Third, Fourth and Fifth, a rotation makes: Between Brett Myers, Felipe Paulino and Bud Norris, the Astros have question marks making up sixty percent of their probable starting rotation. With Myers attempting to earn his $5 million by remaining healthy enough to make his starts on a consistent basis, Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino want to prove that they are major league caliber starting pitchers.
Considering the contract of Myers, I think manager Brad Mills would be hard pressed to demote him from starter to reliever. Brian Moehler is waiting in the wings for a slip up from Norris or Paulino, so a good start to the spring is imperative to keep the second guessing to a minimum.
Not going to rest on their laurels: With everyone from fantasy savants, to talk show hosts, to opposing fans weighing in on the downfall of the Astros, the status of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman as fading stars is sub-point a to their thesis statements. The Wizard and Fat Elvis are like two restaurants in the older, run down part of town that nobody really goes to anymore- they might be tasty, but the neighborhood makes them less appealing.
That may be the case with these two, but their individual performances are microcosms for the Astros as a whole. Do any of us really believe that the team will succeed this season without their two most well known players leading the way? Put it another way: the Astros can be bad while Lance and Roy can perform well, but if they don't play up to expectation, we're almost assured of a second straight sub .500 season.
We don't talk about it much, and its effect is impossible to quantify precisely, but the atmosphere surrounding a team has, at the very least, a psychological effect. Brad Mills has made improvements at the top in how the manager interacts with the players. Now it's up to the the mainstays to make sure their attitudes are right. I'm a big believer of the idea that you take on the characteristics of the people around you. Surround yourself with people who have a negative outlook, and well, you see where I'm going with this. Last season seemed to suck the joy out of Oswalt and Berkman. Let's see if hope springs eternal this spring.
End game strategies: It's fair to say that the Astros' closing situation is wide open. The club let Jose Valverde walk on to greener pastures, and in their place Ed Wade traded for Matt Lindstrom and signed Brandon Lyon (to a realllllly stupid contract! In case you hadn't heard..) to compete for the job. Neither has had a great deal of success closing games, and Lyon is recovering from off season shoulder surgery.
As Lyon eases himself back into day to day workouts, Lindstrom should have the leg up in the competition to begin the season as the closer. As with Brett Myers though, I think the contract status of Brandon Lyon should not be ignored. $5 million is a lot of money to spend on a seventh or eighth inning guy.
The dark horse in this race is Alberto Arias. A superior ground ball rate makes him especially attractive in the ninth inning role, but like the other two pitches, Alberto's walk rate is troubling.
Show it to me again: Michael Bourn and Wandy Rodriguez turned in extremely successful 2009 seasons which earned them raises via arbitration this off season. Aside from showing that they're worthy of higher salaries, each will have a certain degree of pressure to perform as well on the field in 2010.
When 2008 came to a close, I think you could count the people who had confidence in Michael Bourn on one hand. He didn't adjust well at all to major league pitching, and wasn't the defensive wizard everyone had him pegged to be. Towards the end of the season, Darin Erstad played significant stretches in center field, while Michael rode the pine.
Flash forward a season, and the biggest improvements in his underlying statistics came in his increased ground ball and line drive rates, which led to a BABIP which bumped his batting average and on base average to respectability.What's troubling however, is how much Bourn's performance tailed off towards the end of 2009. Which Michael Bourn we get this spring will have a huge effect on how our already sub par offense fares during the regular season.
With Wandy Rodriguez, his recent loss in arbitration indicates the Astros aren't quite sure if he merits a long term contract. For one, he's 31 and has been inconsistent throughout his career. Secondly, there's the question of whether or not he begrudges the team for denying him a chance at a multi year contract this season. So far it appears that he's not holding any grudges, which is a good sign on all fronts.
If the season goes completely wrong, and we're out of it in July, there is the possibility, small as it may be, that Wandy could get traded to a contending team. We don't have a lot of trading chips at this point, but Rodriguez is one. Yea, this probably won't happen considering Drayton's track record as owner, but ya never know. If he intends to sell the Astros at some point in the near future, a prospective owner may look at a team full of young talent in the minors as being more attractive, both in the long and short term.