Mar 14, 2012; Jupiter, FL. USA; Houston Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie (4) throws out a St. Louis Cardinals base runner at Roger Dean Stadium. The Astros defeated the Cardinals 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
Do the Astros current crop of players have too low a collective ceiling?
This week FanGraphs announced its organisation rankings. Again, not great reading for Astros fans, but they have been replaced by the Balitmore Orioles at the bottom of the pack. This ranking is mostly down to the outlook for 2012 and 2013, last in both categories. With the new Comcast deal, revenues should be stable if Jeff Luhnow can find anything to spend it on next year onwards.
We are the experts (and when I mean we, I mean people who watch the franchise on a daily basis). Whether or not we are blinkered by our fandom is another matter entirely. As the Astros enter their final game in Florida against the Tigers with the chance of drawing back to .500, most of the lineup have had decent months of March.
Chris Johnson has found his swing again, Jason Castro is 100 per cent, J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve have shown flashes, Brian Bogusevic has had a tremendous last week and should be a good pairing with Travis Buck. Jordan Schafer and Jed Lowrie are both doubtful to start Opening Day, but they both impressed before hand injuries sidelined them both.
As dismal as the Astros have been offensively the last two years, it was the god-awful rotation which doomed them to a franchise busting 106 losses in 2011. Rather than containing Brett Myers, Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke, the Astros look to go with J.A. Happ, Kyle Weiland and perhaps Lucas Harrell.
A year on the bullpen may be less leaky if our $5.5m man can handle the return from Brandon-Lyon surgery, Myers adjusts well to his new role, and Houston gets valuable contributions from Wilton Lopez, David Carpenter and Fernando Rodriguez.
When the Astros signed Duke and Hernandez to non-guaranteed contracts, I wondered whether this would take away valuable playing time from youngsters. What the recent cuts have made clear is that Luhnow wants competition to drive the younger members of the roster to greater success, and is giving opportunities where they are earned.
Harell, Weiland, and to some extent Happ are now auditioning for a part in the Astros future plans. Happ has been living off his early career success for a while now, and the franchise cannot just blindly assume that he will return to being a solid mid-rotation starter. The metaphorical spaghetti has been thrown at the wall, and now we will watch during 2012 and see what sticks. This will be kept and allowed to battle against the younger pitchers who continue to rise up the system.
I was really interested to see the Mets talking about releasing Mike Pelfrey earlier last month, and for him to be discussed on Astros boards as a potential pickup. Pelfrey has since stepped it up a gear, but to pay $5.68m for a guy like him at 28, rather than $2.35m for Happ, is something I would do in a heartbeat.
This young talent will be coming sooner rather than later. Jarred Cosart, Jordan Lyles and Paul Clemens may all be primed and ready mid-way through the coming season. Brett Oberholtzer may not be too far behind. However the suspicion is, and the FanGraphs article implies, that there is just not enough high-end talent at the majors or in the system, with the exception of George Springer and Jonathan Singleton, to go around.
Just how good can Castro, Martinez, Altuve, Lowrie and co. be? Replacement level players? Average players? Above average players? Fringe all-stars? 2012 should go some way towards answering some of these questions, and we can hope, removing some of the great uncertainty surrounding the franchise's immediate future.