First, a few apologies to Dan Rather for stealing the title of his fine interview show on AXS TV. We are not on the same side of the political spectrum, but he has tremendous interviewing skills, and I definitely recognize that.
Today’s blog post is from the mind of the founder of this wonderful site, Chip Bailey. Knowing that we love the Q&A format here at Chipalatta, he has stewed up 10 tough questions for Dan P to address. So, here we go.
- When you think about the Astros right now (May 2023), what descriptive words and phrases go through your mind?
Applying something from my religious background – “Advent” – That is the period of time leading up to Christmas in anticipation of Christ’s birth. In this sense, the team has been without Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Altuve, and Michael Brantley since the season started a bit more than a month ago, plus they lost Chas McCormick, Jose Urquidy, and Luis Garcia in the last few weeks. The atmosphere feels like they are in a holding pattern – in wait for the team to be made whole again, though with Garcia gone for the season, even that is not possible. Hopefully, they will be made mostly whole in the next few weeks, and will then let it rip. We will see.
A phrase that rattles around for me is “Not Hungry”. Let’s face facts, this team has multiple laurels to fall back on heading into 2023, including being the defending champions, having made the ALCS six straight seasons and the WS four out of those six. They have nothing to prove, and it would only be human nature for them to say, “Get off our backs – haven’t we earned any trust in the last eight seasons of good play?”
- With the mounting injuries and most of the off-season moves that were in place when he came on board, new GM Dana Brown will be front and center the rest of this season. What is one move that you believe he must make before or around the All Star break?
Wow, just one move? If pressed to pick just one, I would point to a 1 or a 2 – a veteran, starting pitcher, ala the Justin Verlander or Zack Greinke moves. This is even if McCullers and Urquidy return and are effective. It feels like they could use someone top notch to lead them down the stretch and through the playoffs. It is risky. They would have to include some pieces they would rather hold. They might have to package Urquidy, and Drew Gilbert or similar top notch prospect, plus some lower prospects depending on whether it is a rental or someone with a couple seasons left on the contract.
- If you were sitting in Brown’s chair right now, what would you do right now?
Very little as far as actual moves, but I would be having my staff working 24/7 getting ready for internal moves, external moves, waiver pickups, etc. My feeling is that knee jerk moves after a month show lack of trust in the process. It is not giving the players, coaches, trainers, etc. the opportunity to recognize and fix problems. Normally, problems where a player goes from great or good to meh or worse are tied to either a covered up injury or something mechanical. Maybe Jose Montero has changed his arm slot (without realizing it). Maybe Jose Abreu has closed his stance or is too upright or is holding the bat too high/ too low. Give them a chance to identify and attempt to fix problems.
But, you get to the two month mile post on the season, it is time to think that things may not change and action is required.
- Michael Brantley, Chas McCormick, and Jose Altuve are returning soon. They could provide a much-needed pop in the lineup. But with the pitching injuries mounting, is it too early to panic?
It is too early to panic. The team is 18-18 after games of May 9 and 3.5 games behind the Rangers. In 2021 they were 19-17 after 36 games and 2.5 games behind the Oakland A’s (boy – they fell fast). The Astros won the division by five games over the M’s and by nine games over the A’s. Now, it is not too early to be looking closely at the order of use in the bullpen (Is Montero really the eighth-inning guy?) and the lineup order (Is Abreu really the cleanup guy?).
Of course, when your starting pitching is putting up 5, 4.1, and 4.2 innings, as they did recently, you can’t be too picky on who you use out of the bullpen. You can change the order, but then maybe Montero is killing you in the sixth inning, not the eighth inning, but he is still pitching.
- Starting play on May 10, Texas is playing well to this point, and the Astros are tied for third in the AL West. Which team is the biggest threat to end the Astros’ division-winning streak (2021 and 2022)?
The A’s…… Just checking if you are paying attention.
Each of the other three teams in the division has reasonable paths to knocking the Astros out of the division’s top spot.
Texas is an offensive powerhouse, leading the majors with 6.37 runs/game. But their bullpen is below average 3.80 ERA (10th in the AL), and this could easily trip them up.
The Angels have a solid lineup that is finally staying healthy….so far. Their 5.16 runs/game is fifth in the AL, but their pitching is average to below average as their starters (4.85 ERA – 10th in the AL) and relievers (3.36 ERA – seventh) are just there.
The M’s, even though they are trailing both the Rangers and the Angels and tied with the Astros, is my choice to have the best chance to bump the Astros off the top of the division. They have the best pitching – starters (3.67 ERA – fourth in AL) and relievers (2.85 – second in AL), and once their hitting warms up, they will be a real threat. Julio Rodgriguez (.204 BA), AJ Pollock (.148 BA), Kolten Wong (.188 BA), and Teoscar Hernandez (.211) are all much better hitters than they have shown so far.
I feel like the M’s pitching is more likely to stay healthy than either the Rangers or the Angels, and their hitting is due to improve, which makes them the biggest threat to the Astros.
- Who is an Astros player (or two) you wouldn’t be surprised to see on the trade block before the deadline?
This is always a trap question, as it is usually someone who stinks and has no value on the block. Ryne Stanek, if he does not improve, might fit this description. I think Montero is basically untradeable with that salary. If the Astros see someone like Drew Gilbert pressing to be in the majors, they may decide that they can afford to trade Corey Julks or Jake Meyers. I would not be surprised if they finally cash in Forrest Whitley. On the other hand, they probably should give him a year to show if he can stay healthy and if he can actually pitch well.
The only way someone of much more value goes (e.g. Urquidy/Gilbert/etc.) would be if something big is coming back in the trade.
- The Astros’ farm system has been ranked near the bottom for the past several seasons. Still, Hunter Brown is repping well right now as the top of the Astros’ class. Who else may be a solid contributor before the year is out?
Solid contributor? That probably really ties into injuries. J.P. France (now up) could be that person, especially if Urquidy and McCullers are delayed in coming back. I could see Justin Dirden as someone to watch. He looked very good in Spring Training, had a terrible April, but has been on fire in May. He is not on the 40-man, but he looks like he could be the real deal. Dark horse – Whitley. If they have more injuries, he may get pulled up, even if it is just to put him in the bullpen. Korey Lee might be a candidate, but probably only if Maldy goes down for an extended period.
- It’s been three years since Jeff Luhnow was fired, but much of the roster still has his stamp on it. Are the Astros riding on Luhnow’s coattails, or is the current management (Crane included) still headed in the right direction?
Well, along with the coattails, the current management has also been left with holes in the coat pocket with the loss of first and second-round draft picks in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. This was on top of a number of trades (Verlander, Cole, Greinke, etc.) that siphoned off some of the top talent.
But, basically, the team that has been put out on the field should mostly be credited to players that Luhnow drafted, signed, or traded for, especially the International pitchers (Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, and Bryan Abreu).
I think the current management (sans Dana Brown) was responsible for putting together the best bullpen the team has ever seen in last year’s playoffs by pitchers they added or extended.
This offseason has brought questions about Jim Crane’s ownership style. Tossing your GM James Click to the side (he made him an offer he had to refuse) right after winning a championship took me back to Jerry Jones tossing Jimmy Johnson after they won championships together and Jones taking over as GM. Crane should not have gone through almost the whole offseason without a GM. Almost all the moves made in the off-season, with the exception of the Javier extension, come with question marks. The Rafael Montero overpay, the Jose Abreu signing, and letting Justin Verlander walk without pursuing any starting pitching help all look like mistakes so far.
I will give Dana Brown some time to show what he is made of and which way he will be moving the organization. But we have to wonder how much power he has vs. what Luhnow had.
- Is it possible — even remotely possible — that the Astros’ successful run is starting to come to an end?
The Astros built this successful run on the economy of using in-house (cheap) resources for many position player spots (Correa, Springer, Bregman, Tucker, Valdez), followed by using in-house (cheap) resources for many pitching spots (Valdez, Javier, Urquidy, Garcia, Abreu). On top of this, they were on the cutting edge of applying technology to the game, and I am not talking about the cheating. I’m talking about the shifts, the pitch choices, the launch angle, the spin rates, etc.
Now their cheap players are running out, and other teams are catching up on the technology side.
So, yes, it is more than a remote possibility that their successful run may start to come to an end. However, it does not have to be a long-term crash. In truth, they had a similar fall in 2020 that was masked by the pandemic and the fact that their 29-31 record still earned them a spot in the expanded playoffs.
Injuries can undo even the best team. We have seen the Yankees put together All Star rosters that spend months on the IL. The Astros could bounce back from this injury-riddled start to the season. But there have to be some concerns that an aging and expensive roster is begging for a bit of a rebuild.
- Finally, it’s clear the Astros will have to make some tough contract decisions in the next few years. Altuve and Bregman will be free agents in 2025, and Urquidy, Tucker, Valdez, and Abreu in 2026. Who gets the next big contract, and what are the next moves for Altuve, Bregman, and Tucker?
I would like the next big contract to go to Tucker, but I think it is more likely to go to Framber. I’d love Altuve to stay with the team, but his current contract runs out after 2024, and he will be turning 35 at the beginning of 2025. Will he still be worth the $29 MM he is receiving right now, then? Before you answer that, remember that Jose Abreu is 36 years old this season. Bregman looks like an old 29 right now.
Yes, there will be some tough decisions to make.
Pretty big assignment on a hot day up in the hills.
1. The Astros lack fire right now, especially from that Bregman guy and that Abreu guy. Maybe they need to loosen up and try to have some fun. They look like we feel. Miserable. I still think we’ll get through this period and make a run at some point but we’ll have to trade away some guys that we won’t want to trade away come the deadline. I think that’s the only way we finish the season with enough pitching.
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2. That one trade (although we need multiple arms) would have to be for pitching and of course, the sooner the better. But sooner probably won’t happen. Our GM has already said that it would be hard to get deals done until the deadline looms.
3. If I’m the GM I’ve already isolated the likely sellers, especially the ones that need outfield help in their systems. And If I’m him, I’m a bit pained right now because he does not want to give up any of the good stuff he’s got in the system, but that’s going to be impossible to avoid. And I’m also considering my options at first base in case Abreu does not become at least mediocre by by the All Star break. Can one of those guys in AAA hitting .600 come into town and hit .250 with a quality OPS?
4. Panic won’t help. Neither will getting pissed off at Dusty Baker for not making any of the obvious moves we know (think we know) he should make. I’d be using Abreu in the 8th and Maton in the 7th right now when we are trying to hold on to a lead. Heck, had we gotten those last 4 outs up by 3 on Saturday, we’d have a good trip going right now.
Off topic, but there are a lot of teams with frustrations right now and a lot of teams and highly paid players underperforming.
5. I’m starting to not like the M’s. I guess they and their fans don’t like us because we’ve continued to beat them to near death. But we were always polite about it. Thing is that they have enough talent now. And they might even try to help us not get players we want in July. So I agree Dan.
I agree with your line the other day that Manfred likely sent out the “any trades to Houston will be heavily scrutinized and/or overruled” memo to the other teams.
6. Forrest is not an Astro. But at some point, especially a new GM might just decide to move on. And maybe Forrest will help us get some help in July. But any of the outfielders, maybe even including Chas, if it helped us get an arm for the rotation.
7. I think it was Sarge who mentioned Rhett Kouba last week. The Hooks guy. At this point he’s walked 4 guys and struck out 32. We’ve seen this before, but he’s a guy I’m going to keep and eye on. A strike thrower in our organization is a valuable commodity.
My other guy for this year could potentially be Loperfido. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone. Joey, tell your boss you want to play first every day right now.
8. If Montero does not correct and Abreu has actually fallen off a cliff, Cranes decisions this winter will end up looking reckless and arrogant. We’ll see. This pitching problem right now illustrates clearly that we have very little pitching help in the upper levels of the minors. And honestly, I don’t know which prospects we should be most excited about. I see stats, but I don’t watch minor league ball. I sure miss AstroColt45 these days. I think he watched those games regularly and frequently reported on guys he had seen play. 45, are you around?
McT reporting, via his twit site, that Brantley is no longer with the team and that McCormick now has a sore back again. UGH!
And what about Dubon and his hammy? They are falling apart
1. Walking wounded. If Altuve, Brantley, McCullers are all playing we are probably to 20 wins already.
2. Will probably be more dependent on who is available than anything else. Pitching wise I don’t see any true salary dumps out there that should interest the team.
3. Math. What is Crane’s willingness to spend a year or two above the cap to keep the team together? Unless the team is still piddling around .500 at the all star break I wouldn’t look for any moves of consequence this year.
4. Nah. Without them and with some bad starts from good starters we are still at .500. What I hope is that Altuve and Brantley can create a little wiggle room in the first 5 innings. Right now, no one is hitting pitchers their first or second time through, everyone is waiting until the 3rd time through. Add two more hitters that are capable of hitting good pitches and don’t have to wait for mistakes can get a little going earlier. That will help this pitching.
5. I would agree with the Mariners. Offense can win games but pitching wins pennants. The Rangers have proven that mantra for nearly 20 years now.
6. I would be surprised by any trades.
7. Would agree – it’s all going to come down to opportunity. The Astros right now don’t have a player who is knocking on the door and going to break it down. No one is going to force their hand. It will come down to a long-term injury giving someone an opportunity, like Brantley did with Julks, who otherwise hadn’t exactly kicked the door in.
8. Luhnow’s stamp will always be here because of the geek squad. When he left he didn’t take them with him.
9. Dan’s breakdown is on point. Our luck is going to run out on dominating the international pool. We haven’t been able to find our next Springer or Correa or Bregman in the draft due to the winning (drafting later) and the fact that we have had to forfeit some early round picks.
10. Well – there might be a difference in what I “hope” the next contract will and what I think it will be. If Urquidy is back soon and pitches well in the summer like he did last year, it could very well be him because it will be the most affordable one. I do think locking up Framber and Tucker are the most important things to do, but their agents may have sights set on bigger paydays in the open market.
To me it seems the best hope on Tucker is early. If we go into the summer of 2024 and there is no extension, it lowers the chances there will be. Ideally you get it done before you end up in an arbitration room with him speaking not so great about him. You also want the opportunity to spread it out by replacing those two arby years with much better salaries in exchange for the four years after not being 35M a year.
And I think Altuve and Bregman are here for the long haul, Altuve will probably be a career Astro and Bregman might be.
So Chas re-aggravated his back lifting weights again?
And Brantley, could he be done?
This injury thing is getting old.
9. Not having pitching in the minors to replace all of the recent loss or arms serves as a warning sign. This remarkable run could end due to a shortage of talent. I don’t see the club becoming uncompetitive, but sure, we could miss the post season, even in 2023.
10. I think Framber gets the next big contract. I don’t think we try very hard to resign Bregman. Jose is todays Biggio. I don’t think we spend what Tucker will require in years or dollars. What if Bryan Abreu decides he wants to be a starter? We might want him to be our closer, but generally speaking he would make more money in a rotation if he’s good at it.
Good game yesterday. That is the offense you want to see, contributions up and down. Canning was struggling with his command some, missing by a mile in spots and grooving some in spots, and our hitters were ready.
Instant replay was huge in that game. It was really the moment of unraveling.
Pressly got a scare. That’s good that he got that and still pulled it out. As my drill sergeant used to say adversity builds character.
Saw something I really liked last night. In the ninth Peña took a 4 pitch walk. Two of the pitches were those down and away pitches where he usually swings and misses. Maybe his plate discipline is improving. I hope so. On the other hand I saw Bergman swinging at pitches off the plate. I know he’s probably frustrated but he’s smart enough not to do that. Hensley did get a hit last night but watching him at the plate makes me want to pull my hair out. He probably takes mor pitches than any other player. I was ready to turn it off after Presley gave up the two run shot and then put two more on base before getting the next 3 outs. Had to go to the medicine cabinet for Tums.
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I saw pieces of yesterday’s game live and pieces on DVR.
– I liked Yordan hitting a high pitch out – a lot of times they have been throwing him and Tucker up effectively and it is good for him to knock the heck out of one.
– Man so many Ks the last two games from Framber and Cristian….Framber gets so many of those check swing Ks – fun to see
– Yeah that instant replay on Meyers infield hit helped – the ump really missed that one – even live I thought – no way he is out.
– Really odd strike zones going on – some are tight, some are high – like yesterday – the only thing you can hope for is consistency in each game
– Z – not saying it wasn’t good to see Pena take the walk in the 9th, but if you go back to the 4th inning and look at that at bat – he swung and missed at one pitch a foot and a half outside, another a foot low and then hit one that was just a bit outside waist high. Luckily the one he connected on was the big two run single that gave them breathing room that they needed when Pressly sucked all the air out of the place in the 9th
Yea, I didn’t’ start watching till about the 5th so I missed it. Oh well. Astro right handed batters have an uncanny ability to swing at Sliders and “sweepers” a foot off the plate. If I were pitching them I’d throw that pitch 80% of the time.
The latest …..
May 10: OF Michael Brantley sent back to Houston for exam
Brantley rejoined the Astros on Monday in Anaheim following his nine-game rehab outing at Triple-A Sugar Land but was sent back to Houston on Wednesday because his surgically repaired shoulder was “more sore than usual because he played a lot down there in the Minors,” according to manager Dusty Baker. “He’s going to go get checked out to make sure nothing’s wrong.”
Baker said he’s planning on Brantley rejoining the team in Chicago this weekend.
“We don’t want to rush him,” Baker said. “The timetable doesn’t always match what your body tells you. I have to wait until he’s better.”
Brantley injured his shoulder last June, had surgery in August and has been rehabbing it since.
May 10: OF Chas McCormick shut down again
McCormick returned to the Astros’ lineup on Monday for the first time since injuring his back lifting weights on April 16 and getting placed on the injured list two days later, but he has been shut down again because his back is still sore. He played in six Minor League rehab games at Double-A Corpus Christi and went 5-for-17 with six runs, one homer, three RBIs and four walks.
2B Jose Altuve (fractured right thumb)
Expected return: Late May
Altuve got eight at-bats in live batting practice May 9 at Triple-A Sugar Land, but there’s no timeline on when he will officially begin a rehab assignment. He took batting practice on the field May 7 for the second time since he fractured his right thumb while playing in the World Baseball Classic and had to have surgery.
Altuve was cleared for baseball-related drills on May 2 — six weeks after surgery — and admitted no one expected him to be swinging the bat this early. When he underwent surgery in Houston on March 22, he wasn’t expected to be cleared for baseball activities for eight weeks. (Last updated: May 9)
RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (right arm muscle strain)
Expected return: June
McCullers threw 25 pitches in his bullpen on May 9 in Anaheim and “looked good,” according to manager Dusty Baker. McCullers said he reached 91.5 mph while throwing fastballs and changeups. He’ll start mixing in some breaking pitches in his next bullpen session, which is likely Saturday in Chicago, and will have a normal Spring Training build-up from there.
I was actually impressed by Pressly yesterday. He got a grounder from Trout that could have been an out and then Ohtani golfed a ball out of the zone 400 plus feet. Give credit. Then two more hits and I did not want to watch. Most guys don’t survive that outing.
I thought the same thing, Dave. Who else pulls off the save despite that disastrous set of circumstances to start the inning?
What was interesting also is that with two guys on base and no outs in the 9th, Pressly came within an eyelash of a triple play – right at Bregman on third base- just a tad foul. He bore back down and got each of the next three hitters.
* I don’t think Altuve will be looking for a huge extension. I think he will try to finish out his career here on a decent 4 to 5 year deal at a decent AAV that he and the club work out. I think he finishes out his career as a DH.
*The word that comes to mind to fit the Astros thus far is “wounded”.
* The problem with the Astros right now is that they have too many below average hitters in their lineup. Maldonado, Julks, Abreu, Hensley and Diaz have been bad. Diaz probably has an excuse because he never gets multiple games in a row. But that is still just an excuse.
* LMJ, Brantley, Altuve and Chaz should help this team when they come back.
* A good rental reliever at the deadline would be my plan. With all the bad teams out there, one of them will trade us someone we can use for the stretch run and the playoffs. And don’t trade a top prospect for a rental reliever.
* I’m still in on JP France.
The 1st Question: “When you think about the Astros right now (May 2023), what descriptive words and phrases go through your mind?”
In the words of Michael Jackson: “Bad”
In the words of the Stones: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”
In the words of E.P:”A Li’l Less Conversation, a li’l more action”.
In the words of Lennon & McCartney: “Don’t Let Me Down”
In the words of Bob Dylan: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
In the words of Willie Nelson: “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain”
In the words of the BeeGees: “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”