FanPost

Three key roster decisions that the Astros have either already made or will make and how that will affect the 2011 season

When April 1st rolls around, the Houston Astros will field a different team than the one that ended the 2010 season.  Take a look at the changes after the jump:

Pos.

Opening Day 2011

2010

C

JR Towles

Jason Castro

1B

Brett Wallace

Brett Wallace

2B

Bill Hall

Jeff Keppinger

SS

Tommy Manzella

Tommy Manzella

3B

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson

RF

Hunter Pence

Hunter Pence

CF

Michael Bourn

Michael Bourn

LF

Carlos Lee

Carlos Lee

OF

Jason Michaels

Jason Michaels

IF

Angel Sanchez

Angel Sanchez

C

Humberto Quintero

Humberto Quintero

IF

Joe Inglett*

Geoff Blum

OF

Jason Bourgeois

Jason Bourgeois

SP

Brett Myers

Brett Myers

SP

Wandy Rodriguez

Wandy Rodriguez

SP

JA Happ

JA Happ

SP

Bud Norris

Bud Norris

SP

Nelson Figueroa

Nelson Figueroa

SP

Ryan Rowland-Smith

Felipe Paulino

RP

Aneury Rodriguez

Brian Moehler

RP

Fernando Abad

Tim Byrdak

RP

Enerio Del Rosario

Matt Lindstrom

RP

Mark Melancon

Mark Melancon

RP

Wilton Lopez

Wilton Lopez

CL

Brandon Lyon

Brandon Lyon

 

*That 2011 roster leaves out players likely to start 2011 on the DL, including Jason Castro, Clint Barmes, and Jeff Keppinger and makes some educated inferences about the roster that “finished” 2010.  It also makes assumptions about the 2011 opening day roster that as of this posting are unknown (that Manzella will replace Barmes at SS and that Bourgeois, Inglett, and Sanchez will fill the open bench spots, leaving Matt Downs, Anderson Hernandez, and Jack Shuck in AAA.  There also could be some minor changes in the opening day pitching staff.)  (This link to the box score of the 2010 finale shows Bogusevic as the CF instead of Bourn and Abad as the LOOGY instead of Byrdak.)

 

The top 4 starting pitchers, the closer, and the heart of the lineup are all the same.  It’s hard to point to a change at LOOGY (losing Byrdak, adding Abad and/or Rowland-Smith), middle relief/setup (losing Lindstrom, adding Del Rosario) or utility man (losing Geoff Blum, adding Joe Inglett) as having dramatic impacts on short or long term wins and losses.  But some of the moves Houston made between October 1st and April 1st certainly have the possibility of changing the outcome of 2011 and beyond.  The additions of Hall and Barmes certainly will impact the offense (and defense) in 2011.  Adding a young player like Aneury Rodriguez has a wide range of both long term and short term outcomes.  Finally, choosing Towles to replace Castro on the 25 man roster will also greatly impact the team’s 2011 performance.  Let’s examine each of those moves a little more closely:

1.)    Adding Bill Hall and Clint Barmes to the middle of the infield to add power to the lineup.  With the payroll limitations along with commitments to youth (Castro, Wallace, Chris Johnson) bad contracts (Carlos Lee), and “star” players (Bourn, Pence), Ed Wade was limited in the ways he could improve what was a dreadful 2010 Astros’ offense.  Shortstop was the obvious starting point, as Tommy Manzella was not thought of as a long term answer (which is debatable) and the position had generated very little offense.  At 2B, Jeff Keppinger had turned in a surprisingly good season, but did not provide the power needed to get the offense out of the statistical cellar.

I personally really like the addition of Bill Hall.  He’s a player with versatility (has played every position except catcher), power (a 35 HR season in 2006, and coming off of an 18 HR season in a reserve role), and a good clubhouse reputation.  He signed a 1 year deal that won’t keep the Astros from continuing their rebuilding process (not to mention fit into a reduced payroll).  He’s not blocking any prospects from getting time (as all of the legitimate 2B prospects in Houston’s system ended last year at high A or lower).  His 1 year deal gives him strong incentive to perform at a high level.  He profiles as an adequate defensive 2B.  His skillset would translate well to a contender in the event Houston (as predicted) fails to compete in the 1st half of the season and again needs to trade veterans for younger players.  Finally, other than a handful of elite players (Utley, Phillips, Weeks, Uggla), he’s arguably as good as any other 2B in the NL.  I fully expect a 20 HR season from Hall.

The trade of Felipe Paulino for Clint Barmes isn’t quite as easily applauded.  Paulino was a high ceiling player whose departure could come back to bite Houston in a big way.  Barmes is coming from a hitter’s park where his numbers weren’t quite stellar.  That said, I’m of the opinion that Paulino’s time had passed and that something had to be done at shortstop.  The lack of quality free agents at the position and the restrictions of cash and prospects Wade was faced with severely limited his options.  Given his solid defensive reputation and his 23 HR season in 2009, I’m ok with the move.  It’s not until you compare Barmes against the other starting NL SS that you realize he will probably rank near the bottom in terms of statistical performance.

Wade probably could’ve improved the offense more by making a larger impact trade (by moving Pence, Bourn, Wandy, or Myers), but I doubt there would have been a way to add a player who would’ve been able to contribute during the Astros next playoff run without being prohibitively expensive.

2.)    Adding (and keeping) Aneury Rodriguez via the Rule 5 Draft.  I love this move.  Just as the Hall and Barmes additions were about adding a few wins in 2011, this move was about 2012-2015.  By all accounts, Rodriguez’s ceiling is that of a quality starter his floor is of a middle reliever, so this move made tons of sense.  With his spring performance and scouts’ evaluations, it shouldn’t be hard to hide him on the roster as the long reliever/spot starter, and there’s certainly a chance that he could end up being in the rotation by season’s end.  It makes the roster younger and gives the ‘stros a group of young arms (Norris, Happ, Jordan Lyles, Henry Villar, etc.) that ensure the back of the rotation will be adequately manned for the next 3-5 years.  If and when Houston becomes a playoff contender again, it’ll be moves like this one that will be pointed to as hastening the process.

 

3.)    Replacing the injured Jason Castro with J.R. Towles.  As soon as he learned that Castro was likely done for the year, Ed Wade was faced with finding his replacement.  His on-hand options were J.R. Towles and Carlos Corporan.  I’m sure he explored the free agent (Bengie Molina?) and trade (Matt Treanor?) market.  Personally, I would’ve gone with Corporan.  I think he has more upside, but that’s mostly based on my own intuition than statistics.  That said, I’m glad they went with Towles instead of acquiring a veteran.  If they could’ve acquired a younger catcher with more upside without giving up anything consequential, I’m sure they would’ve.

 

I’m with the group that feels that Towles has never really been given a fair shake at the major league level.  Since he was named the organization’s top prospect, he’s never been given more than a couple of months of consistent playing time.  I’d really like to see him given a full season of major league play, and Castro’s injury presents the perfect excuse to make that happen.  It’s a coin flip when predicting what kind of success he’ll have this season.  His previous major league auditions point to him struggling mightily in April and May and being sent down in early June in favor of a AAAA acquisition, but his minor league track record points to the possibility of a 750 OPS year.  Either way, I’m glad it’s looking like we’ll get a chance to find out.  If he excels, it could be a boon for Houston’s rebuilding effort, being able to use him as trade bait, a high quality backup, or a starter (in the event Castro’s recovery/development doesn’t go as planned).

 

Overall, I like the roster changes that were made this offseason.  Wade maintained the commitment to youth in the offense (by staying with Castro, Wallace, and Johnson) and the pitching staff (by never questioning Norris’ rotation spot, adding Aneury, and keeping players like Abad, Melancon, Del Rosario, and Wilton Lopez in the bigs).  He made the team more competitive (by adding Hall and Barmes and not trading any of the other solid performers).  And he did this all while adhering to a lesser payroll.

I’ve said this before, but I think it’s the duty of every major league team to field as competitive of a team as possible each opening day.  And I think Houston has done that.  Do I expect 90 wins?  No.  But I do expect the team to be near .500 and I think there are plenty of reasons for hope.  And given the state of the franchise, I think that’s about as much as we can realistically ask for.

 

What do you think?  Who would you rather see at SS and 2B?  Or in the rotation?  At Catcher?  On the bench?

 

Gimme my Goatee Shirt!!!

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