MMQB: Astros entering damage control phase


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?
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28 comments on “MMQB: Astros entering damage control phase

  1. Currently we seem to have only a few players that is is making the grade. Altuve, Qualls, Sipp (please don’t trade him) Springer and a few others. There are several others who I would give a “B” grade but most of them are nothing more that AAAA players. I’m just not impressed with Dominguez, and Carter is an all or nothing but mostly nothing. Don’t know what is the deal with Castro because he ain’t cutting the mustard either. While I realize we have injuries we keep trotting out these 180 – 230 hitters. You won’t many games with that kind of line up. In other words, we need some hitters desperately.

    How about that 12MM we spent on Feldman? That seems to be working out well. ERA’s of almost 5 is not going to win you many games, especially when we can’t score runs. Maybe it’s time to open up the wallet and get some B+ players. I, like most of the Astro fans are getting a little tired of this excuse for a professional ball team. While I’m not an expert on all of these rules involving the 40 man roster, etc., I think it’s time we brought up some of the guys who are performing at the lower levels and give them a shot. It sure can’t be any worse than the revolving door we have with Oklahoma City and we keep bringing the same ol’ retreads back up. How about we try something else? This sure doesn’t seem to be working.

    When it comes to Porter, my opinion is we need a “seasoned” manager. I just have not been impressed with his managerial style or his ability to inspire the players (at least based on my perceptions).

    I don’t know any of us who know the “real” story on the Aiken deal but obviously something went wrong in that episode and I doubt we’ve seen or heard the last of it. Now we have the “promotion” of Appel (right or wrong) but IMHO handled incorrectly by management. Even the players had something to say.

    We are in the 3rd year of the 5 year “rebuilding program” and I don’t see where we are at 60%. It’s still more like 45%. Yes there will always be set backs but we as fans deserve a little more. Doesn’t make any difference whether we are part time, full time, fair weather or fanatics. We deserve better. The continuing TV debacle sure doesn’t help either. I guess the jury is still out on Crane and Luhnow but they aren’t impressing me at this point. I suspect that most of you are probably still PO’d over the move to the AL and all of the other BS involved with the sale of the Astros as well as the demise that was directly attributable to McLane.

    I just think that as ASTRO FANS we deserve better. Don’t you think so?

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  2. i think carter is the position player that will draw the most interest. i’d hate to see him go, as he seems to be making some strides in the right direction.
    i would trade qualls for the right deal, someone desperate for a closer might over pay.
    i think it was just alittle look see of your #2 prospect for strom and porter.
    we have enough pitching in the system that one or two may be traded, hopefully again only for the right deal.
    ill say again: hello im rj and im a astroholic. i still have interest in the season and i still follow the box scores – and – oldpros minor league updates.

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    • Enough pitching in the system? We’ve got got a very bad pen with no depth. Our ace is back to his career numbers with a 4.60 ERA on the season. Sure, we’ve got a bunch of prospects, but few if any of them appear to be ready to help out, maybe with the exception of Tropeano, who deserves a shot. But throughout our system, no help for the pen. We keep bringing back in the same guys. In the meantime, teams like Florida and the Cubs seen to be getting the hang of retooling.

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  3. – If our offense wasn’t already makeshift, I would predict Carter gets moved.
    – I said the other night I would be fine moving Qualls. If he’d rather pitch in Houston than for a contender I would be surprised. Fields has life back in his fastball that was absent early.
    – No problems here with the promotion or bullpen session. I have a bigger issue with people (JJdO?) complaining about it.
    – I don’t think Luhnow’s phone will be ringing much. Maybe a team or two is looking for a Sipp for their BP, or one wants to try to buy low on Peacock. There doesn’t, as you note, appear to be much flexibility due to the injuries. The Astros should not be buyers yet…save that for the winter mtgs.
    – I’ll follow until October. The losses are demoralizing…but I’m not ready to quit on the rebuild just yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yesterday, OKC scored five runs in the final two innings to stun Nashville, 6-5.
    Jason Stoffel struck out the final two batters after loading the bases, so hat’s off to him. OKC is 54-56 for the year.
    Corpus Christi got beaten by Midland 11-3. Their lineup looks similar to Houston’s,
    with a sparkplug 2B leading off and hitting way over .300 and every body else disappointingly down below .250 or so. CC is 51-56
    Lancaster rolls with an 8-3 win over Stockton. Kent Emanuel had his third straight good outing and went 7.0 innings, which is terrific to see. Jethawks are 62-44 for the year.
    Quad Cities beat Bowling Green 9-2 as Edison Frias won his seventh game and went 7.0 innings also. Recent Draftee JD Davis was 4-5 and is hitting .333 since his recent promotion, which nobody complained about. Brett Phillips hit his eighth homer in a big park and is hitting .305 for the season. QC which struggled most of the year below .500, now sits at 54-50 for the season.

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  5. “It sure can’t be any worse than the revolving door we have with Oklahoma City and we keep bringing the same ol’ retreads back up.”

    I read that a lot. See: Santana, Domingo.

    Those guys are in the minors for a reason. Just because they have traditional stats that get your attention, doesn’t mean they are ready to hit against Yu Darvish or get Mike Trout to GIDP.

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  6. I think it was a dumb idea to bring Appel in on Sunday. That said, we don’t really have any guys that have a right to complain, maybe except for Altuve, and he’s probably the last guy who would put up a stink. Our roster is loaded with fringe players who should focus on getting outs and base hits and catching the ball rather than how a number one pick is being handled. Appel represents a big investment and regardless of how badly this club bungles that investment, they’ll keep trying to get the guy untracked. I’m beginning to think maybe the kid is a bit of a softie though.

    Good time for Carter to get hot. Someone might want that July bat in their order.

    I would not trade Qualls, simply because Luhnow still has to rebuild the pen again in 2015. Qualls makes the job a bit easier. Now if Luhnow gets a young arm that projects to be a help in the pen as early as 2015, then I consider it.

    I still watch most games. But I’d have to guess that we won’t be on a pace to lose just 97 games for too much longer. It’s about to get ugly.

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  7. Devin, I’d hate to see them move Carter if he’s finally figuring things out. He could finally be living up to the Top 100 rankings by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus a few years ago! Then again, it could be the time to sell high! Tough call. And Luhnow could be a loser either way.

    For Qualls, everyone reaches a point in their career when it’s no longer all about the money. YOu may have noticed over the weekend that Jon Lester suggested the same. He’s okay with being traded this month, but suggested he might return to Boston next year, saying “Money doesn’t buy you happiness.”

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    • I agree on Carter. I don’t think they get enough for him in return to make it worthwhile. As for Qualls, I read that same article as oldpro, and can certainly appreciate him wanting to stay in Houston, but have a hard time believing he wants to watch the postseason from his couch. I don’t think money is in the discussion, but rather the chance to compete.

      As an Astros fan, I’m a bit torn on his statement, though. I’m a bit hypocritical in that I keep saying I want players who actually are in Houston because they want to play there rather than just taking the biggest payday. Then, when we have one, I am openly speculating what they could get in a trade for him. Where this is different than Lester (and others like Berkman), Qualls is under contract for 2015. We can’t trade him in hopes of signing him back up during the off season. I do think Luhnow has taken the right stance in siding with Qualls’ desire to stay. Does that earn him back some karma?

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  8. Let’s not misidentify the reason the Astros are bad – you can blame Crane or Luhnow if you want, but the truth this team has drafted poorly for over a decade. How many players have we drafted since 2000 that have become impactful major leaguers, even for other teams?

    Every team in baseball, whether they spend big or small, have a core group of players that they drafted. Even the vaunted Yankees, for all the spending on the A-Rods and Clemens of the world, were really built around the Pettittes, Jeters, Riveras, and added those expensive pieces around them. Notice the Yankees last big player they developed in house was Cano, and notice that no matter how much they spend they haven’t won a world series in 8 years.

    Luhnow walked into a cupboard bare situation. Ed Wade made a few good decisions at the end, but the Astros were doomed for failure the day Wandy Rodriguez became the jewel of what was left of the home grown crowd. Take a team with bad scouting, and the inability to draw top free agents without seriously overpaying for them, and you get a bad team.

    Personally, I think the 5 year plan is in a good spot. If you thought that yea we can take a team built around Jed Lowrie as your best trading block and have 25 prospects show up for camp and think they are all going to become 25 homer, 100 rbi guys, you’re not in reality land. Just 4 years ago this franchise had an aging, bad major league roster and what was probably the worst minor league system in the game. Times have changed. Now give the kids time and quit asking for them to try and sign some mediocre, meddling “veteran” that will just do what Feldman has done. Stick. To. The. Plan. Do so until Springer and Altuve and Cosart and Singleton show they are one or two pieces away, and when they are, become serious players for a David Price. Until then, stick to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here here!

      Remember when when Jay Austin, T J Steele, Sammy Gervacio occupied spots in the top 10 prospects? It wasn’t that long ago.

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      • Flash, you have to go back several years for that. But only four years ago, these were some of the names in BA’s Top 10: (3) Villar, (5) Mier, (6) J.D. Martinez, (7) Jimmy Paredes, (8) Tanner Bushue, (10) Ariel Ovando. Of course, BA also said that R.J. Alaniz had the best curve ball and (ahem, ready for this?) the best defensive infielder was Villar. My, how times change!

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  9. I am really disappointed with the “big” leaguers complaining about Appel. Obviously a change of scenery was drastically needed and the promotion to CC is just that. Additionally, I can appreciate Appel pitching a bullpen session in front of the major league staff. That allowed Strom to put his eyes on Appel to determine whether a “fix” in his delivery is needed. The medical staff was able to observe him for the organization’s peace of mind. Luhnow was able to “scout” Appel himself. The team is looking out for its “prize” pitching prospect after a disastrous year thus far. The guys on the big league club just need to zip it and win games.

    I am impressed with Carter during this streak. I would still move him though if the right deal came along.

    Keep Qualls as a steady influence in the bullpen. But if it came down to Sipp or Qualls…. Qualls would be gone.

    As for this season….. yes…. I am so past it already. I had posted yesterday that I no longer watch the games, even though I have Comcast. I don’t listen to them on the radio, I never could listen to the radio team since Dierker left anyhow. I get my updated scores and boxes from the internet.

    I expected a much better improvement this year. At the end of the season, the house needs to be swept out and some experienced leadership, i.e. field management, clubhouse, or upper office added.

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  10. Luhnow was quoted saying he would trade Cosart, Keuchel, or McHugh for a young bat. What does that tell you? It tells me, “Nitro” Nick and Folty might just make the big roster sooner rather than later. Let’s be honest here, Cosart’s starts are nail biting sometimes and getting him through 5 innings is tough. Dallas’s starts have been EXCELLENT, until the opposing team figure’s his pitchers out, and starts getting hit’s against him. I love Keuchel, but we can do without him, because he won’t make a difference, by the end of this season. McHugh has been a nice addition to this rotation, but he won’t be here when this team FINALLY get’s it.
    We NEED some bats in this line-up, and guys like Presley, Guzman, Grossman
    aren’t gonna get it done. Trade anyone NOT named Altuve, and Springer.
    As for the comments made from a couple of the team yesterday………Appel is making over $6 million……….*YOU* are making the league minimum. SHUT UP.

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    • Becky, while I certainly agree that none of the position-players you listed are part of the essential core of the future, I cringe at lumping Aaron Presley [.252 BA, 11 EBHs .650 OPS] in the same category as Jesus Guzman [.196 BA, 6 EBHs, 7 RBI, .538 OPS] and Robbie Grossman [.194 BA, 3 HRs, 9 EBHs,.605 OPS]. A.P. actually looked like a decent sub before he got hurt – especially after he started logging some playing time due to Dexter Fowler’s injury. Presley’s BA is actually significantly better than Springer’s, Castro’s, Dominguez’, or Carter’s. So far, Guzman and Grossman have been total liabilities. Take away Grossman’s one and only good game, and he is by far the most disappointing. Unfortunately, I would put the performances of Marc Krauss, and L.J. Hoes in the same category with Grossman and Guzman.

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  11. To hear that some Astro players actually complained about a #1 draft pick of the organization throwing a bullpen session in Houston on his way to AA actually bothers me a lot more than the fact that we have stunk it up royally on the field since the All-Star break and appear poised for another disastrous finish to the season and a probable bottom of the MLB finish again. What all the bratty whining tells me is that we have way too many nitpickers and complainers on the current team and not nearly enough serious baseball players. No wonder we got swept – and dominated – by the lowly Marlins in our own park the past three days – after all, we have players with neither major league ability [as shown by their recent performances] nor even a modicum of class. Tell me which of the players on the present team did NOT complain, and I’ll tell you who we should consider keeping. The rest can all go. It is impossible to build a future around whiners and complainers.

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  12. Becky, on the Cosart/Keuchel/McHugh comment, the one who’d concern me most if we traded is Cosart. More upside there, not to mention he’s a year or two younger than the other two. If any of the three were traded, especially if they were packaged together in any combination, better be a good middle-of-the-order bat. Not saying it has to be a super star, but certainly an everyday, sure-as-shootin’ top echelon guy.

    Regarding the Appel bullpen, guess it depends on the motivation. If they’re coddling the kid, I’m against it. If it’s just a quick stopover (I’m sure he had to fly through Houston!) and it gives management a chance to take a look, then cool. Not concerned about some of the Houston comments, but if my name is Josh Hader, well, now, I might have a thing or two to say about the promotion in general.

    By the way, bonus question: Chris Devenski is doing decently in Corpus after starting the year in Lancaster. He is one of those infamous PTBNL from a few years ago, but can you name the trade?

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  13. Chip……I gotta admit I looked it up! Brett Myers trade. A GREAT trade from the way this kid is pitching, and the “O’s” are still angry that they let Hader go! As for Cosart, it takes the guy 3 to 4 innings before he get’s command of the strike zone. I know he’s young, and MAYBE he starts out next season getting deeper in games.

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    • Why would the O’s be mad? Norris has been quite good for them…especially of late. Harder has been great at A+, but probably does not project to make a big league rotation for at least a couple years. They are trying to win now.

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    • I kind of agree with you on Cosart. I would be willing to trade him if it landed us a ‘near major league ready’ player in return. Yes, the potential is there for growth, but these issues (failing to go more than 6 IPs) have plagued him throughout his minor league career as well. I see him as a lesser Bud Norris and if we can get a high return on him then we should strongly consider it. Let’s just say I am not Cosart’s biggest fan.

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      • Actually, Cosart compares favorably to what Norris did in his first full season and Cosart is a year younger. I think he’s going to figure out how to throw strikes at some point and I hope it’s not with another club.

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