Monday, December 17, 2007

Well, there goes the farm.

At least we got two of the most exciting and dynamic players in the game in last week's dealings. If nothing else, Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde will sell tickets and generate excitement. I, for one, am DYING to see the 2008 lineup in action. It might not be ideal, but it'll be fun to watch:


Ed Wade had better be the great recruiter he's known to be, because in the span of one month, he has completely gutted our farm system. Of course, many of the players we gave up in those two trades were not exactly prospects: Scott, Burke and Qualls have been on the big-league club for the better part of three years now. 

Patton, Albers and Gutierrez, meanwhile, still have potential. None of them is going to be the next Roy Oswalt, but all three could develop into cheap, serviceable starters for several years. As Jack says, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect, but now we hardly have any young pitchers at all.

One reason I like the trades is that we aren't simply getting one-year rentals. Valverde and Tejada both are under contract for the next two years. Of course, by being traded in the middle of a multi-year deal, Tejada can now opt out of his remaining year, but I hope the Astros organization and fans can convince him to stay.

A few key items are still missing from the 2008 squad. The most glaring need is starting pitching. Right now it looks as though Backe, Wandy, Sampson and Woody would be in line to start after Oswalt, which is a pretty terrible crew. Not that the talent isn't there, because it is. All those guys are capable of throwing 8 innings of 1-run ball. What's lacking is stability and consistency. I'd venture that all of them are capable of posting ERAs under 4.00, but at the same time they're all fully capable of posting ERAs over 5.50. 

I'd gladly take a pitcher who goes 6 innings and gave up 3 runs every time out. Hell yeah. Of course, Wandy's plan appears to be mixing some sparkling outings with some absolute meltdowns. And doesn't it irritate that one of his best games of the year came in our 18-1 win over the Cards

Since there doesn't appear to be any players remaining in our minor-league system, we'll have to target free agents for our pitching needs. There are several tiers in the pitchers available: Injury Comebacks with Potential, Overpaid Innings-Eaters with Low Ceilings, and Just Plain Crappy Options:

Injury Comebacks with Potential include: Mark Prior, Bartolo Colon, Matt Clement, Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Kris Benson, Jason Jennings and Rodrigo Lopez. I haven't researched their injuries too extensively, but I know Prior and Garcia are probably out until June or so. I think it's safe to say none of them should be counted on for a full season. The beauty of this class of free-agents is that you can usually snag them for cheap, short, incentive-laden deals. Something like a guaranteed $4 million with the chance to make up to $7 million would be attractive to these guys as they try and work their way back toward the big money. 

Overpaid Innings-Eaters with Low Ceilings include: Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Livan Hernandez, Josh Towers and Josh Fogg. Each of these guys will likely take a multi-year deal worth WAY too much money, so hopefully Ed Wade steers clear. The last thing this team needs is a $10-million-a-year pitcher names Carlos Silva, but with our added payroll from Tejada and Valverde, I doubt McLane will let Wade sign these guys even if he wanted to. 

Just Plain Crappy: Tony Armas Jr., Shawn Chacon, Casey Fossum, Mark Hendrickson, Byung-Hyun Kim, Brian Lawrence, Eric Milton, Mike Maroth, Tomo Ohka, Russ Ortiz, Odalis Perez, John Thompson, Bret Tomko, Steve Trachsel, Jeff Weaver, Jamey Wright and Jaret Wright. Yikes. Minor-league deals only, please.

Shifting focus: The last thing we need is power off the bench. Geoff Blum, Mark Loretta and Reggie Abercrombie are not my ideas of power off the bench. Pence can play center in a jiffy, so there's no need to look for a backup CF like Kenny Lofton. What we need is someone with pop who can play outfield corners. I'm liking Kevin Mench. A career .465 SLG% looks pretty nice off the bench. It's higher than Mike Lamb's. Other interesting options are Trot Nixon, Reggie Sanders or even our good buddy Jason Lane. I wouldn't mind him back if he understood his role on this team.  

So, my crazy idea for Ed Wade:

1. Sign Prior, Clement or Lieber. Two might be stretching it, but pursue all three of them very aggressively. 

2. Sign Mench. 

3. Draft us some players, because in two years, after Tejada and Valverde are gone and Lee, Berkman and Oswalt start to decline, it ain't looking so good. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hello, Mr. Matsui. Goodbye, Mr. Burke.

I can't help but think what a shame it is that Burke, the heir apparent to succeed Biggio at second base, is now all but out the door. Anyone remember his 18th-inning homer to beat the Braves in the 2005 NLDS? I remember thinking how awesome it'll be to have this guy for the next five years.

Oh well. I guess you can say that Burke had his shot, though his stint as as our starting centerfielder last year lasted an entire month before Pence came storming onto the scene. I'd like to think that Burke can still produce for the Astros, but everyone (including Burke himself) thinks he'll be somewhere else, probably before the end of the week.

When I interned for a paper in South Carolina in the winter of 2004, I worked with a guy who went to Tennessee. He told me how excited I should be about this Burke fellow, who had been drafted the previous year. My co-worker (a sportswriter) said Burke was absolutely the hardest-working player he'd ever covered, and that whatever his deficiencies, Burke had the will and the heart and the passion to overcome and succeed.

I suppose I've always held Burke in high regard, but ultimately, he hasn't produced. Sure, you can say we haven't seen him in a full year, but with a sub-.700 OPS in over 1000 career ABs, how can you justify giving him a starting job?

Luckily, we're replacing him with a guy with a .712 career OPS in 1400 ABs. Sure, Matsui has had success. And yes, he seemed to spark the Rockies during their amazing run to end the 2007 season. But a career .325 OBP scares me.

No, what really scares me is that our "exciting" "speedster" "catalysts" that we've inserted at the top of the lineup are by no stretch of the imagination sure things. What are the best stats can Bourn and Matsui put up? If they have simply amazing years, what's the best they can do? I'd say:

Bourn: .290/.350/.390
Matsui: .290/.360/.430

And that's the best we can hope for. Both are candidates to hit .240.

Luke Scott's a whole different story. Unlike Burke, he's actually had prolonged success in the majors. But he seems destined for a trade, too. By the time I get around to blogging about him, he'll likely be a Padre.

Monday, November 19, 2007

After a thoroughly forgettable 73-89 campaign, the Astros appear to be starting fresh.

First off: Farewell, Craig Biggio. The man has been an absolute pleasure to watch and root for since I started caring about baseball. Bidge wasn't ever the biggest, the quickest or the strongest player on the field, but by God he tried the hardest. Even in his last years, when his keen batting eye and his legs began their inevitable decline, you could still see his never-say-die attitude in every grimace. He'll turn 42 in December, but to his last at-bat, Biggio played with the intensity of a September call-up trying to earn a spot in The Show. He is, truly, forever young. Perhaps we'll see him again before long in a Houston dugout.

2007 has indeed been a year of coming and going. Along with Biggio, we witnessed the departures of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Dan Wheeler, Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and Brad Lidge. Orlando Palmeiro, Mike Lamb, Trever Miller, Mark Loretta, Brian Moehler, Jason Jennings are likely to follow, with Chris Burke and Luke Scott no longer guaranteed roster spots, either.

But not all has been doom and gloom in Astroland this year. The arrivals of Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Troy Patton, J.R. Towles, Paul Estrada, Ty Wigginton and Michael Bourn give us hope for the future. None is perfect (although Pence is close), and only one has a résumé of established major-league success, but all can contribute if they stay healthy and live up to their potential. These seven players will undoubtedly be integral factors in the team's success in the next 3-5 years. A quick look at each one:

Carlos Lee: As close to a sure thing as you can get in baseball. Of course, we've all said that about Berkman. Lee's great year was largely masked by the team's offensively-challenged campaign. But El Caballo did exactly what we asked of him in '07: He hit lots of home runs and drove in lots of runs. Sooner or later, Lee will drop off. Let's just hope it's later. And who needs defense, anyway? It's only left field.

Hunter Pence: He didn't make the team out of Spring Training, but was the team's first call-up after Burke struggled in centerfield. Jack and I thought it much to early to call up the youngster, but Hunter exceeded everyone's wildest dreams by hitting over well over .300 with power and speed. If not for an broken wrist, Pence may have battled Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki for Rookie-of-the-Year honors. His defense in center was serviceable, and he should be above-average in right field in '08. 

Troy Patton: He's not the next Roy Oswalt (Who is?), and he's not likely to light up the hype machines like Tim Lincecum or Yovani Gallardo. But he is a very good, very young pitcher who's got loads of talent. He'll have growing pains, but he'll also have Brad Ausmus to help him get through the doldrums. Let's also hope he gets a rotation spot to himself.

J.R. Towles: Hallelujah! A catcher who can hit! He won't post a 1.000 OPS, nor will he drive in 8 runs in a game ever again. But his track record indicated his hitting is for real. It remains to be seen how often he gets to play with Ausmus hanging around. Here's hoping it's a bunch.

Paul Estrada: The Astros' bullpen was terrible last year, and it wasn't all because of Lidge and Wheeler. It's because we had guys like Dave Borkowski, Rick White, Brian Moehler, Mark McLemore and Stephen Randolph. These guys just aren't good, and they didn't get the job done. This is where Paul Estrada comes in. I heard phenomenal things about this guy in the minors, and assuming a natural adjustment to the majors, he can be a crucial bridge to the late innings with tons of strikeouts along the way. I don't think we need to spend $40 million on a closer like Francisco Cordero, but an Eric Gagne or a Scott Linebrink or a Kerry Wood would go great with Chad Qualls and Estrada.

Ty Wigginton: The anti-Ensberg. Wiggy won't walk too much, and he's not good enough of a hitter to get on base at a .350 clip. But if can approach a .500 SLG and a .800 OPS, we'll consider it an improvement over Mr. Nerd. He'll hit 4 homers a month or so, and, batting behind Lee and Berkman, he'll probably drive in a ton of runs. Plus, The Juicebox seems to favor righty pull hitters.

Michael Bourn: He fast. He'll play some enormous defense in center, and he'll steal a shit-ton of bases. But you can't steal first, and we'll be lucky if he can slug .400. In other words, it's Willy T., Version 2.0. He is still young (25 in December), so we'll see how he reacts to being handed a starting gig in his hometown. Could have an impact ... we'll see.  

Perhaps the most intriguing new addition is GM Ed Wade who has been, surprisingly, a breath of fresh air. After several years of getting jerked around by free agency and trades for the sake of trades, it's nice to see a leader who's able to assess a team's strengths and weaknesses, and make intelligent moves. I like the Lidge-for-Bourn trade. Not a steal by any means, but the truth is, we're probably better off without Lidge. Although we'll see who's closing come April. 

Assuming Adam Everett is still our starting shortstop (and who knows how long that will last), the other major issue facing the team is second base. Biggio's gone, and his heir apparent, Chris Burke, took a step backward in 2007. Wade has allegedly signed Geoff Blum, whose utility is useful. But God help us if he gets 300 ABs next year. I don't mind going forward with Burke and Blum at second. Loretta was a nice addition last year, but he completely lost his power in the second half, and his versatility is severely limited, just like his range at shortstop. 

Luke Scott has got to be pissed right now. I mean, did people actually expect him to reproduce his 1.050 OPS in 200 ABs in 2006? The guy puts up a .850 OPS, and he's out of a starting job. What's the deal? The guy has made a case for being at least a semi-regular player, and instead he's now our fourth outfielder. Scott actually hit lefties just fine last year. Since he's still under club control, I hope we hold onto him in case an injury strikes. 

The rotation looks a little shaky right now. There are a lot of names, but still quite a few question marks. Oswalt, Patton, Backe, Wandy and Williams appear to fill out the rotation, but several guys are hanging around and are worth a look: Chris Sampson, Matt Albers, Felipe Paulino, Juan Gutierrez. 

We've been linked to a couple free-agent starters in possibly the weakest free-agent pitching field I've ever seen. Thankfully, the names I've heard us inquiring about are players I wouldn't mind seeing wearing an Astros uniform, if the price is right. Jon Lieber won't put up fantastic numbers, but if he's healthy, he can eat innings and make quality starts. Same goes for Randy Wolf, but his left elbow is a ticking time bomb. If either could be had for a 1-year, $7 million deal, sign 'em up. There's always Andy Pettitte, but with all his pals resigning with the Yankees, it's hard to believe he won't join them. 

I hope we keep an eye on Eric Hinske. The guy seems comfortable in a backup role, and that's precisely what we'd want him for: our Mike Lamb role. A bench of Scott, Blum, Reggie Abercrombie (Who knew we had HIM? And how much does he look like Hanley Ramirez?), Ausmus and Hinske would be average to above-average. Lefty masher, righty masher, speed guy, all-around guy and catcher. Boo-yah. 

CF Bourn
RF Pence
1B Berkman
LF Lee
3B Wiggy
C Towles
2B Burke
SS Everett

P Oswalt
P Patton
P Woody
P Backe
P Wandy
(Leiber? Wolf?)

P Qualls
P Estrada
P Geary
P Nieve
P Villarreal
P Sampson
(Gagne? Linebrink?)

1B-3B Hinske
2B-Ss-3B Blum
OF Scott
OF Abercrombie
C Ausmus

Looks pretty good to me. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

All I gotta say about Brad Lidge is....

...I told you so.
Three words: What the crap? In the last four days, the Astros have:

1) Sent down their second-best starting pitcher this spring (and quite possibly their second best starter overall). Nieve in my mind was a lock to make the rotation. He had very good numbers and showed no signs of the elbow problems that plagued him late last year. But no, Chris Sampson overtook him despite Sampson allowing eight runs in a start. And the Chronicle claimed Sampson had a "more consistent spring." Utter BS. I thought maybe the Astros wouldn't need their fifth starter until late in April, but looking at the schedule, that's false. Wandy and Sampson will likely make three or four starts apiece this month. And Nieve will be pitching better than both of them in Round Rock.

2) Batted Adam Everett second in the lineup, after switching between Ensberg and Burke batting there in spring training. Judging by the way all the Astros were laughing and goofing off throughout the first game, maybe Garner was just thinking, "What the hell, let's try this craziness!" Forget his stats in the 2-hole and his ability to bunt and his speed at the top of the lineup. Pure and simple, Everett is a terrible hitter. Most nights, he deserves to bat ninth, behind our pitcher.

3) Blown their first late-inning lead, courtesy of Brad Lidge. I'm sure everyone reading this saw the game or at least the highlight. Lidge got two good outs against LaRoche and Paulino. But his first pitch to Xavier Nady was a fastball right down the middle that Nady deposited into the Crawfords. Lidge said later that Nady hit a good pitch, but something's gotta give, Lidge. I don't care about good pitches, I care about converting saves and getting wins. That pitch reminded me of the one he threw to Scott Podsednik in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1 in the 2005 World Series. Right down the middle, and the batter was waiting for it, dead red. Good pitchers locate their fastballs. Inside, outisde ... upstairs, down low. Corners. You can't get away with crummy command, Brad, if you expect to save games for much longer. Batters can hit 97-mph heaters if they're right down the middle.

4) Lost their first game of the year when Jason Bay hit a 2-run bomb off Chad Qualls in the 10th inning. Qualls got off to a rotten start last year, and he has a tendency to give up HRs at incredibly inconvenient times. Perhaps he's overthrowing and his sinker doesn't sink in time. Whatever it is, Lidge might not be the only headcase in the Astros' bullpen.

Now then.

I realize it's only one game. Garner will stop being a jackass and bat Everett where he belongs. Whether it's Burke or Ensberg hitting 2nd, we'll score more than two runs more often that not. Lee will get big hits with men on. And Lidge and Qualls will settle down. Also, I expect to see Nieve pitching for the Astros before month's end.

But damn, what a way to start the season.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Post No. 600. Yay.

Dude, how about March Madness this year? Admittedly, I haven't been as excited as I was a few years ago when I was in college, but this year has been terrific. Incredible games, dominant players, thrilling endings, heartbreaking losses. This year's tournament has had it all. I caught the second half of the UNC-Georgetown game on Sunday, and it was the most well-played game I've seen in a long time.

And then I saw this: (Scroll down to the video of the Div. II National Chamionship game)

Sorry, I still can't post hyperlinks. Lame, I know. If this is a Div. 1 tournament game, it's the Game of the Century. Absolutely amazing. I'm really looking forward to UCLA-Florida and Georgetown-Ohio State. I think both games will go down to the wire, with Florida and Ohio State going to the finals. And why not? Buckeye fans want revenge after the Gators thrashed them in the BCS National Championship game in January.

In Astros news, Chris Sampson pitched well in his second start, allowing 1 run in 5 innings. Is it enough to overcome his horrendous first start in his bid to claim a rotation spot? Not likely. Ensberg hit in the second spot in the lineup and hit a bomb. I wonder if Garner is thinking about hitting him in that spot in the regular season. It makes sense, given his incredible OBP. Burke-Ensberg-Berkman-Lee-Scott-Biggio-Everett-Ausmus would be my ideal Opening Day line-up, but I'm certain it's going to be Biggio-Burke-Berkman-Lee-Ensberg-Scott-Everett-Ausmus on April 2. Oh well.
Time for a reality check. Posters all over the message board are either crowning us champions or getting ready for a last-place finish. Let's take a look at what's going to happen over the 2007 season. First, the offense:

1. Carlos Lee will bring much-needed offense. Yes, he'll 'provide protection' for Berkman, not that he needed any in the first place. The duo will combine for at least 65 homers and 200 RBI. Lee's defense, however, will be somewhat atrocious.

2. The back of the lineup will once again drag the team down offensively. Everett will begin the season decently, trying to hit the ball to all sides of the field. But he'll fall back into old habits by swinging for the fences in the second half. Jennings and Williams will both out-OPS Ausmus, who will stay the 'starting' catcher much too long. Quintero will serve as an adequate back-up. He'll hit the ball hard, but will be too slow to take second most of the time.

3. Burke will put up decent numbers, although he'll continue to be a streaky hitter, vulnerable to lenghty slumps. His defense will be mediocre at first, as he'll have communication issues. But he'll make some Web-Gem-worthy diving catches coming in or to his left. He'll get banged up every now and then, requiring Jason Lane to fill in a handful of times in center.

4. Biggio will start off hot as usual, even though the home-road split phenomenon will stay. Come All-Star break, he'll begin his annual descent into .240-land. Garner and Purpura will take too long in replacing Biggio as an everyday player, claiming he's just going through a slump.

5. Luke Scott will regress toward the mean, but so will Jason Lane. The two will combine for slightly above-average production in right field. They'll combine for 30 homers and 100 RBI.

6. Mark Loretta and Mike Lamb will provide a spark off the bench. Loretta will fully embrace the pinch hitter/defensive replacement/spot starter role, making fans forget about Eric Bruntlett (sorry, Eric!). Lamb will swing a hot bat, earning a start every now and then at the corners to keep Ensberg and Berkman fresh.

7. Ensberg will rebound, but he'll once again fall out of favor among Astros fans. He'll hit plenty of homers, and get on base nearly 40 percent of the time, but his knack for striking out with RISP will cause an outcry. Garner will sit him four or five times a month, but Ensberg's power and patience will keep him in the lineup a a regular for ht most part.

Next up: Pitching predictions.

Man, April can't get here soon enough. I've been reading Astros Daily, Rotoworld, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Primer, and Aaron Gleeman so much lately that I felt guilty for not making a post of my own. So here goes.

Astros Notes

Richard Hidalgo and Ezequiel Astacio are gone. One had a bad spring (Hidalgo) and one had a good spring (Astacio), but Hidalgo was sent to the minors and Astacio was claimed by the Rangers. I'm glad we let Hidalgo go; he's a shell of his former self, and hopefully this means one last shot for Jason Lane. I'm a little upset that Astacio never worked out; he had a great K rate and good overall numbers in the minors, but he just gave up too many HR's. He'll probably be remembered for giving up that HR to Geoff Blum in the World Series. GEOFF BLUM!

Eric Bruntlett will probably not make the team also. Sorry, Eric, but being good defensively at most positions isn't enough, especially with guys like Mark Loretta and Orlando Palmeiro, both of whom will probably put up better offensive numbers than you would.

From everything that Garner has said, it looks like Wandy Rodriguez and hopefully Fernando Nieve will be the 4th and 5th starters. Wandy Rodriguez - ugh. Nieve has done quite well this spring; unfortunately, neither Chris Sampson or Matt Albers has been great, so it looks like we're stuck with Wandy for a bit.

A few interesting Astros spring training statistics:

Jason Lane is hitting .250 / .323 / .589 with 5 HR and 6 BB in 56 AB's.
Morgan Ensberg is hitting .286 / .375 / .510
Eric Munson - .395 / .477 / .553
Adam Everett - .119 / .229 / .190
Hunter Pence - .571 / .647 / 1.071!!!

Woody Williams - 9.92 ERA, 26 hits in 16.1 innings
Fernando Nieve - 2.81 ERA, 4 BB / 12 K in 16.0 innings
Matt Albers - 3.21 ERA, 12 BB (!!!!!!) / 6 K in 14.0 innings
Chris Sampson - 7.36 ERA, 5 BB / 9 K in 11.0 innings
Wandy Rodriguez - 5.40 ERA, 12 BB (!!!!) / 8 K in 11.2 innings
Rick White - 0.00 ERA, 2 BB / 8 K in 11.0 innings
Paul Estrada - 0.00 ERA, 0 BB / 6 K in 5.1 innings
Trever Miller - 0.00 ERA, 1 BB / 10 K in 8.0 innings - only 1 hit allowed!

That bullpen is looking pretty nice. Hopefully Paul Estrada gets a chance to fill in for whichever of Rick White / Dave Borkowski falls apart. A front 5 of Lidge / Wheeler / Qualls / Miller / Estrada is good. Unless Lidge goes wild again.

Oh, and Andy showed me that our blog was listed in Sports Illustrated. They put 4 different blogs for each team on the "Team Preview" page, and we were #4 for the Astros, along with Astros Daily, The Crawfish Boxes, and...someone else, sorry.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The offseason's not quite over — 10 more days til Opening Day! — but I think we can safely assume Purpura's done dealing. Of course, there are several players being shopped around, guys like Jon Lieber, Josh Fogg, Byung-Hyun Kim … maybe Brad Penny.

I can't say I'm a huge fan of how the 2006 offseason played out, but at least it's been exciting. You can't tell me that shelling out $100 million for a slugger isn't an exciting move. Sure, Carlos Lee might be overrated and terrible defensively. And of course Jason Hirsh might outperform Jason Jennings as soon as this year. And Woody Williams could easily serve up 40 homers this year. But at least it'll be fun to watch the new guys in the wide-open NL Central.

I'm still very disappointed Purpura et al didn't make a move for Mark Redman. He was picked up by the Braves a few weeks ago when Mike Hampton went down with an oblique injury. Redman has not been good the last three years, his ERA peaking at 5.71 last year. But he's had moderate success in his earlier years: His career line is 4.65/1.40. I'd say that the very definition of average. But it's still a whole lot better than what Wandy will do this year.

After the last few games of Spring Training, it's becoming clear that Wandy and Nieve are our No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Sampson was given a big start Thursday to show off his stuff, but he fell in the worst way, giving up 10 runs. To the Nationals. Ouch.

Sampson is capable of good things, and it will be interesting to see how he's used during the regular season. It would seem as though Sampson, Borkowski and Moehler (and to a lesser degree, Zeke Astacio) are all competing for the long-reliever/spot-starter role in the bullpen. Of course, with Woody, Wandy and Nieve in the rotation, it might be prudent to have more than one long-reliever to eat innings.

Sampson would also seem to fit into a dependable ground-ball pitcher a la Chad Qualls. Bring him in with men on to induce the GIDP. I bet Sampson could excel in that role.

Hunter Pence was sent down to minor-league camp this week. I suppose it was inevitable. I wonder if Drayton was slapping himself for paying out $100 million when he could have had the same production from a $300K guy. Oh well. I wonder if anyone's set up a pool for Hunter's call-up.

Lane's been doing well, leading the Grapefruit League in RBI. He hit 2 bombs the other day against the Marlins, and he appears to have locked up the RF platoon role with Luke Scott. I think and hope it'll work out well. I wonder if Hidalgo will accept an assignment to Round Rock, knowing that Pence would likely be called up sooner than he would if an injury strikes.

I've been preparing for our pay-league draft this weekend. Jack and J.T. say they'd prefer not to be in slots Nos. 2-7 or so. But I completely disagree. Getting any one of Santana, Reyes, Soriano, Beltran, Howard or Crawford would be OK in my book.

I'm also waffling about the idea of position scarcity. Utley specifically comes to mind. He's eons above anyone else at at second, so it makes sense to draft him early, even though other guys might put up better numbers. Would you rather have Guerrero and Iguchi or Utley and Hunter? Hard to say. But Utley's damn good.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I've wanted to reserve judgment on the Astros for the first few weeks of spring training, so I've held off posting through our first handful of games. But I can't contain my excitement! Hunter Pence is knocking the cover off the ball. He's 9 for 12 with an OPS over 2.000. On the flip side, Richard Hidalgo was 0-for-ST until Wednesday's game, when he finally collected his first hit with an infield dribble that he beat out. Nice work, Reeshard.

Ensberg, Lee, Lane, Biggio, Berkman and Ausmus are hitting well, too. And all the candidates for rotation spots: Sampson, Nieve, Wandy, Moehler and Albers are pitching well.

Obviously it's too early to make decisions yet, but one has to wonder about the fates of Pence and Hidalgo. No matter how well he hits, Pence shouldn't be on the opening-day roster. He needs to play everyday at Round Rock for a few months. Lane definitely has the advantage over Hidalgo right now in terms of making the team. Plus, Hidalgo only signed a minor-league contract, so he could start the year at Round Rock until injuries strike. Despite all the attention he got in Venezuela, he just doesn't look good right now.

Still have no idea who's closing in on a rotation spot. If I had to rank 'em right now, I'd go: Nieve, Albers, Sampson, Wandy, Moehler. (although Albers and Sampson are VERY close).