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Do the Houston Astros have the bare bones of a team ready to challenge?

The Houston Astros are close to being a really good team. All we need is some positivity, and money. Especially the latter.

Bob Levey

The Houston Astros aren't as bad as we think.

In fact, they might actually have the bare bones of a team ready to challenge (for something). I'll be the first to admit they are pretty bad. So much so, some may actually claim they're historically bad.

Don't lose hope, though. There is light at the end of the tunnel, or potential light, anyway. We possess many talented prospects, the one and only Jose Altuve, the ever unpredictable Chris Carter and a plethora of solid, players. Oh, let's not forget George Springer. He is a game-changer.

Facing another losing season, another season of disappointment, it is difficult to be optimistic. Impossible, maybe. Losing Jarred Cosart was painful and a little silly, but having the worst team WAR in all of baseball, is even more painful. Let's not forget all the good things about this losing season. We may be closer to figuring out who the real Carter is.

Hint: He may be a slugging, baseball mashing, home run hitting designated hitter. Exciting, eh? Altuve, amidst a struggling team, has collated a season of Most Valuable Player consideration. Springer, before he hit the DL, was proving to be one of the most exciting rookies in the game. His highlight-reel defense matched with the undeniable pop from his bat, was legendary.

Maybe guys like Domingo Santana and Jonathan Singleton haven't quite lived up to the hype, but there is still plenty of time for them to improve before next season -- especially Santana, the king of the K. After all, I'm just finding bare bones here, not a World Series winning roster.

Time for some FanGraphs evidence to support my otherwise, fallacy, should I say. The Astros currently rank 15th among all teams in offensive WAR. The Astros rank 15th, again, among all teams in wRC+, fangraphs don't lie folks, never forget that.

FanGraphs evidence to show the team's pitching is coming along nicely? Come on, I'm not a miracle worker. There are, however, two shining light in terms of pitching for the Astros. First, Dallas Keuchel. On the year, he boasts a 3.07 ERA, a 3.28 FIP and a 3.27 xFIP, with 112 strikeouts in 149 innings, coming together for a WAR of 2.9, not too bad, whatsoever.

Second, Collin McHugh. In his first full season in the big leagues, has collated a 3.08 ERA, a 3.38 FIP and a 3.18 xFIP, with 118 strikeouts in only 108 innings. That's right, look at those strikeouts. Starting to ask myself: Why is the Astros team pitching so bad, with these two aces? Okay, maybe aces is a stretch, but bare bones of a rotation is an understatement.

Back to why the Astros team pitching is incredibly bad: The bullpen. Their ERA of 5.09 is the worst in the game, and by a considerable amount, too. Quick fact: You can't win games when the bullpen are throwing away runs. The bullpen combine for a WPA of -3.49, ranking them third last in baseball.

They give away too many runs, and inevitably don't help the team to win. Guys like Jose Veras were brought in to solidify the pen, he has done the complete polar opposite. He owns a poor 5.46 ERA and has blown five saves.

Confirmation: That is five extra wins, Veras alone has surrendered. Between the bullpen, 13 saves have been blown. 13 wins have been surrendered. While no team is capable of blowing no games in the ninth, if the Astros had somehow managed to do it, they would currently be 63-59. That is the record of a team in the wild card chase.

Alas, there is no point dwelling on the past. It's too painful. Back to the main point; if the Astros sort out their bullpen, and give poor Chad Qualls some help, they can actually win some games. Relievers have to be the most important offseason target for the 'Stros.

As previously mentioned, the rotation is a move or two away from being brilliant. Time to dream -- adding a Jon Lester, a Max Scherzer, a James Shields as well as a Jason Hammel, Edinson Volquez or even a Ryan Vogelsong, would genuinely give Houston a rotation that can challenge.

Don't be a pessimist, don't point out payroll issues with pursuing someone like Scherzer, rather look at this potential rotation: Shields, Keuchel, Volquez, McHugh and Feldman, or something like that, anyway. It seems unlikely, but they only have 17 and a half million dollars committed for next seasons payroll.

Continue to stay in dream mode, my next suggestions won't work in realism mode. Not in the slightest.  Someone like Mike Morse, Melky Cabrera or Nick Markakis, could be added to set up an outfield of: Free agent signing, Dexter Fowler and Springer, with Jake Marisnick and Robbie Grossman as fourth and fifth outfielders.

If you didn't internally, or externally say, "Hey, that 'ain't too bad," you are a realist. Realism won't work when discussing our playoff chances. Not one bit. Throw some money at someone like Pablo Sandoval, Ben Zobrist or even Alberto Callaspo and the team starts to look dangerous. Who would've thought that was possible -- me, me, me. The lineup could look like; Altuve, Markakis, Springer, Carter, Sandoval, Singleton, Castro, Gonzalez, Fowler. To the eternal optimist, that lineup is pretty scary. No denying it.

Now, to return to the bullpen, as painful as it is. But, give it a chance. It could be turned round. Once more, to continue the trend, spending some money is a necessity. Asking a manager like Bruce Bochy or Billy Beane how they construct strong bullpens year after year isn't a bad idea. Free of charge, too.

First, providing we are actually bold, and add some starters to our rotation, we could and should have some trade bait. Guys like Brett Oberholtzer or Brad Peacock could potentially be moved to gain some bullpen stability, or, if you feel uncomfortable moving two starters they, themselves, could be added into the bullpen mix. For the optimists, guys like Sergio Romo, Huston Street and Joba Chamberlain are all becoming available.

For the sake of poor Chad Qualls, who has tried, so desperately, to put up a solid season amidst his failing peers, give him some help, next season. If I do some maths, things aren't too bad. Quick side note: Someone has to do the maths, all year round. Think of that poor person.

I genuinely believe that these free-agents could be added, concerning the 2015 payroll, for around $60 million, all in all. Add the $17.5 million they have already committed, the arbitration eligible players and you should get something around $90-million. Yes, that is a lot of money. Yes, the World Series would be worth it. I promise you. You're right, I'm getting carried away, but it's hard not to.

For the sake of a $90 million payroll, this fantasy could actually come true. For those of you saying something along the lines of, "Think of the future, and the multi-year deals." There is no need. Thinking about the future is not a pastime which wins World Series. Being bold, and spending money is, however. I mean, we are past our thinking about the future years. Trading key players for prospects, and accepting losing seasons for draft picks, are the times when you think about the future. We need to show some reckless abandon, otherwise, 2015 will be another awful year.

Stage two of World Series-winning attempted reckless abandon is moving the farm at trade-deadline, but that's for another time. The realists among you, are more likely than not advocating waiting a little while longer, until more prospects have made the majors. But, come on. Next year is a perfect time. Not only because I'm getting impatient, but because of one other key reason: The Oakland Athletics. Typically, year, after year, Billy Beane constructs a winning franchise from nothing. Like magic. Next season? Nope. He pretty much can't. He has gone for it this season, just like we should next season.

Conclusion, at long last: The Astros have the bare bones of a seriously good team. We need to dot our I's, and cross our T's, and spend some money. Is that really too much to ask? Come on. Leave your realism behind, jump on the bandwagon. Do it for poor Altuve - he is having the season of a lifetime, and in his prime, we can't lose that. Join the dreamers. Join the optimists. Bring post-season back to Minute Maid Park. I'm getting awfully ahead of myself, and I love it. The Houston Astros are closer than you think to a World Series win. Don't believe me? I can't blame you, in honesty. But hey, a bit of hope never killed a man. Something like that, anyway.