#AstrosAlternateReality: Tanaka, Choo question marks for Astros at All-Star break

What if Houston had signed Shin-Soo Choo and Masahiro Tanaka last winter? What would the team's outlook be like right now?

What did all that money buy the 2014 Astros?

How much better did $300 million make them?

At 43-53, the Astros still sit 10 games under .500 and aren't even ready to start talking about the playoffs. They're nominally in the Wild Card race, but even the woeful Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees can boast a similar claim. The Astros are on pace to win 75 games this season, which is a significant improvement over the previous three-year period.

But, they're not yet at .500 and have some serious concerns about their investments. After signing a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Astros, left fielder Choo hasn't given the team much more production than it could have hoped to get from last year's incumbent Robbie Grossman. Choo has hit .242/.362/.376 with nine home runs and three steals. His fWAR total of 0.3 puts him 16th among left fielders in MLB.

Takana, of course, has been brilliant. His won-loss record doesn't indicate how much he's been one of the best pitchers in the American League, but his hype as the most celebrated Japanese import since Yu Darvish has him in the driver's seat for AL Rookie of the Year and got him an All-Star nod.

That gave Houston two All-Stars for the first time since 2010. Unfortunately, two Astros won't suit up for the AL squad, as Tanaka is now shelved indefinitely with a ulnar collateral ligament injury. It's unknown how long he'll be out, but optimistic projections say he'll only miss 9-12 weeks.

Still, it means Houston could get zero production for its $300 million over the next two months. That should seriously dampen those hoping Houston can catch one of two Wild Card berths. At least Tanaka can be expected to be around Houston for the next few years. But, if the talented hurler does need Tommy John surgery, which is the common name for the procedure which repairs a torn UCL, it will mean Houston loses its big-time pitching investment for the rest of this year and most of 2015, too.

Houston's rotation of Tanaka, Dallas Keuchel, Scott Feldman, Collin McHugh and Jarred Cosart is one of the most interesting groups in the league. With Brad Peacock in the bullpen, Houston didn't even bother investing in long man Jerome Williams. The Astros also have Brett Oberholtzer at Triple-A and will likely call him up to fill in for Tanaka.

But, the biggest loss for Houston is payroll flexibility. The Astros committed close to $70 million this offseason alone, including deals for Feldman, Matt Albers and Chad Qualls. That triples their 2013 payroll and puts them in the top half the league's payrolls, after receiving pressure from the player's association to increase spending.

Now, though, the Astros head into the deadline with interesting assets, but no clear path to upgrade the team. Until the Comcast Sports Net Houston situation is worked out, Jim Crane is running the Astros at a severe deficit and is hemorrhaging money. The Astros could have been players for upgrades in the outfield, but Choo's monster contract coupled with Dexter Fowler's salary and George Springer's need to play every day means there is no sure-fire spot to upgrade the lineup.

That means the Astros will be relying on its youngsters to carry the load once again. That's what a big-time investment can do. At this stage of Houston's success cycle, it didn't move the needle on wins and left them unable to tweak the team's roster in meaningful ways when things go wrong. While Tanaka is a great addition, there's no guarantee he'll return at the same high level.

Couple that with the Carlos Correa injury, Mark Appel's struggles and Brady Aiken's crossfitting and Houston's having an epic run of bad luck this season.

Shouldn't $300 million have bought them a little bit of good karma?

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