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2013 Preview: Houston Astros

Mar 21, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

New look Astros

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Houston Astros.

The Big Question: Will the Astros be historically bad?

Maybe this isn’t the biggest question facing the Astros this year, but it’s one that’s sort of been sticking with me for a couple of weeks as I’ve made the rounds on various radio shows previewing the 2013 season. Almost all of the hosts ask me how bad the Astros will be and almost all of them are assuming this is going to be some sort of 1962 Mets situation or something. I actually had one guy take the under on an over/under of 45 wins for them. Which seems kind of nuts.

Look, the Astros aren’t going to be good, I’ll agree with that. But we have to be realistic here and note that in the 162-game era, only two teams have failed to win 45 games: the 1962 Mets and the 2003 Tigers. Indeed, unless I’m overlooking someone, I do not believe any team has won fewer than 50 games in a full 162 game season apart from those two teams.  Every season brings us some bad teams, but teams that putrid are few and far between. And really, there is no reason to think that these Astros, as thin as they are, will be historically bad.

Part of this is a gut feeling, based on the usual composition of awful teams. They tend to be teams who have not yet begun the full rebuilding process yet — or expansion teams — which feature a lot of old guys and castoffs on the roster. The sorts of players who can fool a GM into thinking, “well, maybe we’ll be OK because I’ve heard of that guy,” and thus causes them to forego real substantive fixes. That was the 2012 Astros, right? Home of Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. A team which gave Armando Galarraga a shot because, hell, he almost had a perfect game once, right? A team which went on a 7-43 stretch at one point because, eh, just because?

The 2013 team is not a talented one, but the moves to make them better have begun. The Jed Lowrie trade, which brought back Chris Carter, Max Stassi and Brad Peacock is the sort of move I like: boring ones to most fans, but moves which constitute the dirty work of a rebuilding process. Getting depth and incremental improvement. That, along with a pretty substantial overhaul of the minor leagues, represents an all-in approach which is admirable and rare in rebuilding. Let’s just forget for a moment that Carlos Pena, currently slated to be the Astros’ DH, was on that 2003 Tigers team, OK?

Little upside at the moment, but fewer gaping holes and a lot of hungry young players who are happy to be anywhere make for a much better vibe than last year’s 107 loss team possessed and, I have a feeling, will help stave off some sort of historically bad showing.  Perhaps that doesn’t make Astros fans feel better at the moment, but merely believing that this team will not set records for futility is a compliment. One that, for some reason, a lot of people are unwilling to offer. I think that’s both ahistorical and kinda sad. Think positively, Houston!

What else is going on?

  • Positive thoughts and the avoidance of ignominy are one thing, but this lineup isn’t gonna scare anyone:

1. Tyler Greene, SS
2. Jose Altuve, 2B
3. Carlos Pena, DH
4. Chris Carter, LF
5. Brett Wallace, 1B
6. Justin Maxwell, CF
7. Jason Castro, C
8. Fernando Martinez, RF
9. Matt Dominguez, 3B

Jose Altuve is legit and will likely be the last dude left from this bunch when the Astros next win 90 games, but I don’t know where the runs are gonna come from. Maybe Carlos Pena has one last good year in him. Maybe he can check the pockets of the pants he wore back in 2009.

  • How’s about that rotation?

1. Bud Norris
2. Lucas Harrell
3. Jordan Lyles
4. Philip Humber
5. Erik Bedard

Hmm. Phil Humber. Let’s forget that comment I made about Armando Galarraga and signing someone just because they once did something interesting above too.

  • The Astros may play poorly, but they’ll look awesome doing it. They will be sporting what are easily the nicest new uniforms any team has switched to in years if not decades.
  • That’s pretty, but you know what’s ugly? Moving to the American League West. With the Angels and Rangers being two of the most talented teams around, the defending champ Oakland A’s always being solid and with an improved Mariners team, the Astros are gonna have way tougher competition this year than they’ve seen in the past.

So, how are they gonna do?  Not good!  I will refrain from predicting loss totals, but I’ll give a range of somewhere between 100 and 110. And if things break awesome in six different ways and they lose only, like, 97, well then they should be allowed to crack champagne. Because it’s not 2013 that matters for this franchise. It’s the future. And no matter how dark the present may be, they’re finally doing the heavy lifting they’ve long needed to do in order to make that future bright, so bully for them.

That said: Fifth Place, AL West.

  1. jarathen - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    I think the Angels’ uniform turnaround was comparably good. The current logo may be a bit too staid for some, but going from pinstripes and winged A’s and plastic bats to a nice, classic-style A with a halo, and going mostly all-red, is a much better look than before.

    The Astros are at the start of an actual honest-to-god rebuilding. They’re going to be terrible. That’s cool. I love seeing franchises that admit their weaknesses and put together a plan on correcting that.

    And Jonathan Singleton should not have been suspended 50 games for his infraction.

    • jeffa43 - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      The halos red jerseys with red numbers and red lettering are aweful, they look like softball jerseys… Great idea, we have red jerseys, what color lettering should we use? … Oh I got it, let’s use the same color! Brilliant! Not ..

      • jarathen - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:56 PM

        The red alternate jersey certainly leaves something to be desired.

    • earache88 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:37 PM

      The Angels red jerseys are awesome!! They are so awesome that every time they sign someone like Pujols and Hamilton that’s the jersey they use at the press conference!

  2. sdelmonte - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Give it four years. The Astros will be in the right place at the right time to contend as the Angels and Rangers get old.

    • earache88 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:41 PM

      Is Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell coming back?

  3. magnusmagnolius - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    I don’t think that Altuve will be the only guy left from this team when the Astros are good again. Castro, Carter, and Dominguez all have the potential to stick.

  4. hk62 - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I’m 50 and have been an Astros fan all my life, so that’s the back ground, but I’m thinking 74 wins is within reach and that is the champagne cracking level. I know, I know – rose colored glasses probably. But I think Porter will have them playing agressively, as well as smart and fundamentally sound. And a little bit of confidence can go a long ways with young players. I also expect Ankiel in RF and F Mart to be in AAA. We already know Lyles is going to OKC and his spot is likely going to White (or Peacock). The other positive is that they will have starting pitching depth (not ideal quality I know) – with at least 3 guys at AAA that can come up when injuries happen. Texas has one and LAA has zero. SEA and OAK have depth as well but neither of them have the line up that LAA and TEX have.

    That’s my number – 74 in 2013 (still in 5th place though).

    • zzalapski - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      74 would be more attainable if they were still in the NL, but having the AL East as well as the other AL West teams on the schedule makes 70 a stretch. They won’t be historically bad, though.

  5. jeffa43 - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    Rays, A’s did it … I say 2015, and this team will be really good, and still really young, and have the bet minor league talent as well. Minor system has gone from ranked 30 for the last 5 years to bring ranked 8… And getting better.

    Altuve, Correra, Singleton, Dominguez, and Castro will be a force in just a few years. Front office is stockpiling arms in the minors.

    Future looks bright. Enjoy the young development, and they will be better than last year already..

    • stex52 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:01 PM

      Altuve, Correa, Singleton look like a fair bet. Castro strikes me more like the catcher for now, not the future contending team. Dominguez – well, he struggled at Miami. We’ll see.

      Where is George Springer in your reckoning? He could be better than the others.

      • jeffa43 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:28 PM

        My bad, Springer and Deshields should be mentioned. Dominguez did struggle in Fla. but he is just 22, and been tagged as Gold glover for years to come with exceptional power… He will have growing pains, but also allowed to struggle.

        Castro I believe will be a key leader for years to come. He has had 2 freak injuries, but finished the year strong, and with no doubt has turned more heads this spring with continued improvement on his bat speed. This will be Castros break out season.

        I believe Springer will be up sooner than later, and will turn heads very quick.

      • stex52 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:42 PM

        Springer could probably help faster than anything (except a good pitcher). Their outfield is crap for OPS. I am hopeful about Dominguez and he made a decent showing. But we will have to watch. Gator doesn’t think he will ever hit enough for 3B.

        Now if only we could see them on TV or listen to them. I haven’t tried to get 790 in Richmond yet.

      • stex52 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:44 PM

        BTW, I’m not so worried about Castro’s hitting, even if he has been death against lefties. That will probably improve some. But he needs to throw out a lot more to get to the next level.

  6. cur68 - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    Chris Carter. I know him as “Right Handed Ryan Howard”. I do believe he is going to be a lot better than people think. He’s the one guy that, if pitched to, will kill it. I think, cautiously, that the ‘Stros might, MIGHT, not be historically bad. But they will be bad. Really bad. Sorry Stex.

    • stex52 - Mar 21, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      Voila! I am at work and able to talk to you guys! Won’t tell you how that happened.

      I told you not to say that, Cur!

  7. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    I agree with your assessment of the Astros…it’s definitely going to take some time until all that young talent improves. Kinda like the Marlins(who have the 8th best minor league system in baseball), the Astros, whose MInor league system, depending on what you read, is 10th, are going to struggle this season a lot. and much like the Marlins, the Astros improved their young talent by making shrewd trades and having a great 2012 draft.

    Hopefully, these two up-and-coming young teams like the Marlins and Astros, BOTH with top-10 minor league systems, improve in the coming years.

  8. Old Gator - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    The saddest thing about this team in 2013 will be watching them send a designated hitter shambling to the plate on his washed-up knees, take up a club in those clumsy hands so useless for catching and throwing, and wait for a baseball to show up near the plate the way his heavy-browed Paleolithic forebears used to crouch behind a boulder waiting for a mammoth. Ugh.

    • chacochicken - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:48 PM

      Paleolithic hunters didn’t have plate discipline.

      • Old Gator - Mar 21, 2013 at 4:54 PM

        Yeah, as in the case of the late Thag Simmons.

      • stex52 - Mar 21, 2013 at 4:57 PM

        Who got thagomized, right?

  9. 13arod - Mar 21, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    i think the astro’s will lose about 80 games they are better then last year

    • jarathen - Mar 21, 2013 at 4:14 PM

      They will lose 80 games. And then 10-25 more.

  10. prospero63 - Mar 21, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    Lyles got optioned…

  11. tc4306 - Mar 21, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    Agree with those saying they’ll be bad but not historically bad. Would not be surprised to see Norris and Veras moved before the deadline and would not be surprised to see Singleton and Springer in the lineup before September. The building process can be painful but in Luhnow they have a guy who knows what he is doing and who did a very nice job in St. Louis. Give them 3-4 years and they’ll be fine.

  12. yankeepunk3000 - Mar 21, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    “willl the astros be historically bad” that title just made me laugh and feel so bad for those fans…seems like not too long ago they were contenders with the killer B’s

    • stex52 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:02 PM

      Yep. That’s pretty much it. Doesn’t take many years of bad GM’s to wreck a franchise.

  13. jeffa43 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    All Astro fans rejoiced when Ed Wade left, that was the significant turning point. He still has me waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Dude would sit in his office at Minute Maid work deals with the Phillies, go home and put on his Philly slippers and feed his dogs Utley & Phanatic.

    Times have changed, and true Astro fans understand and are excited…. We will roll with the punches in 13 & 14, and sting like a killer B in 2015.

    Go Stros, and keep the faith!

    • stex52 - Mar 21, 2013 at 5:46 PM

      And Wade was a lot better than Purpura. But – for all that he did well while he was there – Hunsicker had drained the farm system when he left. I hope it is as soon as you say. I think it’s a bit longer before they have any depth. And that’s a long time.

  14. jiminthebay - Mar 21, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    i’m pretty sure Matt Galante is in the best shape of his life.

  15. hmcssw - Apr 1, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    …and at the end of opening day they were tied for the lead in the AL West!

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