Turning the microscope to Jeff Luhnow on this final Monday in April while giving the two-year GM the benefit of the doubt and wondering if Jonathan Singleton will have a ticket to Minute Maid Park as the Astros take a day off to catch their collective breaths.
Most general managers make a handful of off season moves in an effort to replace a player, upgrade at a position or fill in a hole or two. Since Luhnow became general manager of the Astros over two years ago, the Astros have had to ship in replacements, gap-fillers, upgrades and other cavalry by sea and by air.
Here’s the point: With as many needs as the Astros have had the past couple of years, Luhnow is bound to have some misses. Though he shouldn’t get a free pass, his work should be graded by the work-at-hand (read: number of holes to fill) rather than by a report card compared to other GMs. In fact, you could argue he hasn’t only had holes to fill, he started from scratch with the foundation, plumbing and electrical.
Rules for today: Since those acquired in the off season should technically get an incomplete at this point, we’ll endeavor to assign everyone to a particular category. The grades and assignments may change next week or next month, but there will be no incompletes today.
- Scott Feldman. With only four starts before he hit the DL last week, Feldman looks like a win. He seems to bring a maturity that this team needs. With the untimely death of his father and some tendinitis, hopefully he picks up with his out-of-the-gate form.
- Matt Albers. Has been dominant in 10 innings. No business closing games, but he is huge in seventh and eighth innings. May be a bit overpriced at $2.25 million ($3 million 2015 option), but if that’s what it takes.
- Collin McHugh. Hey, nobody — no, you didn’t! — saw this coming, but if you blame Luhnow for the flubs, you have to credit him with the luck. You may have to go back to McHugh’s little league days to get a hint of what we’ve seen the past two outings.
- Dexter Fowler. When the Astros traded Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes for Fowler, Houston fans cheered, Rockies’ fans jeered. Who’d have guessed Lyles would start the season 3-0 (in Colorado, nonetheless) and Fowler would get a debilitating virus? This one still leans Luhnow’s way (Fowler’s hitting .333 in his last 7 games), but may need more time to develop.
- Jesse Crain. This one leans Luhnow in my book because the possible upside is still intact. Yes, the Astros’ bullpen is still desperate, but Luhnow could not have predicted the bursitis. Everyone knew Crain would be mid-May coming back, yet most fans and onlookers begged for and applauded the signing. If he’s healthy this time next month, he’ll be a game-changer for the Astros’ pen.
- Raul Valdes. You could put the 36-year-old lefty in another category, but this is a low-risk, high-reward possibility. He pitched five times in the last week and didn’t give up a run — much less a base runner — in the last four. If he pans out more like 2012 than 2013 (or even halfway between), he’ll be in the Luhnow wins’ category.
- Chad Qualls. Qualls has no business pitching in the ninth as a closer. That said, take away the ninth-inning, three-run debacle against the A’s April 19 and Qualls has been stellar. A Qualls-Albers-Crain bullpen has much upside, but with Qualls setting up.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.
- Anthony Bass. Okay, this is about as close as we’ll come to incomplete, and basically because I just don’t know where to put him. His 1.18 WHIP follows a similar minor league career line and he could be serviceable. Picked up in a trade for Patrick Schuster.
LUHNOW HEAD SCRATCHERS.
- Jerome Williams. This was an eye-brow raiser from the outset. However, you could argue it a reasonable $2.1 million gamble given Williams pitched 169 innings in 2013. But he is likely nothing more than an expensive version of Lucas Harrell.
- Jesus Guzman. He hit third Sunday, but had no business there since his OBP is lower than five Astros’ batting averages…though that ain’t sayin’ much. Can’t tell me Singleton isn’t a better option today.
- L.J. Hoes. He was part of the Bud Norris deal (didn’t remember that, did ya?) and has been a decent place holder for grooming outfielders. If Robbie Grossman hadn’t bombed in the first two weeks, Springer would have replaced Hoes on the roster. When will Domingo Santana and/or Austin Wates be ready?
- Japhet Amador. This song and dance came with much bally-hooed fanfare. He’s back in the Mexican League now.
- Darin Downs. This was nothing more than trying to spread the risk with bodies, if that makes sense. One of the many low-risk attempts by adding another potential lefty. He’s not helping Oklahoma City and won’t help the Astros.
There may be others who should be on these lists, but the 2014 season thus far simply demonstrates that as deep as the organization is and as highly-ranked as the minor league system is, there is still work to be done.
With so many needs in the organization and at the major league level, Luhnow has to have some grace. It’s a five-year plan, but we’ll reach the halfway point in that program in a couple of months. The major league club should start realizing some of the harvest this season.
Next season, we shouldn’t be having these conversations.