2012 in review
Record: 55-107 (59-103 Pythagorean)
583 runs scored (16th in NL)
794 runs allowed (15th in NL)
Big Offseason Moves
Moved to the AL West. Named Bo Porter manager. Traded Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez to Oakland for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi. Traded Wilton Lopez to the Rockies for Alex White. Signed free agents Carlos Pena, Erik Bedard, Jose Veras and Rick Ankiel.
You have evaluate Houston's offseason in the context of general manager Jeff Luhnow's plan: Start over. That's what the Astros have been doing over the past year and Luhnow has now traded away every player making significant money. In fact, the player receiving the highest paycheck from the Astros will be Wandy Rodriguez, who will receive $5 million from Houston while pitching for Pittsburgh. The payroll will be around $25 million with Bud Norris' $3 million salary the highest on the 25-man roster.
As for the moves, Luhnow turned an injury-prone infielder and erratic reliever into a potential middle-of-the-order bat in Carter and potential rotation guy in Peacock. He traded another reliever for White, a former first-round pick. He claimed reliever Josh Fields -- another former first-round pick -- off waivers. He signed a few cheap vets so he can actually field a team. Look, odds are slim that Peacock and White actually turn into anything, considering how Peacock was hit around in Triple-A and White's struggles with the Rockies. But you never know. Collect some good arms and hope you get lucky.
As for the switch to the American League, Astros fans are still bitter about the forced exile.
Considering the Astros scored the fewest runs in the National League and don't get to face Cubs pitching 15 times in 2013 but will have to play road games in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim, it could be ugly watching this team struggle to score.
Don't print that lineup on stone. Porter will be mixing, matching and trying different guys all season. It's possible Jose Altuve ends up as the only guy with 500 at-bats. Look for Wallace -- probably his last chance to prove himself as a major league starter -- to play some first and third, look for Carter to play some first and left field when he's not DHing, and look for Tyler Greene and Marwin Gonzalez to both get a shot at shortstop. And who knows who will be in the outfield by September.
Altuve, Matt Dominguez and catcher Jason Castro are the best bets to still be starting here a couple years down the road, but the Astros hope at least one of the others -- Wallace, Carter, J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez -- takes advantage of a shot to play regularly and develops into a solid big-leaguer.
Norris and Lucas Harrell at least give the Astros two major league starters. They're both entering their age-28 seasons. Yet Norris has yet to pitch 200 innings in a season and there's a chance that Harrell's 3.76 ERA season was a fluke, considering his relatively low K rate, a problem he had in his minor league career.
After that, things get even dicier. Jordan Lyles is just 22, so it's too early to make a final judgment on him, but after 40 major league starts he has a 5.20 ERA. He's never going to be a strikeout pitcher, so like Harrell he needs to limit the home runs and get help from his defense. Philip Humber and Bedard are the veteran gambles here. If either or both pitch well, they could be trade bait come July. Of course, both have to stay healthy to even get into the hopeful position.
The interesting arm here is White, the 15th pick of the 2009 draft and one of the guys Cleveland sent to Colorado in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. His pro career has been a disappointment, including a DUI arrest last spring training. Getting out of Colorado should help give him some confidence, but some believe his stuff has declined since his college days at North Carolina.
On the horizon is Jarred Cosart, who should get the recall at some point if things go well at Triple-A.
The bullpen? It had a 4.46 ERA last year and allowed the highest batting average in the NL. It doesn't appear to be any better this year.
Heat Map to Watch
Norris' go-to pitch with two strikes is his slider and it's been an effective weapon against righties and lefties. Lefties hit .202 with a .612 OPS against it and righties hit .185 with a .500 OPS. The problem for Norris has been getting to the point where he can use that pitch: Batters hit .305/.406/.523 off his fastball. Unless that fastball command improves, he'll remain a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
After the Astros lost 107 games in the NL Central, many are understandably predicting 110-plus losses in the AL West, maybe even challenge the 119 losses of the '03 Tigers for recent futility. (Poor Pena played on that team as well.)
I'll be optimistic here and take the under on 110 losses. There are enough young players here that at least some of them should play better than last year. If Bedard and/or Humber can give some mediocre innings, that will help as well. I mean, I'm not that optimistic; I still see a 100-loss club here.
What's interesting about all this is that no team has really torn its entire franchise apart to the extent Astros have, discarding every useful player they once had. The Marlins sort of did the same thing after last year's spending spree backfired and were heavily criticized for it; the Astros have received a lot of praise for their forward-thinking approach. Of course, the difference is Luhnow and owner Jim Crane inherited a franchise that had hit rock bottom due to incompetence from the previous regime; the Marlins seem to create their own messes.
Whether this plan will work, only time will tell. And it may take a lot of time.