Free Blog Friday: Does the season really start Sunday?


Started a tradition several years ago at the Chronicle. Over the years, it became one the favorites. Free Blog Friday is simply your turn to start the conversation. You pick the subject.  The only rules are to keep it clean and family oriented.

I’ll get it started on this last Friday before the season kicks off.

The Wandy departure sends a signal.

No one would have winced if Wandy Rodriguez had made this club out of spring training. He had pitched decently and could have been a safety net and veteran presence for a rotation and staff that isn’t as deep as it has been in recent years.

Houston could still hang onto him and something could break in the next few days that keeps him on the big club. But in the end, Houston — and Jeff Luhnow — kept its own players and stayed with the young guys who can make a difference perhaps in 2017 and beyond.

Not surprising at all, but the “season” for retreads has passed.

Pressure? What pressure?

Tyler White is in a glass house for sure. The eyes are on the “two Fs” as someone put it: Scott Feldman and Doug Fister.

But it’s Luis Valbuena who may be playing for his job in April. To some degree, Valbuena is in his put-up-or-shut-up season.  He’s a perennial breakout contender, though he’s never hit above .250 in a season and owns a career .228 average. The 30-year-old is not the K-guy a la Chris Carter and Evan Gattis and his OBP is held back largely by his batting average.

He’s with his fourth club and that could become five later this season if Colin Moran forces his way into an Astros’ uniform. Clock’s ticking Luis.

I’m hoping…

But my hope is slim. Luhnow has made some trades to better the club in the past couple of years and the club has improved. So should we argue? This could be the season, however, that some of those trades manifest in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee or other arenas. There are too many to list here, but which of the players traded (e.g. Mike Foltynewicz, Vincent Velasquez, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips et al) may come back to haunt Houston in 2016?

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56 comments on “Free Blog Friday: Does the season really start Sunday?

  1. Some thoughts on a Free Blog Friday
    – Saw on the transaction line that the Astros released Joe Sclafani. There is a place for this guy somewhere as a utility player I think, but it was never going to be in Houston.
    – One thing about the “Haunting” of us by the prospects we sent away. At least the majority of them are in the NL – so we can read about them but rarely have to see them. At least it is not quite as bad that way I think.
    – Felt like Spring Training goes on forever. Feel like the guys are coasting this last week.
    – Read where with Wandy gone the last spot is still down to Feliz and Hoyt. What can they do between now and cut-down to differentiate.
    – I so want this to finally be “THE YEAR”. I could be easily disappointed this season, but my gut tells me it is time.

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  2. Why do we not talk about Valbuena’s defense more? He is the best infield defender on the team, and possibly in the system. Somehow fans yearn for more JFSF due to his defense, but want to send Valbuena away mid-season? Unless you can replace him with Nolan Aranado or Manny Machado it may be a net loss.

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    • Devin, just me, but I do appreciate his defense. I wish he was better in the hit department. However, I do not want to go back to MattyD. Totally agree that currently no one in the system is his match. But if Moran can hit MLB pitching at a much higher clip, then VB could be replaced without a big downturn. Again, just my opinion.

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    • For this reason I once advocated for a ‘utility man competition’ in 2016 ST between Valbuena and Marwin Gonzales. The problem is that Marwin’s bat – and fit in different positions – is so much better that it far outweighs Valbuena’s slightly superior glove. A championship-quality team just cannot have its 3rd baseman hitting .228 and driving in 56 runs. So unless Valbuena has a career year, Moran – or someone else – will take his place soon. The quality of start he has will determine whether the takeover occurs in late 2016 or waits until 2017.

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  3. Luis V has a good to very good glove – very steady. His range numbers are just ok but he makes the plays that he can get. It comes down to 3B being a supposed offensive position. If he could improve some it would help. Luckily they have + offensive players at normally non-offensive positions 2B and SS. Luis will likely get displaced by Moran. How soon will depend on the offense.

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  4. Free blog Friday.
    Wandy had a one million dollar minor league deal. When he said last week he did not want to go to the minors, that was it. Not having won a spot outright, giving the Astros an ultimatum, the Astros had too many pitchers to fill out the AAA and major league rosters. Over the span of the season I think Wandy might have helped the Astros some, if he were ready and pitching well in Fresno. But the Astros didn’t have that option, so this is how it has to end, unless Wandy has a change of heart.
    I like Feliz starting in AAA, where he has never pitched. Feliz is 22 and looks like he has a long career ahead of him. Hoyt is 30 and a reliever. I still love the idea of Feliz being a starting pitcher for the Astros.
    Unless the Astros win the WS, my patience with Carlos Gomez will end before the season does. Carlos being misunderstood is wearing thin because I fell like I am making excuses for a five year old wearing diapers.
    I don’t believe I have ever seen a more veteran team than the one we will face on opening day at Yankee stadium. Old position players, but with young pitchers.
    McHugh was never able to correct what was making his pitches stay up in the zone last night.
    Knowing when to throw the ball and when not to is something Correa will need to learn.
    Wonder if the Astros will work Keuchel into a start against the Royals in Houston.

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    • Yes, Keuchel vs Royals thought abt that last night.
      Yes, Wandy will take the assignment unless there was something personal.
      Yes, Gomez not hitting is a Problem, and he strikes me as a “little bit of sour ruins a whole lot of sweet” in the clubhouse, but the opposite if he’s on fire (like the playoffs). He’s been given the widebirth just like Feldman and Singleton bc of our financial commitment and hopes they harken to yesteryear.
      McHugh wasnt on top of the ball last night, ball spinning sideways, no “falling off the table” curves. Not sharp.
      No Injuries #winning.
      There is comfort knowing McCullers is steadily moving along, and we wont know much anyway till the first rotation on the urgency of SP, and whether we have a DH issue or any need for Gattis.

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  5. Tuve
    Springer (DH)
    Correa
    Rasmus
    Gomez
    White

    Pretty interchangeable top six, except perhaps #3Correa, and White can’t leadoff (or can he?!)
    What I notice about all of them, including Valbuena is their versatility. The final roster spot they say would go to Hoyt bc as a former starter he could be stretched out (which I thought Feliz could too). Each guy on this team is trying to ‘get in where they fit in,’ anywhere. Duffy, Tucker, White all have multiple defensive positions. (Not that it matters today but begs the question down the line about Bregman – where will he play, even in 2018?)

    On the Valbuena question, he’s a stump who also plays a shorter 1B and DH’s. (Wish they’d play him deeper and on the lines more, a plus arm w/less bunting in AL and athletic pitchers we have – as corner shots are killers!) His OBP numbers will be in question early on, but mind you, he’s paid his dues that Duffy and Moran have not. The perennial breakout year could easily be this one with the offensive support we have..

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    • Let’s see Bregman hit against top prospects AND show even mediocre fielding ability before we start talking about a defensive position for him or target arrivval date. Being a #2 pick is heavy enough pressure on its own. I’m concerned his future is the Chris Burke role with Houston, though.

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      • Agreed, Devin. I don’t see a future here.

        Being from Tennessee, I pulled for Burke hard too. There was that one 18th inning shot, though..

        Seems like I remember you have the resident knowledge on the Nationals? Long season but wouldnt surprise me if they’ve finally come of age this season.

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      • Solid comment. We don’t hear any Bregman fans mention the 16 errors in 63 games playing SS last season for the Astros’ two affiliates.

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      • Yeah, unfortunately, the Nationals are the home team in my market. I think they bounce back and the Mets offense prevents their pitching staff from locking up the division. Atlanta and Philly are AAA clubs this year and who knows with Miami.

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  6. I think the Velasquez trade will be the one we regret trading. Maverick Phillips will start in AA with the Brewers, and I haven’t seen where Nottingham will start with them….more than likely in AA. There’s a lot of “if’s” where Valbuena is concerned, if Moran is pushing the door open and hitting homeruns every game, then Luhnow has to give him a better look. Valbuena controls his own destiny, he alone is responsible for his bat.
    *I’m pretty sure the Dellich piece about Singelton did not please Crane or Luhnow.
    Evan Dellich did not like Luhnow, I just hope this wasn’t one of those “gotcha” pieces on the way out the door. It really served no purpose, other than muddy waters about Singelton, we already knew about. Like I said….there was no real purpose to the article…..*

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    • Fair enough on Drellich, but Singleton had his Spring speech in tow about how hard it’s been. The way this has gone down; open door policy, players assoc protection w/no testing – cant imagine a player more caudled than this guy.

      My guess is if he starts hitting, the editor will hand the next “reporter” the story “Big Jon helps kids get off drugs”.

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  7. Luis Valbuena lost his grandmother last week. She helped Luis’s mother in raising him and they were very close. Luis has dedicated his season to her.

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  8. Hoping Hoyt is the final roster guy. I think Feliz should be getting regular innings to be groomed as a starter because Feldman and Fister will almost certainly be gone next year and sooner if they don’t perform. I think his Spring experience will serve him well and I hope he goes to Fresno and pulls a McCullers like performance to boost his confidence.

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  9. So, I’ll open up some different discussions, but first some thanks!

    Chip, you have been doing this so long and so (seamlessly, loyally) well, its easy to overlook. Everyone here appreciates your contribution over the yrs to this team.

    Dan, you are another of the cooler heads, who always seems to untangle any knots. Becky stay strong and keep reporting your passion!, Dave have a nip for me, Kevin Steven Tim rj, – Brian T where ya been? And many more who used to contribute at Justice, turned to Chip’s to comment instead bc of the former’s baiting tactics; and then those who have fallen off, there were many including me with 100-loss seasons.

    Here’s what I want to open up, since we’ve run all the numbers and established our opinions. Was it George Will who wrote, “all I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs lost a double-header.”

    I remember at various stages, ages in life when there was *this feeling, this *tingling in the back of my throat for a whole 20 or so hours every single day…The Astros won. It was palatable, almost tangible. Mood altering! When the Stros were losing, it got so that I couldnt figuring out the “loss of that feeling.” Well, each of you have talked about how life has gotten in the way of baseball some. My question especially to the veterans: isnt it funny how that feeling comes and goes, but unless you’ve experienced a game-winning Jeff Kent homer in the stands for example, or [fill in the blank], you could never know how hollow the opposite feels like?

    That weathered passion for the team is something you see in established markets like St Louis (applauded us winning ’05 NLCS in last game at Busch), where the fanbase is broad and rural. Just as the sensible and patient approach of someone from Louisiana reporting on the Astros. But kids these days, and the relative ignorance of what baseball is, shows in our fans. Last year, think it was the Angels here. Two games in a row we lost bc fans reached out on 1B foul to disrupt sure Astro putouts (that werent called), and the very next pitch the RBI that beats us. Or the young boyfriend who jumped out of the way of the ball, which hit his girlfriend. Or the mother who went viral stealing the baseball from little girl. All in Houston.

    A major reason these things bother me is we lack knowledgable fan support from our fans. I brought up the Bregman thing bc two 20-somethings sitting at the bar last night said we would trade Altuve. I said are you crazy?! This is what I’m talking about..

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    • hi mark. im still around but all the sudden working my young (haha) life away. i still check in frequently, but havent commented much as by the time i get to a new post most things have been covered by the regular commenters… i like that the astros have continued their injection of youth into the roster. they are building (and have built) a team that should contend year in and year out. oh there will always be bumps in the road or a down year etc. but for the most part i think they will be in the race for many years to come. i live in the austin area and would love to have a beverage of choice with any other chipsters in the area. take care everybody and heres to a successful season!!

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      • Anytime, my friend! I’m in San Marcos many weekends – let’s figure it out!

        And that goes for everyone else. A get-together, or or two is in order in 2016..

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  10. Your questions take me in a lot of directions.
    – I think in general the newer generation is not as interested in baseball vs. football and basketball anyway.
    – For specifically in Houston – we do not have generation after generation broadly tied into the Astros. There are a lot of people who have moved here, a lot who have moved away. Heck my two sons who are the biggest fans live in the Austin area – not here.
    – I think the last decade of bad baseball has affected who is at the games. I think more people have been coming out that do not have much of background in the game – just because they were winning last season finally.
    – Heck – one of the most rabid fan bases is the Cubs and they developed their own Bartman interfering with a fielder.
    – I am not sure if there is an answer. You are starting from scratch with a lot of folks – brand new to the experience.

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  11. Watching the game last night I found myself getting a bit nervous about going from a dark horse to everyone’s pick to win the west. It’s really hard not to be a knee jerk Nellie, even in , I know ST. We have some really good talent, however as we all know it takes the intangibles to win 92 games. I know these guys have looked a little bored and going though the motions this last week, and I think they have good team chemistry, but I saw bit of body language I didn’t like. A bit of hey were pretty good, this is just ST, and hey will get him Monday. AJ is going to have to be on top of this or I can see a slow start, I want to see an I’m pissed we didn’t get to the WS and we are not taking any prisoners this year attitude.

    I could be totally wrong and I love all the fun, but that killer instinct is hard to turn off and on.

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    • I saw it too, but betcha New York City will bring things back in full view!
      Hitting and winning begets Astros chemistry.

      White hits 3rd HR of Spring. So thats 3 in 48 AB’s which all things being equal (tongue in cheek), 31 HR’s in 500 AB’s. Chris Carter who? Didnt he play for the Vikings?

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  12. I’ve liked Santana since the weekend I saw him play in Corpus a couple of years back. And I have not changed my mind a bit. He will put up some numbers.

    White will keep hitting. No fluke. But we won’t mind when he gives up first base and takes over the DH role. That’s where he belongs long term.

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  13. Baseball is so streaky it is hard to guess what either a good or bad spring means.
    I’m guessing that White is the real deal and Carlos is the really big deal but nothing will surprise me after all these years of watching baseball.
    Overall I like this team and want to see these guys kick bottom. I hope they remember how they scratched and scraped the last week of the season to get I the playoffs and play with that urgency all year long.

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    • I agree, we saw plenty of years where it looked like Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence would battle for the triple crown based on spring training only to see them start the season like 2015 Gattis.

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      • Might as well say here, Devin, that the same guy of the NY Post, Kevin Kearnan, who predicts as you of the NL East (Mets bats beat Nats pitching) had the lone vote in rookie of the year for Tyler White. Plenty will not give credit til he earns it, but he’s no secret on fantasy baseball boards.

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  14. Interesting order today; Harris, Gregerson, Hoyt and presumably Giles. Alright kid, dont blow it!

    That may be your answer, Dan, on whether Hoyt pitched his own destiny today?

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  15. Bwaahahaha!!! Villerror STRIKES AGAIN!!! I wonder how much money Luhnow had to give David Sterns to take that guy!! Who….hit a homerun today! Our brand new 1st baseman!! Didn’t get to see or hear the game, but looks like Hinch and Luhnow are going to have a few beers together tonight, to settle on who gets the last bullpen piece. My bet is Hoyt……with a short leash. Altuve doesn’t make errors very often, so I’m giving him a pass……but I’m STILL laughing my butt off about Villar!!

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    • Why didn’t I just realize that if he’s already on the 40-man, it makes it so much easier for the club. And let’s face it, he had a really good spring. I know Hoyt has got to be disappointed, but I still think he is going to make it to the Astros this year. I wish his delivery was smoother. He really jerks when he throws and it affects his control a little.

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  16. Looking at the Astros 25-man roster, the Astros somehow managed to have 6 infielders and six outfielders on it, because Marwin is both a good infielder and a competent outfielder. Four of the relievers throw hard which is two more than last year.

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      • Oh, yes! I said last fall to let Gattis walk for White, let Carter walk, let Conger walk and trade Castro and let the young catchers catch.
        I can’t believe the Astros managed to fit Tucker, White, Duffy, Marisnick and Marwin on the opening day roster.
        I love our outfield, I love the infield, I love Tucker at DH. This is real close to my dream team.
        I am pulling for Kemp, Reed, Moran, Alfredo, Bregman and Heineman to rock it in AA and AAA, but I didn’t like what I saw of Kemp this spring. Kemmer has hit well but his swing looked pretty slow this spring, too. Getting to see all the youngsters play in games on TV was a revelation to me.
        To me, Lance McCullers, Jr might determine how far this team goes.

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      • I think you hit the nail on the head, OP, regarding LMJ being the key to the Astros success this season. If he returns in late April pitching like he did last year I think it will lead the Astros to a successful season.

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  17. I do not see anyone that was sent to the minors that could generate controversy with the possible exception of Reed. It would appear those that should have made the 25 man did so. When players start coming off the DL, the team is young enough and versatile enough to be able to option out players without much reduction in talent (if any). From what little I have seen of White at 1st, he is as capable defensively as Singleton. If the pitching comes around, the team should be improved from 2015.

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  18. The Giants will have the most expensive pitching staff in baseball history. Their pitching staff will make over $96 million, almost the exact figure of the entire Astros team. The Giants have $71 million guaranteed to four pitchers alone for the 2017 team.
    Though the Astros 2016 payroll has tripled since the 2013 season, they are #24 currently in 2016 payroll.
    Luhnow has done a great job building this team. Let’s see how it goes.

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  19. Michael Bourne was DFA’d this morning by the Braves. If somebody picks him up, he makes $14 million salary. If he accepts a minor league assignment he makes $14 million. If the Braves release him, he makes $14 million. After his $14 million is made by season’s end, he will have made $62 million in his major league career. He will be 34 years old.

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  20. Wanted to comment on the last paragraph from Chip’s post. We may regret a player or two, but if in the mean time, if you get to the playoffs for next few years, there would probably still be no place on this team for most if not all of them. In looking at the Brewers in the past two games, they look like the previous Astros plus Braun and others. Presley, etc would not be on the current team. Santana would not start on the current team, and might not make it at all. So I don’t think any or all will haunt in 2016. Now if we lose 2 OFers, a couple pitchers, and a catcher, then we might wish we held on to them in a couple years.

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    • 45, we’ll see about Santana. He never really got a chance in Houston. It’s kind of tough rooting for the guy who is finally getting his opportunity, but at the same time, if he turns into a real performer, that makes our trade not so good!

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