added 3/10/2009 by Bob Hulsey
There has been a theme to Alyson Footer's inbox column at Astros.com this winter. A fan will write in asking about some upgrade to the ballclub and Ms. Footer quickly shoots it down. It goes pretty much like this:
Fan: "Can we trade for Jake Peavy?"
Fan: "Can we sign Randy Johnson?"
Fan: "Ty Wigginton's salary demands have gone way down. Can we sign him back?"
Fan: "Pudge Rodriguez is still on the market. Can we sign him?"
Fan: "Reggie Abercrombie is having a great spring. Can he make the 25-man roster?"
Cumulatively, Alyson's column reads more like the mother dragging a shopping cart full of children through the candy aisle. Of course, she's been right each time and it's not her fault that austerity has been the theme of the Astros' winter.
But it symbolizes how disappointing the off-season has been to Astros fans that we're not even allowed to fantasize about a better team in 2009 than the one witnessed in 2008. Fans seem to be desperately hoping for anything that could lend some interest and excitement to the new season only to be told at every turn that there is nothing new to see here.
Back in their woebegone days, my late father used to dub the locals "The Disastros" and this spring's poor start would have fit right in to his mindset. It looks like a dreary long summer ahead.
Manager Cecil Cooper came to camp claiming a new calm, relaxed attitude. But then came a 10-game losing streak and the snarling, frustrated Cooper returned to kick some butt. Closed door meetings in mid-March are not normally a good sign and neither is the double-digit losses the team has been producing.
Yes, it's only spring training and the slate will be wiped clean on April 6th. Top players are participating in the World Baseball Classic so they aren't contributing much to the losing skid. Veteran teams often turn in bad springs because their mentality is to prepare for the long season ahead rather than trying to win games.
But bubbling under the litany of failure are some good spring performances and I'd like to highlight them for the fans who might be close to panic (stats through Monday, March 9th):
Jose Capellan - The non-roster invitee has not given up a run in five innings this spring. He's allowed three hits.
Chad Paronto - He's had a spotty record in the majors but he's been near perfect this spring: five innings, three hits, no runs.
Reggie Abercrombie - Before breaking his toe, Abercrombie was having the best spring of any hitter, going 9-for-16 with two doubles and a triple. He'll be shelved for a couple of weeks and we'll wait to see if the streaky outfielder stays hot when he returns.
John Gall - Another non-roster invitee making a strong case. He's second on the team in spring hits, 7-for-15, with four RBIs.
Jason Smith - In the mix for the reserve infielder role, he has gone 6-for-15 with a double and a triple.
All of these guys are veterans with limited big league experience but are too old to be seen as prospects. Some might call them AAAA players with nothing left to prove in the minors but have never established themselves as consistent major leaguers.
Last year, there were two non-roster invitees who came to Kissimmee and wound up being big contributors - Brian Moehler and David Newhan. Desperation, particularly in today's job market, can be quite a motivator and these guys are proof that a lack of guaranteed employment brings out the best in some players.
But Ed Wade seems to have a 25-man roster mapped out and there's very little wiggle room on it. The Astros will have Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone at third. They'll have two catchers with very little major league experience behind the plate. They'll have Darin Erstad and Jason Michaels backing up the outfielders.
Could we see a roster revolution where this spring's dead wood is replaced by some young prospects or NRIs who have proved their worth while those around them are playing like crap?
As Ms. Buzzkill might say, "no".