added 1/19/2015 by Greg Thurston
This offseason, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow has finally taken his monumental rebuild to the next level. In an effort to continue the club's upward trend that started last season, Luhnow has been aggressively adding veteran players via trades and free agency.
For the first time in years, the Astros have dealt away promising prospects in exchange for more proven players. Those trades have been met with mixed emotions among Astros fans, but Luhnow is convinced that the team is ready to win. In a recent interview with MLB Network's Christopher Russo, Luhnow gave us this quote:
"The Astros, in my opinion, are going to have a winning record this year. I'll go on record as saying that. I believe this is a winning team, and I think this is the beginning of many years of winning teams."
One area of the team that could be responsible for Luhnow's boost in confidence is the bullpen. Last year, free agent acquisitions Matt Albers and Jesse Crain were complete busts and, for the second straight season, Houston had the worst bullpen in the American League. Thankfully, Chad Qualls and mid-season acquisition Tony Sipp were extremely productive or the Astros may have turned in another 100-loss season.
With Albers and Crain injured, Luhnow's attempts to upgrade the 'pen continued. Samuel Deduno was claimed off waivers in August and Will Harris was added via the same method in November. But the big news came at the winter meetings in December when the Astros signed free agents Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to multi-year contracts.
Gregerson and Neshek will be working in late inning situations along with Qualls. All three were teammates with the San Diego Padres in 2011 and are said to be excited about the reunion. The 30-something triumvirate promises to give the Astros bullpen the stability we've been seeking for a few years now. Of course, we were saying the same thing about Albers, Crain, and Qualls a year ago. And with Sipp, Deduno, and Harris also starting the season at age 30 or older, one has to wonder if this new look bullpen may be a little too old.
This winter the organization has lost some of its pitching depth and youth. Josh Fields, 29, appears to be the youngest reliever to have a roster position locked up going into Spring Training. Lefties Darin Downs (30) and Kevin Chapman, who turns 27 in February, should also be in the mix. Jake Buchanan, 25, is another bullpen candidate but could also be utilized as a starter. However, with Brad Peacock recovering from hip surgery and with Mike Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano, and David Rollins out of the picture, Luhnow may be more likely to look outside of the organization for another starter.
Of the ten pitchers who I feel have the best shot at making the opening day roster as relievers, all but Buchanan were brought into the organization by Luhnow. Throw in newly acquired James Hoyt, who came over from Atlanta with Evan Gattis, and it's 10 out of 11. This bullpen is Luhnow's baby and, sink or swim, he will be the one who takes the credit or blame for their level of success. Right now, many of us may share his confidence. Let's see how we all feel a few months from now.