FREE blog weekend II: It’s time . . .


Tom Lawless got his first loss as Astros’ manager Saturday, a loss that was snatched from the jaws of a win. Needing one win over the last few weeks to avoid a fourth consecutive 100-loss season, Chad Qualls struck again, this time with his sixth blown save of the season.

So, as the team streaks to the end of the season, it’s time . . .

  • For Jose Veras to get the ball in the ninth. Veras is — at the very least — on his way to recovering his 2013 form, pitching 24 innings with 26 Ks and 11 BBs and a 2.63 ERA since re-joining the Astros this summer. A combination of Tony Sipp, Qualls and Veras could be productive in the 7-8-9 innings.
  • Jeff Luhnow recognizes that if absolutely no other improvements are made to the team this winter, laser focus on the bullpen. Guaranteeing a success in that area of the team should be #1, #2 and #3 on the radar. Houston simply cannot suffer the same indignities from its bullpen for another season, especially given the starting rotation it has obviously put together.
  • To admit that the Carlos Lee trade for Rob Rasmussen and Matt Dominguez was a bust. Or at least just a salary dump. It’s time to take open auditions for third base in 2015. Of course, Dominguez is only 25, so there’s time to turn around that career .238/.280/.383 line. Yes, that means a career .663 OPS (.611 this season) from your third baseman.
  • For George Springer to get back to the team, though the Astros are 23-22 in his absence.  Makes you wonder, though, what this lineup would be like with him penciled into the fifth spot behind Robbie Grossman, Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler and Chris Carter.
  • To consider that Dexter Fowler may be gone this winter. Moving Springer to his natural CF position and bringing in a big RF bat may be the best way to go to bolster the lineup. Consider the trade-off in run production for essentially the same $11-$12 million that Fowler is likely to get in arbitration.
  • Everyone realizes that, despite what you may think, Houston is still a desirable destination for managerial candidates. Several coaches and others have already expressed interest. My leading candidates as of today: 1. Rays bench coach Dave Martinez. 2. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. 3. Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo. 4. Tom Lawless. Two dark-horse candidates: Craig Biggio and Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar. Bogar would be at the top of the list, but the Rangers would seem to have the inside track since adding the “interim” tag.
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38 comments on “FREE blog weekend II: It’s time . . .

  1. Hey Chip – thoughts here:
    – I agree to use Jose Veras as the closer – when we are playing the A’s. Qualls has been nails against the rest of the league (1.46 ERA).
    – Have to get a better bullpen crew in here – must – must – must
    – We should not hold onto anybody based on getting them in a trade or based on where they were drafted. Best players need to get called up and played/ Dominguez has just not developed this season – he has regressed a lot offensively.
    – Man I wish we had the two guns Springer and Carter back to back in the lineup.
    – I would see if we could get a big power bat for the outfield first and then look at shopping Fowler around. If you can’t get someone in here – keep Fowler who is a helpful pieces in the lineup.
    – Luhnow and front office issues to the side – I would hope that managerial candidates would see the Astros as a team on the rise and would want to be a part of a young and exciting team in the years to come.

    OK – so tomorrow will be a test for Mr. Lawless – I felt like Porter had done a good job of not letting these disastrous blown saves turn into a long term hangover. Can Lawless have the kids come out and play like it did not happen.

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  2. – Qualls has had three blown saves against Oakland. He’s been pretty good against the rest of the league. I’m not confident in Veras.
    – yes. See if we can get a bona fide closer. Just remember about 50% turn into busts.
    – speaking of busts, Dominguez could K in every at bat the rest of the year and we still swindled the Marlins. This will be a huge off season for Dominguez. If he is brought back, he will likely have little room for error.
    – Springer is an impact player. Imagine if he’d started the year with the big league club and / or not been injured.
    – Can we get a better bat for the same money as Fowler will receive? I’m dubious. I think he’s good for the club and has performed well when healthy. I bring him back unless someone has a really intriguing offer…especially given he could be a big chip at the trade deadline.
    – I have no opinions on who to bring in as manager, yet.

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  3. The Astros needed a closer and a SS and a 1B and a LF during the offseason and the GM didn’t provide them. The reason a team has a losing record and the lowest payroll in the league is simple. A refusal to spend the money to get better.

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    • OP, right or wrong, Luhnow “provided” what he thought would be an answer for the bullpen in Crain, Albers and Qualls. We all thought that Singleton would be the answer, whether in April or June. The others he brought in (Guzman et al) were supposed to only be stop gaps, not long-term answers. He obviously thought he had the answer in LF with Grossman…he wanted to give him a long-term deal. Based on Grossman’s last part of 2013, it wasn’t unreasonable.

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      • daveb, I meant back in the beginning of the spring. Maybe not all, but I do think it was commonly thought that Singleton was the first baseman of the future, so Luhnow didn’t look for long-term solutions.

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  4. Villar has been in two games since he was called back up…………he’s had two more errors. I know I jump up and down about this kid, but this is MLB, NOT little league.
    He needs to sit on the bench for the rest of Sept. unless he’s put in to run for someone. PERIOD. No more “talking” to him……..

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    • I don’t understand why they insist on giving Villar starts. I am with you, Becky. His occassional gems do not make up for his bonehead errors on routine plays. I am not advocating Marwin for next year, but I prefer him for the rest of this year. Villar, in my opinion, is strictly a pinch runner and hitter.

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  5. I hope Fowler is a part of the team as the leadoff hitter and left fielder. If his ego is so fragile that playing him in left when there are two superior center fielders on the roster makes him unhappy then perhaps he should be dealt. Fowler is a MLB hitter though and certainly a more consistent offensive force than Grossman who, if he is in the lineup with Fowler, ought to be hitting 9th instead of first. When we were tearing it up in May Fowler was leading off. Grossman may be a capable backup leadoff but no more than that.

    I am curious why Presley has been put in left as a defensive replacement for Grossman and can’t make a decent throw from less than 200 feet from the plate.

    Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Seems like we are trying to affirm his definition by trotting Qualls out against the A’s. Why not bring in Fields?

    I used to be a big fan of Dominguez but there is just something uninspiring about his play this year. Oldpro noted the other day that Carter stated he is having fun playing. Dominguez clearly is not. Would be curious to know why.

    Tomorrow will be interesting to see if we can bounce back. Having Keuchel on the mound gives us a chance. I just hope the AL version of Jason Hammel shows up.

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    • Doc, fully agree with you on Fowler. I’d like to see him in left next year and at the same time see Luhnow pay for a proven bat to put in right field. We’re not getting enough offense from anyone else in house to pencil in next year.

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  6. Sorry OP, but I will be stealing your thunder here…Lancaster won their opening game against Inland Empire 7-3 last night. Chase McDonald was 3-4 with a HR and 3 RBIs. Vincent Velasquez went 6 IPs allowing 3 runs (2 earned), but only 2 hits allowed and 9 Ks.

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  7. Wanted to talk a bit about old pros points in order of dereliction:

    SS – It was obvious that SS was a position of need and would be for a couple of seasons based on the progression of Carlos Correa and others in the minor league system. Luhnow did pick up journeyman Gregorio Petit but this was never to fill the starting spot.
    It could be argued that it could be worse – they could be paying $10 million for Stephen Drew and his .168 BA and .551 OPS.

    1B – Luhnow went out and picked up Jesus Guzman with the thought that his numbers had been flattened in San Diego’s big ball park. Then he comes here and plays so poorly – that he is basically on the end of the bench.
    (The irony is that Dexter Fowler was expected to suffer coming to Houston from the friendly confines of Colorado, but Guzman is the one who tanked).

    LF – Not as down here as old pro is – Luhnow went and grabbed Fowler with the thought that he would fill one OF spot and Springer would soon come up and fill one of the other OF spots. I can’t pound on the guy for not being able to turn the whole OF around in one fell swoop.

    Closer – Luhnow did what others had done before – including here in Houston with Jose Veras – that was to have an experience non-closer fill the role. In the end Qualls has filled that role as an average closer (above average when it is not the Oakland A’s facing him). Luhnow’s big failure is not the closer’s role itself but the bullpen as a whole and the bullpen as a whole would be at the top of this failure list.

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  8. Wondering out loud here, but could the minor league leadership be in for an entire makeover this winter? If Tony D doesn’t return, Bodie gone from Corpus, what’s next? Has management found in all the promotions this year that the minor league management hasn’t been endorsing its gameplan? Are players getting to Houston either not ready or lacking in the teaching and preparation the GM and its management team expect (Singleton? Grossman? Pitchers? Even Springer?)? Would like hear more about this “line of communication” with the minor leagues, but don’t expect to get much insight.

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    • The GM indicated that they did not think Villar and Santana were ready before calling them up. They also said the same about Springer’s defense in RF before media put pressure on them over the rejected contract offer. They appear to have been right on all accounts. So I don’t think it’s a case of players arrived and GM and management team were “surprised” they weren’t ready.

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  9. My question is this: Did Luhnow ignore all these philosophical differences over the past two years, or did he not recognize them? And is our minor league system as sturdy as most everyone, experts included, claim? The quality of a system can’t be rated on talent alone. Is real progress being made? Are concepts like the tandem rotation too radical for anyone to embrace? Are managers simply tuning out the Luhnow message? I’m wondering when any organization has canned their ML manager, their AA guy and AAA guy all at one time, assuming Tony D. is gone soon too. This signals to me that all is not well at many levels of the organization, and Luhnow is already changing course. So is the plan really working?

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    • Dave, I don’t know if the plan is working or not. However, it does appear that Luhnow is making sure everybody in management agrees with him 100%. That’s not going to leave any scapegoats for him if the Astros don’t win the WS in 2017. I’m not certain he will make it that long. In the press conference announcing Bo’s firing, he looked to me like a man who had gotten his butt chewed out too.

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    • Really reasonable questions daveb – they had Tony D as an interim manager when they took over – interviewed him for the full time position did not hire him for that – so was he not in alignment even then?
      How many steps back does this throw the organization?

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      • Dan, I think it only throws them back in the PR department – again. Normally I think tminor league staff changes are common and announced en masse so as to not single out individuals. Bodie took it public by announcing and referencing the “philosophical” differences, adding fuel to the perception that the GM is difficult to work with if you don’t agree with him 100%. Notice the Astros still have “no comment”. I would not think changes in coaching staffs at the minor league level would upset the plan. Maybe just some of the people due to personal relationships that have been formed over the years. I guess you can all tell by my comments that I see the logic in the plan (at least the parts that aren’t secret). I do firmly believe the implementation has not worked very well with the human perception. If that isn’t improved, I don’t see how the plan can be brought to successful completion.

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    • daveb, I don’t have a clue honestly. But here’s a thought. Perhaps the organization focused on the front office, the MLB staff, the draft, scouting, etc. over the first couple of years. Perhaps this is the plan, to evaluate the coaching staffs after a year or two. Perhaps those roving instructors like Everett, Brocail and Lawless were evaluating more than players on their stops through the system. Just sayin’.

      The big thing, however, is all those players that made it to Houston who were obviously not prepared to be there. Remember Domingo Santana? Moreover consider this: Do you think the AAA managers and coaches thought Santana was ready? Did they communicate that to Luhnow and Porter? If so, can you imagine the look on their faces when Santana looked so lost every time he went to the plate?

      And, he’s the #3 prospect in the system! Time to adjust, yes. But after the full season of ABs at OKC, shouldn’t he have a clue? Same for Singleton, who was a top 5 prospect at the time of his call up.

      Not saying it’s all on the minor league managers and coaches, but a player has to know the basic fundamentals when they get to Houston. Bunting, which base to throw to, cut off protocols, hit and run, when to take an extra base, etc.

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  10. I don’t think we will be able to assess the plan until more of Luhnow’s draftees and acquisitions start showing up. But when you look at what the low minors teams have done the past couple of years one should be hopeful. Those teams have had individual and collective success, especially the high draftees. About the only upper round picks who have faltered are Appel and McCullers but I still think it is reasonable to expect good things out of Appel.

    As for the shakeup in the minors, it may not merely be a matter of getting folks on the same page but after two years of assessment perhaps the instructional acumen of the AAA and AA staffs has been found wanting. If proper instruction is given at the minor league level you don’t have outfielders coming to the MLB team not knowing where to throw the ball.

    One last point regarding the geeks vs the old school. Yesterday’s game showed how neglecting the analytics can cost a ball game. Qualls should not be pitching against the A’s until and if he has some success against them in non high leverage situations and Fowler should not be in center field when a superior fielder is on the roster and in the same lineup. When Springer returns there will be two superior center fielders on the roster. If Fowler wants to play center field he better get better or get over it.

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    • I agree with you regarding Fowler. When everyone is healthy he is our 3rd best defensive CFer. If they are going to go with an OF next year of Fowler, Springer and Marisnick then Fowler should be in LF, Marisnick in CF and Springer in RF, but you can switch the last 2.

      Also, if we still have hope for Appel, and I do, then we shouldn’t give up on McCullers either. Pitching in Lancaster can affect many pitchers. LMJ struggled this year, but he was decent last year. I still think Appel is the better pitcher, but I still think LMJ will be a productive pitcher. I expect him to be in C.C. next year.

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      • Wasn’t ready to post lol

        Anyway, look how much better Appel’s numbers were once promoted to AA. Lancaster is an extreme hitter’s park.

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  11. Dallas Keuchel is just the bomb! DANG!! Give the boy the ball to start next year’s season.
    Nance—–soo glad you found us again, it’s always fun to have another girl to talk Astros baseball!! Becky:)

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  12. Let me take Bopert’s place with this post. MAYBE the terminations?? in the minors is because the lack of advancement by the prospects makes Luhnow’s selections look iffy. So we have to blame somebody. (I will go back to speaking for myself next time)

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    • But other than the questionable progress of Appel and McCullers who of LUHNOW’s propects has failed to advance? Certainly can’t say Correa, Ruiz, Kemp, Gregor, Hader, Velazquez, Tucker, Aplin, etc have failed to meet or exceed expectations.

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      • Exactly, drbill. For the most part Luhnow has had a hit when it comes to the draft. I think people tend to forget this because of the Aiken debacle and the injuries to Correa and Appel, but most of this draft picks have progressed and done well.

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