Astros’ lineups: A work in progress for 2014

BY CHIP BAILEY

Bo Porter has his opening day lineup. Unless the trend changes from recent seasons, it will be the first of many this year.

The important thing is that some of the changes and modifications coming this year would seem to be obvious. Timing should be the only question.

And, if you believe Jeff Luhnow, the trade deadline won’t involve shipping away players like Chad Qualls, Dexter Fowler or others to stock up the minor league systems.

While some lineup positions may be more stable this season — for example, Fowler should handle leadoff most of the time as opposed to the 2013 revolving door (8 different players) — Porter may still find himself experimenting with platoons and younger replacements from Oklahoma City (we can always hope).

So, today’s exercise is to do some experimenting of our own. First, Bo’s lineup for Tuesday’s opener:

And Porter’s rotation to start the season: Scott Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart, Lucas Harrell, Dallas Keuchel.

The last couple of Aprils have been busy for the Astros, primarily due to injuries. But elbow, back or freak injuries aside, this Astros’ roster and lineup will be due frequent updates — even upgrades — throughout the year.

For example, Houston plays 28 games in April and will hit the one-third point of the season on May 16. By that time this could be one lineup that Bo turns in when the Astros host the Rangers in mid-May.

And, by the end of May at least, Porter’s rotation may have evolved into: Cosart, Feldman, Oberholtzer, Keuchel, Michael Foltynewicz.

And, an optimistic approach might propose this lineup by the All Star break:

  • Fowler CF.
  • Grossman LF.
  • Springer RF.
  • Castro DH.
  • Jonathan Singleton 1B.
  • Max Stassi C.
  • Dominguez 3B.
  • Altuve 2B.
  • Trade acuisition¬†SS.

And, a rotation of: Cosart, Feldman, Oberholtzer, Foltynewicz, Alex White/Asher Wojciechowski.

Of course, this is all speculation, though¬†it’s not far-fetched, illogical, unreasonable wild imagination.

  • Do you like Bo’s start-of-the-season lineup?
  • What’s your lineup for the one-third marker?
  • Take a swing at the rotation: Who’s likely to have the staying power and what will it look like come the All Star break?
  • Which one of the up-and-coming players (with no MLB experience) could be game-changers in 2014?
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Three myths about the Astros

Everyone has an opinion about a team that loses 100 games for three straight seasons. Some of those opinions are based in frustration. Others are founded in rumors or lack of information. Still, some are based in truth — or at least some truth.

For the Astros, frustration, rumors and “at least some truth” abounds and will continue to abound for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, here are three myths. Myths, at least from where we stand in September 2013.

Jim Crane will not spend money.

  • Phooey! No one knows that. He’s said even recently that the Astros payroll would be in the top 5 or 10 teams in MLB. Do you know of any facts that will refute that? Is there something in his track record that indicates he won’t invest in his product? I look at the recent signing of Jose Altuve as not only a good faith down payment, but also a good business decision. Over the past couple of years, the Astros have invested more in the minor league system than at any other time in their history. You don’t add the roof to a house before you pour the foundation. Yes, you can point to the meager signings this season (Carlos Pena, Rick Ankiel et al) but hanging your hat on those decisions alone are short-sighted. Crane and Jeff Luhnow will spend the money. In due time. Honestly, I don’t ever see the Astros as a top 5 team in payroll, but top half would be nice eventually. As an example, Washington is #10 this season at $116 million.

The Astros don’t have any good players.

  • Poppycock! Are there any stars in the bunch? Now, that’s still debatable. But there are some good players in the bunch. It’s easy to tear apart players like Altuve or Jason Castro when they’re the “best” players on a poor team. Though they are All Stars, they may not be stars on an Astros’ team in 2016. Still, they could be strong, regular contributors. Imagine Altuve in the 9-hole or Castro hitting sixth. Right now, Bo Porter has no choice but to plug them in key roles (e.g. 3-hole, cleanup) because that’s all he’s got. Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart, even Jordan Lyles may not eventually be impact players, but they’ve already proven they can contribute at this level. On a good team, you have to wonder if players like Matt Dominguez, Brandon Barnes or Robbie Grossman might improve. It’s a myth the Astros don’t have good players. Do those players make a good team? Now that’s another subject.

Luhnow is a great GM, Luhnow is a horrible GM.

  • Balderdash! You don’t know yet. Yes, there are some remarkable moves and, indeed, there have been some faux pas along the way. You can tell where a man is going by looking to see where he has been. Luhnow’s track record is quite extraordinary and even the commitment to developing talent in Houston has been striking. If George Springer, Jonathan Singleton or any of the others currently in incubation turn out to be nearly as good as Cosart or Oberholtzer, the Astros will be in good hands for years to come. No, Luhnow may not have drafted or traded for all of these players, but he and his team have been key in their development. If fans had their way, Cosart would have been in the rotation out of spring training and Springer would have be in center field in May or June. His track record may portend greatness, but the product on the field in Houston (not OKC, Corpus Christi or some other foreign field) will tell the tale. As I’ve suggested often, look at what the man was given to work with. It’s hard to make lemonade when you don’t even have the lemons at your disposal.

Cosart has a way of turning a bad day into a beautiful thing

From skeptic, cynic and head shaker to upbeat, excited and hopeful. All in one 24-hour period.

That’s what someone like Jarred Cosart can do for fans. And for a team struggling toward another 100-loss season.

This kid can pitch. Without television, it’s the first time I’ve seen him pitch as a major leaguer.

He’s not only a keeper, but looks to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for years to come. And, everything that Ed Wade hoped for when he made the trade. Gotta figure that Wade — now back in Philadelphia — is taking some good-natured ribbing from folk in the organization after Cosart’s start to his major league career.

Nonetheless, the Cosart’s pitch-and-miss-the-bat routine is catching quite a bit attention, though he quite obviously still needs to perfect his game. He looks smaller than his 6-3, 180 frame, and pitchers more like a 6-5, 215 guy. More importantly, he seems to have command of his pitches and knows when to throw his repertoire.

Which brings me to this short discussion point today: Other than George Springer, which players in the system or currently in Houston do you drool over? Which ones do you believe will have the Cosart-effect rather than the Chris Burke-effect?

Other than Springer and Carlos Correa, here are the Top 5 can’t-wait-to-see candidates for me:

  • Jonathan Singleton. Still think he’ll make a difference in a big way.
  • Nolan Fontana. Surprise, darkhorse. Great eye at the plate, good defense.
  • Asher Wojciechowski. Like Cosart, seems to know how to miss the bat. Can’t wait to see him back-to-back with Cosart.
  • Mark Appel. Any list should include him. Rough start, but here’s a hunch he could be in Houston late 2014.
  • Lance McCullers/Mike Foltynewicz. Okay, I’m pitcher-happy, but the Astros have a shot at a dominant rotation for the next decade and these two could be part of that.

Chris Burke effect. Yes, I’m hoping there are more Cosarts than Burkes, but here are a few I have concerns about:

  • Delino Deshields. Yes, he may still work out. He’s hitting .310 right now, but 2014 could tell a lot more.
  • Singleton. Yep, he’s on both lists. Hoping his 2013 is just a get-back-in-the-swing-of-things after the drug suspension, but his season is worrisome.
  • Jordan Lyles. No, not a prospect, of course, but not sure where he fits. His relief stint may also be an indication the Astros have concerns, though he could clearly develop into a solid middle rotation guy.

Your thoughts? Your lists?

Alex Rodriguez should follow Nixon’s example: Retire and reinvent

Alex Rodriguez should follow Richard Nixon’s example.

Resign — or in this case — retire. Just as with Watergate, the evidence against Rodriguez appears to be overwhelming. When Nixon recognized the case against him was staggering and that he was faced with impeachment, he saved the country and himself a “long national nightmare” of trial and further embarrassment.

Alex Rodriguez should retire now, forego the millions remaining on his contract, and begin the restoration process. The fact of the matter is, the Yankees would pay him not to play. They owe him $90 million in 2015-2017, plus whatever remains on his $29 million 2013 salary. The third baseman was overpaid from the beginning, but you know the Yankees would negotiate a settlement and allow him to “save” some of that $90 million if he’d just take his ball and go home.

If he plays hardball and tries to fight the inevitable suspension, he may end up with nothing except a load of attorney bills, and the number of fans who are left in his corner will likely begin to diminish before September call ups.

Look, it’s clear that Rodriguez has probably played his last game in the major leagues. He and a handful of others are the only ones who believe he has any meaningful time remaining as a player. So, that means it’s all about the money, although the 37-year-old has earned more than $353 million in his playing career thus far.

Nixon resigned, then went into seclusion for a while. Agree or not with the Ford pardon, it helped to move the nation forward and Nixon began to focus on reinventing his image. By 1980, less than a decade after his resignation, Nixon had begun to resurface as a voice in foreign policy, which was his forte.

I was — and still am — a huge Nixon fan. Not a political statement, but his prowess with foreign leaders and his uncanny ability to break barriers in China, with Russia and other foreign powers at the time, was unprecedented at the time. Despite his Watergate mess, he and Henry Kissinger laid the groundwork for much of our foreign policy even today.

But like Nixon with world politics and foreign affairs, Rodriguez has done much for the game. And, also like Nixon, he has hurt America’s past time tremendously, casting a pall over the game perhaps as much as any other single player in major league baseball history.

At the age of 37, he can begin to rebuild his life and image, then perhaps years from now return in some way to impact the game, its players and its tradition.

Alex should take a close look at the wall. When he does, he’ll see the same handwriting that Nixon saw over 40 years ago. If he doesn’t heed the writing, the wall may fall on him.