Sunday update: Astros’ fate, “most important” and the tandems

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.


80 comments on “Sunday update: Astros’ fate, “most important” and the tandems

  1. Good. stuff Chip. Some big decisions for sure in the off season. My first thought would be trim some fat, Conger, Val no Buena, Carter, Rasmus is such a tough call he sucks then boom, and a few in the pen. I was clamoring for Kazmir for months he gets here, and boom, stinks. If the FO feels his is the best option at a good price as a 5th starter , OK.

    What I would really like is to give White, Duffy, AJ, Kemp and others a real look and come out of ST with the best 25, not the $ game of worrying about team control and other contract issues that drive me nuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On Kazmir…Hell No! We can get by with what we have plus the potentials in the farm system if we get the corner spots fixed. The outfield could use a hitting upgrade but since Gomez is probably going nowhere we probably won’t make a move there. If we do then JL gets sent to his room w/o any supper.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chip, I disagree on White/Reed. If it was worth $9.5 Million to get Singleton to the majors, then those two guys should have a shot at ST. I mean a real shot. They both may be similar to Singleton but they deserve at least an honest tryout. Play one or both every day.

    Kazmir may be hurt or just tired. He can not locate his pitches and at 88-92 MPH, you are dependent upon control. They all look tired or hurt. Feldman won 5 games this year in 18 starts. He is a career below .500 pitcher. Kazmir’s numbers were better in Oakland, but his Astros numbers compare with Feldman. And we gave Feldman $30 M for 3 years.


    • I just have a problem believing they are satisfied paying Singleton 2 million for the next 2 years to play in AAA.

      As for Kazmir, I’m on the fence. He sure looked good in the first couple of games here. I’d be tempted to give him another shot, at a reasonable price of course.

      Crane and Co. are bogged down by enormous debt. Expect money to be the first priority in every thing they do.


  4. Today I’m surprisingly calm with Keuchel starting…unlike yesterday, when my blood pressure went through the ceiling! Kazmir: he had the true “deer in the headlights”
    look in his last start. I felt sorry for him, he appeared lost on the mound. Do they try to keep him? I expect that Luhnow will offer him a low ball deal, and he will turn it down…..then he can see who’s willing to give him more money. THAT was a *terrible* trade, even worse than the Gomez deal. We gave up a REALLY good catcher, and that is gonna be real hard to swallow when Kazmir leaves in a couple of weeks. As for first base, I fully expect Tyler white and A.J. Reed to make some BIG noise in spring training next year, but I would STILL go after a guy that can handle a bat, and doesn’t strike out every time he gets to the plate.I fully anticipate
    more than a few guys who won’t be here next year….we need to see who we have on the farm who can step up. Where are you gonna play Duffy?? He needs to get a good look in the spring also. We have a few pitchers who, (I think) can step up and win a spot in the rotation next year…..Musgrove, and Devenski.
    The ONE thing Luhnow NEEDS to address, is locking up Keuchel, and McHugh for three or four years. A pitcher like Dallas doesn’t come around very often……………..
    PAY THE MAN, JIM CRANE!! Ok every body….here we go GO ‘STROS!!!!!


    • Yeah no kidding. Would’ve had Springer bunt, personally.

      And yep, there are more rangers fans than Astros fans in the seats. Sickening.


  5. This town will ALWAYS be all about football. No matter what’s happening at Minute Maid……the fans are fickle. By the way the Texans are *LOSING*.


  6. There is no way Luhnow has given up on Appel. If anything, he is higher on him now than he was at this time last year and so am I.
    If anything, the Astros are in better shape financially this season than they were last year. They can add Hoyt, Straily, White, Duffy, Kemp, Aplin or Grossman, Stassi, Heineman, Appel, Feliz and Musgrove to the team for the minimum. They have Fiers, McHugh, Marisnick, Tucker, Correa, Fields and Springer at league minimum. They have Gregerson and Neshek, Gomez, Lowrie, Altuve and Singleton all signed.
    They can let Thatcher, Perez, Rasmus, Valbuena, Carter, Kazmir, Conger, Villar and Castro be traded or walk and those salaries would be history.
    They could keep Marwin, Sipp and Qualls and it would not cost them big amounts of money.
    Keuchel is in year 1 arbitration or sign a long term contract.
    They could sign a closer with the money they save from the players that are leaving and that would leave them with Gregerson to set up and Neshek and Harris to hold.
    They would have one year less debt and a bigger fanbase than they had at this time last year. I think the Astros are in great shape financially.
    Then they have Reed and Moran moving to AAA. Yep!
    Kyle Smith and Kent Emanuel will be back next year after TJ Surgery and you have all the other young pitchers a year older in the system.
    Lots of arms.
    Lets go! Get a closer and lets go with what what we have here and let the high strikeout low batting average guys nestle in somewhere else..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Somebody is gonna get thrown out of this game today. The ump is CLEARLY in favor of the Rangers pitcher. And….he’s hearing it from the Astros dugout.


  8. Vic Carapazza is REALLY getting it from the players and the dugouts. At least the Rangers hitters are just as pi $$ed off as the Astros are.


  9. Let’s get at least one run.

    After that previous temper tantrum, notice how our supposed closer isn’t warming up? I wouldn’t trust him either.


  10. At this time of year, everyone’s bullpen is tired. One year they asked the Rangers how they decided what order the bullpen would be used, the answer was “whoever answers the phone has to pitch next.”


  11. Take THAT, Rangers!!!

    Best case scenario. …Astros sweep Mariners, Angels sweep Rangers. HOU wins the division, Angels as wildcard, Rangers stay home and change Odor’s diaper. I like the idea of that.


  12. Hypothetical scenario: Astros and Angels sweep their upcoming 3-game series and Texas loses 1 game to Detroit. The Astros are off Thursday while the Angels are playing in Arlington. If this scenario plays out the Astros would be 1 1/2 games behind Texas, but only 1/2 game ahead of LAA. Who do we pull for on Thursday? An Angels win puts us only a game behind Texas, but then LAA ties us. Personally, and I’m probably in the minority, but I’m pulling for Texas. I just want the Astros to make the playoffs, even if it’s just the wild card.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If there is a tie for division lead does it go to one game playoff? I would hate to tie the Rangers, have to play @Arlington, and then have to play @NYY. I’m hoping the Twins get real games from KC and Cleveland and doesn’t waltz in while the West beats each other up.


      • Yes, if the Astros and Rangers tie there is a 1-game playoff in Arlington. I can’t even begin to explain the scenarios where a 3-way tie gap kens with the Angels thrown into the mix.

        KC is tied with Toronto for the A.L. best record. They will definitely have something to play for when they play Minn next weekend. Cleveland still has an outside for the WC so they will have incentive to beat Minn.


  13. Keuchel is *perfect* at home this year with 15 wins!! I’m so happy for him, I think the Astros will have the AL Cy Young, AND the AL ROY!!! If Hinch doesn’t win manager of the year,something is very wrong! You know……if these guys don’t get all the way with a wild card, I’m happy. While I would be dissapointed, they have exceeded everyone’s expectations. They learned how to win games, something the guys couldn’t quite figure out last year. I’m a happy girl today!!


  14. Another great but nerve-wracking win. As to one of the questions posed by Chip in his fine column— re-signing Kazmir makes me very uncomfortable right now. That might change if he turns it around in his next start and/or the playoffs—- but what’s up? I had expected much more. His velocity’s there, but it seems like “nerves”. In addition, as suggested by others, I would spend money, for sure, on a high-velocity closer.


  15. Happy for Crater he is a good guy, has killed us most of the year but TY . I would still send him packing, but if I ever open a YMCA Summer camp. my first hire would be Crater.


  16. Does anyone else notice that Kazmir is slated to start the Wild Card game, if we get there? I am hoping they push up Keuchel to start on Friday instead of Saturday. This would allow him to pitch the AL WC game on 3-days rest.


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