Houston Astros 2011 Season Preview: Making The Best Of The Bad

Tim has provided you with both a best-case and a worst-case scenario for the Astros this season. What I'm going to do is divine which of the worst-possible scenarios might have silver linings.

For instance, we already know what one of the worst-case scenarios is for this season: losing Jason Castro for the entire year. Tim touched on this Tuesday, but Castro's injury affects the Astros in so many ways. It may be hard to find that silver lining, but let's try.

What if J.R. Towles finally realizes the potential that he's shown in the minors? A 27-year old catcher who shows decent defensive skills and a good bat is worth quite a bit on the open market. Even a one-year wonder like John Buck can command a big salary on the open market. Imagine what the Astros could get in trade for Towles? Or, if they wanted to hang onto him, what if Towles beats out Castro for the next couple of seasons? That would allow Castro's bat to develop a bit before taking over the job as the superior defensive catcher.

As bad as Castro's injury was, if Towles breaks out, the Astros could have more value than they expected behind the plate. After the jump, we'll look at a few more scenarios just like this...

Scenario One: Hunter Pence gets hurt; J.D. Martinez is called up

Without question, the most important player to this Astros lineup is Hunter Pence. He's not an elite player when you look at the rest of MLB, but he's very good and easily is the best player on the Astros roster. His combination of speed and power make him a potent middle of the order threat, and (most years), his defense puts him at the top fo the league.

If he were to go down with an injury, the Astros would be hard-pressed to replace his production. The only way any good comes out of that would be if J.D. Martinez gets a call-up and starts hitting like he's shown in the minors. If he hits above .300 with 30 doubles and double-digit home runs, it'd go a long way to filling Pence's void.

Scenario Two: Both Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez get hurt; Aneury Rodriguez and Jordan Lyles get a chance: 

I could go on for thousands and thousands of words about the injury possibilities that could sabotage the Astros. The biggest concerns on the pitching end have to be with Myers and Wandy. While neither is a typical pitching staff ace, they are invaluable to the Astros pitching rotation in 2011.

If they were to go down with injuries, the only silver lining would be for some of the young guys to step up. Slotting Aneury Rodriguez into the rotation would bring some low-cost innings with a bunch of upside to the rotation. Of course, Jordan Lyles will also make a splash when he's finally called up. Hopefully, he gets the nod in an injury situation because he's pitching well and not because he's the only option.

Another possibility here is that Dallas Keuchel gets a shot at the rotation. For this to happen, two things would need to occur. First, Keuchel would need to start the season in Oklahoma City, which we don't know for sure is happening. Secondly, the injury would need to happen far enough into the season for Keuchel to have some success at the highest minor league level. Given his college background, if those first two things happen, I think Keuchel has a good shot to leap in front of Lyles in case of a big league injury.

All three of those things would be very encouraging looking ahead a year or two. Getting a feel for how those possible future rotation stalwarts do in the majors will go a long way to showing when Houston can contend again.

Scenario Three: Brett Wallace struggles and is sent down; J.B. Shuck gets to start in left: 

Now we get into somewhat depressing territory. For all our hopes and dreams about Brick Wallace and his offensive upside, if the lefty first baseman struggles, he's not long for the major leagues. The Astros would have to look at sending him to Triple-A for a bit so he could get some confidence back.

If that's the case, the most logical move would be sliding Carlos Lee to first base and slotting someone like Jason Michaels into left field. But, what if in the case of Wallace's struggles, J.B. Shuck gets a shot to start? We already know the Astros like his game enough this year to keep him in big league camp through three rounds of cuts. If he gets off to a hot start at OKC, what's to say he wouldn't be given a shot to play every day in left? With Joe Inglett, the Astros wouldn't need his lefty bat off the bench, and that would be a great showcase to see if he had potential as a big league starter.

Essentially, the Astros would be swapping out potential for potential, which is the best possible outcome for a bad situation.

Scenario Four: Sale of the Astros drags on and on and on; Drayton is not Tom Hicks

Look, we've been talking quite a bit about the possible sale of the Astros this season. As clack said last year when I got overheated about Drayton's window for offers, this process will take a while. Tim speculated about whether this could impact the draft. It's certainly possible that the draft budget will be affected and that the Astros will have to cut the budget dramatically at the trade deadline. A sale can cause all sorts of hiccups. It may even block the Astros from making trades of any kind.

Why is there a silver lining to that depressing mess? Because Drayton McLane isn't Tom Hicks. He isn't the McCourts and he didn't invest all his money with Bernie Madoff. He's still a sound businessman who is solvent and has the money to run the Astros. He might have set a budget for this roster and the draft, but he's got the money to sign guys. If Bobby Heck reaches a pre-draft deal with the next Matt Purke, there is no reason to think a possible sale will nix the deal, as happened to the Rangers two summers ago.

Obviously, a budget is not the best thing for any draft, but I still think Drayton will give this front office the flexibility to get players it likes. Keep your Bubba Starling candles burning, Astros fans. 

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