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The Astros in 2009 and Beyond: JJO puts in his two cents

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As we've seen, the Astros have let the non waiver trade deadline pass without making a move. That means no Scott Kazmir, no Jarrod Washburn, no Scott Rolen. That also means Jason Castro, Bud Norris, Polin Trinidad and Jordan Lyles will remain in the Astros organization. Which is a good thing. Jonathan Gaston is an A ball outfielder who leaders all of minor league baseball in home runs. Everyone hits home runs in Lancaster, CA, but his wOBA is around .439. Come on. That's impressive even at Coors Field in 2001.

So there are some pieces that we may be able to build around. I say may because, well, there are no sure things in life or pro baseball for that matter. Prospects have probably a 33% chance of ever becoming major league players. Less than ever become average players. If the past two drafts by Ed Wade and Bobby Heck produce two All Stars, then they should be given the key to the city. Their busts should be displayed side by side the U.S. President's off of I-45 south right before downtown. Wade's approach was the correct one in my estimation. Yes, the Astros are in a better position to make the playoffs in 2009 than in either 2006, 2008 or even 2004. You can argue that this was the year to make a trade, and that beyond Norris, Castro and Lyles nobody truly qualifies as a prospect of real interest. Why not go for it this season? Put off the rebuilding process for another one season.

After a handful of poor drafts, the Astros put together one that was good (2008) and this year's that looks like it will turn out to be solid as well. It would appear that for each year the organization puts off focusing on the draft and player development, it falls behind another two seasons. The years of deglect build on each other and eventually exascerbate the situation. What you're left with is a team that has a top heavy payroll, and is forced to hitch their wagon on a trio of 34+ year old starting pitchers. This year's team has worked to a fair extent because Ed Wade has mitigated our organizational weakness by making shrewd decisions. Michael Bourn, Jeff Keppinger, Ivan Rodriguez, Alberto Arias, Jeff Fulchino and Chris Coste have all contributed positively this season, and are here because Ed Wade went out and got them.

My schbiel was a lead up to this article written by JJO. His title, "Land a No. 2 or No. 3 starter or dismantle the Astros", pretty much sums up his thoughts on the team. He and I are pretty much in concurrence on the following points: Ed Wade has the team headed in the right direction; maybe it's time to see what Norris and Bazardo can do in the rotation. Fears about saving Norris' arm may be overblown, and Yorman Bazardo has had enough innings built up in his career to be ok in terms of arm injuries due to overuse.

I think that Ortiz has overreacted to the Cubs' series though. True, our pitching was terrible, and the team has addressed it by releasing Russ Ortiz. Sammy Gervacio hasn't been tearing it up in AAA, but his FIP of 4.08 is much more palatable than his 5+ ERA. In our defense, the Cubs' offense has the potential to be very good, and has underachieved badly so far in 2009. Outside of the Phillies and Dodgers, the Cubs offense is the most complete in my opinion. They displayed that (and then some) in three of the four games against the Astros. It was unfortunate they put everything together in that series, and it was fortuitous that Hampton and Ortiz were on the mound. The perfect storm for an offensive eruption, you could say. I wouldn't say blow up the 2009 squad, as Ortiz does. It will take underperformance from the top NL Central clubs for the Astros to make the playoffs, but all the teams are flawed.

Let's see what happens, huh? Let's see what a rotation of Oswalt, Wandy, Norris and a bottom two can offer. Can Hampton turn his season around? Will Brian Moehler do the same? Or will Felipe Paulino or Yorman Bazardo get a short to see what they can do? At some point, things will adjust, our starters will work deeper into games and the bullpen will get a rest. Once healthy, the NL Central's best reliver (in terms of WAR) Chris Sampson can pair with a re charged LaTroy Hawkins and again dominant Jose Valverde to give the Astros as solid a 7-8-9 combo as most teams. Remember: this is basically the same team that won 5/7 games against the Dodgers and Cardinals to start the second half. Losing Roy would change that, but as of now, it's the same team, minus an Ortiz and plus a Norris and a Gervacio.

As far as his point that the Astros should look into re signing Tejada and Valverde, I don't know if that will be in the cards. Unless Miguel absolutely crashes and burns this final one-third of the season, he should command some nice contract offers. There are few elite short stops in the league, and Tejada would be available as an ok stop gap for a season or two. His future most likely lies at third base, however. If his demands are reasonable, and if he really does want to remain an Astro, then there is chance he could be brought back. Who knows what the team is thinking in terms of 2010. Chris Johnson doesn't look like he is going to be ready, and Jeff Keppinger probably isn't capable of being an everyday infielder.

Jose Valverde at 3 yrs/$33 million? I don't think so. Even with Ed Wade's penchant for overpaying the bullpen, I don't think so. Even if Jose Valverde saves Ed Wade's children from a burning building, I don't think so. There have to be other options. I may be wrong. Valverde may be re-signed at that sum. The team may  have some money to spend. There is precedent out there for paying $10 million for a closer per season.

This is obviously all conjecture on my part, but my bottom line is- don't read more into the Cubs series than is prudent. Perfect storms happen. If baseball has taught me anything, it's that the Astros will probably have a shot at entering into a storm that goes in their favor. Let's batten the hatches for now until we reach calmer seas.