MMQB: Zeroing in on the Astros’ nucleus

If there’s one thing the Astros should have learned this season it’s this: You can’t play all kids, all the time and hope to win consistently. Sure, there will be some streaks, highlights, breakthroughs and even breakouts, but a team needs some veterans just like a house needs weight-bearing walls.

Today, let’s examine the nucleus that the Astros are trying to build around. Salaries, prospects in the system, agents, team control and production are all determining factors in the Astros’ decisions. And they may come into play as soon as the July 31 trade deadline.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Dexter Fowler will earn more than $10 million in his final arbitration season next year before hitting free agency. Indeed, the Astros have a long line of prospects in the minors, but Fowler is developing into a solid contributor. Depending on the progression of players like Austin Wates or Domingo Santana, the decision could come as soon as this trade deadline if teams are looking for a veteran to help put them over the top.

Jose Altuve would probably thrive in another scenario. Actually, he’s thriving in Houston and he’s only mentioned here since any team worth their salt will inquire over the next 6-7 weeks. Two reasons not to answer the phone: One, there’s no one close to being ready to replace him. Two, do you really want to re-live the Joe Morgan debacle nearly a half century ago? Luhnow will need to make a decision when the phone calls come, but the answer should be obvious.

Jason Castro has drawn much interest and will continue to do so until the Astros make a decision about his future with the club. A year-to-year deal for a player in the top half of catchers in the league will keep other GMs interested. Castro turns 27 next month, but moving the former first round pick could be a gamble, depending on Max Stassi‘s progression not to mention the return in a possible trade.

Scott Feldman. There won’t be any decisions this year, but as the young guns begin to mature and make their way to Houston, something will have to give. If Feldman can stay healthy, the Astros will either want him as a mentor or find out what other teams are willing to give up. It’ll be worth a conversation, but that’s at least a year away. There’s a good chance, though, Feldman won’t finish his three-year deal in Houston, though, wouldn’t you say?

Hands off. Don’t even answer the phone.

We may be starting to see why Luhnow wanted to tie up Matt Dominguez for several years. When is the last time the Astros had a glove and a bat at third base? By the way, looks like Carlos Lee is still giving back to the Astros.

Dallas Keuchel has been a pleasant under-the-radar player to watch since he came up three years ago. The 26-year-old former seventh round pick in 2009 — one of only three Astros’ picks that year to reach the majors — may be developing into a long-term solution for the Astros.

Jarred Cosart was once the top pitching prospect in the Astros’ organization. Now, at 24, he may be one of the more seasoned youngsters. Hard to believe that he came over from Philly along with Jon Singleton and Santana. Thanks Ed.

George Springer. Next question.

Do you really have to ask?

The largest group consists of what many of you call the scrubs, the AAAAers or the place-holders. Sorry, these guys won’t be around in 2-3 years, some perhaps not 2-3 months. While it’s not an exhaustive list, the group includes Jesus Guzman, Chris Carter, Alex Presley, Jerome Williams, Marc Krauss and L.J. Hoes. Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Corporan are both arb-eligible next season, so they will have outlived their usefulness at some point.

You can add your own players to any of the lists above, but the fact remains that the goal of seasons like this is to continue to add to the nucleus of the future.

The list is short to be sure, but here’s what the blackboard in Luhnow’s office probably looks like for 2016-17. At least among current players on the 40-man roster. These are the “hands off” guys the Astros are hoping to build around.

  • Dominguez.
  • Altuve.
  • Cosart.
  • Stassi.
  • Springer.
  • Singleton.
  • Keuchel.

Which leaves us asking: Where do these guys go? Jonathan Villar, Brad Peacock, Robbie Grossman, Collin McHugh and Brett Oberholtzer.

And, a few left-over notes from the weekend:

  • The Astros are now 7-9 in May. Last year, they won only 10 games in May.
  • Houston is 15-11 when they hit a home run, 1-17 when the team does not.
  • All 14 position players the Astros have used in 2014 have homered at least once.
  • Wondering who the Astros will choose with the #1 pick next month? Check out the latest predictions.
  • The Astros are second in the league in hitting (.272) and OPS (.788) in May. Gulp! First in OBP (.344).
  • Yes, the Astros have nine or more hits in each of their last eight games.
  • And, one final note. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Dan Peschong, who celebrated their 34th anniversary.



34 comments on “MMQB: Zeroing in on the Astros’ nucleus

  1. I guess I was incorrect about the tandem being gone. Lancaster’s best starting pitcher, Josh Hader, came into today’s game as a reliever in the sixth inning with the team down four runs. Is this any way to treat a pitcher or a team? With Kemp leading the league in batting, Lancaster lost 9-8 with Tony sitting on the bench.
    The Astros have won four of the last six. I wish I knew why they play so badly after a day off but it seems they get thrashed almost every time. I am going to try looking that one up.
    If Fowler plays the rest of the year like they had hoped he would, why would they move him? I mean, they knew what he was gonna make next year, so why trade a guy you hoped would perform, if he performs the way you hoped?
    Altuve is the 2B. He’s not expensive. Keep him for however long he is the best second baseman we have.
    I refuse to put a hex on the starting pitchers by talking about their futures. Let’s just enjoy them pitching like they are.
    Hope everyone is noticing that the Astros are not playing like the worst team in baseball any more. I criticized Porter for the losses and I compliment him on the way the team has been playing lately.
    I’m so frustrated with the organization’s usage of their minor league pitchers, that I am almost pulling for them to draft Alex Jackson at a discount so that we can actually see him played like an actual professional ballplayer and not some kind of guinea pig pitcher.
    Adding congrats to Mr & Mrs DanP
    The only player from the “do you really have to ask ” category that I see playing for us in 2016 is Carter because of some love attraction between him and the club and their little band of adoring Trogdor groupies.
    Great win today by the Astros. It was so great to see Peacock pitch well and get some run support.


    • Oldpro: Noticed your post a few days ago describing the Corpus Christi offense and its high OBP/low K tendency. That is Luhnow’s team. The top prospects for position players with the exception of Stassi are Wade’s guys. I wonder how that is going to play out and would appreciate your thoughts. Singleton didn’t play today so I’m fantasizing he is on a plane to LA.

      Adding insult to injury regarding Hader is that he was the starter in the no-hitter last time out.

      On the fringe guys, it will be interesting to see what Luhnow can get in trades for them. I hope Carter heats up not so much for our sake on the field but for what we might get for him. He seems to be the quintessential anti-Luhnow type yet Luhnow gave up arguably our best player to get him.

      I’ve actually been sold on Keuchel for some time. His situation reminds me of when Jeff Keppinger just would not be denied his spot on the roster and lineup. I like it when a guy takes his destiny in his own hands and earns respect with performance. I was also impressed with Cosart in his last start when he had lousy command but kept the team in the game. Right now McHugh is my rotation question mark along with Peacock who kept the ball in the yard today but still walks too many.


      • good doctor, I, too, was watching the headlines, alerts, Twitter and press releases the minute I saw the OKC lineup. He does seem to get a day off every week or so and it looks like that’s the case again. Can’t imagine the callup would go past the end of May, but his numbers have taken a drop across the board in recent days.


      • My thoughts on Luhnow’s guys, Wade’s guys and position prospects? Well, my thoughts are that we will end up with a combination of them. Most teams that are worth their salt miss on so many prospects because they are almost always choosing in the 20th position or lower in the draft in every round, The Astros appear to have so many good prospects because of their draft position and because they gave up everything good in the majors to get good in the minors.
        But ,the Astros have sacrificed two center fielders in the past six months with great gloves and great arms(Aplin and Springer), and they have the biggest CF in the majors, That kind of stuff can get you killed. There is no way DeShields is better in center than Aplin, and his arm is a left field arm. But DDJ is rated a higher prospect so they give him preference over Aplin. What worries me is stuff like DDJ getting thrown out at home the other day trying to steal home with two outs. You would never see Aplin do that because he is smart and he has a fast brain to match his fast legs.
        The Astros are going to have the choices of Aplin, Santana, Deshields, Wates , Teoscar Hernandez, Tucker, Tony Kemp, Dexter Fowler and George Springer in the next two years for their outfield. With the tools those guys have, they are going to end up with a terrific outfield. Three of these guys are going to be major league quality players.
        The Astros are going to end up with choices of Dominguez, Villar, Torreyes, Kemp, Correa, Ruiz, Duffy, Singleton, Perdomo, and Fontana in the infield. They are weak at 1B only there because they don’t have a high OBP 1B prospect, but Singleton is a very good fielding 1B, which makes him more valuable. Four of these guys are going to be major league quality guys with several having all star potential.
        They have Castro, Stassi and Heineman and maybe Holberton and Morales to choose from at catcher. There is no Posey there yet, with Stassi maybe being the most complete guy.
        With Carter, all these guys give Houston a chance to field a lineup in 2016 that will be dominated by speed and defense and OBP with, potentially, 20 HR power from the majority of the lineup.
        To me, spending the next year should be the time to get them settled in to their PROPER positions so that when they get to Houston, they don’t have to start over again learning how to play somwhere else.


  2. If Carter can cut down on the Ks and hit .260 he might have a future as a DH. Villar could be that ultra-valuable utility infielder. He can pinch run. He’s got a bit of pop. If he can hit .250 he’s worth keeping.

    Other than Keuchel, I don’t know who is still on this team in 2017 in the rotation. Tropeano and Foltynewicz look like guys we can count on in the future. Hopefully we can add Appel to that mix.


  3. Brian, if Carter cut down on the K’s and hit .260, most teams would want him as their DH. If Villar hits a solid .250, and continues to play good defense, he’ll always have a job as a starter somewhere. He won’t be a utility man for this club.

    oldpro, moving Fowler would be the easiest way to get Springer to center where he belongs. But then we’d need two new outfielders. And as you note, Fowler is doing what was expected of him. As of a couple of days ago his OBP was .372. We don’t have any other guys like that. And I think Santana could use a bit more work. I’m looking forward to getting Wates healthy and having him play left. Had he not been injured twice, I think he’d be here by now. With him and Singleton in the mix, and Castro hitting the way he should, we might have a pretty good line up at some point this year.


  4. Let’s see – my wife would be on the hands off – do not even call list. A solid veteran who performs year after year!

    I think for this season they would not entertain trading Altuve. Springer, Keuchel, Cosart, Feldman and Dominguez would be on that list from my standpoint this season.
    Not sure where Castro falls – his BA his bad but the guy is on pace for 22 HR and 77 RBIs and those are good numbers for a catcher.
    Fowler has been strong – especially since moving to the middle of the lineup – is he just streaky or is he just back to norm after his injury time?
    Things are on the rise – hope they play well on this 10 game road trip.


    • Dan, if you look at Fowler’s career splits by month, it’s not terribly streaky. Not much evidence of streakiness there, though that particular split isn’t exactly complete proof. But it’s remarkably consistent: March/April .262; May .255; June .266; July .282; August .288; Sept/Oct. .267. I definitely believe the illness derailed a banner season for him. Hopefully he can stay on track. However, one of the questions on Fowler is similar to Jed Lowrie. Can he play a full season? He played only 119 games last season and has played more than 135 games only once (143 in 2012).

      But perhaps here’s a defining question for the long haul: Is Fowler better (or more valuable to the Astros) than Michael Bourn? Reason I ask is that many of us — me included — couldn’t see the Astros paying more than $8-$10 million for Bourn. The Indians, on the other hand, are now paying him $41 over three years with a $12 million vesting option for a fourth year.


    • If you don’t call your wife, Dan, you’re not going to make it to year 35. At the very least, send her a text once in awhile.


  5. Re Villar, Peacock, McHugh, Grossman, and Olberholtzer I would likely be content with a roster where they are players 21-25…until they are allowed to walk via free agency. Of the group I still think Villar could be a long term starter…but it depends on whether Correa can stay at SS. If he can’t then we may have a real dilemma as Ruiz has come on strong since the second half of last season and Dominguez is making a run at team MVP.

    If Fowler is our CF and Springer is in RF they need to decide whether Santana should be a DH or LF in 2015. I imagine Luhnow will be fielding offers for Fowler up to the break as long as that OBP stays high. He plays hard and has a good approach. Maybe that will rub off on a few guys. Lowrie had those same two qualities though… Oh, and I like Fowler better than Michael Bourn.


    • Devin, I think you are setting too low a bar. I’m not prepared to accept guys like Grossman, Olberholtzer, Peacock or McHugh on my 25 man roster at this point. None has done enough to keep a job on an improving club. Heck, McHugh has had four or five starts. Way too small a sample.

      As for the outfield, if it is determined at some point soon that Santana is ready, and Fowler is still here, then I think Fowler goes to left, Springer takes his place in Center and Santana goes to right where he has been spending most of his time in the minors.

      As far as the dilemma of a crowded infield goes, that’s a good dilemma. We’ll start seeing trades of some of our quality talent at some point and we’ll have much more to discuss here.


  6. Noticed a few stats this morning.
    Dominguez is crushing LHP. RHP, not so much
    Remember last year when Carter hit good on the road and bad at home? This season, so far, bad at home and even worse on the road. What is the same? His home run production is decent both places.
    Remember us wondering about Fowler’s good home stats in Colorado? This season so far: good at home, not so good on the road. Fowler just likes being at home apparently.
    Even though Springer has struggled, he has the fifth highest BA of any Astro this season and the fourth highest OBP. Imagine what it will be like when he gets adjusted. He’s hitting righties better than lefties, so he will get a boost there when he adjusts. He’s hitting .292 w/RISP, so he bears down in the clutch and is like a rookie when it’s not. That comes with more experience. He hit .182 in April in 55 ABs and .283 in May in 60 ABs, with all his homers in May and more K’s in May and more BBs in May. So, in May he is exactly the guy he projected to be.


  7. Call me crazy, but I still think Krauss would make a good 4th OFer/backup 1B. For a guy to have a batting average below .200, but OBP above .300 shows me, despite having trouble hitting for average, he has great plate discipline. Imagine if he ever gets that BA up to around .240 with an OBP near Fowler’s. That is a serviceable bench player, in my opinion.


    • The guy is hitting .190 with a .639 OPS. He’s slow. He’s slower in the outfield. We’ve got more athletic talent in the minors that we could replace him with. But I won’t call you crazy Tim. Not yet anyways.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Daaaaang!! You guys have been busy while I was gone! Kyle Farnsworth? What am I missing here? Why are you guys ready to give up on Oberholtzer? I still think he will have a break out year this year………besides I like him!


  9. Thanks fellas! I gotta tell you, it was nice not to have to talk on the phone, or see any bad news on TV!! They did have a sports bar, so I caught the scores in there.
    If you have trouble walking, I wouldn’t recommend a cruise! The only draw back to the next few games, is they are on the West coast, and that means I will be up late!
    I guess there’s no news about the Comcast debacle…….*sigh*.


  10. Who do we have in the minors that can play 1B other than Singleton? At least, anyone who is ready to play in the majors? I think Krauss can fill that spot as a backup to Singleton, although both are LH and, ideally, you might want a RH bat as a backup to JS.


    • The other night Krauss had a good at bat going, laying off tough pitches, and looking like a hitter. Then, he got fooled so badly on a curve in the dirt that he took what was technically a full swing, but it looked like one in slow motion. It wasn’t a fight off the pitch swing, but rather a give up and go back to the dugout wave.


    • Tim, if Singleton comes up, you don’t keep a back up that is also a lefty. Guzman is a serviceable back up in that he hiits lefty pitching pretty well and in a pinch, can play left or even third. Not well, but in a pinch. And if you’ve got a forth outfielder, you want him to be a quality late inning defensive replacement and you want him to be abe to pinch run. That’s simply not Krauss.

      As far as talent in the minors goes, I think we’ll see Wates up here to play left soon after he gets healthy. He’s a better option for the outfield than Krauss. So is Grossman. So is Sanntana, but it’s a bit early for him. All three are more athletic than Krauss. But if you are willing to settle for a big slow guy who is hitting .200 with a low .OPS, then yes, Krauss is the right guy to keep as a back up. And if this team keeps guys like that, then we’ll continue to be a crappy club. Low performance breeds low expectations. We can do better.


  11. As the Astros turn the first two hits from the Halos into an inning-ending double play, I’d like to mention that Jose Altuve turns the double play beautifully. Little Man knows how to make the pivot.

    And now, George Springer …


  12. I should add Krauss has a near .900 OPS in May. Rough night tonight so far, but I am seeing signs of improvement and I would take him over Guzman.


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