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Top Five Astros Things To Watch For In The Second Half

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You know what time it is?

(looks at watch)

It's time for the top things to look forward to in this, post-All-Star Game season for the Houston Astros.

1) Losses.

Lots of them. In every shape and color. Lots and lots and lots of losing. Possibly a 100-loss season, a first in franchise history. Get used to it.

Wait, this list has to have five items? It can't just have the one? And it has to be creative?? Give me a minute...

Geez, this is hard.

Um, okay, how about these five things to look for in the post-All Star Game world of the Houston Astros. Instead of talking about the boring stuff (i.e. how bad they are, what sorts of low-light records they will break, who will be traded), let's look at five things that won't necessarily directly affect the Astros on the field, but bear close scrutiny. LIke the Russians.


1) The End Of An Era

Yeah, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt may or may not stay with the team. I'm not talking about their era, though. I'm talking about the possible end to Tony La Russa's reign of terror in the NL Central. Combine that with Dominican Lou Piniella's imminent retirement from the Cubs and John Russell's tenuous job status in Pittsburgh and the NL Central dugouts could have a much different look in 2011.

TLR only signed a one-year contract extension before this season, but hasn't made his plans known. Since general manager John Mozeliak was recently re-hired, a decision from TLR could happen before the season. This is a decision I'm awaiting with baited breath.

See, I really, really, really, ridiculously dislike The Genius. I dislike his stupid haircut. I dislike his superior attitude. I dislike his stupid glasses. I want him to be a former part of my life that I can occasionally look back on in disgust, not someone who regularly invades my HD TV. 

Just behind him on my list is Dusty Baker, who would become the "old man" of the Central, since he was hired back in 2007. Of course, Ol' Toothpick is 61 this year and may not stay in the dugout for very much longer. There's always the possibility he retires at the end of the season, especially if the Reds miss the playoffs. 

2) DDJ-Watch 2010

Love it or hate it, drafting Delino DeShields, Jr. becomes much more dubious of a move if the Astros can't get him signed. It seemed a foregone conclusion that DDJ would be under contract and on a team by this point, but still he waits in limbo. I really don't think he's going to go to LSU, if only because he can't hope to get drafted much higher than eighth overall. 

From the Astros perspective, if they don't sign him, they could end up with the ninth pick in the 2011 draft, along with another top-five pick, depending on how they finish this season. That's some serious firepower and gives them leverage with DDJ. 

Of course, they also aren't factoring in the potential fan blowback. After 2007, any sign that owner Drayton McLane was cheap in the draft will be pilloried, both online, on the sports radio shows and by the newspaper columnists. Add in a miserable, horrible, awful, no-good, very-bad season and fans may stay away in droves after Aug. 15. I wonder if DDJ's agent knows this and is just being shrewd. Stupid shrewd agents. They cause me too much grief this time of year.

3) Anthony Rendon's health and draft stock

I may have been flippant to this point, but I don't want to seem that way about the Rice third baseman's recent ankle injury. Rendon not only dislocated his ankle sliding into a base, he apparently tore tendons. I can't imagine how extremely painful that must have been or what Rendon has to look forward to during rehab. Preliminary reports have him being ready for the start to the collegiate season.

Now, Rendon was already the consensus best prospect heading into the 2011 draft. He was on par with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in drawing elite, once-in-a-generation comparisons. Seriously. Someone even compared his swing to Hank Aaron and wasn't being too overly dramatic. There is a reason teams are counting down the odds to see who can finish with the worst record in baseball.

That was before the injury, though. Since Rendon has already hurt his ankle previously, his already limited range could be called even more in question. When once scouts thought he could stick at third in the pros, there are legitimate concerns over where he can play. If the Aaron comparisons are even close, his bat would be elite-level at first base or on the corners of the outfield. That's also assuming he can even resume his baseball career, which isn't guaranteed. He's got the doctors and support to make it a high probability, but we won't know until much later in the season.

What that also means is that the Astros don't necessarily need the worst record in baseball to draft Rendon. If concerns over his ankle cause him to drop past the Orioles and Pirates, the Astros could easily be sitting with the third pick, ready to draft him. Getting him past Seattle would be harder, but I could see a scenario where he lasts till the fourth pick. Any further than that is really wishful thinking. 

4) Pretty impressive debut history possible

With a flurry of roster moves recently, the Astros have poised themselves to make some impressive, if a little irrelevant history, at the end of the season. One of my favorite players in the minors has finally reached Triple-A a little over two years after being drafted. Reliever Danny Meszaros is just an injury or bullpen blowup away from joining the Astros.

As the Astros' 48th-round pick in 2008 out of the College of Charleston, Meszaros has flown through the system. He's older for a prospect at 24, but certainly has the arm to make an impact. Plus, he'd be the lowest-drafted player to ever debut with the Astros. Or would he?

Catcher Otis Thornton will always hold the record for being the lowest draftee to ever appear in the bigs. The 68th-round pick in 1965 got three plate appearances in 1973 with the Astros before spending the 1974 season at Double-A Columbus. Thornton retired shortly after and will hold his place in history because the draft has been shortened to 50 rounds.

Right-hander Danny Young was drafted by the Astros in the 83rd round of the 1990 draft and spent 10 years in the minors before making his big league debut with the Cubs in 2000. Young was released by the Astros after the 1993 season.

If the Astros are going to deprive us of the random Jenny Finch sighting at MMP, the least they can do is give us an underdog to root for. Heck, they can even have a Danny Meszaros T-Shirt day to commemorate the event. With a season this bad, you have to find silver linings wherever you can.

5) Will the team be sold?

Everyone has probably heard about how McLane had a deal put together to sell the Astros to Houston businessman Jim Crane in 2008, but the deal fell through at the last minute. Then, McLane entered into an exclusive bargaining window with an investment firm who was interested in the team at the beginning of this year. Nothing came of that, but it showed he's somewhat serious about making a deal.

Enter the Alvin Express.

See, it looks like Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg's bid to buy the Texas Rangers has hit a few snags. It now seems like the Rangers' creditors would prefer them left out of an auction process that's being used to settle the Hicks Sports Group's bankruptcy case. That means Greenberg and Ryan can take their 550 million dollars elsewhere to play.

How much were the Astros valued at before the season? Why, just over 450 million dollars, which is right around what the Rangers were valued at. Two similar teams, in similar areas near Nolan's home. Hmmm. Oh, and did I mention the Astros have about a tenth of the debt that Texas does? That should be appealing to Greenberg/Ryan after their past few torturous months.

Having Nolan as the new owner is a pipe dream that Richard Justice has already laid down. It would be pretty sweet having an owner who once kicked the crap out of Robin Ventura. Maybe this awful season will finally push McLane to get out of the ownership game. I know I'd sell every share of this team if I were it's owner. Then again, maybe that's why I'm writing for this site instead of earning multi-millions of dollars like McLane....Nahh....

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.