Summer of Our Discontent

added 5/31/2007 by Scott Barzilla

As I'm typing this, the Astros are poised to tie a franchise record for consecutive defeats. Considering the fact that this franchise struggled throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, it is amazing that eleven games is the high mark. I'm not sure whether to be amazed that the club has avoided further futility in the past or to be disgusted at their current futility. Certainly an 80+ million payroll should buy better than this right?

The problem is more complex than Lance Berkman not hitting or Woody Williams not being a number three starter. A ten game losing streak indicates a pervasive set of issues befalling the organization. The run of playoff appearances and contention appears to be over. Obviously, the boys over on Crawford street aren't ready to admit that yet, but you can see it as clear as day. This team has too many holes to fill with one trade or one callup. Now, let's look at the sobering numbers.

                    OBP     SLG     OPS
Craig Biggio       .282    .387    .669
Morgan Ensberg     .324    .395    .719
Lance Berkman      .390    .335    .725
Carlos Lee         .342    .537    .879
Hunter Pence       .376    .568    .944
Luke Scott         .312    .403    .715
Adam Everett       .271    .293    .564
Brad Ausmus        .325    .303    .628

I don't know where to begin with this lineup. You have three guys with an OBP higher than .325 and three guys with a SLG higher than .400. You put those two together and you still get a .725 OPS. Three guys on the team have that going for them. I suppose we can thank our lucky stars that Hunter Pence has gotten off to a great start and that Carlos Lee is producing at his career norms. Still, the club doesn't have another Hunter Pence down there and they don't have 100 million dollars to throw at six other positions. Obviously, the starting pitching is that much more depressing.

                   INN    ERA    SO    BB    HR
Roy Oswalt         83.0   3.36   53    27     7
Woody Williams     63.2   5.65   27    21    12
Wandy Rodriguez    59.2   4.53   54    16     6
Chris Sampson      55.0   3.44   27    16     5
Matt Albers        34.0   6.35   17    14     8

Replacing Matt Albers with Jason Jennings is an obvious plus, but we will still have a problem in the rotation. If we look at the defense independent pitching statistics we can expect Wandy's numbers to improve and Chris Sampson's to get a little worse. That's an effective wash. Woody Williams is a disaster and those same numbers don't indicate that it will get any better. His control isn't bad, but he's just very hittable these days. It could be a slump, but it also could be that he will turn 41 this year.

The Astros have several problems that need to be addressed. The first problem is that none of their minor league affiliates are even playing .500 baseball. Yes, records sometimes don't reveal how good the farm system looks at certain positions, but we can't say there is an abundance of talent down there. The draft is coming up and that could give us an infusion of good talent, but even if they focus on college players, those players will be two or three years away.

The second major problem is that the club will have job openings at catcher and second base next year. Chris Burke was thought to be the second basemen of the future, but he is about to turn 28 and still has not had significant time at his future position. In fact, he still isn't playing second base in AAA. Meanwhile, the Astros traded away their only catching prospect three years ago when they brought in Carlos Beltran. No one is excited about seeing Humberto Quintero as an everyday catcher next year.

Beyond this, you still have a terrible offensive player at short, no one that has stepped up in right field, and a revolving door at third base. Who is going to man those positions next year? These are all questions that need answering and there are still a number of questions about the people who intend to answer them.

Everyone in Houston acknowledges that the current funk is not Phil Garner's fault, but the question still lingers: is he the best guy to lead this team as it morphs into whatever it will become? Has Tim Purpura done anything to inspire anyone's confidence over the last three seasons? Now that Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte are gone, will Drayton McLane take a back seat and let baseball people run the baseball business?

The future is not necessarily bleak. When we include the contracts of Pettitte, Bagwell, Biggio, Ausmus, Everett, Ensberg, Lidge, and Lamb, we can count up more than 30 million dollars that will come free. In fact, a more upbeat estimate might be 40 million when we include balloon payments and possible lawsuit windfalls. So, some new blood could be brought into make the situation better.

However, this begs the question: should the Astros throw money at the problem? Would it be better to trade off as much as possible and rebuild like the Marlins did before last season? The answers to these questions will likely play a role in who answers them. Can Tim Purpura make shrewd trades and bring in better prospects? Can he be trusted to negotiate multiple free agent contracts with big time free agents? Will Phil Garner want to manage a rebuilding club? Do we want him to? There are so many questions, but so few answers these days. The losses mount while we wait.