added 2/7/2012 by Bob Hulsey
If the Astros have any chance of being competitive this season, it will be because of their starting pitchers. Everyone expected by now that Wandy Rodriguez and/or Brett Myers would have been traded but, perhaps, the new front office is slyly holding onto their last tradeable assets in hopes of giving their rebuilding group a thin shred of credibility.
Starting pitching still dominates the game (at least in the National League) and a hot rotation can cover a multitude of sins. Rodriguez and Myers, while rarely dominant, have had stretches in their recent past where they have been able to keep things close while hoping the offense could scratch out a few runs.
For Myers, that was the 2010 season where he crafted a 14-8 record with a 3.14 ERA and was among the league leaders in quality starts. For Rodriguez, he has been on a plateau since the 2009 season where he earned a 14-12 record with a 3.02 ERA. Fans seemed to be waiting since then for Wandy to sustain his potential but injuries and inconsistency have kept him where he is.
Bud Norris continues to improve each year and could be a winning pitcher this season if he was on a team that gave him better run support. J.A. Happ had a poor year but he has the ability to bounce back and become very effective.
The final rotation spot could go a number of ways. Veterans Zach Duke and Livan Hernandez were recently signed to minor league deals with invites to spring camp. Jordan Lyles spent most of 2011 in Houston but could be better served by another year at AAA. Kyle Weiland, received in the Jed Lowrie trade from Boston, could also be ready for a big league role or spend time in Oklahoma City.
I still haven't given up on Aneury Rodriguez as a major league starter either. He was kept in Houston all year as a Rule V claim but buried in the bullpen and the new regime may feel he needs more work at AAA. I feel he hasn't been given a full and fair trial.
Should Wandy or Myers get traded for prospects, some of these pitchers could get bumped into the rotation to take their place. There are also other possibilities like Henry Sosa, Lucas Harrell and Xavier Cedeno with an outside chance to stick with a good spring.
The expectations about the 2012 Astros are so low that, frankly, a 90-loss season can be spun into a success and a building block for the Big Switch to Houston fans thirsty for a turnaround. The best way to get there is to hold onto Wandy, Myers and Carlos Lee.
The mantra has been that stripping down the Astros needed to be complete so that the franchise could turn a corner and start again with everything new (except the name). But the recent signings don't reflect that. They reflect a need for veterans to help the franchise from falling off a cliff.
A strarting rotation of Wandy, Myers, Norris and Happ is not all that bad and potentially good. Yes, it wasn't a successful formula last year but much of that was due to severe downturns from Myers and Happ coupled with a shaky bullpen and little margin for error. I don't think Myers and Happ will be as bad this year. The bullpen and the offense may not be any better but baseball often gives us unexpected results.
For diehard, rose-colored-glasses Astros fans, keeping the rotation intact is the best hope for seeing a season that isn't totally depressing. However, there will be some that would still rather swing the axe and give the team totally over to prospects just to determine who sinks and who swims. Both perspectives have their validity.
For Jeff Luhnow and the new front office, the decisions may be as simple as not wanting to embarrass themselves in their first season running a major league franchise. It does seem to me, though, that the Astros will not look as young on Opening Day as it did at the end of last season.