to keep your pipeline full of players for the time when you have to trade a guy who you can’t afford to keep(a Pujols). That trade feeds your pipeline or fills a hole in your lineup or both.

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      • Yes, I agree, but this approach misses on one point. Players get paid, as DanP pointed out, after their years of best contribution. This mEans a mediocre Starter gets $12 annually over a multi year contract when you bring them in as a free agent. Arbitration payouts Are generally cheaper. In other words, having to pay a star through arbitration is better than bringing in a free agent to replace them. The big question is when do they want to face these dilemmas.

        As such, without staggering you will face big payouts once arbitration is exhausted or need to replace multiple, key guys at once. You also lose the benefit of letting guys go through their growing pains before the team is expected to compete.

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    • But you’ll notice that it wasn’t the Cardinals that paid Pujols the crown jewels? They knew they had Tucker… I mean Craig coming in behind him. They let the Angels make the mistake and then ran off and used the high supplemental draft pick.
      The Cards used Beltran in his prime, but did not overpay him this year. They let the Yankees do that.
      And the Cards always seem to have good pitching but never seem to pay $25 million to their pitchers. They sign a decent free agent for a year or two (Lohse), use him up wisely and send him down the road when a guy like Wacha is ready. They develop their own.

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  4. oldpro – the problem is that there is no guarantee on getting people to start at their peak performance. Sometimes you get guys like Oswalt and Bagwell who while not at their absolute peak are very good from the beginning – sometimes you get a Biggio who needs a few years to get it in gear. You can try and time it right – but who can predict what is right?

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    • Dan, while there are no guarantees, you get to pick the very best player (the one all of your gurus decide on) and pay him $7-8 million to sign. The team gets the guy they think will be the best for them when he’s ready and they get to brew this guy four three or four years in the minors for peanuts per year. If he’s ready in two years they still have several cheap highly productive years even before arbitration 1 in the majors. If it takes 3 or 4 years for him to be ready, so be it. He makes peanuts in the minors and you still get four cheap years of a potential All-Star before he even hits arbitration.
      The key here is that you get the #1 player, it only costs you $7-8 mil to sign him and for 7-8 years you get to see and develop a guy with true all-star potential and all you really have is the initial investment, while the rich teams are paying $155 million immediately to a pitcher who has never even been to America.
      It’s fabulous for a team with limited resources, a potentially big tv and metro base, and whose fanbase totally buys into losing until the crock pot has tenderized the meat over a long period of time. I’m starving and the crock pot still has four hours left before the stuff is ready to eat.

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  5. Devin – this whole thing is a financial juggling act – trying to get everything timed out just right. It reminds me of when my wife wanted a second child quickly after our first and I was trying to figure out if we could afford it – it did not matter – it happened and it was a great thing. Life is messy – trying to time things with these guys is messy. You can say that I am aiming to bring pitcher Z up in 2017 and start his clock and he could be having TJ surgery in 2016.
    I still want the team to toss us something / anything to enjoy this season.

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  6. Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin. Hello Alex Whoever, have fun in OKC George Springer.

    If ever a move said “It’s all about service time,” then this is it.

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    • Indefensible. Luhnow would have been better off (with the fan base) by Declaring his intention to use Valdez as our fifth outfielder.

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    • For those who did not see it – the Astros picked up OF Alex Presley off waivers and let pitcher Raul Valdez go. Presley basically brings you nothing more than you already have in the OF accept he is older (28). Not much power – not much speed.

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      • Yes, OP-Wan, it was all in jest. I was merely making light of our long-standing, hard-to-break habit of praying annually at the altar of the patron saint of lost causes – especially in hopes of finding an angel in the outfield.

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      • I think there is a difference. When Wilson was here – we had recent success and some of our good pitching. Last year we knew Ankiel was not a difference maker with our team.

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    • Altuve hitting 3rd or clean up…no Springer but we have Alex Pressley…. Peacock in bullpen…to be honest, I think the only ‘8-ball’ around the Astros management isn’t magic but rather of the Columbian variety.

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  7. So *who’s* the odd man out in the outfield? Hoes? Presley is outta options, so they have to keep him on the 25 man roster. Did this make sense to you guys?

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      • And now it’ll be that much longer before Springer.
        Krauss is probably going to be getting more time at first. Oh and he’s now the team’s third catcher according to Porter.

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      • Yeah – Krauss showed up at ST with a catcher’s glove – not a bad way to make yourself a little more value.

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