MMQB: Time for Astros to circle the wagons

The All Star break can’t come quickly enough for the Astros. And it has nothing to do with how many players Bo Porter‘s team will send to Minnesota. You’d need a score card to believe it, but Houston is actually 27-35 since May, despite a current seven-game losing streak.

The news and happenings over the last two weeks have been constant, deafening and stunning, if not devastating. No need to review all the headlines here, but the Astros are once again the worst team in baseball. Just like that. Can you say #1 draft pick?

That alarm you’re hearing at MMP is the call to DEFCON1. It’s time for Jim Crane to call all the principles into the big offices in downtown Houston, lock the doors, and tell ’em they won’t be getting out until this thing is fixed.

Can it be that difficult?

It’s the bullpen idiot!

  • Even the most fair-weather football fan can point this one out. The main issue of 2012 and the eyesore of 2013 has continued to be the black hole of 2014. Jesse Crain hasn’t pitched this year (beginning to wonder if he’ll pitch at all) and Matt Albers has missed 68 games. All told, Astros’ relievers have missed 272 games this season. Overall, Bo Porter has used 16 pitchers in relief this season. Is it any wonder the (ahem) relief corps leads the majors with 15 blown saves, a 5.22 ERA and 1.46 WHIP? Stop the waiting game, pull the trigger.

Not ready for prime time.

  • On June 29, Jeff Luhnow declared that Domingo Santana wasn’t ready for the majors, hinting that he may even be a September callup. Two days later, the 21-year-old is in an Astros’ uniform. Hmmm. Luhnow should have stuck with his gut. Whether he was blowing smoke about an upcoming move, just caved to fans’ demands or rolling the dice, it’s troubling. If Santana’s not ready — as 11 Ks in 13 ABs seemed to demonstrate — then, stick to the game plan and let him have a huge year in OKC. If you’re blowing smoke and trying to fake us out, why? Either way, troubling.

Time for a bold move. Or two.

  • Maybe the month of May was an anomaly and this team was never destined to reach Crane’s .500 range, but the ball is squarely in Luhnow’s court. The revolving door bullpen and key players missing games with injuries have exposed the lack of depth. Enough with the prospects, this team needs to add some talent at the major league level. Pull the plug on the riff raff and pull the trigger on the trade season.
  • Start by dumping Jesus Guzman and Chris Carter. Heck, Mike Hampton‘s 41 and can probably hit better. Check in on Starlin Castro. He’s got an team-friendly contract and the Cubs have 3-4 top shortstop prospects in the system. Ben Zobrist would be an upgrade at 2-3 spots.
  • It’s obvious from the leaks that Luhnow has been talking to other teams. Step up and make a bold move. Or two.

The buck doesn’t stop with Porter.

  •  You can argue Porter has made some odd moves, but the second-year manager can’t write ’em in when they’re hurt and he can’t write ’em in when they’re in OKC (Brett Oberholtzer, Jake Buchanan, Michael Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano). Porter has used 77 lineups in 90 games and his hand has been forced to write in names in lineup positions that creates awkward scenarios and stupid crazy results. Consider that five players have hit leadoff, eight players second, seven in the three-hole and eighth in the cleanup spot and you start to get an idea.
  • Porter may not be a Hall of Fame manager, but Tony Larussa, Mike Scioscia, Jim Leyland or most anyone would struggle with this 25-man roster in its current makeup.

Here are some key questions for you to start the week:

  • Which of the Astros’ top 20 prospects are you willing to trade to upgrade the major league roster?
  • Would you trade Jose Altuve if you could obtain a closer for the future and middle of the order bat plus prospects?
  • One of the rumored discussions in the recent leaks had the Marlins asking (probably fishing) for Carlos Correa and George Springer for Giancarlo Stanton. If the Marlins added a couple prospects, is that a deal you’d consider?
  • In your mind, who’s on more tenuous ground: Luhnow or Porter?
  • The Astros are on pace to win 64 games. What’s the magic number of wins for Luhnow and Porter to claim success in 2014, keep their jobs and be poised for a breakout 2015?
  • Rank the top 5 riff raff on the Astros’ current 25-man roster. Name two players you’d bring up immediately from OKC.



42 comments on “MMQB: Time for Astros to circle the wagons

  1. Before I dwell on all the great points of this post, I wanted to say that the “best minor league team in baseball”, the Lancaster Jethawks got beat at home tonight 17-4. Their catcher and right fielder pitched the ninth inning.


  2. I have been an outspoken critic of Bo Porter but Luhnow hired him and I agree with a number of points from Oldpro regarding Luhnow’s handling of promotions. I do not think the team will ever flourish under Porter so why prolong the misery. The Astros are still very much in the player development mode and I continue to contend that they need someone managing the team who can teach. Luhnow has shown a talent for scouting but little else. The fact that we are on pace to have the first pick of the draft AGAIN proves that the pace of improvement is way too slow. I’m not sure who from OKC could help on the field but Tony D would look pretty good in the dugout.

    As for the on field product, could we please get someone in the middle of the lineup who can put the bat on the ball? As much as I enjoy Springer I’m tiring quickly of Golden Sombreros. He and Singleton are Carter with some other talents on the side.


  3. This team reminds me of my Junior Senior Prom date. I knew she was ugly, but when I got to her front door, she was uglier than I thought. But I had to take her anyway. Read the column twice. Don’t believe there is any other answer than playing out the string. We are in year 3 of the 5-7 year plan. On a separate note (for DanP) – don’t tell me that salary does not matter. Phillies ($175 M) – +1 win, Red Sox ($154M) – +3 wins, Rangers ($128M) – +2 wins. You CAN throw money away.


      • DanP, use it anytime. You keep pointing out that money does NOT necessarily buy a ring. Doubt Crane or any of us would be willing to fork over $80-100 M to be 1-2-3 games ahead of where we are today. But all would be willing to pay $ 30 M to trade places with A’s.


  4. The Astros have 36 wins. At this point in 2013 – 32 wins, 2012 – 34 (and Brad Mills was fired a six weeks later), 2011 – 30 wins, and 37 wins in 2010. Almost everyone indorsed “The Plan.” You have to give it at least two more years.


  5. – From the top 20 prospects – I’d be willing to listen on Deshields, Stassi, Fontana and Wojo. Might not do anything but I’d be up for listening.
    – I’m not trading Altuve.
    – I would be willing to consider Springer in a trade for Stanton but Correa is going nowhere if I am on charge. How about Springer Stassi and Wojo?
    – Porter is on thinner ice – but Luhnow does not want that to happen too soon because if Porter is replaced and they still stink – well who are they looking at next?
    – I think they need to get to 70 wins to take the heat off.
    – Riff raff – Guzman Carter Hoes Downs Zeid maybe McHugh
    – Bring up Tropeano and I don’t know who else.


    • I wouldn’t trade Stanton straight up for Springer. They are both good walk very high strike out guys with power. Springer is much more multi dimensional with his base stealing and range, and can play CF as well as RF. Stanton hasn’t posted a double digit assist season in the last few. Yes, Stanton is having a phenomonally monster year this year, but one year of team control left before his salary blows up in your face, and he will be a beast in arby this year. And to top it all off, he was awful in the first half last year when he was pouty because the fish basically dumped out the aquarium on him. Give me Springer any day. And sign him to a equitable deal now.

      We do agree on one thing – Correa shouldn’t go anywhere. Correa and Springer will be this generations Bagwell/Biggio and Berkman/Oswalt.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stanton also struck out 31.1% of the time as a rookie. Springer is at 33% with some time to improve it. Stanton has posted averages from .308 to .249. Outside of the fact that Stanton was bit younger as a rookie, they are fairly comparable in their season 1s.

        Stanton is also about to get 20 mil a year, if not a little more.


  6. Man its 4 years into UGLY. I am just speechless at what I see on the field. Imagine we are heading to the 4th straight year of the number 1 pick Wow, I’m thinking this organization is really in bad shape , I know Dugh. We may have improved the minors , hard not to with so many high picks and extra picks from trades, but after that if I’m Crane and his investors, Lunhow ass is on the carpet. I find it hard to blame it all on Porter, hard to make diamonds out of coal. No brainer to me ,new hitting coach/approach.

    Altuve is it man. We are just bad. Everyone we have been screaming for them to call up , Kiki to early, have failed, they all look so unprepared and lost at the major league level, Whos fault is that ?

    Add in a aloof owner, no TV deal, tough times to be an Astro fan.
    Maybe its time for Crane to look at baseball leadership vs what ever one call sthe new “Money Ball”
    So So SAD


  7. Does anyone see any possible causal connection between the ‘Astro-leaks’ scandal and the disaster that appears to me to have occurred – or at least gotten much worse – in its wake? Since I cannot see the games, I have some questions for those who can. First of all, have the players who were mentioned in the trade talks [of course, not including the injured Carlos Correa] played at a lower level since Astro-leaks leaked? Second, have the plate umpires of MLB retaliated against the Astros with strike-zone punishments? Is not that the unspoken rule of MLB ‘clubhouse control’?


  8. Bullpen-There is nothing I have seen in the last three seasons in our major league team or our minor leagues that leads me to believe that Luhnow knows how to build a bullpen. Nothing.
    Ready for prime time-I could not believe that Santana was in AAA to start the year. The move of turning DDJ into an outfielder was a move that totally screwed up the proper movement and alignment of the outfield prospects. Grossman, Wates and Heras should have been the AAA outfield and Santana, Aplin, Tucker should have been the AA outfield. DDJ should have been moved, along with a starting pitcher prospect for a LF, 1B or DH for the major league club. Villar should have been at AAA and Petit in the majors.. He is 4 years younger than the AAA player and he showed the team last fall he was not ready. Villar is not a phenom! Phenoms are 19 year-old shortstops tearing up high A.
    Pitching-Why is Matt Heidenreich starting for Lancaster? Why is Luis Cruz relieving at Corpus Christi? I am totally convinced that Jeff Luhnow is completely out of his element when dealing with pitching at any level. He has no idea how to develop pitching talent and has proven it by acquiring tons of talent and then misusing it at every level of play. In the fourth year of a rebuild the Astros should have their top five starting AAA pitchers starting in AAA, top five AA pitching prospects starting in AA and top 5 starting pitching High A prospects starting in High A. The other prospects should be relieving and the bad pitchers need to be gone. You are not going to develop major league starting pitchers by using them for four innings every fourth day in the minors and the Astros are proving that to perfection.
    Crane- It is Crane’s job to bring the Astros on tv to their fans. He is a total failure in this regard. This is the second year of this and he has been as abysmal at his job as Luhnow has been at his. I repeat. I have been watching baseball since Don Larsen’s no-hitter when I was seven. I know the difference between success and failure and I know when somebody has it and when they don’t. My degree is in Bus Adm and I specialized in bring businesses back and building them from scratch. The measurement of success in anything is SUCCESS. The only success in the entire organization is Altuve and Luhnow was successful in getting him to sign a deal that was bad for Altuve and good for the club. That is Luhnow’s only successful move so far.


    • Thus my comment that Lunhow needs to be on the hot seat we are a mess of an organization top to bottom. Time for Ryan and Biggio to step and turn this ship around. On a Positive Kemp is now hitting .400 and OPS .1094 (-;

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you on Crane.

      I would cut Villar some slack, simply because you are correct. He was in Houston because the Astros saw no other choice. He should have been at AAA working on things. In his defense, they can’t all be phenoms. Some guys are going to get here and just fit their roles. He will always be a high strikeout, low walk guy, he needs to learn to hit within that context. I don’t know that a guy with low contact rates that has to live off of BABIP exclusively can survive in the majors as a starter if he has nothing else to offer.

      Villar kind of reminds me of Paredes – if you give him 600 plate appearances he will probably hurt you more than help you, as BABIP depended players often do with their tendencies to slump. If you limit the at bats though, and use that athleticism to your advantage, he might make you look like a genius.

      The part that scares me about Altuve is his lack of walks. He is also a BABIP dependent guy, but thats ok with his contact rates because a slump for him is a .270 season. When he does endure those slumps, like he did for a time last season, without the walks its gonna hurt though. His walks are an improvement over past seasons though, so kudos. He started well in that category last year too before completely giving up taking pitches of any kind by mid June. This year its already July and he is still taking a few. Baby steps to stardom.

      Luhnow’s grade has to remain an unknown. When he came here with the new owner it was announced to the world they would be very bad before getting good again. He has taken what was considered the worst farm system in baseball as late as 2011 and he (and Wade also) turned it into a top 5 system. That is a pretty successful move. Myself and many others commented years ago that we saw a long road when others where piping that we could be contending as soon as 2015. I still think SI is pretty speculative about 2017, but I can see 2019 as a good target. I think we will be good in 2017, but WS? No.


  9. -This is a bad team. With apologies to the mothers of the majority, the problem is that we don’t have enough guys playing like real major leaguers.
    -We can focus on the bullpen – winning half of the blown saves would give them a record of 43 – 47. How many of us would take that in a heartbeat (for 2014)?
    – strikeouts register as the biggest problem, but it isn’t fair to give a free pass to the bad at bats. Early in the series, LAA brought in a reliever with great stats of late. He got Altuve to fly out weakly to CF and struck out Springer to start the inning. Then, Castro decided to swing at the first pitch and grounded out on a low and inside slider to end the inning. The next night, with a one run lead, Dominguez was facing a new pitcher with men on 1st and 2nd and two outs. The pitcher starts him with a curve on the outer half, and Dingo (fooled) weakly pops the ball up for the final out of the inning. Those were two terrible at bats where neither hitter approach to the plate. It’s a long season. It’s even longer when they don’t compete.


  10. Other than Chris Carter, who was acquired to give us some power that we desparately needed, Luhnow has emphasized drafting contact hitters and ground ball pitchers. This team still has Ed Wade’s handprint all over it and we know Ed loved high power guys, but also high K guys (remember Pedro Feliz, Bill Hall, etal). Granted, Luhnow did sign Carlos Pena and Rick Ankiel, but he was given a very limited budget and had to scrape from the bottom of the barrel. Thus, I think Porter is on a shorter string that Luhnow. I think Crane believes in the Luhnow plan.


    • Tim, I believe in the Luhnow plan. I just wonder if they’ve deviated a bit and gone off course some. I mean, saying Santana needs more time, then bringing him up 2 days later. Back and forth with Oberholtzer, pressure to win or improve now. “Prospects” like Castro, Singleton, Dominguez, Villar, Folty, etc aren’t producing. Luhnow will either grow gray quickly or just bald. Certainly, the Plan calls for a significant improvement this season, you would think. And it still may come, just going through the hill country and taking some detours.


      • Chip, I suspect they wanted to do something to win back the fans after the leak debacle and snag in their top draft pick getting signed. Another serving of Grossman was probably considered too close to a nail in the coffin for public perception at this point.


  11. Also, I would consider trading Altuve if it netted us Stanton. Stanton is a once in a generation power hitter. He has less Ks than Springer with 100+ more ABs. He is also hitting over .300 with an OBP over .400 and a .972 OPS. We actually have some depth at 2B with Kike Hernandez, Torreyes and Tony Kemp. I love Altuve, but if we could get Stanton I could live with trading Altuve.


    • Stanton is also in season 4. He is no doubt talented, but still K’s at 23-25% rate yearly, and is having a great season. Lots of guys have great seasons. Last year he wasn’t generational. His batting averages are like looking at a Dow Jones historical record. In 2010, as a rookie, Stanton had a 31.1% strikeout rate!

      I love Stanton. If we could get him it would be great – but I wouldn’t give up Altuve, Springer, Correa, Singleton, or even Castro to get him.


  12. i think maybe we could get a bat, whether it be lf or dh, for delino ‘diva’ deshields. if so i think i would pull the trigger on that one. hate to trade away great potential talent, but he seems to be a head case.


  13. Jon Heyman is reporting that Aiken has “elbow ligament injury”. Read it on TCB ain it refers to Heyman’s report. Thought I’d pass it on.


  14. Yes, saw the news. I know if Aiken decides on UCLA the Astros get #2. Not sure what happens if the Astros just decide the health risk is too high and pull the offer unilaterally. At this point, #2 might not be a bad option in 2015, along with the other top 10 pick. Ha! Can you imagine drafting 1-2 next June?


      • That is true and the Astros supposedly have offered $5mil so they have fulfilled their obligation to qualify for that pick. If Aiken accepts their offer, they would actually have an extra couple of million to make a run at Mac Marshall, their #21 pick who was a first round prospect. If Aiken doesn’t sign they lose all their slot money and they lose Aiken and Marshall and get the #2 pick next year.
        I think the question for Aiken is: Does he want to be in the Astros organization now and have 5 mil and have the Astros pick up his medical bills or turn them down, have surgery and gamble on making more than 5 mil next year or in three years?


  15. Just me but I think some of you are giving Lunhow to much credit and slack. A plan is all cool, but man we should not BE this bad right now PERIOD!!!!
    His ass needs to be on fire enough excuses.


  16. kevin, any GM has his strengths and weaknesses. Luhnow has both, but the key to his success will be surrounding himself with key people who can slot in where his weaknesses are. One other thing that came out of the Astros’ version of the WikiLeaks: It appears that Luhnow perhaps overvalues players and that can be a little scary, especially when you overvalue players like Lucas Harrell. Or Chris Carter. Or Jonathan Villar. Or others. It means you may not either pulled the plug or sell high when you have the opportunity; thus, being left with AAAA players or (ahem) scrubs all to often.


  17. We’ve spent so much time discussing this dysfunctional organization and the truth of it is, we’re not that much better than we were a couple of years ago. Are we really in the top five minor league systems? I’m not buying it any longer. There’s really not much help ready to go at AAA. Geez, Santana looked so totally unprepared. What are they teaching these kids? I’m so tired of guys like Grossman, Wallace, Krauss, even Hoes hitting .300 something in OKC and then totally stinking up the joint in Houston. And we don’t have a whole bunch of bats in CC ready to get moved up either.

    We’ve talked about the pen issue endlessly. Luhnow went after some high risk, discounted guys. He got it wrong. And as discussed above, there has been no development of relievers from within the system. We have not brought up one guy that has been effective. Have I forgotten anyone? And this is a top five system?

    We’ve still got weaknesses in the outfield (big questions if Fowler gets moved), shortstop and first base. We’ve got the catchers position and third base producing limited offense. And we’ve got no solutions for any of these holes on the immediate horizon in the minor leagues. And this is a top five system? Sure, we’ve got a batch of guys hitting the ball in Lancaster, but those guys are still pretty far away and the majority will flame out. Most A ballplayers do not make it to the big club.

    And what about our last two first picks? Not so warm and fuzzy right now. And the only news (or rumor) we ever get is from a national columnist far removed from Houston. Our management tells its fans as little as possible. Or we hear it from an outside source. Our national press is about a security breach rather than our second baseman or our rookie with a bunch of homers.

    I wonder if Crane told Luhnow to bring Santana in. I wonder what Corporan and Porter were yelling at each other about in the dugout the other night. I wonder how new guys like Springer and Singleton are enjoying the atmosphere of their first major league club. Seems like a great learning atmosphere.

    I won’t even go into the TV debacle. It sums things up well. This is a screwed up baseball organization.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. It’s time for the koolaid drinkers to call out the front office buffoonery. Read the following article, and YOU TELL ME what’s wrong with this picture?

    Free clue: there is a “ligament issue”? Really? Is it a health issue, or a money issue, or a Brady Aiken doesn’t want to sign with the Astros issue?

    Free clue #2: “When asked if Aiken were healthy, general manager Jeff Luhnow declined comment…” He declines comment to the Houston media, yet “whispers” to unnamed sources that there MAY be a health issue???? What?

    Free clue #3: Casey Close is Aiken’s agent. I went to high school with Casey Close. He is a reputable agent.

    How much do you want to bet that the Lastros offer Aiken 40 percent of his slot value, $3,168,840, he doesn’t sign, and the Lastros receive the second overall pick in 2015? Any takers?

    The front office of this organization are viewed as lowballing buffoons. Trust me. Just watch what unfolds in the next couple weeks….


    • Well dude, no takers here. You’ve just shown yourself to be uninformed and revealed how you leap to conclusions.

      “Free clue #1”: Huh?

      “Free clue #2”: Huh, duh and what? What makes you say he hasn’t “declined comment” with everyone? Why do you jump to the conclusion that Luhnow doesn’t talk to this person, but spills his guts to that person? Silly and ridiculous!

      “Free clue #3”: Casey is a good agent, but your relationship is supposed to give him credibility? Why don’t you give Casey a call and ask him what the deal is. Oh right, that was high school. Sorry dude, half a strike against Casey.

      Finally, you don’t know what you’re talking about. The Astros have already offered $5 million, noted in the same article as well as others. There are many more ramifications if the Astros don’t sign him. For example, losing all the $7.9 slot money, which puts the team in even more of a heap of trouble (forget the #2 pick next year) by paying penalties.

      “Trust me.” Really? REALLY? Sorry dude, you’re guilty of the very thing you accuse everyone else of. Drinking the koolaid. You take a deep gulp anytime there’s something that fits your agenda.

      Dude, appreciate you dropping by. You just served a nice pick-me-up this morning.


    • In all fairness, the Astros are the ones shelling out the money and Aiken’s trainer would absolutely not say anything bad about Aiken’s physical condition. He also states he is not a pitching coach. A guy can be in tremendous condition and still have an elbow ligament issue that does not affect his conditioning program, but does affect his future as a starting major league pitcher.
      It is 100% certain that other doctors have looked deep into Aiken’s left elbow since the Astros physical and their prognosis will determine how this thing goes.


      • My take is that the trainer may not know the info relevant to a ligament! He probably doesn’t have access to any data, MRIs, doctor evaluations, etc. He’s more geared to the “what kind of shape” is the guy in physically. So shouldn’t put a lot of stock in any info he might have about ligaments.


  19. As I watched the Astros last night for the first time in over a month, I found myself watching two Astros teams wearing two different uniforms. I could not help but feel sorry for the sorry-assed Rangers. There was a team as bad as my team and it felt strange.
    And there was 31,000 paid attendance but the stadium was nowhere near half full and I though about all of those 40,000 screaming Rangers fans we’ve been seeing the last few years and it occurred to me that the bandwagon was emptying.


    • I certainly don’t feel any pity for their fans. I’m surrounded by them and I I’ve been ridiculed by them for years. I’m feeling pretty darn good that the shoe’s on the other foot now.

      It is a shame that we have to wait till the Astros play the Rangers to see our team on TV though.

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Wonder if the Ron Washington Watch is on? And, how much did the Rangers pay for the opportunity to challenge the Astros for the #1 pick? $133,525,939. Yep, for all those wanting Crane to open up his pocketbook, it doesn’t always work out, does it?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. So right now, Springer has 133 total bases in 273 AB for an SLG of .458.
    Altuve has 160 total bases in 367 AB for a SLG of .436.

    What if we throw K’s into the mix?
    Springer is at 1.23 bases per K
    Altuve is at 6.15 bases per K
    Carter is at 1.18 bases per K


  22. Did someone actually say they wouldn’t trade Castro or Singleton for Stanton? Really? Wow! Someone is over-valuing his teams players big time.


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