Due to unforeseen computer issues which are now resolved, it has been a while since I’ve been able to report on the happenings of the Houston Astros. Suffice it to say that all is not well in H-Town and there have been some serious technical issues with the team as well, and it doesn’t seem as though there are any permanent fixes for the problems. When I last wrote, the Astros were on their way to a .500 record; the starters, although they haven’t been hugely effective (with the exception of Wandy Rodriguez, but we’ll get to him later), have pitched well enough to keep the Astros competitive, only to watch the bullpen fail miserably and either blow the slim lead to which the Astros were clinging or continue to dig the team deeper into the hole the starters had already dug. The lineup has seen a few changes: Michael Bourn, the most consistent hitter in the lineup in the season so far, has finally entrenched himself back into the leadoff position where he belongs, and Lance Berkman has begun to extricate himself from his season-long funk.
Houston, we have a serious problem now. We can no longer ignore the fact that the lineup has not produced, and we can no longer use the excuse that the season is still young and that the seasoned Astros lineup will finally get into the swing of things. We can no longer excuse the starting rotation. There have been more than enough innings to get an accurate read on how they are going to perform the rest of the season. The bullpen - what was once thought to be anchor to this team - has had more than enough chances to prove that last year was no fluke. All we can say at this point is that the team is not firing on all cylinders and there seems to be a lack of real urgency to play good baseball. This team is falling apart.
So how does this team fix itself? It would appear that the Astros do not have too many options for this answer, but appearances are deceiving. If the Astros continue to plummet, and all indicators show that they will, they still have options. Here’s what the Astros need to do to right this foundering ship:
The Astros need to get younger. The Astros currently field the oldest team in baseball, and that may mean that there are some wise men in the clubhouse in pre- and post-game, but the able bodies that once took the field are no longer present. The Blum/Keppinger experiment at third base has not been a success. Between the two they have only one home run in 40-plus games, the worst in baseball. Third base is a power position and the Astros are seriously lacking a power producer at that position. Both are capable enough to field and hit in the utility infielder role, but we need to trade one or both to a contender for prospects or cash considerations, and give Mark Saccomanno a chance to prove he belongs on the big stage. Currently Saccomanno is hitting at a .287 clip with seven homers and more than 40 RBI in AAA Round Rock. The organization has one very good chip with which to bargain, and that is Carlos Lee. If the organization can get Lee to waive his no-trade clause and agree to be traded to a legitimate contender, then the Astros can call up Yordany Ramirez or Reggie Abercrombie, both of whom are hitting in the .300s with exceptional power. Ramirez was plucked from the Padres organization a couple of years back, and it seems as though he has finally put it all together this season. Kaz Matsui has been a failed experiment at second. Don’t get me wrong, I like the way that Matsui plays the game, but he is no longer the answer to man the keystone corner. Since the Astros gave away Drew Sutton in the Keppinger trade, we might be stuck with Matsui. But then again, who would you rather have in the lineup everyday, Keppinger or Matsui?
Get younger and make a few smart trades. Here’s how an Astros lineup could look if this scenario were played out:
Not bad, considering you’d get decent prospects for Carlos Lee and you’d give two guys with excellent power potential the opportunity to play every day on the big stage.
Keep expectations for success this year to a minimum. The Astros have a tendency to go on late second half runs, and though it may give the organization some hope of contending this year by adding a piece or two through free agency at the deadline, they should resist the temptation and avoid this move like the plague. I am not saying that you need to throw the season down the drain, but there are legitimate options for remaining a contender without having to sell the entire farm system to do so. The Astros have some really good prospects in the minors: Andrew Locke, Collin Delome, and Jason Castro, to name a few. These young players are the fruit of the organization’s labors, and to give any of these guys away in a trade would be ridiculous.
Accept the fact that Cecil Cooper is not the man to lead this organization to the Promised Land. Cecil was a great player in his day and was a good bench coach, but he is not a good game manager. Enough said.
The Astros front office needs to resolve itself into sub-par season this year, no matter what Cecil Cooper says. This team cannot contend with the much younger and more talented teams in the NL Central. The Astros need to look forward to 2010 and the opportunities that its young players are going to contribute to be on that team.
By: Jordan Fleck
MLBcenter.com Houston Astros correspondent