Tuesday's Three Astros Things

In a minute, Carlos. We'll get to you in a minute...

I can't actually quit this team, even while visiting the in-laws, so here's some more things to talk about...

1) The power game - There are many things to criticize about this Astros team. I know I just got done writing an article not so long ago talking about how there WEREN'T that many things to criticize with this group, but there are plenty. The bullpen is imploding, the offense has been anemic here in the dog days of summer, etc., etc.

One thing I don't think we can criticize this team about is power. Houston needed a shot in the arm in regards to the long ball. They still may not have a masher on the team like we used to think of Jeff Bagwell or even Lance Berkman. I'd argue that Jed Lowrie's 30-homer pace makes him a great fit for that situation, but I'm already in Lowrie's camp so often, they've put out a bedroll for me.

No, we need to look at this team in the big picture. First, let's take the home runs per game Houston is on pace for this season. Right now, through 73 games, they're hitting .91 homers per game. That's almost double last season's total and the most since 2008. If it stays that way, it'd be the 13th highest total for a single season in team history. In what has sort of been a pitching-dominated season.

What's more, Houston has six guys who could legitimately make a run at 15 home runs this season (Lowrie, J.D. Martinez, Chris Johnson, Brian Bogusevic, Justin Maxwell, Carlos Lee). If all of them get there, that'd be just the fourth time in team history that six different guys have hit 15 or more homers. It's only happened five or more times in eight seasons.

Of course, you have to take MMP into account when talking homers. The Astrodome depressed HR output dramatically, and of those top 12 home run rates in team history, nine of them have happened since 2000. We're definitely comparing apples to oranges here.

Still, this was a team completely lacking punch for two straight seasons, and this year's Astros team actually has decent power. That, in itself, is pretty surprising to me.

2) What's Youk got to do with Lee? - A home run on Monday may give the appearance that Carlos Lee is back to his dominant ways, what with him hitting .333/.394/.422 in June since returning from that hamstring injury. Heck, even his strikeout rate being way down is impressive.

Does that mean Carlos Lee will catch the eye of some young team in the next month or so? And, if so, what will he bring in return? Well, I'm glad you asked, because we've got a perfect test case that played out over the weekend. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but someone from the Boston Red Sox was traded to another big city's team and a big deal was made of it.

Man, I'm really going to have to start paying better attention to the AL next year...

Kevin Youkilis was a walking injury this season that had slipped badly at the plate and was never a huge power threat. He also doesn't have a solid position and is probably below-average at his current spot, destined for first base or DH. Sound like anyone else you know?

That's right, Carlos Lee is a nice comp to Youk right now. It's not perfect, since Lee has never walked much and Youk is the Greek God of something or other. Plus, Youk plays a position (badly) that has more value than Lee's first base spot.

Still, since Youk has a huge contract that's about to run out and everyone knew the Red Sox were shopping him, we can look at the return from that trade as a sort of template for what Houston may expect in return for Lee. In Zack Stewart and Brent Lillibridge, the Red Sox get two intriguing bench guys who have the potential to pop, but won't be counted on for much right away. In essence, they got supporting pieces but no one with the potential for stardom (we think).

That seems like a nice balance for a possible Lee trade. Maybe a pitcher to help this bullpen once Myers and Lyon are gone, plus a bench guy who could pop like Maxwell. Or, Houston could go the other way and pull in a couple very raw prospects like D'Andre Toney or Jobduan Morales for Lee, and not see any return for a while.

Of the two choices, I'm sure most of you would rather the second option, but I wonder if the first is all Houston could end up with for Lee. It's not a bad thing, as guys like Maxwell have proven to be worth something, and turning a bullpen arm around could let Luhnow make another Mark Melancon heist.

It's interesting to think about and the Youkilis trade definitely signals that this trading season is about to get crazy. How it affects the market for Lee will be determined in the next month.

3) Heineman appreciated - I've already gone on pretty long, so I'll just leave this note on UCLA's Tyler Heineman, who made BA's All-Fitt team. Here's what Aaron Fitt had to say about him:

There was a ton of competition for this spot—I hated omitting North Carolina's Jacob Stallings, Stony Brook's Pat Cantwell, Creighton's Anthony Bemboom and Clemson's Spencer Kieboom(!). But UCLA's strong schedule and proximity to my home meant I watched the Bruins more than any other team this year, so I came to really appreciate Heineman's leadership, catch-and-throw skills, grit and personality. Florida State's Sherman Johnson told me during the CWS that Heineman was cracking all kinds of jokes when Johnson stepped into the box against the Bruins—that's a guy who has fun playing baseball, and it shows.

I'm a sucker for this stuff. Count me among Heineman's supporters from here on out.

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