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2014 Preview: Houston Astros

Mar 26, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT

George Springer Carlos Correa Getty Images

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 2014 season. Next up: The Houston Astros.

The Big Question: One hundred losses again, right?

Depends on how long the Astros keep their prospects on the farm.

While every fan likes to think of their team’s prospects as the answers to all of the team’s problems, they usually aren’t. The guys in the bigs are better and they’re there for a reason. That isn’t quite so cut-and-dried with the Astros. Yes, adding Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman improve this club, as does revamping the worst bullpen in all of baseball. But it really is the case that the team’s top prospects could not only provide hope for the future, but cold make the team better than it would otherwise be without them.

This is partially a function of the major leaguers beyond Fowler, Feldman, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro not being any great shakes, but it’s also because there is some quality about to come of age for the Astros. George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Mark Appel could all see time in the bigs this year, and all of them could improve this team. Brett Wallace could possibly help out. Behind those guys are Delino DeShields, Max Stassi and others. If the guys in the majors aren’t cutting it and some of these guys are given time to play, it could be a lot of fun. If instead the Astros are more concerned with service time than 2014 wins — a defensible position for a team like this to take, I should add — then, yeah, they could lose 100 games for the fourth straight year. This is the very essence of rebuilding, and with Houston the rebuild was bigger and more extreme than most.

No matter the case, the Astros are still going to lose a lot of games, so a fixation on 100 losses is probably a bad idea. Especially given that, no matter how bad the product is on the field this year, there is hope for the future.

What else is going on?

The Astros lost their last 15 games of the 2013 season. Granted people come and people go and they’re not technically the same team, but if they lost their first six of 2014 — which can totally happen — they’ll tie that 21-game losing streak from the 1988 Orioles, which is the longest such streak since the turn of the 20th century. Eleven losses and they break the 1889 Louisville Colonels all-time record. Good times!

The Astros’ 1-2 in the rotation might be decent. Feldman we know about: he pitched 180+ quality innings for the Cubs and Orioles and if he can do that again it’ll help everyone. Jarred Cosart is interesting too, but not necessarily “solid.” He had a 1.95 ERA in ten starts last season, but he also walked 35 guys and only struck out 33 in 60 innings, so don’t count on that ERA holding up, even if he could be good.

Fowler is the big offseason acquisition, but it’s probably worth noting that, for his career, he has hit .298/.395/.485 in Coors Field, .241/.333/.361 everyplace else. Minute Maid Park is part of the Greater Everyplace Else metro area.

A 100-loss team doesn’t really have a huge use for a closer, but the Astros have a couple of guys who could close. Chad Qualls, who they signed for the job and who will hold it out of camp and, possibly, Jesse Crain, assuming he’s healthy. One thing a 100-loss team can do with a closer? Flip him at the deadline to a contender when relief pitchers tend to bring their highest prices. I’d be shocked if Houston doesn’t do this with one or both of these cats.

Prediction: No surprises here: Fifth place, AL West.

  1. pitchingmechanicstips - Mar 26, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    Reblogged this on Pitching Mechanics Tips and commented:
    Lots of young talent and pitchers to keep an eye on. I like Cosart especially

  2. rollinghighwayblues - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    “Brett Wallace could possibly help out.”

    I think the only way Wallace helps out the Astros is if he is miraculously called up and also in the lineup for Baltimore when the Astros visit Camden Yards on May 9th. Wallace will then proceed to roll over into a 5-4-3 double play.

    • Jeremiah Graves - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      We all know Craig wrote these a while ago, but honestly I think the “addition by subtraction” caveat could come into play on this one, right?! Wallace has improved the Astros — even if just incrementally — by donning a new uniform for the 2014 campaign.

    • proudlycanadian - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      Craig obviously missed out on Wallace’s demise in Houston.

  3. alexo0 - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    One hundred losses?

    They will if Luhnow has anything to say about it. That 2015 #1 pick is there for the taking.

    • proudlycanadian - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      Go for it!

  4. stex52 - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    The natives are restless in the Houston area. I will state without fear of contradiction that if there are not some signs of competence out of Astros management this year there will be a really serious marketing meltdown. Their errors of omission and commission last year extended beyond the baseball field to cable deals, firing the CEO, radio broadcast problems, snoconegate, etc. etc.

    Luhnow has proven that he can build back the farm system. Great. Ed Wade wasn’t too bad at that. But Luhnow did it at the price of fielding a product that was barely competitive with AAA franchises. That won’t wash much longer.

    He has to prove now that he can put together an MLB team that is not outright embarrassing. And he would be well-advised to do it sooner rather than later. It wasn’t just in the national press that sending Singleton and Springer back to the minors went badly.

    • Old Gator - Mar 26, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      Tex my friend, I feel for you because, as you know all too well, I been there, done that. The waiting game waxes perpetual.

      • stex52 - Mar 26, 2014 at 12:22 PM

        The thought has occurred to me, Gator. Jeff Luhnow came very highly rated as a GM candidate. But he had not done it before.

        Cecil Cooper came very highly rated as a bench coach. He was a rolling disaster from the day he stepped in as manager. George Postolos came highly rated as a CEO with the Crane team. After several months of bad decisions and alienating everyone within a stone’s throw, he was encouraged to “seek other opportunities.”

        I honestly believe Crane wants to win in Houston. (May or may not be the case with your particular cross to bear in Miami). But in the end, nothing succeeds like success. To date we don’t have that.

  5. icanspeel - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Esp with the AL West seeming pretty tough this year (On paper at least).. Going to be tough on the Astros.

  6. nymets4ever - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    brett wallace is not on the astros. is it really too much to ask to research the most recent roster construction of the teams before posting these articles?

    • Old Gator - Mar 26, 2014 at 11:42 AM

      When asked nicely, no. When asked in the leaky bile duct the way you never fail to ask, better just to ignore it.

  7. sportsdrenched - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    I’ve made comments in the past that the Astros will reach the post season again before the Royals do. I hope I’m proven wrong this year. But, because I’ve made those statements I keep my eye on the Astros more than I usually would for a 100 loss team. The whole massive rebuild thing is interesting me.

    And yes come June, if the young guys aren’t brought up to see what they can do. I’ll have doubts about the management of this team also.

  8. thekingdave - Mar 26, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    I get you wrote this before Wallace was released. But even with that in mind and given your baseball knowledge, what could have possibly possessed you to declare that “Wallace could possibly help out”? On what planet?

    • stex52 - Mar 26, 2014 at 11:37 AM

      Bingo, Dave. Wallace had played out his string in Houston. He was a big disappointment.

  9. johnnysoda - Mar 26, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    Yeah, I’m not really feeling it with these guys this year.

    Actually, if they lose 105 or more games this year, they’d tie the record for most consecutive seasons with that many losses, joining the 1962-1965 Mets.

    • asimonetti88 - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:17 PM

      Well, the Mets won the World Series only 4 years after that, so there’s that.

  10. largebill - Mar 26, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    I may be in the minority on this opinion, but I’m not convinced they will lose 100 again. Other teams in their division are suffering serious roster disrupting injuries this Spring. I’m not saying Houston will win more than Texas (or any team in AL West). Rather I think problems on other teams coupled with some improvement of their own will result in a few more wins.

    • stex52 - Mar 26, 2014 at 12:25 PM

      Distinctly possible that they can beat the 100 threshold. But they are going to have to start by playing their best players or prospects. The core of last year’s team was truly – by definition – at AAA replacement level. If they don’t bring some of those guys up early this year, there is room to question their motivations.

  11. psly2124 - Mar 26, 2014 at 2:02 PM

    Look out for Matt Dominguez. Fantasy sleeper at third. Could be a 30 hr guy.

    • stex52 - Mar 26, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      Hope so. He is on my fantasy team.

  12. Chipmaker - Mar 26, 2014 at 9:45 PM

    The 1961 Phillies lost 23 consecutive.

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