The Springer Watch is on for Astros

The George Springer Watch is on!

Now that the Oklahoma City Redhawks are out of the playoffs, there are no longer any obstacles to Springer’s major league debut with the Astros. Right? RIGHT?

Most true baseball aficionados have agreed with Jeff Luhnow in allowing Springer to fully incubate in OKC after starting the season in Corpus Christi. After all, the Astros’ first-round choice in 2011 has only two full seasons in the minors under his belt.

But now that the Astros’ season is history and Springer is cleaning out his OKC locker, can the debut be far away?

The Astros’ 40-man roster is full, so someone would have to go before Houston could add Springer or anyone else.

So, here are some questions for you as The Springer Watch grows and likely draws more attention over the next few days.

  • Should the Astros put him in the lineup the rest of the season and let him play everyday?
  • Where should he bat in the lineup?
  • In fact, write the top four or five in the lineup with Springer on your card.
  • What are your expectations as far as production?
  • What position should he play? Right? Center? DH?
  • Is there any reason to just let him go home and “save” him for spring training.

Most of the original candidates for September call-up — players like Jarred Cosart, Bret Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock, Jonathan Viller et al — are already in Houston, but there are a couple of other possibilities:

  • Jonathan Singleton hit .350 over his last 10 games, showing signs of kicking out of his season funk.
  • Asher Wojciechowski has pitched 160 innings between Corpus Christi and OKC, so it’s a good guess his season is done.
  • Jimmy Paredes is already on the 40-man, so he could be called for late-game speed.

Anyone else you might like to see?

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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.

It’s time to build the Astros’ house

Stop the streak! It’s time to build the house.

For the past four seasons, the Astros have been sellers at the trade deadline. In fact, two different general managers have traded away more than a full roster trying to find the right combination to create a winner. Bereft of real veterans in the organization, Luhnow is now moving younger players, still seeking to assemble the foundation for an organization in decline since reaching the pinnacle in 2005.

Stop the bleeding, it’s time to build the house!  As any contractor will tell you, it takes 2x4s and bricks to rebuild a house. You can spend only so much time on the foundation. It’s time for the Astros to put the “build” into the “rebuild”.

No, this isn’t an indictment on either Luhnow, owner Jim Crane or their ambitious reconstruction plan. While most baseball savvy fans are in the GM’s corner and are patiently watching the blueprint slowly come to life, the Astros should throw fans a few crumbs along the way. Maybe sooner than later.

Locking up Jose Altuve is nice. Bringing up Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Villar is a good start. George Springer in a few more weeks would be great too.

With Jason Castro approaching arbitration, perhaps it’s time to buy out a few of those arb years in inexpensive fashion. It wouldn’t take an Altuve contract.

Perhaps more importantly, the Astros need to begin to build around those players. Add some key veterans who aren’t of the low-risk, high-reward, release-in-midseason group. They shouldn’t necessarily be free agents. But, with much pitching in the stable and with John Ely and Alex White working their way back with a good young core, it may be time for a well-placed addition or two in the lineup.

Let’s see how Luhnow fashions a trade from the “other” side. In other words, not just selling off the major league roster. But can he put together 2-3 low-level “prospects” for a major league third baseman or outfielder this winter?

He’s proven he can do well in the draft. He can negotiate contracts. He’s shown evidence of being shrewd at signing low-risk, high-reward players (e.g. Jose Veras) in hopes of flipping them later. Say what you will about Rick Ankiel, Carlos Pena or Tyler Greene, but he’s wasted little money in the big picture trying to find a diamond in the rough.

Yes, the Astros have proven very good at one aspect of the rebuild project. The minor league system is now among the best in all of baseball. For his next act, Luhnow will try to put some meat on those bones.

Indeed, there’s a strong foundation, it’s time to build the house.

Here’s a list of those traded over the past few years.

  • Carlos Lee 1B.
  • Jeff Keppinger 2B.
  • Jed Lowrie SS.
  • Chris Johnson 3B.
  • Lance Berkman LF.
  • Michael Bourn CF.
  • Hunter Pence RF.
  • Humberto Quintero C.
  • Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, Brett Myers, J.A. Happ.
  • Bullpen: Wilton Lopez, Mark Melancon, Brandon Lyon, Jose Veras,
  • Bench: J.B. Shuck, Justin Maxwell, Jason Bourgeois.

So with one third of the season remaining…

  • Has the team reached the bottom yet?
  • Will Houston actually play better now that the deadline has passed?
  • Which position should Luhnow target this winter?
  • How should the Astros proceed over the next 18 months?
  • Have the Astros done well in trading those players listed above?

Norris traded to Orioles, Maxwell to KC

  • 1:30 Update: Erik Bedard scratched from start tonight.
  • 2:30 Update: Justin Maxwell traded to Kansas City for minor league pitcher Kyle Smith, ranked 11th in the Royals system.
  • 2:39 Update: Bud Norris headed to Baltimore for OF L.J. Hoes (7th in Orioles system) and LHP Josh Hader (5th).

The Bud Norris saga enters its final day. Perhaps. Probably. Definitely maybe.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Astros don’t trade Bud Norris today.

Still, with just hours before the trade deadline, Jeff Luhnow is still entertaining offers for the team’s so-called #1 pitcher.

Here’s the update: Two of the best pitchers available — Jake Peavy and Matt Garza — have been moved. At least two of the teams said to previously have some interest in Norris — Texas and Boston — have filled their needs. Apparently, the leading contenders to acquire Norris’ services are Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Both have plenty of stock in their systems to draw the interest of the Astros.

But, a deal just to make a deal isn’t in the best interest of Houston. Despite his inconsistency and struggles, Norris is still quite valuable with his low $3 million salary and two more arbitration years.

Another possibility: Luhnow could simply be using the deadline as a test round for the winter. By then, he’ll have more options for his rotation and will have a better gauge for Norris’ value. Indeed, more teams could be in play come November and December.

If Norris is in the rotation the rest of the season, it also provides more incubation time for Mike Foltynewicz and Asher Wojciechowski and provides flexibility for Bo Porter.

So what say you on this Final Day?

  • Trade him, regardless of return.
  • Hold ’em.
  • Trade him, and get top return.

By the way, if Norris isn’t traded today, it’s unlikely he’ll be traded in August. Once the deadline passes, players must go through revocable waivers to be traded by the “second” deadline August 31. No way Norris clears those waivers as almost every team — even those who aren’t in the current sweepstakes — would claim him.

There is a caveat and exception to the above statement: If the Astros do expose him to waivers and a team claims him, they could make a trade with that club and that club only. Failing that, the team could pull him back, though they wouldn’t be allowed to repeat the process.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world if Norris isn’t traded today.

Is Luhnow’s reconstruction project off course?

The tradition continues! September in July in Houston. For the fourth consecutive year, the Astros have shuffled the deck, but it’s only the beginning. How many teams beat the deadline with trades and bring up top prospects, all in the space of a few weeks?

Top Astros’ prospects Jarred Cosart (#4) and Jonathan Villar (#12) have made the major league roster significantly younger after Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno were designated for assignment Sunday.

Is Jeff Luhnow’s reconstruction project off course? Or has it just taken some detours this season?

With every move under the microscope, Luhnow is bound to miss some. But frankly, it’s time he hits on a couple. Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno were gambles, Pena more so than Cedeno. Chris Carter, Erik Bedard, Rick Ankiel, Philip Humber, all risks. Even Lucas Harrell and Travis Blackley were somewhat of a gamble.

But, answer this: Which move this season was not a gamble? There were few sure bets. Sure, Luhnow perhaps could have minimized the liability, but there were only a handful of “sure things” when spring training started. Jose Altuve, Bud Norris and…  Well, Jose Altuve and Bud Norris.

Luhnow still has a shot to turn a couple of his gambles into wins for the Astros.

It would be shocking if Bedard isn’t traded this week or next. Same for Jose Veras, who’s proven to be a low-risk, high-yield gamble. Here are some Sunday evening questions to finish up a weekend in a season that seems to get bleaker and bleaker.

  • With Pena and Cedeno goners, who else should follow?
  • Assuming he can get major-league ready or upper echelon minor league talent in a trade, which position should Luhnow target?
  • Is Luhnow’s reconstruction project in trouble? Or just delayed?
  • Should Bo Porter be on the hot seat?
  • Why hasn’t anyone thought of playing Jason Castro either at first base or everyday DH?

Looking back at positives, bright spots and glimmers of hope

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Since the Astros have played 94 games, it’s hardly the halfway point of the season. And, when they return to play on Friday, it’s not exactly accurate to call it the start of the “second half”.

Whether it’s the first half, the second half or just the rest of the season, there’s a lot of water under the bridge as the Astros reflect on a 33-61 start to 2013. And, while the dam hasn’t burst with personalities, .220 batting averages and the reconstruction plan, there are a few places that have sprung leaks. Most people can point to dozens of negatives since games started on, ahem, that April Fool’s Day eve. But through all the darkness, there are some bright spots, some glimmers of hope.

Here are a few after the first 94 games.

  • The draft was solid. The first three picks were successful college pitchers and several members of this draft class will crack the Astros Top 20 prospect list soon.
  • Jarred Cosart. George Springer. Asher Wojciechowski. ‘Nuf said.
  • The coming of age of Jordan Lyles. He’s still only 22, you know.
  • The success of Jose Veras. Ain’t no one among us who predicted he would be 18-for-21 in saves.
  • Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter giving players a chance to prove themselves: Brett Wallace, Jimmy Paredes, Brandon Barnes, J.D. Martinez, Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez and others are getting long looks and plenty of opportunity to show their stuff.
  • The George Postolos/Reid Ryan changing of the guard began the mending of fences with fans.
  • The Jose Altuve signing provided some stability and silenced naysayers — at least temporarily — who believe that Jim Crane isn’t financially committed to the long-term viability of the organization.

Remember any bright spots? Which was the brightest in the first 94 games?

Yes, there were some dark days and you don’t need me to cite those for you. But which one was the darkest, most glaring disappointment?

And, a few observations:

  • Biggest surprise of the “first half”: Jose Veras.
  • Biggest disappointment: Lucas Harrell. Really thought he was the epitome of consistency after 2012 and that he would be among the least of concerns for Porter.
  • Highlight of “second half”: Cosart, Springer, Singleton will catch the attention of fans.
  • Second half MVP: Your guess is as a good — or better — than mine.
  • Best September callup: The Astros seal the Comcast deal.
  • Next player Astros lock up: Castro (believe it or not, he reaches arbitration this winter).

Thank you Mr. Cosart, it’s fun to be an Astros’ fan again!

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It’s fun to be an Astros’ fan again!

You can circle the date July 12 on your calendar. Talk about tipping points. This may well be the moment in time we can all point to in 2015 when the Astros’ turnaround began. The time when the organization began to emerge from the deep abyss of the longest dark ages in the team’s history.

Jordan Cosart has provided hope.  Hope that perhaps no other player has provided in a decade. Meanwhile, Ed Wade must be cringing at making that Hunter Pence trade back in 2011, especially since his employer is the Phillies.

Yes, it’s fun to be an Astros’ fan again.

Jonathan Singleton, Asher Wojciechowski, George Springer are close to their debuts. Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Mike Foltynewicz and others are possibly coming in another year or two.

Can’t remember the last time a long-awaited Astros’ prospect has been met with this type of celebration. Was it Roy Oswalt? Hunter Pence? Lance Berkman?

No doubt, Jarred Cosart has made it fun to be an Astros’ fan again!

Will his debut expedite the promotions of other prospects? Not necessarily, although it’s going to be difficult for Jeff Luhnow to keep Springer in Oklahoma City until September if he keeps hitting .400.

But here’s one thought — and it has nothing to do with starting the clock. But perhaps it can be considered trite. If the Astros let him have that gargantuan year in the minors — 30/30 year with 100 RBI and make a run at 100 runs scored — they could also minimize his number of major league at bats. What does that do? Think Rookie of the Year 2014.

And, now, Luhnow takes another step in the reconstruction project with the extension of Jose Altuve. You can say the dominos are beginning to fall — in the right way — for the Astros.

Have I mentioned that it’s fun to be an Astros’ fan again?!

See ya Bud! What was that complaint Lucas? Sorry, those attitudes and opinions will be lost in the turnaround.

It’s a new day, and it’s fun to be an Astros’ fan again.

  • Cosart will be back in a couple of weeks. How many starts and wins do you predict for 2013?
  • Who’s next to be promoted? Springer, Wojciechowski or Singleton?
  • Getting closer to the deadline, which players will be wearing other uniforms come August 1? Norris, Bedard, Harrell, Veras, others?
  • The entire rotation could go topsy-turvy in the next two weeks. Here’s a guess at the rotation in September: Lyles, Cosart, Keuchel, Wojciechowski, someone acquired in a trade. Your guess?

Luhnow’s “guys” are a cross-section of three generations of GMs

“It’s one of those things where you’ve got a new regime in here. They want their guys and it’s coming later in the season; it’s getting closer to September. So they’re going to try their guys and see what happens.” — Lucas Harrell.

Yes,eventually, all of the players on the major league roster and, for that matter, the organization will be “their guys”.

But Jeff Luhnow isn’t stupid. No matter what you may think of the second-year general manager, he has a vested interest in building a quality organization. Even if the team isn’t competitive in 2013, he seems to be following the same principles that he will in 2014, 2015 and beyond.

In other words, it’s difficult to believe he would choose one player over another with the sole reasoning that “he’s my guy”.

Only ten players among the current Astros’ 25-man roster joined the organization after Luhnow became general manager. Here’s the list:

  • Erik Bedard, Travis Blackley, Josh Fields, Jose Veras, Ronny Cedeno, Matt Dominguez, Jake Elmore, Carlos Pena, Chris Carter, Marc Krauss.

Fifteen others on the 25-man joined the organization under older regimes. And, frankly, that breakdown isn’t probably going to significantly change anytime soon, though it is surprising the balance isn’t different considering the dramatic turnover in the organization in the last 18 months.

Without another round of trades that sends old regime players (e.g. Harrell, Bud Norris, Brett Wallace, J.D. Martinez, Wesley Wright) packing, it could be 2-3 years before the scale tips to Luhnow’s “guys”.

While Luhnow has indeed turned the organization upside down and eliminated a lot of the riff-raff, it’s nigh impossible to clean house completely. In fact, only 18 members of the current 40-man roster joined the organization since Luhnow came on board. Moreover, only 4 of the current Top 10 prospects came in under Luhnow’s watch.

Numbers are one thing, but clearly the philosophy has changed from the previous administration. Indeed, in any organization where there is a change of leadership, many holdover often find it difficult to “blend in”. Generally, those members will sift themselves out sooner or later.

And, that friends, is the bottom line: It doesn’t matter whether a particular player came into the organization when Tim Purpura, Ed Wade or Jeff Luhnow was the GM. What matters — and what will matter as the season and decade progress — is that the players who hope to be long-term are those who buy into the system and understand the expectations.

Those players will be Luhnow’s “guys”.

At this point, some of Harrell’s comments indicate he may not be in the fold.