added 3/6/2009 by Scott Barzilla
Those who frequent the boards know I might be one of the more pessimistic fans out there. Of course, that also depends on who you are comparing me to. While I might be able to outfit my own trash can next to Oscar the Grouch, I don't necessarily agree that I see the worst in everything. In fact, I think there will be a lot to look forward to this year on the diamond.
If you are looking forward to a playoff appearance for your Astros then I will just say I can't go along with it. If you are looking for another 80+ win season for the Astros then I will just say I can't go along with it. However, that doesn't mean that 2009 has to be a complete failure. If management will simply acknowledge what has happened to the team, they can really get this thing juiced up for 2010.
The first positive is that the club has arranged themselves to have only four players signed beyond 2009. You may debate the usefulness of Kaz Matsui, but the other three are the core of the Astros. So, if things go south they will not be hamstrung by a bunch of bad contracts. Yes, the Carlos Lee contract is bad, but in the grand scheme of things, if you are limited to one bad contract you are doing pretty good in today's game. Besides, at least Lee is productive.
I certainly have made a lot of the fact that the catchers in camp (all six of them) are a collective 3 for 33. When you remove one hit from Jason Castro (who will not break camp with the team) then you see we are really looking at some horrific hitting from the catcher's position. However, the campaign allows the Astros to determine if J.R. Towles, Humberto Quintero, and Michael Bourn are major league players. None of them looked it last year, but it was also the first extended time for all three. The second go around is usually the best way to determine it.
In the good story department, you can look no further than Russ Ortiz. Richard Justice from the Chronicle said he expects Ortiz to be the number two starter by season's end. If that is the case it could be a long summer, but there is no reason why he can't win around ten games. That would be something for someone that hasn't pitched in two years. There are guys like Danny Graves that have similar stories, but they don't have as good a chance at succeeding as Ortiz.
The great thing about baseball is that there are more opportunities to enjoy individual performances than the other major sports. Sit back and enjoy Roy Oswalt. Don't worry about whether he is pitching according to past form or not. Just sit back and enjoy him. Others may argue, but given the context of MMP (as compared to the Dome) and the time he is pitching in, he has performed better than any Astros pitcher in franchise history. If he just continues to the end of his contract (following the 2011 season) as he has, he will be a few seasons removed from a Hall of Fame career.
The same goes for Lance Berkman. I grow tired of people complaining about everything he is not. "He is not as good an RBI man as Carlos Lee." Okay, I suppose he isn't. "Jeff Bagwell was a better first baseman." Of course he was. I suppose people like Berkman have to go through that. Carl Yastrzemski was not as good as Ted Williams. Very few were. Bagwell is not in the class of Williams, but he is one of the top five or six first basemen in history. I'm sorry, but Berkman just isn't going to quite be on that level. If he also continues through the end of his contract, he will be Hall of Fame worthy. Like Bagwell, he produces runs. Whether he drives them in or not is not ultimately important. He produces many more runs than Carlos Lee.
While we are at it, we can enjoy Carlos Lee and the fun he has. No, he is not Lou Brock or Rickey Henderson in left field. In fact, there might be some of us that could play a better defensive left field. However, he is one RBI short of having 100 RBIs in every season since 2003. In terms of being a hitter, he is probably a modern day Joe Carter. Carter isn't going to Cooperstown, but during his prime he drove in runs consistently. Unlike Berkman and Oswalt, I just don't see Lee getting into Cooperstown. He currently sits on 1001 career RBIs, but even with four more very good seasons, he just doesn't strike me as a great player. He is a very good one though.
Who knows how good Hunter Pence and Miguel Tejada will be this year. For that matter, we could say the same about Jose Valverde. Yet, all three love playing the game and show it outwardly every game. We could spend time dissecting all three and pointing out their flaws, but we could also stop short and say they are fun to watch. Add all six of these players together and you have an entertaining product on the field. It may not be a winning product, but they will be worth the time.
Even a sub-par year from the Astros will accomplish three things. First, they will clear about twenty million dollars off of the books. Given the bad economy, that alone could be enough to make them players in the next free agent market. Secondly, they will be able to answer most of their questions this year. The most important two will come in the persons of Michael Bourn and J.R. Towles. Finally, with a sub-par season they will spare themselves from losing their first round pick and could have another top ten selection. Two more drafts like the last one and the club could find themselves with a farm system they don't have to be embarassed about.
As you can see, optimism and pessimism is what you make of it. If you are hyperfocused on 2009 you are probably pessimistic. If you focus on the future you will see a brighter day. So, the catchers may hit a collective .091, but Jason Castro will be mashing a ball somewhere in the sticks. Michael Bourn might be struggling to steal first base, but Brian Bogusevic will be waiting in the wings. Good times will come again folks. They may not be on the diamond this year though.