It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day for Astros! Right? Hello, right?

It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life.

At this point, it’s still in the future, but Jim Crane has promised extra funding, Jeff Luhnow says he could be convinced to spend it all in one place if it warrants and rumors abound that the Astros are engaged this winter.

Yes, there is something in the air. But will 2015 be the year or will it be just another stepping stone to 2017?

A.J. Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey — hey, even Jesus Guzman and Jerome Williams — are off the board or never quite made it there. But with the front office, general manager and manager shuffles, movement is sure to abound in the coming weeks.

What will be in the Astros’ Christmas stocking? Will it be a lump of coal or a nice shiny new diamond?

To be sure, the expectation is at an all-time high. And, perhaps for the first time since he joined the Astros, Luhnow has been somewhat vocal about his plans to upgrade. So, what will make a successful off-season?

One significant upgrade.

  • Yes, the Astros need upgrades at several spots, but Luhnow needs to start spring training with a clear, solid, plug-’em-in-and-let-’em-play upgrade at either shortstop, third base or a corner outfield spot. I’m talking head and shoulders, clear cut, absolute upgrade everyone sees as a “wow”! Houston would be fine with a selection from its catching core and Jon Singleton will probably (eventually) be a solution at first base. But, let’s be clear. The Astros can not have Singleton at first, Matt Dominguez at third, Jonathan Villar at shortstop and Robbie Grossman in left field when the season starts. Something has to give.

The bullpen baby.

  • Luhnow has taken a hit with the signing of the older trio: Matt Albers, Jesse Crain and Chad Qualls. The Crain signing was a risk, but Albers and Qualls would have been given nice deals by other teams as well. Still, this is one that Luhnow can not miss on this time around. As a result, I’d expect a solid, plug-’em-in closer. He needs an almost can’t miss solution. David Robertson is still out there, but he may be cost prohibitive, for many teams.

Not July, April!

  • The Astros have had plenty of time to build a base, gel and prepare. Fans and others can’t wait until the 2015 trade deadline for improvement. Houston needs a strong April, which means Luhnow will need to act between now and spring training, at least to upgrade the foundation. Yes, there will be additions in March and even in July next season, but with a treacherous 2014 behind, a new manager in the fold and higher expectations, a quick start out of the gate is almost mandatory.
  • The Astros haven’t been .500 in April since 2006 and, in fact, have won more than 10 games in that kickoff month only once in that time frame. It’s a new day. Or should be.

Add to the foundation.

It’s time to make the call…

  • The Astros have had plenty of time to watch Jason Castro, Villar and even Grossman and Dominguez and others. Time to make the call. Luhnow may be preparing to do just that with any of these players. He made the call with Jarred Cosart, Nick Tropeano and others. No reason to think he won’t, but the longer some of these drag on, the more it drags down the team. Granted, some of these are stop gaps and there are no immediate options, but this winter should present opportunities to replace at least some of those gaps with long-term solutions.

Questions to start your week on an upbeat, new-day, new-dawn

  • How are ya feeling about the Astros’ off-season chances? Upbeat? Skeptical? Excited? Disappointed already?
  • Pull the trigger: Which player(s) is it time to make the call on?
  • You’ve heard a few rumors about the Astros being tied to certain players. Of the ones you’ve heard, which one excites you the most?
  • Of the three positions I mentioned above (SS, 3B, COF), which one is most imperative for significant upgrade?
  • Is a fast start in April really important? Or have I over emphasized the significance?
  • Other than winning or other general labels, what specifically does Luhnow need to do between now and spring training to have a successful winter?


37 comments on “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day for Astros! Right? Hello, right?

  1. I’m convinced that the Cosart and Tropeano trades were spearheaded by the open criticism of the tandem system by those two players. They spoke out and are gone. But their criticisms were inspired by the stupidity of the tandem system itself. Case in point: Matt Heidenreich floundered all of 2013 in the minors but was inserted into the tandem rotations in CC and Lancaster in 2014, taking valuable innings from better pitchers, forcing them to work alternately out of the bullpen and really hurt CC early in the season resulting in his demotion to Lancaster, where he took up innings from better pitchers.
    Heidenreich was released last month by the Astros. There was no reason to have had him pitching this past season with all the prospects we had down there, other than bad judgement about his performance by the front office.
    Appel and Boras have had some things to say about the Astros way of doing business, which riles some faithful Luhnow loyalists, but the truth is, Luhnow has really made some big mistakes and he is going to have to start turning this team around. He hired Porter. Porter was his guy and by Luhnow’s standards that was a terrible hire because, from the beginning, he and Luhnow clashed. That’s Luhnow’s fault! He hired the wrong guy.
    It’s time for Luhnow to turn it around. He hired a new manager, Hinch, that nobody else wanted as a manager and now it is time to acquire players. Is he going to hire the same kind of players he hired last offseason?
    Before you jump on me for my statements, let me relieve you of your answer- everything rebuttal: Collin McHugh! He makes everything wrong with Luhnow a win. Sigh. If Luhnow is a genius, what about that GM in San Francisco? And I don’t even know his name, but, by my standards, that guy is the genius!
    I promise I will stick to the topic better in subsequent posts.


    • How about I come out of left field and support what you just wrote? Here is the thing…Hinch could be an intriguing manager on one level, but the perception is bad because he had a failed run in AZ where he is said to have lost the clubhouse. The big problem is that we need the players in Houston. The computers can’t win the games without players getting 27 outs for us. A management consultant should be better at dealing with the people side of the equation.


    • I’m calling BS OP. A quick search for “Tandem rotation criticism” turns up just a bunch of complaining from Bud Norris, JJO, and a bunch of other malcontents that cannot stand people on their lawn. A search of “Tandem rotation criticism Cossart” delivers something about a geneticist named Cossart who actually supports the tandem rotation concept as it pertains to the double helix. No word on how he feels about it as far as AA pitching is concerned.

      You have no evidence that Cossart or Tropeano were traded because of a dislike of the TRs. It is more likely that they were traded because they have funky delivers.

      You know, the TR is not something Lunhow dreamt up. It has been used in many organizations. Believe me, a couple of more years without significant arm injuries and everyone will be doing it, just like they did with the shift.


      • I said I was convinced, I didn’t say you were convinced. I sited Tropeano’s recent comment that the tandem system was the cause for his problems not performing well in CC in 2013 in this blog in the last three months. It was in an interview and I commented that it was surprising he would even go there considering Cosart had been dealt. I also commented that Tropeano might be traded, but not for a backup catcher. It was common knowledge that Cosart was against the tandem and also the way the Astros were always trying to get their players to take less. I suppose you wouldn’t believe me if I said Aiken, Nix and Marshall had problems with Luhnow. Dig deeper. Appel landed right in the middle of the tandem criticism twice in the last few months and he’s still here because they have too much at stake to trade him. But they might end up having to move him if he keeps talking.
        Funky deliveries. Jankowski looks pretty funky to me but they haven’t traded him. The funny thing is that Cosart and Tropeano were high prospects who spent several years in the organization, but openly had things to say about the way the Astros treat their players and they are the ones who got traded, and none of the lesser prospects who shut up and take it have been moved.
        The TR may have been used in several organizations, but never like the Astros are using it and nobody else is using it right now. It’s crap and the pitchers hate it.. And teams were using the shift 25 years ago so Luhnow didn’t invent it. He just uses it more because it’s something he can say he does to help the team instead of going out and signing good players.


  2. I noticed when you mentioned positions needing an upgrade, you left off first base. Frankly, give the $10 million they’ve committed to Singleton I don’t blame you. But lately I’ve been thinking I’d like to see a change at first base instead.

    Take left field for example. I have more faith we’ll get production from Grossman, Marisnick (with Fowler actually in left, but you know what I mean), Tucker or Aplin than I do Singleton over at first base. The same is true of Moran or Sclafani at third or Marwin at SS.

    Who that shiney new first baseman is, I don’t know. But if we’re going to spend a ton on one spot, that’s where I’d spend it.

    Can I feel upbeat and skeptical? Because that’s how I feel.

    Pull the trigger on a catcher. While we’re at it, let’s send Matty D and Villar packing for whatever we can get.

    My older daughter’s best friend Margaret has a younger brother named James. James is a HUGE Twins fan. Yesterday after church he was telling me it’s time to trade Trevor Plouffe. I’d take him at third if we can’t find that first baseman.

    Third is most imperative … after first and the bullpen.

    I think a strong April can set the tone for the season. I’d be all for it.

    Get a bullpen. If nothing else, a solid pair of relievers to go along with what we already have is vital.


    • Hip Hip Horray Brian you have seen the Light, I have zero faith in Singleton. I could gut another year of “whatever Castro” he has the passion for winning and baseball like The Raiders leadership has for football. I’m hoping opening day, no Matt D, No Villiar, No Grossman and a legit stud at 1st.


    • Late last night I expressed the exact same doubts about Singleton on the weekend post. First base just seems like a bottomless pit for the Astros and Singleton instills zero confidence for me.


    • Brian, I wouldn’t oppose an upgrade at first. Just saying that we’ve seen plenty of Dominguez, plenty of Villar and plenty of Grossman. The upside for those guys is not nearly what it might be for Singleton. So, for today, knowing what we know, upgrade where you’re certain there will be a hole in April.

      Singleton is still in prospect mode, to be sure. Dominguez has over 1,300 PAs and Villar has a full season’s worth.

      Honestly, I’d take a huge, significant upgrade at SS or 3B with Singleton at 1B. Or would you rather have the significant upgrade at 1B with Villar and Matty D on the left side?


      • Chip, I am DONE with Villar at short. I just do not believe he has what it takes. As for Dominguez, I think I’d need to see something special this spring.

        The reason I single out Singleton is there’s just no viable replacement in the system who could conceivably play this year. At third, we have Moran and Sclafani. At short there’s MarGo, who is more than serviceable. Left field, well it’s a long list including but not limited to Marisnick, Grossman and Tucker.

        But at first it’s either Singleton or Carter. And then we’d need a DH. No thanks. I say upgrade at first and let the chips fall where they may (Sclafani) at third. Or do both first and third by trading for Plouffe.


    • Now that is just Crazy. I hope they have some sort of opt out protection somewhere at about 7 years! Old Pro what do you Sclafani doing in 2015?


      • No, Kevin, that is just stupid crazy! Yes, there is some sort of “protection”. It’s an opt out, but it’s for Stanton. I’m not aware of any protection for the team, other than insurance if Stanton should be injured.


      • The only thing the AFL showed me about Sclafani is that he can hit. Because the SRR had so many good prospects playing, they could not put Sclafani in a spot. So they played him in a few positions and several times at DH. It really tells me something when a coach from another team starts Sclafani at DH, batting second in the league championship game. I think baseball people think this guy can hit.
        I think Sclafani can play DH, 2B, 3B, LF, First Base, (and SS if someone is injured). I think he can hit and get on base and steal a few bases right now but will be a better player a year from now. I think he can help the Astros this year, I think he would make a great utility guy who will push for a starting job somewhere with his OBP. I think he has a good chance to make the team out of ST and will be invited to the major league camp, but he needs to rest for a month and start getting ready with some conditioning by Christmas. I believe he could use a little more muscle over his entire body. and some real concentration on his leg quickness. I wish he could work out with Correa”s trainer.
        I think Sclafani smells blood in the water and is going to seek it out.
        I think the Astros played him in the AFL to see if he was a mirage and he got everyone’s attention with his bat.


  3. I’ve been crazy busy lately and I know some of you keep up better on whats happening out there than i do in the off season. What are our real options at 3B and SS???


    How are ya feeling? A little apprehensive – I think it is a critical off-season and we have to have more hits than misses this off-season, especially in the bullpen.
    Pull the trigger: Which player(s) is it time to make the call on? I think I want to see anyone but Matty D at 3B this season. His production last season was a declining crash and burn and anyone you could name could improve on that.
    Excited the most about players the Astros are “tied” to? Not Hank Conger…how about Hanley Ramirez?
    Of the three positions I mentioned above (SS, 3B, COF), which one is most imperative for significant upgrade? I say 3B – it is time to get some production any production there.
    Is a fast start in April really important? Or have I over emphasized the significance?
    I’m sick of being in the toilet at the end of April. Winning begets winning and we need that contagion to spread early and often.
    Other than winning or other general labels, what specifically does Luhnow need to do between now and spring training to have a successful winter?
    1) Fix the frigging bullpen
    2) Get one solid bat to add to the lineup
    3) Pick up one more starting pitcher


  5. I am not as despairing as everyone else on Singleton. Even with a total death march in September he still knocked in 44 runs – there is something there – he just has to get straightened out.


  6. Agree completely our Astros biggest immediate needs are SS/3B/LF/1B/Bullpen. However, I’m not all that keen on stop gaps. If players on the 2017 Houston Astros World Championship Team are already in the system then my preference is to upgrade elsewhere. My heresy: Correa/Moran/Ruiz are in the system, so string along with Dominguez/Gonzales/Villar/Petit. (Ducks for cover.) Jon Singleton is in the system and in spite of his putrid 2014 is still possibly the 2017 first base man. Rather than plugging holes in the dike on the way to .500, make the big splurge that legitimizes the club, makes it attractive for other top tier FA’s to come to Houston, and fills a gap for 2017. I think we need an outfielder and relief pitchers not in the system. Let’s go all in on David Robertston or, how about Melky Cabrera?


  7. Old Pro, I saw Sclafani in the championship game on TV and he sure seemed impressive to me. You mentioned him as a possibility for infield positions and left field. What do you know about his arm strength? Does he have the arm for a third baseman?


    • Larry, he was a 4 year starter in HS and College at SS. In all the scouting reports I have read I have not seen anyone rave about his arm, but until a guy becomes a top 20 prospect, they don’t give enough info. The reference I did find commented on a quick release at SS. Can anyone else help with this.
      I can tell you that after he was drafted, he looked at the top two SSs the Astros drafted in 2012 before they drafted him(Correa and Fontana in the first two rounds) and decide to try and play as many different positions as he could in the minors.
      John Sickels said right after he was drafted that if he hit in the minors, he could be a major league utility player.


  8. Matty D’s numbers were worse than a Punch and Judy SS. We absolutely have to upgrade 3B next year. It would be different if Dominguez had good minor league numbers, like Singleton, where you hold out hope he will figure it out. That is not the case and his defense is not that good where we can tolerate another year of sub .300 OBP with high K rate.

    I can live with one more year of MarGo at SS as long as we find an upgrade at 3B. Also, since he has options, I would like to see the Astros find someone who is a decent bat at 1B to replace JS if we have to send him to Fresno. It would have to be a veteran who is comfortable with not being the starter at the beginning of the season, but could be ready to jump into that role, if needed. Michael Morse?

    Of the potential closers being discussed Andrew Miller excites me the most. I know he hasn’t been a full-time closer before, but he is downright nasty and his numbers last year were filthy. You grab him and another reliable set-up man to go along with Qualls, Sipp and Fields and the bullpen takes a big leap forward, in my opinion. Drop Qualls back to a 7th or 8th inning guy and the rest just fall in where they fit best.


  9. If Luhnow goes with a “splash” player, who or what would do it for you? A bonafide
    third baseman, a starting pitcher, a sure handed short stop, or a REAL closer?
    Remember $20 million only goes so far, but I would be doing a happy dance for a new short stop! Maybe a couple of used to be guys for the pen, but that’s just me.
    A *real* short stop would be a wonderful gift, since that guy is the captian of the infield. Castro and Stassi should be on the clock, because Luhnow WILL dangle
    both of them at the winter meetings next month. Again……..$20 million won’t get much.


  10. Sclfani’s stats are interesting (and let me add quickly – very limited). Dan or someone mentioned his terrible numbers at short. True. But 16 of those errors happened in 2012. In 2014 he played 5 positions + DH. All limited. Someone has to play 2nd base in the minors behind Altuve. Looks like he got that job. So either he is being groomed for UT or he has no position. He obviously has little to no power (no DH). I hope he proves to have so much “grit” that you have to play him – but right now he is just very interesting and not proven at any position. I love it when a player MAKES you find a place for him – lets hope he is that. (Again, just looking at his stats for 3 years in the minors that covers less than 1,200 PAs.)


    • It was his 3B stats that were really really bad – but again in very limited appearances. Basically he has a 10% chance of making an error on a ball hit to him at 3B.


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