As of today, going by fangraphs WAR, the Astros have the top second baseman and the third best shortstop in all of baseball. It is still early and both Altuve and Lowrie will have some regression over the course of the season, but I do expect both of them to remain near the top in their respective positional leader boards. Ed Wade always talked about building up the middle of the diamond first, and now the Astros might have the best middle infield in baseball. Thank you, Ed...wait...Tim Purpura and Jeff Luhnow. But to give Ed some credit, Jordan Schafer is the 15th ranked CF in terms of WAR and probably one of the better defensive CFs, and Jason Castro has been looking better. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the four up the middle positions could combine to contribute around 11 to 12 WAR by the end of the season.
For as nice as the present is, the future could be even brighter with George Springer's potential in center and the fact that Altuve and Castro (hoping that he continues to improve) are under team control for a long time. Jordan Schafer has already out performed my pessimistic expectations for him this season, but I expect his offense to continue to decline. And yet I will not be angry with him getting a lot of at bats because even with his lack luster bat, his base running and defense will make him worth starting. He probably shouldn't be batting lead off, but that's really not that big a deal.
There is, however, uncertainty surrounding the future of the shortstop position. Jed Lowrie is farther along in his major league career than the other promising players on this young Astros team. I see him like the Ken Caminiti of the '92 Astros. Since he is older and will get expensive sooner than the young guys there is a good argument for trading him in the upcoming seasons. If he stays healthy and continues to play like an All-Star caliber shortstop, he should be able to bring in a nice prospect haul. Personally, I would prefer to extend him in order to have him around for another 3 or 4 seasons. My faith in Villar and Mier to become MLB regulars is shaky. I also feel that shortstops that can hit and play good defense are so rare that you keep them when you are lucky enough to find them. Who was the last Astros shortstop that looked this good? Dickie Thon? Thankfully Lowrie is not a free agent after this season, so the Astros do not have to make a decision right away. They can afford to wait and see how the prospects progress and how Lowrie holds up.
Personally I feel that dealing Lowrie in an upcoming season would be like when the Astros dealt Caminiti. It will leave a hole at a hard to fill position that may never be filled. If Lowrie is extended and the then a prospect emerges as a better MLB shortstop, Lowrie could slide over to third, where there are even fewer options in our system. And he should still have trade value if he is healthy.
What do you think? Is he a guy we should build around or is he just a stopgap whose value should be measured in prospects gained?