The 2012 season was not kind to the Astros at the major league level, as the team lost 107 games and looked thoroughly hopeless at times. However, the Astros' plan wasn't to compete in 2012, or even 2013…their plan was to compete in 2014 and beyond, and to that extent, the team succeeded by dumping all of their older, expensive assets for younger, cheap assets. In 2013, the eyes of most Astros fans won't be focused on their major league club, but instead on the prospects in the minor leagues. Houston may be in a new division in 2013, but the results will likely be the same as in 2012.
Astros on TOC
End of Season Post-Mortem
Hope for the Hopeless
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I'm A Dreamer (11:30 AM)
2013 Burning Question (12:45 PM)
This Is My Nightmare (2:00 PM)
X-Factor (3:15 PM)
Top Ten Prospects (4:30 PM)
Depth Chart (as of 2/11)
C: Jason Castro
1B: Brett Wallace
2B: Jose Altuve
SS: Tyler Greene
3B: Matt Dominguez
LF: Chris Carter
CF: Justin Maxwell
RF: Fernando Martinez
DH: Carlos Pena
SP: Bud Norris
SP: Lucas Harrell
SP: Jordan Lyles
SP: Philip Humber
SP: Erik Bedard
CL: Jose Veras
Oh, there are many, as you'd expect from a team in a cycle of rebuilding like the Astros. The most impressive non-retread on this Astros team is probably Chris Carter, acquired from the A's in the Jed Lowrie trade. The team also brought in former Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (and he's slotted at DH, which seems odd given the Brett Wallace's iron glove over at first) on a low salary to try to infuse some life into the offense. The team added veterans Philip Humber and Erik Bedard to their pitching staff, along with a handful of new relievers in Jose Veras, Josh Fields, and John Ely among others. Rick Ankiel was also signed to fill a role on the team's bench as the fifth outfielder behind the three starters and JD Martinez (who is likely going to be platooning with Fernando Martinez).
Most of the Astros veterans were sent packing last season, and the team actually didn't move many players this winter. One exception was Lowrie, the team's starting shortstop, who was dealt to the A's for Carter, Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi. Reliever Wilton Lopez, who served as the team's closer in the second half, was dealt to the Rockies for starters Alex White and Alex Gillingham. Everyone else that left Houston wasn't of much consequence in the long haul for the team.
Because of the direction this Astros team is trending in, prepare to see *a lot* of young players getting playing time, especially in the second half. Some names to keep an eye on include left fielder Robbie Grossman, shortstop Jonathan Villar, outfielder (but really, DH) Marc Krauss, and the prize of the farm system, first baseman Jonathan Singleton (who is suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season following a positive test for marijuana). On the mound, Houston also has a lot of talent that could tear roster spots away from veterans, including Peacock, White (who isn't technically a rookie anymore), Paul Clemens, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, and Rudy Owens. The future could come sooner rather than later in Houston.
JD Martinez performed adequately for Houston last year (.685 OPS, 11 homers) in 113 games, but the Astros would apparently rather give former elite Mets prospect Fernando Martinez the inside track on the right field job to start the season after impressing in a brief stint in the majors last year (.766 OPS, six homers in 41 games). The situation was further exasperated with the acquisition of Carter last week and him being slotted into left field, pushing Martinez to the bench as opposed to either Brett Wallace or Carlos Pena. Pena's salary is guaranteed at $2.9 million, but a crappy spring from Wallace (who *still* isn't arbitration eligible) could push him out of a starting job, and potentially shift Martinez or Rick Ankiel into the lineup. There's also the matter of the starting rotation, where Bedard is slotted in on a minor league deal, but has never stayed healthy for long enough in recent years to give anyone confidence in him keeping the role for a full season. Peacock seems to be the most major league ready of all of the Astros' young starters, and he would get the first crack at a rotation spot if Bedard falters or if Norris ends up getting traded like most of the other Houston players making any kind of money were over the last year.
Bedard is made out of glass, and he hasn't pitched 130 innings since 2007. I'm not sure if you can call that a "concern" or a "certainty", but it's definitely something that new manager Bo Porter will need to keep an eye on. JD Martinez aggravated a hand injury this winter, and that could still be affecting him this spring. Humber missed a month of time last season with a strained elbow, and simply wasn't right in the second half of the season. Ankiel has also missed chunks of time over the last couple of seasons with nagging injuries, but nothing really serious. Maxwell missed a couple of weeks in the summer after ankle surgery, but showed no ill effects once he returned. Overall, the only real serious concern with this time is Bedard, and he's not even guaranteed a spot on the team.
Will Houston's veterans perform well enough this season for the team to sell them in the summer for value, or will they be a total lost cause this year?
What *is* a best case scenario for the Astros? If the team wins 65 or 70 games largely on the backs of veterans like Pena, Humber, and Bedard, is that a success since none of them figure into the team's long-term plans? If the team loses 110 games, but all of their young players play well, is that a success? I think the best case scenario for the Astros is this: their veterans play well enough to the point where the team is able to trade them in July for even more young talent with upside, and their young players also play well enough to the point where the team knows who they can build around in the future. Does that even make any sense?
I think the worst case for the Astros would to be even worse than they were a year ago. 107 losses is pretty dire, but what if the team ended up losing something like 115 games and had absolutely nothing of value? Furthermore, if all of the minor league talent the team has built up over the last year stagnated, there could be a real sense of desperation in the air with an awful major league club and a struggling minor league system. I think *that* would be the worst case: no hope in the present or the future.
I think the Astros will play about the same as they did in 2012: really, really badly, but not historically bad. I think Pena (and maybe even Wallace) plays well enough to get a decent return from a contender at midseason to bolster the team's farm system even more, and that Singleton gets called up once one of those two is dealt. Once Singleton reaches the majors, I think the team and their fans will finally begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that things will finally start falling into place in 2014. Yeah, Houston will probably lose 105 games again in 2013, but they'll be in better shape for 2014 than a lot of clubs out there.