The smartest team in baseball did a lot of dumb stuff in 2014.
Months of leaked trade talks, failing to sign top draft picks and breaking up with a manager made the Astros brass look incompetent at times. All that off-field errata, though, hid what the front office did right. The Astros saw tangible improvements to the on-field product.
Now, Houston is poised to take the next step in their rebuild. They look like a team capable of winning half its games for the first time since 2008.
Houston may have had
On top of all the on-field growth, the Astros added three big-league regulars and a fourth part-time player who should be close to average starters. Two years ago, the Astros only had one regular who could claim that.
With that, the Astros doubled down on both power and strikeouts. The team that came in second in the majors in whiff rate added more swing-and-miss to the lineup. Houston's hoping hitting homers and scoring runs will offset all the strikeouts.
In Gattis, the Astros added another 30-
Adding erstwhile catcher Gattis gives Houston three legitimate
The outfield should be exciting, with free agent signee Colby Rasmus, 2014 trade pickup Jake Marisnick and Springer capable of playing all three outfield spots.
The Astros fixed a couple of troubling spots by trading Dexter Fowler to the Cubs for third baseman Luis Valbuena and pitcher Dan Straily. Fowler
The Astros also added two solid arms to the bullpen in right-handers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. Since the Houston bullpen has done its best Springfield Tire Fire impression for two straight seasons, these were necessary additions. Gregerson and Neshek both signed multi-year deals for much less than the high-end relief free agents did.
They give Houston a deeper bullpen, pairing with 2014
Every move the Astros made over the winter added depth on the big league roster. If one of the catchers struggles, Houston could always move Gattis back there. If first baseman Jon Singleton struggles again in his second big league season, Houston can move Gattis there instead. If Rasmus' injury history rears its ugly head again, Gattis could play a bunch in left field.
Okay, so maybe the depth is all about Evan Gattis and the Legend of El Oso Blanco. But the point is, Houston has options. Could we have said that a year ago?
If depth wasn't enough, there was a
This was the first
Maybe the Astros aren't ready to contend this season.
The Astros could see everything fall in place and make a run at a playoff spot, but the most likely outcome is a run at finishing above
Considering that getting there would represent a 20 percent improvement in winning percentage over the horrid 2013 season, most Astros fans will welcome that progress.