Do Neshek, Gregerson signings mean Astros have turned the corner?

After six years of fire sales, rebuilding, reconstruction, missed opportunities, PR debacles and plenty of head scratching moves and decisions, is it possible the Houston Astros have turned the corner?

Could the signing of two proven bullpen arms make that much of a difference? Will other signings and trades now follow that will bolster a batting order that has been missing significant, consistent punch since Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence left?

And, will a starting rotation that solidified itself last year continue to anchor a staff that seems ready to take its place in the upper third of the league in 2015?

Questions still abound, but the signings of Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson seem to point to stopping the sieve-like, merry-go-round production of one of the best throw-gas-on-the-fire bullpens in the league the past few years. Then again, haven’t we been here before? Weren’t the signings of Chad Qualls and Matt Albers — and to a lesser extent Jesse Crain — met with the same optimism a year ago?

Yes, of course. And, they will still have to play all 162 games to determine if the optimism is well-placed or ill-fated. But here’s what we now seem to know:

Jim Crane is committed to The Luhnow Plan.

  • Obviously, somewhere back in the dark days of the Luhnow-Bo Porter personality conflicts, Crane reinforced his support for Luhnow with a contract extension. Apparently, Porter didn’t receive said vote of confidence. Meaning that Crane approved of the direction Luhnow was taking the club. Despite some naysayers, many in baseball obviously believe The Luhnow Plan is sound, but Crane and Crane alone has the only voice that matters in that discussion. Will Luhnow be on the hot seat in 2015? Previously, I may have said “possibly”. At this point, Crane seems to be in for the long haul, barring, of course, another 100-loss season.

Yes, friends, the $ are probably there.

  • Some have doubted the dollar commitment from the Astros, yet they’ve done what they said they would do all along the way. Crane and Luhnow have indicated payroll will climb by about $20 million next season and they obviously have been working in that direction. We may never know how many deals like Andrew Miller Luhnow didn’t win. Perhaps more than any off-season since 2006 when Houston signed Carlos Lee and Woody Williams, the Astros appear to be players in the free agent and trade markets. You could argue they were players last year, but the sense is they were very limited and didn’t have the revenue wherewithal to shoot for the stars.

Another upgrade away from 85 or 88?

  • Luhnow has clearly been seeking to upgrade a number of areas, specifically the bullpen and left side of the infield. Adding a player like Jed Lowrie or even another stop-gap solution to go along with a solid rotation could catapult the Astros into realms they haven’t enjoyed since 2008. In fact, tack on the possible upgrades mentioned around the league and factor in at least one or two success stories from the prospect realm (e.g. Jon Singleton, Michael Foltynewicz, Domingo Santana, Colin Moran) and it could get real interesting real fast. The Astros have finished above .500 only twice since the 2005 World Series season.

Back end looking good.

  • Keeping in mind everyone liked the “back end” a year ago, this year, it appears that new manager A.J. Hinch will have significant options late in the game. If Qualls, Neshek and Gregerson remain healthy (ahem!), Houston likely won’t be mired at the bottom — or top, depending how you look at it — of the blown saves list. Add in a successful situational lefty (Tony Sipp?) and the success rate could be high.

Biggest questions remaining?

  • Frankly, the biggest questions or even “acquisitions” may not be who plays third or short next season. The biggest answers to an 85-win season could be how Luhnow handles Dexter Fowler, Jason Castro/catching and how much rope he allows Singleton. Losing Fowler without a significant replacement could set the plan back months. The Astros could do worse — much worse — than Fowler/Springer/Marisnick (or your name the third guy) outfield. Signing Fowler to an extension could send as strong a message as bringing in a middle-of-the-road replacement.

Do the Astros really have a reputation?

  • Granted, with the new-fangled tandem rotations, selling off of veteran talent and an all-new staff from top to bottom, much has been made of Luhnow’s pitfalls and blunders. Most diehard fans would obviously pick apart every move and, without being able to see the big picture blueprint, each individual move may have blunder written all over it. That said, since the minor league program has received kudos from every angle and some recent remarks actually point to a level of respect from baseball people, Luhnow and the Astros may have turned that corner as well. While he may have attempted to overpay for Miller, the Neshek and Gregerson deals seem to be about what was expected. Any perceived overpayments this winter could also go to the competitive nature of the limited number of free agents or trade possibilities.

Questions for you…

  • With the Wednesday signings, the rotation just got richer. Meaning that Folty and others perhaps mentioned as bullpen possibilities are now free to battle for the back-end of the rotation. Good news! In fact, looking back, where would Jarred Cosart and Nick Tropeano have pitched next season? If the season started today, what would the rotation look like?
  • What is the different in this year’s signings of Neshek and Gregerson and last year’s Crain, Albers, Qualls signings?
  • Has your level of confidence in Luhnow risen today?
  • At this point, if the Astros didn’t add another bat to the lineup and started with Jonathan Villar and Matt Dominguez on the left side of the infield, are you content?
  • Luhnow is likely just getting started and more roster moves are likely. Prediction please: How many more free agents? How many trades between now and January 1?

26 comments on “Do Neshek, Gregerson signings mean Astros have turned the corner?

  1. Chip’s Question: “At this point, if the Astros didn’t add another bat to the lineup and started with Jonathan Villar and Matt Dominguez on the left side of the infield, are you content?”

    First of all, the signings of Gregerson and Neshek are good steps forward. It remains to be seen if they bring any real progress. First is the issue of whether they are – and can stay – healthy; second is the issue of whether they [especially 34 year old side-armer Neshek] start to regress.

    On the question reproduced above, obviously I would like to see a significant upgrade over both Villar’s and Dominguez’ stats in 2014. After last year’s debacle, Villar will have to channel some inner Superman in ST to beat out Marwin [assuming – and hoping – Marwin isn’t traded]. But we have no other 3B, so barring a trade [for whom, at what cost?] Matty D could well be our third-sacker one more year.

    To me, how ‘content’ we will be with Villar/Gonzalez and Dominguez on the left side of the diamond may also have something to do with whether we get better offensive production from 1B, C, LF and DH. We can have a couple of holes in our lineup and still be better than last year, especially with the potential for improvement in the pen. But if we have 5 to 5 1/2 holes in the lineup again [C, 1B, SS, 3B, LF and half the year at DH], I expect the natives to become very discontent with Dominguez and/or Villar very quickly.


  2. ◾Has your level of confidence in Luhnow risen today?

    Yes. He went after Miller and Robertson and came up short but kept at it and acquired two quality relief pitchers who could be part of the 2017 Houston Astros World Series Champions. No guarantees with relief pitchers, of course, but it now appears the Astros have sufficient depth to have a fine chance of having a strong 7th/8th/9th inning rotation coming out of spring training.

    ◾At this point, if the Astros didn’t add another bat to the lineup and started with Jonathan Villar and Matt Dominguez on the left side of the infield, are you content?

    Yes. Put me in the minority, but I’m just not into “shoring up” with non-2017 strategic players to bridge us to Moran/Ruiz and Correa. That is not to say I’m *** happy *** with how Villar and Dominquez played in 2014 or their prospects for the future, but *** content *** – yes, Save your pennies for 2017-strategic players.


  3. Baring major injuries feeling pretty good about our pitching 2015. If we could get a solid bat at 3rd on a 2 year deal 4-6 mill a year I’m In. I don’t see how we keep Moran and Ruiz both, so we may need to trade 1 and the other ready to start 2017


  4. Hmmmm…Padres/Dodgers need a third team in the Kemp deal. Padres are not offering enough back. Astros should send a group of prospects to the Padres to include with Grandal. We get Tyson Ross.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. – Nitro would fit at AAA. Cosart could have competed for the #1 spot in our rotation..although I think Keuchel has earned the right to enter ST with the adv this year. FWIW, I’m not down on that Cosart trade right now. I think he is in a better spot for him and Luhnow got some pieces in that trade that could pay off.
    – last year I don’t think anyone else was lining up to bid for Albers, Qualls, or Crain. We are paying a lot more for Neshek and Gregerson this year. I’m optimistic they can be valuable for multiple years.
    – I feel better about Luhnow now. I’m still concerned with our catching situation…he may move the wrong guy because everyone knows he has to move someone.
    – yes…I think we get a bounce back from MD and improvement from JV. I don’t think either become league average…but let’s not panic and hinder our progress.
    – I say two trades and zero FA. One to remove a catcher and one to befuddle us. I suspect we then see a lot of NRI for ST.


  6. Answering Chip’s questions
    – Tropeano would be on the outer edge of the competition for the 5th spot if he and Cosart were here, Cosart would probably be #3 in the rotation behind Keuchel and McHugh. Chances are then Feldman would be #4 and Obie would be #5.
    – I think the biggest differences in last year’s signings and this year’s bullpen signings is that Gregerson and Neshek were wanted by a lot more teams than Qualls, Crain and Albers. They are higher on the food chain. Gregerson has been very good for all 6 of his seasons. Neshek has had more success lately – but he was one of the best relievers in baseball. We beat out other teams for both these guys – I don’t think we were in steep competition last season.
    – I feel better about the FO all together today – but as I blogged about a week ago – there was no reason to despair – there were still a lot of good players available.
    – I think they should start with Marwin G on the left side and I would be a bit disappointed if Matty D was at 3rd.
    – I’m thinking 2 and 2 – 2 more FAs and 2 trades by the first of the year.


  7. Discussing Villar at short is a nonstarter for me. He’d have to show up hitting .400 through spring training to change my mind. I’d like s third baseman or a SS (and move MarGo to 3B), but if we have to suffer through another year of Matty D, I’d take that instead of an overpay and contract that blocks Maoran.

    This just became a very good pict hi g staff.

    I think 83-85 wins is very possible as is.


  8. Astros were 54-16 when leading after six innings, worst in the league at .771 W%.

    Average was .875. I figure the team that finished the year was exactly what their record said, 70 wins. With these additions I think this BP gives them a chance to be the leagues most average. All things being equal, an improvement to .875 in this department gives them seven more wins.

    That sounds about right to me, 77-85. Of course, all things will not be equal.


    • I don’t know how much an improved pen can do in the end – but 7 wins seems slim if these guys pitch well and a lot. Blown saves are a teams’ hangover. It kills the game you are in and hurts the team going forward.


      • I think the hangover thing is overblown. I don’t think the data supports it. The examples you cite are certainly possible (they did occur) but they do not represent the most likely outcome. My assumption that they will be the most average BP was pulled out of the air. But, again all things being equal, the most they can improve is 16 games if they are perfect after having the lead after the sixth. If they become a top three team when leading after 6, that is nine extra wins, 79-83.

        The starters middle relief can give the back end more chances to apply that improved winning %, but they were about middle of the pack in that department as it was. It’s hard to ask this rotation to do much more than they did last year.

        These two pitchers do not merit an expectation of 15-20 extra wins.


    • That sounds about right to me, Flash. I’m counting on more games from Fowler and Springer, plus a better effort from Singleton in 2015 to get into the 80’s in wins. Delusional guy made an appearance at my home last night and had me believing Singleton, Carter, and Springer will all have 30 HR each by mid-August. I can dream, right?


      • Delusional? Absolutely. But Springer and Carter hitting 30-plus HRs on the season, that’s doable. And that’s a few more wins. And moving Fowler to left field while putting either Marisnick or Springer in center (and the other in right) will be another two or three wins.

        It’s starting to add up.

        No sight of Jonathan Villar in Houston, that’s probably another win or so.

        See, I love it when a plan comes together.


  9. I’m more optimistic than I was a week ago, but today we still have question marks at four or our eight positions on the field. Our rotation might not have as much depth as it did last summer. And likely, we’ll still have the smallest payroll in MLB. Sure, help is on the way from the minors, but historically, even most top ten propects don’t end up having significant ML careers. So, I’m still somewhat the cynic.


  10. I’m ok with the two guys Luhnow signed today, but time will tell how the bullpen shakes out. I would have liked a bonafide closer, but I can’t complain about Luhnow’s pick up’s. Matt D. will be at the hot corner at the start of the season, and
    Drew is still on the board, but I don’t think he’s had a lot of time at 3rd. base.
    Jed Lowrie wants at least a three year deal, so that will determine his landing spot.
    As for Villar……..he’s gonna be on a *very* short rope, the guy is an error machine.
    I’m curious to see what trade Luhnow will pull off with Castro. I love watching other people spend money!


  11. Foltynewicz and “Bulldog” Oberholtzer plus Peacock not tipping his pitches could be the six starters we need to get thought this season. (Oh, I know, it’ll take more than six. Probably a spot start or three from Buchanan then Appel’s big debut. But six will carry the bulk of the starts.) I think Cosart would have been a real part of the mix, while Nitro maybe not so much. But we have 2016’s third baseman plus a great defensive center fielder.

    Neshek and Gregerson made this bullpen more than two men better, because it was more than the addition of two guys, it’s also the subtraction of two pieces of dead weight. I love this. By the way, it’s my birthday, so I’m glad Luhnow got me a present.

    I’ve always had some confidence in Luhnow. Now I have more. I’d like to see a third baseman on a two-year deal. Then I’d have even more confidence.

    As I stated above, Villar is not on my radar. He’s got great tools except the one between his ears. Marwin Gonzales is our shortstop unless we sign Jed Lowrie. Then MarGo is our third baseman. End of story. I don’t want Dominguez to be handed third base. If we can sign Lowrie or maybe even Stephen Drew to a couple of years, I’d be OK with that. If not, Matty D needs to fight for third against our farm hands.

    One trade, one free agent signing of significant magnitude. A couple of low-level FA signings.


  12. Neshek said he was glad to come to Houston, after finding out Gregerson was signed earlier. Sounded excited to be back pitching with Qualls. It always helps to have a bullpen that really get along, PLUS it rubs off on the younger pitchers!


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