Good morning, happy Monday! The Astros are 10 games away from the midpoint of 2015 and in a place no one dreamed just three short months ago. Again, No. You. Didn’t. Okay, maybe you did dream it, but you woke up in a cold sweat when you got to the part where Jim Crane was revealed to really be Gomer Pyle and he said “Sur-prise! Sur-prise! Sur-prise!”
Seriously, just when you think the Astros will bottom out, fall apart, go to pieces or end the run, somehow, someway, they pull out a series or a game.
How long will it last? Can they make it to August in first place? What new names will join the mix of George Springer and Jose Altuve? Here are some thoughts to start out your Monday…
The bottleneck is still coming.
If you recall, I wrote last year about the financial bottleneck that is coming in 2019-20. So many players will hit arbitration and free agency in that time frame that Jeff Luhnow will have to become a master juggler. Dallas Keuchel and Evan Gattis can be free agents in 2019, That same year, Springer, Collin McHugh and Brett Oberholtzer would be third-year arb-eligible, and other younger players will in the “system” by then as well.
That said, the bigger bottleneck is shaping up for as early as next season and 2017. As Dan so eloquently laid out over the weekend, the drafts are providing plenty of talent, which will free up funds. No, you know why Luhnow signed Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal. Preston Tucker, Domingo Santana, Springer are already in Houston, and Tony Kemp, perhaps Andrew Aplin and Brett Phillips will be here sooner than later. Throw in a surprise or two and the 2017 outfield (maybe even 2016) becomes a log jam.
The question before then may be to judge that talent and the ones you want on that team and delicately and shrewdly turn the others into a solid rotation piece and/or more compensation picks.
Seriously, other than perhaps catcher and perhaps, perhaps, first base) is there any place for a free agent signing this winter on the position side? Or will all/most of the money go to the rotation this off-season?
Speaking of bottlenecks…
Who’d have thought lining up the top of the order would be a problem for A.J. Hinch in June? Okay, yeah, you thought it might be an issue, but not in a good way. When Altuve returns, how do you hit the order? With Springer hot and Carlos Correa settling into the two-hole, do you dare move them away from 1-2? A contending team could do worse writing in the reigning AL batting titlist as its third hitter.
Here’s my thought for the top of the order: why mess with success? Is yours different?
If Jed Lowrie returns hitting like when he left (.300/.432/.567), Hinch will have to plug him in topside somewhere as well.
Can the Astros count on the young guys?
It’s a significant jump for a position player from AA to the majors. It’s highly unusual for a pitcher, and the Astros have jumped two this spring in Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez (three if you count Michael Feliz‘ short stint). Remember when Altuve, J.D. Martinez and Jimmy Paredes made that jump. Worked out well for Altuve, who hit the lineup running and never left. Martinez and Paredes struggled, though Martinez has clearly found his stride…in Detroit.
McCullers is clearly a keeper, but Velasquez may need more seasoning in how to miss bats and throw more “bad” strikes. And that is the tale of jumping players a complete level. Santana may also need more time at AAA, but Tucker seems ready to plant his flag somewhere in the order. When August and September roll around, which other players — either in Houston or not — do you believe will be making a contribution on the roster?
I would love top see Kemp, those 2 catches he made the other day in Center, where “Springer” like. VV needs to learn how to pitch, great arm, but right now he is just a thrower.
I think the 3 hole you need a powre RBI Guy.
Not sure where we play Kemp?
* With Springer hot and Carlos Correa settling into the two-hole, do you dare move them away from 1-2? *
Sure. Carlos Correa is destined to be a 3-hole hitter. Altuve, when he is healthy, is excellent as a 2-hole hitter. And if Springer and the #2 hitter both get singles, Altuve is 1. a better candidate than Correa to be on the back end of a double steal, and 2. Correa is a better candidate to make something happen on one pitch if the lead runner of the tandem gets thrown out on the double steal attempt. Unless Preston Tucker gets there, we still do not have a true #4 hitter, so this team really needs the best power + average + speed guy we have at #3.
Barring a trade [of Gattis or Carter, or both] I’d personally like to see the line-up after the ASB mutate towards:
1. Kemp [CF];
2. Altuve [2B],
3. Correa [SS]
4. Springer [RF]
5. Tucker [LF]
6. Gattis [DH];
7. Carter [or vs. RHP, Lowrie], [1B];
8. Valbuena [or, vs. LHP, Lowrie], [3B]
9. Castro [or vs. LHP, Heineman, who should replace Conger] [C].
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If you move an older player with production and salary for an older player who fills a need, you are a trader. A prospect for a vet, you are a buyer. A vet for a prospect, you are a seller. If you do all three, you are the 2015 Astros GM.
Chip, I see Kemp as a player whose current rule V status and the return of Lowrie, may just keep him off this team until next spring. I see Philips as a later, rather than a sooner.
When August and September roll around, I see Stassi, Santana, Singleton and Velasquez with the team. I see Veras and possibly Chapman in September.
Pat Neshek is incredible!
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OP, with the recent promotions, Phillips is clearly becoming the glistening charm of the organization. Not sure if he’ll ever reach Correa-level anticipation, but wouldn’t be hard to see him making the Corpus-to-Houston jump at some point. No? Or at least a cameo at Fresno, though the question could be where does he fit on the roster and lineup by that time.
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Good Morning Chip!!
– Outfield bottleneck – Perhaps you teach Tucker how to play 1B or as Tim is pushing for, put him in as the DH. Kemp could be the super-sub playing IF and OF (though I understand he can’t play the left side of the infield). Part of it will depend on who actually forces their way up. Is Maverick Phillips (his mom calls him by his middle name because his dad is Brett, also) going to continue the raking when he is moved back to sea-level at Corpus Christi (which could be called C-level)? Will Aplin show he can hit above AA? And don’t look now, but after a couple exciting games – Domingo Santana has 6 Ks in 10 ABs. Yikes.
– The batting order is a tough one to fiddle with – but I would do the following:
I think this would continue to help Springer and frankly help Altuve by not putting him in the “power” spot of 3rd in the lineup. Correa can handle it I think.
As far as the youngsters go – yes, Velasquez needs some more seasoning, though I like the idea from yesterday (Dr. Bill as I recall) of tandem tying Velasquez with McCullers Jr. That way you don’t have to eat up the rest of the bullpen for their starts.
Coming up in August, September.
Thomas Shirley, Wojo, Appel, Duffy, Kemp, Hoes. Maybe one of the relievers like Tyson Perez. Definitely a third catcher like Heineman. Singleton if he is still around.
If you are contending, you should pull up more bodies, so you can pinch run late, so you can situational pitch to a lefty, so you can pinch hit for the catcher….Fill that bench up and work on their dance moves.
I bet Hinch goes Springer-Correa-Altuve-Gattis…but my preference would be S-A-C-G right now…and possibly S-A-Lowrie-C-G depending on how well he bounces back from the injury.
The one thing I am certain of is that we do not want Gattis/Carter/Castro routinely on base in front of Springer or Correa. We want guys who can score from first when they hit the gap and let them be aggressive.
The way Gattis/Carter/Castro are hitting at this point, I don’t think they are much of a threat to be routinely on base in front of Springer and Correa. You’re right to want baserunners that can score from first on doubles, but you need baserunners that can get on first to begin with.
Carter’s OBP since 1 May – .353. Since 15 May – .379.
I get just as frustrated watching him get dominated by every pitcher that can hit 95 also. Walker is having a bad year, and his command is very much like you expect a 22 year olds to be, and yet Carter still made him look great. That said, Carter is actually getting on base quite a bit. Stats don’t lie.
Steven – no reply button with your post, but even if Carter is getting on base at a better clip these days – and he sure is – he still clogs up the bases because he is very slow and rarely able to score from first on a double.
Agreed. I would reply he is probably challenged to score from first on a triple. Maybe even a homerun.
Altuve in the 5 hole takes all the pressure of him as he is a bit screwed up right now IMHO
Altuve in the 5 hole takes all the pressure of him for a while, as he is a bit screwed up right now at the plate, IMHO
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My question: what kind of money do you think management will be willing to spend this offseason and who should they target? The answer to that should affect how we approach the trade deadline.
Finding a CF’er would be great, but it maybe more economical to stick with Marisnick and get prepared to pay the Altuve/Springer/Correa/Keuchel contracts that are coming – though Altuve’s puts him a little out there time wise. I really don’t expect them to make any major moves FA wise – though they are still in the rumor mill on Hamels.
Great post, Chip.
If they trade Carter I see Lowrie at 1st—–Valbuenna at 3rd.
I am just as guilty as anyone wanting certain players traded. Let me use Carter for example: Who might want him? Bosox – for Napoli (.203) w/ balance of $16 Million contract. Maybe? Indians – for Santana (.211) with over $11 Million in salary committed. So it would be Carter to someone for prospects. What could he possibly bring? Maybe a couple A ball pitchers? I believe that JL would have traded him already if he could get anything. Looks like we can’t sell high or low on Castro until we find (or trade for a catcher). Conger is NOT it. CS of 6%. I have not watched 100% of every game, but every game he catches he flat out just does not catch some pitches that hit his glove. I am starting to wonder if it is eye-sight.
Astrocolt45 – I was wondering about Congers eyesight yesterday. There was a ball on the ground right by his foot and he couldn’t find it for what seemed like 5 minutes. My first thought, seriously, was ” I wonder if he needs glasses”.
Barring a season-ending injury to anther contending team’s 1B or DH at a critical time before the deadline, at best Christ Carter is going to be a ‘throw in’ on a bigger trade for starting pitching or real 1B help. We just have to accept that we are not ever probably not going to receive anything of substance for Chris. At some point we have to just acknowledge that he is never going to be the guy he teased us that he could be last summer, and cut our losses. We’ve got a logjam of talent, and since Chris doesn’t even come close to fitting the profile of the World Champion Astro team of 2017, he just has to go. We need his spot on the 40 and 25 man rosters. We need to cut down unproductive offensive at bats [esp. Ks.] and he is by far the biggest offender. While it would be nice to use Chris’ salary dollars as a down payment towards the demands of Scott Kazmir or whoever else the F.O. decides to bring in, to pitch, that just may not happen. As far as the bag itself, Lowrie, Gonzalez, and/or Tucker and/or Singleton can fill the defensive position. Shoot, Tony Sipp or Jason Castro could probably play a pretty decent 1B in a pinch!
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I don’t know, Conger blocked at least 4-5 balls in the dirt the other night catching McCullers. His arm to me is suspect, the only stolen base he gave up that game was really on Hernandez not him, but it did seem like his throw was kinda non-line drivish. It looked like a poke over the SS. I think he is fine in his role. I am not sure he would be a great answer to catch 5 times a week instead of 1 time a week, but he probably wouldn’t be the worst every day catcher out there either. I think he gets a bad rap on chipalatta.
“I think he gets a bad rap on chipalatta” Steven, I agree on the “bad rap” part. Of course most of the rap is what the Astros gave up to get him. We also do not know how much behind-the-scenes “coaching” he may have done with the entire pitching staff and even Castro, who is undeniably a much better catcher this year than last. Pitch framing is more than just holding a mitt in a certain location and positioning your body…it involves the entire process from the pitcher to the time the umpire make a call. Hopefully, we’ll get some inside info on this at some point, but the Astros may not want to release certain info…maybe the Cardinals will tell us before it’s all over.
I absolutely agree that having given up Tropeano I expected a lot more. I thought the guy would compete for THE job, not part of the job. I don’t know that he can do it, but he is a better ball player than a lot of the bloggers here give him credit for.
BTW – I thought his pitch framing was great for McCullers in the game he pitched of the home series with Seattle. I was watching the Seattle version of root sports as the Houston one was blacked out for me – and they have pitchEQ up in the corner the whole game. There were 4 balls that were called strikes by the ump according to EQ in just the first inning.
A catcher – even a major league back-up catcher – needs to be a quick thinking, sure footed ‘rock’ of stability for the team. Hank looks more like a slow-reacting, poorly-coordinated sand-pebble-in-the-floodwater for us. This year, in limited action that I have seen Hank has:
1. been faked out badly on an easy tag at the plate, allowing a run to score;
2. tripped over a bat on the ground and missed what should have been an easy pop-out right at the plate;
3. thrown out a total of one base-stealer in 16 chances – and looked pretty much helpless in the area of managing base runners all season;
4. hit .208 and struck out 24 times in 77 at bats [acknowledgment: this has been offset by the fact that, despite primarily useless at bats, he has surprised everyone by sprinkling in 8 unexpected EBH’s, including 4 HRs – such that offensive production, by itself, would not be a sufficient reason to give up on him as a back-up catcher];
5. he’s focused so much on framing pitches, and so little on catching them, that in several games he has missed pitches Castro would have easily caught or blocked, but he missed them so badly that he didn’t even get charged with a passed ball because he never moved his mitt from the target he had set up. Especially with our young pitchers, I’d much rather him just let the umpire call a ball on our guy because he moved than he lets a runner move into scoring position or take 3rd just because he’s trying too hard to coax a strike we don’t deserve; and
6. Tyler Heineman is coming sooner rather than later – and Jake Nottingham is behind him, and Hank is quite frankly nowhere near good enough to compete with either of those guys.
Bill, you sound like you expect a perfect ball player. Noone ever wins if everyone plays perfect. His offense is too short sample to matter. Anything under 100 plate appearances tells us very little about what he will do the NEXT 100 plate appearances. Springers first 100 he was under .200.
I think the guy is fine as a backup. This time last year the hot minor leaguer was Stassi. Now its Heineman. Or Nottingham. Every minor leaguer that has a good season isn’t our next superstar. Conger at least does decent in the majors. He isn’t an all star. He really isn’t even a good choice as your starter, but he isn’t the starter. He is affordable, has some power, blocks the plate better than you are giving him credit for. His arm is weak. He needs better help from his pitchers too on that. I’m fine with him catching McCullers and Keuchel – or splitting Keuchel with Castro.
As for Carter – all you have to do is google “Chris Carter trade rumors.” They are non existent. I know sometimes trades come out of the blue, but noone has talked about this guy in a trade since July of last year. There doesn’t seem to be demand for him, and that has to be part of the equation – otherwise you give him away for practically free.
chron.com (Spit!!) is reporting that the Astros are about to move Appel from AA to AAA. After a really bad start to the season he has strung together a series of good starts….maybe he will be up here sooner than later.
Chris Carter is such an enigma. In the last 4 weeks he is hitting .266 BA / .406 OBP / .950 OPS which are good numbers if he could produce them all the time (which he doesn’t). On the other hand even when he is “hot” he still Ks in more than 30% of his plate appearances. I don’t know what to say.
How many 1B do put up a .950 OPS all the time without the help of PEDs or Steroids? Heck, I’m expanding, but I think the HR for Nelson Cruz off Keuchel was his first in a month. Hot/Cold happens to a lot of guys.
True, Devin. Everybody has a little cold streak. But over the course of 2015 so far here is the pretty impressive difference between Mr. Carter and Mr. Cruz:
Cruz – BA .315
HR – 19
RBI – 44
Ks – 70
Carter – BA .204
HR – 12
Ks – 95 [in 69 games]
Now, let’s be more fair, and look at the Rangers’ 1B, Mitch Moreland [in 50 games]
HR – 8 [in 19 fewer games than Carter]
RBI – 33 [in 19 fewer games than Carter]
Ks – 44 [in 50 games and 180 ABs]
I felt that way last year, Dan. I felt that way after ST. I don’t feel that way any more. I’ve seen enough Now I know what to say – or should I say sing:
Memories . . . from the infield of my mind.
Hazy, unfulfilling memories – of the way we were.
Scattered homers . . . way too few and far between;
smothered in a sea of strikeouts – that’s the way we were.
Could it be that we were home-run crazy then?
Why do K’s just scream from every line?
If we had the chance to trade Sir Chris again,
tell me would we – could we?
Memories . . . from his arbitration year.
Way too many at-bats wasted, for the way we were.
Memories . . . are so beautiful and yet.
What’s too painful to remember, we should simply choose to forged.
But its the whiff sound, we will remember,
whenever we remember, the way we were.
* That should, of course, be forget, not ‘forged’
So is Chris Carter playing the part of Robert Redford?
Yes, but Robert Redford was clearly the better hitter. Just look in the Hollywood Dictionary of baseball under the heading: ‘The Natural’
Just the fact that he’s capable of the type of hot streak he went through last year when he won player of the month in my opinion makes him worthy of getting some benefit of the doubt.
Tony, when I haven’t done anything this year, I can tell my boss that it’s okay, because I did something good last year. I’m sure my boss would be satisfied with that.
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Kemp is an intriguing talent and has a skill that this team lacks, namely high BA, high OBP, low K. If we bring him up why not try something really radical and exchange him for one of the high K thumpers. I like Gattis but what would we miss if Kemp got his at bats? Or put Gattis at first and get rid of Carter. Kemp walks more than he strikes out. Removing three or four strikeouts per game from Carter/Gattis seems like a good thing and a fair trade off for the occasional HR. At the start of the year our running game was wreaking havoc with some defenses. Doesn’t seem like that is happening so much and with Altuve hurt it probably won’t be any time soon. Kemp hitting 1 or 9 might revitalize that part of the offense and a distracted pitcher is more likely to serve up some mistakes to the big guys.
Just saw on MLB.Com that Reed and Kemp made the top prospects of the week. In June Reed is slashing 462/.557/.731 and his OPS for the week was 1.763 (565/.676/1.087)!!!! Kemp wasn’t slouching either at AAA 400/.438/.533.
Exactlty why I’ve been telling you guys to keep an eye on reed!! That kid has a pure swing that will make a manager drool!!!!!
The Astros should be in this race the rest of the season. Carter frustrates me as much as anyone, but I don’t think Singleton is even on par with Carter, offensively or defensively, and with Lowrie’s injury history I am not willing to trade our only viable 1B unless we acquire one via trade. I don’t want to have MarGpaying regularly and I definitely don’t want to move a gold-glove caliber OFer in Springer to play 1B. Unless we get a veteran 1B in a trade Carter must stay, in my opinion.
I would like to see Tucker at 1B. Not a gazelle in LF but I would like to see that more consistent bat in at 1B and split the OF between Springer Rasmus Marisnick and Santana.
I would like to see Tucker getting some reps at 1B, but not sure I want to try it during a pennant race. I would prefer he get reps at ST next year.
Why are we shifting on Chris Iannetta? The guy is hitting in Valbuena territory…why give him freebies?
96 Tears [I mean 96 Ks for Chris].
Ahh, Question Mark and the Mysterians. I think it was from their album “Question Mark and the Mysterians Greatest Hit”
Well I could see that one coming. He couldn’t keep the ball down to Pujols and voila it is 2-1 Angels.
Hello, Domingo Santana, Hanna, Fanna fo Banna, Fee Fi Fanna, Santana!
Wait, did Qualls just give up a run and take the loss. Didn’t see that coming.
Man, oh man……….WHEN is Hinch gonna learn. ((((((( QUALLS )))))))
Exactly. This also has to fall upon Luhnow as he is in charge of who is on the roster to begin with.
Unfortunately, you can’t trust Qualls to pitch to either protect a lead or when the game is tied. He simply doesn’t have it anymore and I think it has gotten to the point that Hinch has to realize mop up duty is really the only time you can use him.
As the guys on the radio pointed out – Qualls was one culprit and the top 6 in the lineup who went 1 for 23 were accomplices. Springer came within inches of a dinger though.
Glad I turned off and went to bed before that happened.
Did anyone else see the stat that Marwin Gonzalez is the fifth toughest player to walk in MLB? I’ve been in his corner in the last few years, but he’s not playing as well this season.
Might as well been a mile on the “HR” by Springer but that 1 for 23 killed them. I had to read the play by play to see what happened in the 8th. Qualls gives up a single, WP by Qualls, pop out. Thatcher on a walk and a stolen base to third, then the safety squeeze that was mishandled by Carter. He might have gotten Aybar with a clean throw but not to be. Lots of blame to go all around on this one.