Free blog weekend: Of lulls, trades, hitting and the thorn in the left side

Happy Friday and welcome to a long-time tradition: Free Blog Weekend. It’s your turn to drive the conversation. We’ll discuss what you think is important or significant at this juncture of the off season.

Here are some starters for you.

The lull is coming to an end.

  • While recent weeks haven’t exactly been a lull for theAstros with the hiring of a new coaching staff, a new AAA affiliate and a new spring training facility search, the activity will pick up across the majors soon. Here are some important dates to keep on your calendar:
    • Nov TBA: 5 days after conclusion of World Series, teams must make qualifying offers to eligible players.
    • Nov TBA: 12 days later, player deadline to accept or reject QOs.
    • Nov 10-12: GM Meetings (Phoenix).
    • Dec 2: Last day to offer contracts (or non-tender) for 2015 (e.g. Jason Castro, Chris Carter, Tony Sipp et al).
      • Rosters must be finalized.
    • Dec 8-11: Winter Meetings.
    • Dec 11: Rule 5 Draft.
  • Players who will be free agents (e.g. Jesse Crain, Matt Albers, etc.) will be free to roam about the country immediately after the World Series.

It’s about the hitting.

  • It’s becoming more clear by the day almost that Brent Strom has been a God-send to the Astros’ pitching staff. But it may be Dave Hudgens and Ralph Dickenson who determine how much the Astros improve in 2015 and beyond. If you’re looking for a solid track record at Hudgens’ last stop (Mets, 4 years), let me borrow from the lyrics of an old song: “Don’t look Ethel!” But putting together a team (even a team of coaches) is as much about synergy, communication, trust and camaraderie as it is about sheer talent. Still, while it may not become evident until mid-season whether Hudgens is a hit with his new team, the Astros’ hitting coaches may determine at great length the rate of improvement for 2015.
  • By the way, has anyone seen Rudy Jaramillo lately?

And, on the left side…

  • As Dan discussed the left side of the infield in a recent entry, it’s obvious the Astros need an upgrade. Whether it comes through the obvious path (Carlos Correa) or Jeff Luhnow takes a detour remains to be seen. But here are a couple of lists from earlier this year that will throw a few extra names into the mix for consideration. First, a list of MLB shorstop prospects from Teddy Cahill at  Fangraphs also had a shortstop power rankings prior to the season that actually indicated Houston was improving over the previous season.
  • These lists will obviously be upgraded in a few weeks or months, but the names may largely be the same. As I’ve often said, when drafting or picking players, I go for the best athlete. You can figure out later where he plays and where he hits in the lineup.  If a player can play shortstop, he most likely can play second, third or a key outfield position.
  • Is there a trade for a young shortstop prospect in the winter future? Should there be? See any candidates that interest you?

Will front office changes mean more trades?

Here’s a smorgasbord of questions and other entry-ending assignments.

  • Which team will win the World Series?
  • Finish the sentence: The #1 priority for the Astros this winter is…
  • Frankly, I’ve about seen enough of . . .
  • How will the Astros make their biggest impact this winter: Through trade, free agent signing, waiver wire pickup?
  • With Mark Appel‘s winter ball success, have your expectations changed? Where will he start the 2015 season?
  • Which one of these prospects is nearing their ceiling and which one should the Astros sell high on? Domingo Santana, Lance McCullers, Delino Deshields, Max Stassi, Preston Tucker?

40 comments on “Free blog weekend: Of lulls, trades, hitting and the thorn in the left side

  1. 1. I guess I’ll go with SF but they both seem capable of winning it.
    2. Astros top priority is to fix their biggest weaknesses. For example, the Texans had their biggest weaknesses at QB, RT, NT and special teams last year. They fixed special teams and put duct tape on the other three. The duct tape hasn’t held.
    3.Frankly, I’ve seen enough of AAA pitchers in our bullpen. It’s time to spend some money.
    4. I think the Astros make biggest impact through trades.
    5. I think Appel’s status has changed for me. Because of the logjam of pitchers at AA, and because Appel had four years of college pitching, and because Appel is from Stanford, and because Fresno could use the help and the hype, and because Appel has already appeared in Corpus Christi, I think they could put him at AAA Fresno and start him every five days and see how he does.
    6. I think Tucker is nearing his ceiling because of his four years of college and the fact he is destined to be a spot COF and DH. I think the Astros should sell high on Santana if they get the chance, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if he just kicked booty in Fresno this season either. He has tools.


    • Agree with Flash – not sure how high you would be selling Santana for – if we simple bloggers can see those K rates on something like BP or fangraphs, you better believe every GM in baseball is going to use much more sophisticated stats to lower that price.

      Santana’s contact rates are so bad that they can’t be hidden – we are almost better off keeping him at AAA next year to see if he gets better because 30%+ K rates in the minors isn’t exactly what every GM is looking for.


  2. Very nice job – Chip. Thanks for digging out the upcoming important dates and the shortstop links.

    The lull – Won’t it be great when October means something again? I watch a little of the postseason but I miss how it felt when we had good playoff teams in the 90’s and early 00’s.

    The hitting – Brian T posed an interesting thought about using a chunk of the $20 million for another starter. I’m torn on this – we really need to score more runs this season – but I would love having 4 reliable starters. We did have the youngest club in the AL on the hitting side – a weighted average of 25.7 years old vs. 27.6 for the next youngest M’s and 28.7 for AL league average. Maybe they just need to grow up.

    The left side – I’m still pulling for Correa to be the best hitting SS in the league, not a good hitting 3B. I think he can be a difference maker at SS more so than 3B.

    FO changes – the hope is that the front office changes and poor years in 2014 by some teams will make some good players available to add to the Astros’ pot.


  3. The questions:

    – I like newbies to do stuff – so my heart wins over my brain in picking the Royals to win the WS.
    – The #1 priority for the Astros this season is … really fix the bullpen that kept them from being a .500 club in 2014.
    – I’ve seen enough of…..the team leading the league in strikeouts (on the hitting side).
    – I think the biggest impact this off-season will be through a couple strategic FA signings for the pen (though this could be by trade I guess).
    – Appel pitched well after Lancaster last season – I am guessing they start him at AA and move him to AAA before mid-season.
    – Santana – way too young to give up on – he just turned 22.
    – McCullers – Old pro wrote about a recent interview in the previous post about McCullers struggling because he was working on a 3rd pitch a lot this season. With his arm and age you give him lots of time.
    – DeShields – tough decision time for the Astros – does he make the 40 man, do you expose him or do you package him. I think they may well package him in a trade.
    – Stassi – time to prove something or move on. He did look good at times during his call-up in 2014.
    – Tucker – a run producer every where he goes – he had another 94 RBIs last season. May be time to let him show what he can do in the bigs. Maybe even at 1B rather than his natural OF spot.


  4. Chip, with my .02 cents, I would like for the Astros to consider using their #5 pick in this upcoming draft on SS Alex Bregman from LSU. Since you’re from Baton Rouge, you’ve probably seen him play. In most MLB mock drafts, he’s projected to go around the 4th-6th pick. To me, he has Biggio written all over him. He makes good contact with a little pop, is a hustler and team leader. I think that he’s the same age as Correa. Moving Correa to third could potentially give the stros one of the best infields on the left side for years. Then, they only need to figure out the 1B problem.

    I’m with Old Pro, in that the spending of money should be centered on the bullpen.

    I expect a trade to happen using some of our prospects and someone from the current roster probably during the winter meetings.


  5. Dan, if you want Tucker to play 1B he is going to need to practice five days a week at it this offseason. He needs to find a live batting practice and stand at the spot and watch tons of balls come off the bat from both sides of the plate. He needs to watch tons of film on positioning himself on throws from the outfield with runners on base and backing up on throws. He needs to take tons of throws from pitchers so he doesn’t make mistakes on pickoffs that end up with his runner standing on third. He needs to practice on bunts. He needs to practice short hops to save the team from Villarism. He needs a footwork coach and he needs to take fungos for hours. he needs to look for signs from catchers on pickoffs so he doesn’t get picked off instead of the base runner. And he needs to practice fielding and throwing to a moving pitcher. and of course he has to practice moving backwards, sidewards, forward on popups and learn to get a feel for the dugout and stands on fouls. He needs to practice his throws to second on double play attempts
    Tucker is not a 1B so he needs to work at it a lot, right now.
    When a team puts the shift on for a LH batter, the pitcher works him inside to take advantage of that shift. A 1B has to be ready for that. and we shift more than anybody.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Bagwell played 1 game at 1B in the minors and then practiced a couple weeks in spring training. Tucker has played 13 games at 1B in the minors so he should be 13 times as good…
      Not to gripe too much old pro – but I just watched a bunch of games with Singleton where half the time he did not know whether to go for the ball or cover 1st and he usually guessed wrong. Tucker might be bad but he won’t be worse.


      • Bagwell was a hall of fame baseball player. I’m not sure Tucker has that kind of bat. But Tucker made two errors in his first game at 1B in OKC this year and they shelved that. I don’t want Tucker to just be better than Singleton. I want him to be a terrific 1B like Bagwell became before his shoulder cratered


      • I want something better even if it is a better Singleton. I just don’t see 1B being the brain surgery spot that say SS might be.


      • Dan, the key is doing and not thinking. If the player is thinking about the throw/catch/footwork/swing in the act, you get Villar throws. The action requires repetition to teach the body to act without thinking. A brain surgeon will likely commit many more errors than Singleton.


      • oldpro, this is where my idea of choosing the best athlete comes into play! Bagwell as an all-around athlete. He could probably have figured out how to play left field if he needed to. Part of being the “best athlete” is understanding the game.

        That’s why I’ve said if the opportunity arises to acquire a young shortstop, don’t let Correa get in the way. Correa is quite obviously a “good athlete”. He could probably move to CF if he had to. Putting Starlin Castro or another player there next year, then moving them to 3B wouldn’t be a problem.

        What are the Astros going to do for the next 5-10 years, just not draft or trade for second basemen? No, draft the best athletes. It’s a good problem to have!


    • I like most of what you wrote – it demonstrates how difficult every position in baseball is.

      I think Bagwell succeeded at 1B with little experience because he was such a good instinctive baseball player. It’s also why he would have been a HOF caliber third baseman, it’s why he was such a heady baserunner – and who didn’t love the way he fearlessly charged bunts – completely changing the way the batter had to approach it and practically taking that aspect of the game out of the opponents hands at times.

      I don’t know anything about Tucker – that’s why we hire scouts and coaches. What are they saying about his baseball acumen and instincts? If they are there, half the things you list, they are instinctive plays not instructional plays. If the instincts are not there – then yes, he will have to learn a lot of that, and repetition on it will be the best answer.

      Short answer – I don’t think he will be moving. I think the Astros believe that Singleton is a long term solution – not saying I agree with that, but I believe the Astros do.


      • One of the reasons Bagwell could play first base is because he played third base. Thousands of repetitions fielding grounders and backing up on throws and cutoffs and catching popups. and making pinpoint throws to a moving target 75 feet away at second base.
        It is not going to be the same for Tucker. He’s an outfielder. He doesn’t have the luxury of having learned an infield position and then thinking everything in reverse. He has to go into a totally new game.


  6. I like Strom. Seems like a nice enough fella. I remember what Mazzone said – you are only as good a pitching coach as your pitchers. He has had some goods, some bads. We finally are starting to get some of that luck on our side in pitcher development – something we’ve been lacking since Roy O – and we are ready to anoint some non descript pitching coach a god-send. Most fans outside of Houston don’t even know who the pitching coach in Houston is. Hey – I am for keeping the guy – even amongst coaches they can’t all be superstars – but I just don’t see the need for a man crush.

    There should be a change at 3B – but that doesn’t mean there will be.

    Trade wise – Harvey changes the fortunes of teams. This is a future Cy Young winner. Mark the tape – I am telling you now – this guy may win a Cy as soon as 2016 – give him 2015 to get his wind back after a bad injury. If you can get him, get him. Again my skepticism to the Astros FO and their value in winning grabs me and makes me believe, like Sandoval, we just simply are not in the running. This FO can’t grab anything by the horns.

    I lived in Manhattan, KS for about 8 years – thats only about hour and half from KC and you wouldn’t have known a professional baseball team was even there. The fans, the city, the state (though technically the Royals play in MO) deserve a champion, and baseball deserves to have life breathed back into it there. I’m rooting for those Royals – unfortunately there is a lot of playoff experience across the diamond staring at them. Still, anything can happen in a short series.

    If you can sell high on any of them – DDS. Santana has a lot of tools, great arm, but can’t make contact consistently – and every GM will know it. DeShield’s warts appear to be more under the radar types – writers questioning character issues, etc., but the numbers look like a guy that you can convince a fellow GM he is a good prospect, not big time, but good. You never want to lose depth – but hopefully 2B is locked down in Houston for a decade.


    • When I coached Little League we had a kid who was kinda chubby, slow, and generally unathletic. He was down on himself because he was one of the older kids and wasn’t making any contributions like other kids his age. I watched him as he was getting ready to go to bat and noticed his grip. I told him to change it slightly to help him get the bat around quicker. He hit the first pitch off of the top of the LF fence – missed a HR by inches.

      I get that Keuchel and McHugh executed on the mound, but you can’t deny that Strom, or some coach along the way, saw something in their delivery, or pitch sequencing, or whatever that probably kept them from delivering pizzas.


    • Friedman leaving kicked in an opt-out option in Maddon’s contract. The Rays made him offers but he wasn’t interested. Maddon is going to get lifetime money from one of the rich clubs. We aren’t one of the rich clubs. We go after the guys on the bottom of the totem pole. The Owl Managers. The ones that everybody says “whooo” when we hire them. It’s a process.


  7. Question: Which team will win the World Series?

    1. Not the Dodgers [top MLB payroll in 2014]
    2. Not the Yankees [2nd highest MLB payroll]
    3. Not the Phillies [3rd highest MLB payroll]
    4. Not the Red Sox [4th highest MLB payroll]
    5. Not the Tigers [5th highest MLB payroll]
    6. Not the Angels [6th highest MLB payroll]

    All of the above had payrolls this year of over $155 M. None is in the world series.

    The World Series is between the 7th highest payroll team [the Giants] and the 19th highest payroll team [the Royals – with under $100M in payroll]. I’m betting on the Royals – any takers?


  8. This just in from VMart will be seeking a four year contract. He’s coming off a 4 year, $50M contract; a second one would expire when he’s 39.


  9. DANG……..watching the Royals bullpen come in and shut the Giants down, was magical! I was drooling over any one of them, being in our bullpen. AND, Finnigan was playing in the college WS just 5 months ago! How did THAT happen?!! I’m pulling for the boys in blue.
    #1 priority- BULLPEN!!
    I’ve seen enough of Reid Ryan and Crane telling us the TV deal is “right around” the corner……I hate LIARS!
    Trade, but I hope they don’t send a guy like Hader, or McCullars packing.
    Appel starts the 2015 season in Corpus, but I think he will be moved up if he stays on course.
    Deshields, and Santana…….Tucker and Hernandez are just a phone call away, and send Villar with them.


  10. Astros vs the world comments-
    – Even if the Astros would make him a rich man – Joe Maddon would not come here to be Luhnow’s geek puppet and he would have teams closer to contending and with more resources pursuing him.
    – It does bug me that other teams are getting support at the mlb level from guys drafted this year and last.


    • The Royals do some things differently than the Astros. They drafted Finnegan because of his dynamite arm. They immediately sent him to high A, which the Astros never do because the Astros are, very simply, not about today. They are about the day after tomorrow.
      The Royals started Finnegan for 5 games in High A and sent him to AA to be a reliever, He relieved in 8 games, losing three of them, and then they brought him up to the majors. This was a specifically targeted move based on his arm and is completely contrary to anything Luhnow would do with a high draft pick. But it is a move made by a team in contention with a player with a 100mph arm. They needed another playoff reliever and are using him for that . It’s a moment in time and next spring he might be back in the minors as a starter.


      • That is right. There will come a day, hopefully, when the Astros will be about today and not the day after tomorrow. I doubt it’s next year because $20million extra is not going to do it, but maybe it will be the year after tomorrow.


      • My frustrations Flash. Hey for all I know Hinch could turn into Maddon with decent players. I’m closing in on 50 years as an Astros’ fan and I have witnessed the same amount if championships as my 4 year old grand daughter.


      • Dan, just beating a dead horse, but my frustration with the draft debacle was that the HS guys we didn’t sign and college bats we did sign were all only going to see A ball this year. I’ll buy the argument that Aiken could have been a left handed Beckett, but we had little to no chance of benefiting at the MLB level from the class until late 2016 at the earliest, right?


  11. Astros Daily is so hot right now! Tony D will return as Fresno Manager and a Chicago area newspaper interviewed Folty. He says that Astros coaches have given him specific things to work on after total rest for one month. They told him to expect to come into Spring Training competing for the #4 or 5 spot in the rotation. The link to the article is now down but I googled it and found it and managed to read it. That is the big stuff from it, the rest of the 3 pages is gobbleygook.


    • That is interesting. I think half of us want to see him competing for the rotation and the other half are ready to try him as a closer.


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