2.16.2010

Central Roundup: Houston

On day one of looking around the National League's Central Division, we took a look at a bottom-feeder who is, by many accounts, moving in the right direction. Today we'll take a look at a consistently average team who will only be getting older and has one of baseball's worst farm systems and if that doesn't tell you my opinion of them the rest of this preview will.

Houston Astros

Some season in the near future, the Astros will lose nearly 100 games and Ed Wade will finally be fired. Still, Houston will probably win just enough games for him to stay employed. They didn't make any splashy moves this offseason, just plugged some holes with more veterans and got even older.

There's this guy

I won't lie, I don't know a ton about Brad Mills. He's coming over from the American League, where he served as bench coach for Terry Francona in Boston. When the hiring occurred Wade said Mills was his first choice... even though he fired Mills (along with Francona) from the Phillies when he was GM there.

There will be the inevitable questions about his adjustments from the AL to the NL, but at the end of the day he'll have to manage one of baseball's oldest teams to what will be overly high expectations. We'll see what his team thinks of him as spring training roles around.

He's better, but not good

You know an Ed Wade move when you hear one and Pedro Feliz fits that mold far too well. Feliz might be an upgrade power-wise from last year's third baseman Geoff Blum, but expectations can't be high for a player that will be 35 in April. Feliz is a career .254 hitter with an OBP under .300, pardon me if this move doesn't strike fear in to my heart as a Brewer fan.

Good luck with that

For those that question guaranteeing Doug Davis $5.25 million look no further than the contract Houston gave to Brett Myers as an example of questionable decision-making. Myers was guaranteed $5.1 million for his one year deal, not bad for a guy who only pitched 70.2 innings last year.

Could Myers have a huge bounce back year? Get back to his 2006 form where he was one of baseball's best pitchers? He could, but he won't.

I think they forgot

About shortstop. Maybe Tommy Manzella will be a star in the big show, but probably not. He had a breakthrough year at Triple-A last year in which he set career highs in nearly every offensive category. He's been considered the best infield arm and best defender in the Astros system, but he doesn't have the blazing speed of an Alcides Escobar. Think Adam Everett with a bit more offense (they hope).

It took Manzella a season plus to figure out Triple-A pitching, his first stint he hit just .219. If he struggles in the spring the only clear fallback will be utilityman Jeff Keppinger, who's a fine bench player but a very unappealing starter.

At least there's that

Offensively the outfield should be very good if they stay healthy. Michael Bourn broke through a year ago, if he can maintain his level of play he should have another big year. His defense was game changing a year ago and he's a pain on the basepaths.

With Hunter Pence in right field and Carlos Lee in left the offensive production from the outfield might be one of the strengths of the club. That is, as long as nobody gets hurt because depth is a problem.

Also, Wandy Rodriguez had a fantastic season in 2009. He's becoming the ace of the staff with the steady decline of Roy Oswalt. It'll be very important that he continue to have success if they are to have any hope next season.

You have to wonder

We know that Houston wants to hold on to their stars and win with them, but Lance Berkman has experienced a steady drop off in each of the past three seasons. He's seen his home run totals decrease every year since 2006 and last year he had his lowest batting average since his rookie year.

As Carlos Lee's range in left field continues to decrease and Berkman's production continues to dip the Astros will have to make a change.

About that

Houston's pitching rotation has all the makings of a disaster waiting to happen. Brett Myers has struggled with injuries recently, Roy Oswalt seems to be aging rapidly and two other candidates for the rotation, Felipe Paulino and Brian Moehler, had ERA's over five last season. If youngster Bud Norris struggles you could be talking about one good pitcher in the whole bunch (Wandy Rodriguez).

Too many things have to happen for this rotation to even be average.

In the end

While the future of the Astros is bleak, the present looks to be average at best. At some point in the season the team will play well enough to be mentioned in the wild card hunt but will then fall off. The Astros will do just well enough to convince them that they can put off the inevitable rebuilding process.

Apparently mediocrity is all Houston aspires for and until they tear down this house of cards that's all they'll get.

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