Two Sundays left in a Astros’ season that has produced the most hope and roller coasters since perhaps the Cardiac Kids’ days in the ’80s. The over-used “most important” phrase has been tagged to every game, every inning, every series, and now, A.J. Hinch says the upcoming road trip is the single most important of the season.
The only difference between 2015 and the previous seasons is that Houston is now playing games that matter in the last week, and it’s Seattle and Arizona who will be playing scrubs, rookies, mixing rotations and looking at players for next year. That can help and that can hinder, but it’s the business of late September baseball.
Either way, next Sunday, we’ll be discussing rotations, rosters and potential lineups. Either for the playoffs or for 2016.
Houston still has its own fate…
Seven games remaining and the Astros still hold their own destiny in their hands. That was true two weeks ago with the division, now it’s so with the Wild Card.
Obviously, to leave no doubt, a 7-0 run will do it and turn the contenders into pretenders. A 5-2 would also likely guarantee a spot. Anything less, however, means depending on the Angels and/or Twins to help with a last week struggle of their own.
Keuchel and McHugh, the new Lima and Hampton.
Back in 1999, the Astros had two killer pitchers in Jose Lima (21-10) and Mike Hampton (22-4). Hard to compare the two sets of pitchers, especially since they competed on two completely differently composed teams. One of those teams was more top-heavy (Carl Everett, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio with a Ken Caminiti, Derek Bell and Richard Hidalgo sprinkled in, not to mention a 16-game winner in Shane Reynolds). You could make arguments for both tandems.
In 2015, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have often carried the team when no other starter has won more than five games! Still, there are many comparisons to draw. Keuchel could get to the 20-win mark and perhaps a Cy Young, but both have taken disparate paths to their successes. I’ll let you draw your own comparisons, but Keuchel and McHugh may well surpass Hampton and Lima as a Houston combo (perhaps already have) with both being under team control longer.
The Scott Kazmir Experiment
It was a worthy gamble and Luhnow shouldn’t be blasted for it. Accountable, yes, of course, but adding a veteran, proven pitcher at the deadline was a smart move that most everyone lauded at the time. It was an improvement for the rotation though we now know there are more valuable options for the future and it might be a tough call to add him to a playoff roster.
Even a few weeks back, we heard the Astros were discussing an extension with the Houston native. Now, not so much and it will be a game that will play out over the coming weeks. If anything, Kazmir’s production in Houston and his age and the questions will lower his next contract — or at least his negotiating stregnth — whether in Houston or another city. Another two year, $22 million would be reasonable for the Astros, especially if Luhnow has given up on Mark Appel and doesn’t feel the pipeline will yield another Lance McCullers Jr. or Vince Velasquez between now and 2017.
Still, if the Astros do re-sign Kazmir, expect another Scott Feldman front-loaded deal or even an option year. In other words, two years $22 million with $13 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2017).
At this point, Keuchel, McHugh and McCullers will lead the rotation. Feldman is still in the fold, with Velasquez. And there’s still Michael Feliz, Appel, not to mention the now retreads of Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock.
Where to spend the money?
We’ll jump ahead, since I’ve opened the door with the Kazmir discussion. The Astros’ $72 million payroll in 2015 will continue to climb in 2016, especially considering the arbitration-eligible players. Just last year, fans were complaining about the low $50 million budget that followed that infamous $26 million in 2013. Seriously?
The question will be: Where to spend the money? Add a player like Kazmir (or another similar pitcher) or focus the budget first on a proven corner infielder? Frankly, the Astros can no longer hope that a first baseman in the system makes it. Yes, there are players that will one day be major leaguers, but will it be in 2016? Yes, you can argue Tyler White or A.J. Reed, but spend the money on a quality guy and deal with the success of those guys when it happens.
I’ll have an analysis of the payroll and budget, including arb-eligible predictions, thoughts and options, soon.