Astros’ off-season: There’s a different feel in the air


For nearly a decade of winters, Astros’ fans have held out hope of turning a corner, only to turn the corner and run smack dab into another solid wall. From Woody Williams, Shawn Chacon, Mike Hampton, Ivan Rodriguez and Kaz Matsui to the throw-in-the-towel trades of Michael Bourn, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence, fans have witnessed cold winter after cold winter.

Now, however, there is a different smell in the air.

Here are three reasons for optimism.

  1. The propsects. For the first time in a decade, more homegrown prospects will play in Houston for a full season. George Springer, Jon Singleton, Michael Foltynewicz, Jason Castro, Nick Tropeano, Robbie Grossman and perhaps others may be on the roster April 6 and October 4. Yes, Grossman and Singleton came from other organizations, but they’ve grown up in Houston’s. Players like Mark Appel, Carlos Correa, Delino Deshields Jr. or Nolan Fontana could also get a cup of coffee at some point in 2015.
  2. Right time, right place. With the number of front office and managerial changes, movement could be at an apex this winter, making more players available, possibly even at better deals. There are 3-4 significant pitching prospects, which means the Tier 1A pitchers (read: Brandon McCarthy, Jason Hammel et al) might be more plenteous and more affordable. Add in the additional $20 million the Astros will have and Jeff Luhnow should be able to find solid major leaguers to fill the gaps and holes in the lineup.
  3. It’s just time, stupid! Remember the ol’ phrase in the 90s when Bill Clinton was running for president? It’s the economy stupid! Well, friends, it’s just time the trend upward leaves the steady incline and spikes a little. The 2015 winter, spring training and season are primed for that little spike. It’s been a decade since the Astros saw the playoffs and, while the organization broke the string of 100-loss seasons, it isn’t enough. What’s more, with so many ’14 challenges from the Appel bullpens and mismanagement to the Porter firing, the Astros need a hassle-free spring and season.

To be sure, the Astros aren’t guaranteed a .500 season in 2015. Injuries and missteps this winter and during the season come at a huge price, especially when the MLB roster is paper thin with replacements. That problem, however, should also change a little with more players moving into the ready-to-step-in position.

You may point to all the warts, shake your head at all the history, keep your powder dry until proof presents itself, but there is a reason for optimism. Moreso this winter than any perhaps in the last 5-6 years.

No questions today. No predictions. Only a recognition that it could be a new day in Houston-land. Call me glass-half-full-guy for today. Anyone care to join me?

 

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38 comments on “Astros’ off-season: There’s a different feel in the air

  1. I’m even more jazzed about the prospects because I think guys like Kemp, Tucker , Sclafani and Shirley may be ready to help out soon because of their age and maturity. There are advantages to targeting good, senior college players. I’m hoping a couple of these guys surge like Kike did.

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  2. I agree Chip. It feels like we have talent coming through the pipeline now. I’m not optimistic that the cavalry is just around the corner, but maybe 2016 will be a year to get excited about them. I’m trying to stick with your plan of adding a couple legit players to the starting lineup without subtracting elsewhere until we get to true competitiveness. I’m struggling with the off season, though, as I’ve already watched an AFL game and noted the US – Japan exhibition series starts in two weeks. It’s going to be a long winter…

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  3. Other reasons for optimism:
    1. Minor league pitchers can come to MMP for Strom to look at and recommend things without all the fuss.
    2.New batting coach that might actually see some ways to improve hitting.
    3.High school locker room gone and a catcher’s mentality in the dugout.
    4.A good chance I will have Direct TV by spring and I can get that new receiver that lets me watch stuff while recording a bunch of stuff. I can watch a recorded 3.25 hour game in 1.25 hours and not miss anything but reviews and commercials. Oh yeah!
    5. Lucas and Jerome gone! Oh, yeah!
    6. Our ace is also the best fielding pitcher in baseball.
    7. Carlos Correa is healthy and just a few hours from Houston. Yep!
    8.Jon Singleton can only get better. That is a fact.
    9. Our payroll situation moves upward from the Homeless Mode to the Poor Lower Middle Class mode.
    10. Jeff now has a ton of data on how not to build a bullpen.

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  4. Here’s something else to chew on. In an Astros.com article about Rio Ruiz, Jeff talks openly about Ruiz being in CC this spring. That tells me that Moran is going to be, in the least, at Fresno. I don’t think he is going to put two young LH hitting top 10 prospects at 3B at the same time on the same team.

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      • I think Duffy is 1B/DH. Last year Perez spent some time at DH so Stassi could catch. I would not be surprised if Sclafani moved around finding ABs at LF/ DH/2B/3B/SS. Sclafani might find himself in Houston as a supersub because of his age. Or he might find himself on another team if this trade stuff gets rolling.

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  5. I think Castro will have a better year. I think Marwin will produce similar stats to his 2014 figures playing short. And his offensive stats are better than average for the position. Don’t take my word for it, look it up! I’m hoping Fowler is still with the team on opening day. I would be pleased to see him in the outfield with Springer, and then some combination of Marisnick/Grossman. I also am thinking more and more that Sclafani is being looked at as our utility guy. Might even include some time in left field. Why else would they have him playing out there in Arizona, for the sunshine? I’d be pleased, as I think he’ll figure out how to get on base at the MLB level. Atuve will hit .300 plus and raise his OBP. As OP just noted, Singleton can’t get worse. The pen really can’t be as bad again, can it? If we have a real potential for depth, it’s in the most important area, and that would be starting pitching. I have intentionally avoided talk of the situation at third base. It’s Luhnow’s job to remedy that situation and I’ll leave it to him. No negatives today.

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  6. I would like to add one more positive. A few days ago JL said they were looking for another “talent evaluator.” I recommend they pay 1/2 salary to Flash and Steven. Maybe “Fleven” or “Stash.” It is apparent they have no difficulty in expressing an opinion when others disagree. They might melt the computers in Hotel Luhnow. I am sorry but 1OP would not be my first choice. Not with his middle name being “old.”

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    • I’m pretty sure it’s my last name, “pro”, that would keep me from fitting in over at the Astros front office. Of course the 1/2 salary sounds about par for the course for the Astros. And, Shirley, they are getting what they pay for.

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  7. interesting trade today. cant say as i like it all that much at first glimpse, but i bet there is more to it in coming weeks. castro might be on the move? or maybe traded at deadline?

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  8. Astros have 4 catchers on their 40-man right now. You can bet there is much more action coming. They must like Conger to make a 2 for 1. Or somebody else wants a catcher from the Astros in a trade and we covered our bases beforehand.
    Looks like Folty wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said they want him to win a starting job in ST. Nitro is now an Angel.

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    • Tim, I think they were worried about Nitro’s ability to: a) break into the rotation and b) have good enough stuff to ever be a late inning reliever. I think they were more confident in Conger’s bat than Perez’s and more confident in his framing than Corporan’s. Perez’s arm was strong, but it was also wild.
      I also see this trade as the first domino falling.

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      • I agree. Nitro had the look of a swingman. But he could also follow the path Kuechel took. We’ll see. But pitch framing is the key here. If you think that is a thing, then this is a great deal for the Astros. Conger was best in baseball in calls per game.

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  9. Yikes. Seems like an expensive price tag for a backup catcher who’s already in his first year of arbitration. First Cosart, now Tropeano. I agree that there must be more to come, but the deal straight up looks like it clearly swings to the Angels. Not to mention trading within the division.

    And, since he’s ticketed as the Astros’ backup, I guess it’s “see ya later Carlos”, as in Corporan!

    Could Stassi and Conger be the new tandem in Houston for 2015?

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  10. I am feeling better about the team – that is because I am a traditionalist who thinks a team should be based on a strong pitching staff and I like the improvement there.
    The Conger trade is an interesting one as it is like waiting for the next shoes to fall for a tap dancing octopus. Makes you think a lot is planned.

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  11. I guess they are banking that conger won’t add his name to the long list of mid 20’s guys who perform better in the minors than the majors.

    Put him, Grossman, Singleton, Marisnick, Villar, et al at AAA and we can have our offensive juggernaut. To boot you will be more likely to find them on TV!

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  12. Judge Hughes denied the motion allowing Comcast to appeal to the 5th Curcuit of Appeals. He said the decision is his. They adjourned until 2:00 PM tomorrow. We should have conclusion on this issue this week. Of course, if the stay is granted the whole deal probably falls apart and we may never see the Astros on TV.

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  13. Conger & Stassi: See no reason for Stassi to sit and Conger to play. Perhaps the roles will be reversed. Castro for a 3rd or 1st Baseman? Perhaps a SP? This just can not be the end of the trade(s).

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  14. As it stands for now, I’ll be holding off on rum and cigar until Friday night. Tropeano, once I finally got to see him pitch, just looked too darn herky jerky. KInd of like putting Pence on the mound. But I don’t get the Conger pick up. I don’t see any Conger stats that impress. If Castro is truely part of the 2015 plan, maybe Stassi is getting moved as part of a larger deal. Hold tight. Much more to come.

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    • Okay, some quick observations:

      * Tropeano is a Wade guy, not Luhnow’s.
      * It’s another 2-for-1 deal, helping the 40-man roster situation.
      * Yes, daveb, “Hold tight”.
      * I don’t like this deal straight up. Angels project Trope to compete for rotation in ’15.
      * Is Castro gone or could it be Houston still has 1B thoughts in the back of their mind?
      * Were Astros somewhat showcasing Tropeano down the stretch since they knew they would trade him?
      * Is framing all that critical for a backup who may only play a couple times a week?
      * Conger is another former first round pick. Luhnow sure likes those guys!

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      • Chip, Conger caught almost half of the Angels games last year and the stats you cannot see are that the Angels pitchers had a 3.35 era while he was catching and he was absolutely one of THE best framers in the league having an incredible “run’s saved” average because he gets umps to call strikes.
        We don’t know what’s going on, but something tells me that we needed the 40-man room and somebody wants one of our catchers in a trade for a player we want from them. I also think that Luhnow really likes one of our minor league catchers a lot and wants to clear a path for him. But that’s just a hunch from one-old-pro.
        I just love this.
        The best way to improve a baseball team is to make moves and end up with better players in positions of need and trading players in positions of strength and grow a majority of players on the farm. We are neck deep into this process.

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      • OP, I love the chess moves to and wish we could see behind the curtain a bit at the positioning for the next move. Indeed, really cool. I just wonder if Trope could have returned a bigger prize, perhaps in a package for a legit 3B or corner OF. Maybe I’m thinking too highly of him, but just want to see the Astros get everything they can out of the prospects and the system they’ve spent so long building. If that makes sense.

        Indeed, it may turn out well, especially if he starts 70-80 games, but looking at overall numbers, our best comparison may be a part-time Brad Ausmus.

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  15. Color me confused on this deal. I understand we probably traded for Conger for his pitch handling. But he doesn’t have a Molina arm, his bat is no better than Corporan’s — if it’s that good — and if you look at his splits, he’s a much better (better being a relative term here) left-handed hitter.

    So, either pitch framing is the new market inefficiency or this was not a good move. Losing a young, talented pitcher for a backup catcher is just dumb.

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    • Conger is five years younger than Corporan. I guess that could be considered a factor. The intent could be to trade Castro, trade Stassi, trade Corporan or trade one of our other young catching prospects. But you can bet that some trades are coming because we are not keeping 4 catchers on the 40-man roster. Especially with Pena in the minors having to be protected or hung out to be drafted.

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      • just had a hard time thinking bout the trade cus couldnt get why we trade Nitro and Perez (just added to 40 man) for a backup catcher. everyone knows we r not keeping 4 catchers on the 40 man so i guess theres more to come. i still think its either Castro or Stassi the one leaving but also thinking in the Pena situation who needs to be protected or someone will pick him in the rule 5. a 2014 gold glove and their best defensive catcher since 2010. dont get me wrong cus we all know he needs to hit more but he’s improving. believe his bat will come along like Molina. he just hit 249 but looking at the numbers he was hitting bout 278 or so and a 2-32 slump at the beggining of august kept him from hitting around 280 with 13 HR’s and almost 60 RBI’s in a team where Ruiz got 77RBI Hernandez 75, Gregor 45 and (Correa 56 RBI by at july) those are good numbers he got and last but not least he killed every catcher at any level throwing out would be basesteelers. off season party just started lets give it some time cus i feel the coming weeks r gonna be fun. also as Evan Drellich posted on twitter where he said that a catcher is on the move but who? lets wait n see.

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    • Pitch framing may help Keuchel, but do we have anyone else with enough idea where it is going to get close calls consistently? Also, I really question whether pitch framing is a real thing. You teach it to little leaguers, but I imagine umpires (like hitter) determine if a pitch is a strike within the first ten feet, not the last.

      Another move is certainly coming. I don’t care about what we gave up so far – we have guys like Wojo and White who probably can win at the same rate in the majors as Nitro – but it bothers me to spend the first slice of payroll increase pie in this manner. Going to need to revisit after all moves are made, but without context it feels like the JL brain trust is trying to prove they are the smartest guys in the room…

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  16. Not feeling it too much after this trade – though I did wonder if Tropeano could keep from getting injured with his motion. I know it was technically a 2 for 1 40 man deal, but how long was Perez on the 40 man? A week? less?
    I was just hoping if we started bundling off pitchers like Cosart or even Tropeano that I would be more excited about it….but I’m not. Got to give the Cosart move time – but I doubt I will be jumping up and down about Conger ever.

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  17. The Conger move is a bit puzzling, but like I said last week……don’t get attached to ANY guy on this roster. Hang on boys and girls, it’s gonna be a WILD ride into 2015. This team HAS to get better, and trades are gonna pi$$ us off, but that’s the
    “this is gonna hurt” for a little while kinda GM we have. Start the trades…..we want to WIN!

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