This is a pretty significant time in the history of the Houston Astros. Not only have we seen quite a bit of roster turnover but the process is on going, and the Astros are heading down some unfamiliar territory. Who is this teams franchise player? Or better yet who are the Astros building around?
For the better part of the past two decades the Astros have had the luxury of building around some pretty good players, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, and then Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. Three of those four being drafted and developed by the Astros. Now, it's...um...uh...hmm.
Hunter Pence? Jason Castro? Bud Norris?
It's not as clear cut as it used to be.
For starters Hunter Pence does appear to fit the franchise title, and most do consider him the new face of the franchise. However there's a difference between being the face of an organization and being a franchise player, whom the team builds around.
He was drafted and developed by the Astros. With the departure of Berkman and Oswalt, he's the one of the longer tenured Astros behind only Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee. He's a fan favorite. Heck he has his own seating section, Hunter's Lodge. He's a good fit for the role.
Except he turns 28 next season. Which is still plenty young, but if the Clint Barmes trade and the Ryan Rowland-Smith signing are any indication, this team is still a ways off from competing. Meaning Pence will be spending the better part of his prime years on a team rebuilding.
Michael Bourn while he was drafted and developed by an organization, he is a product of Houston, and dare i say for the most part a fan favorite. But also turns 28 next season.
Chris Johnson has certainly endeared himself to fans, and at 26 might be just young enough to fill the shoes of a franchise player. However as any regular TCB reader knows, there are questions about his ability to repeat his 2010 season.
What about Bud Norris. He turns 26 next season, and while he struggled there were still some positive signs this last season, taking baby steps forward in his development. He still needs to take a big step forward though, before we can slap a franchise title on him. There is also the fact that the Astros have Jordan Lyles in the minors who could be just as good, possibly even better.
Jason Castro selected in 2008 has made and astonishing climb to the Major Leagues and will be 24 next season, so he's young enough. The Astros have raved about his defense, and his ability to work with the pitching staff. On the other hand his offense at the Major League level has been lacking, but easy to dismiss when taking into consideration the quick ascension through the Astros farm system. Still like Johnson and Norris he needs to show more.
There are some even younger options in the minor leagues: Jordan Lyles, Delino DeShields, <insert favorite minor league prospect>. But that's problem, they're in the Minor Leagues not the Majors, and while we can dream up all the potential for them, they still have to prove it.
Maybe one emerges over the course of next year, Norris takes that step forward, Johnson continues where he left off, Castro develops further. Regardless crowning a franchise player, for this team, is not as clear cut as it used to be. But maybe that's a good thing.