Everyone expected the 2014 season to be pivotal, even critical, for the Astros’ reconstruction project. The organization was hoping the media and fans would be using terms like “step forward”, “progress”, “significant improvement” and “momentum” as the season progressed. Instead, recent articles and radio shows have been littered with these words and phrases: “embarrassing”, “blunders”, “disingenuous”, “debacle” and more.
With the recent fiascos now in the rear-view mirror — at least for now — it should come as no surprise if the Astros adopt a damage-control philosophy in the midst of its five-year plan. Yes, this could mean a few tweaks or adjustments to the game plan, designed either to deflect attention or to appease fans in the short-term.
Already, Mark Appel has been promoted to Corpus Christi despite a horrible season. We could debate whether it’s deserved or not — or even if he should have started the season there to begin with — but the timing of the promotion raises eyebrows. Especially since a trip from Lancaster to Corpus obviously requires a stop-over to throw a bullpen at Minute Maid Park.
Here are some of the damage control considerations.
- Most teams with one of the 4-5 worst records records at the trade deadline are generally sellers. Jeff Luhnow has insisted he won’t trade Chad Qualls, who’s had one of the best seasons of any reliever in 2014. Imagine the uproar if Houston traded one of its only consistent pitchers this season. With Dexter Fowler, George Springer, Alex Presley, Josh Zeid and others on the DL, it also thins the possible for-sale options. Prediction: One or two smaller trades (e.g. Tony Sipp), but no big veterans leaving.
- The Astros attended this weekend’s audition of Rusney Castillo. With an extra $7-$8 million left over from the draft and owner Jim Crane’s promise to reallocate it, could Luhnow put together a package that would lure Castillo to Houston? Indeed, it’s the third time the Astros have waded into these waters this year (remember Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu?). That would certainly (ahem) deflect some attention. Prediction: Astros make a public bid and effort, but won’t get Castillo.
- With the deadline now just hours away, the Astros could be in the strange position of being buyers — or at least adding smaller pieces — rather than selling off as in the previous four summers (or has it been five?). Adding a contributor, either offensively or to the bullpen or rotation, would certainly fall into the appeasement category. Prediction: A couple of lesser additions, though nothing in the game-changing category.
- And, want to really appease fans? Let the promotions begin. If Appel is headed to Corpus Christi with an 11 ERA, there are plenty of guys worthy of a trip to Houston from Oklahoma City. There are many names that have been bandied about. Prediction: Hmmm, most of the better players are already in Houston, but there’s still room for a cameo, late-season appearance by Nick Tropeano, Asher Wocjiechowski or one or two others. Either way, the Astros would be looking for feel-good vibes from fans with some promotions.
To be sure, some of the moves over the coming weeks may not be game-changers and may be only an effort to change the conversation at best.
And a few questions for you to start the week.
- Who’s the impostor wearing #23? Whoever he is, sign him up! He’s hitting .324 with 7 HRs and 16 RBIs and a 1.102 OPS in July.
- Luhnow says he won’t trade Qualls, but is it the right move? Or should the Astros sell while Qualls’ game may be at its peak?
- Did the Astros err in bringing Appel to MMP for a bullpen session? Another PR blunder? Or a good opportunity to give one of your top prospects a look-see by his future manager and pitching coach?
- Even if the Astros keep Qualls, do you expect the Astros will be sellers this week? If so, who’s likely to go?
- The Astros are on pace for a 65-97 mark, which would represent a 14-game improvement over 2013. Simple question: Have you lost interest this season? Still watching — er, following boxscores — regularly?