In the This Is My Nightmare series, we'll take a look at what the absolute worst case scenario for each team would be in 2013. Think of it as the negative complement to our You May Say I'm A Dreamer series that we'll be running during our preview series.
What exactly would a nightmare scenario be for a team that is expected to lose 100 games? The Astros aren't just expected to lose 100 games, it seems like they're preordained to lose 100 games. In fact, 100 losses would actually be an improvement over the last two years, when Houston lost 107 and 106 games. So, how do things somehow get worse?
The Astros could set the all-time record for futility and lose at least 120 games, making the 1962 Mets look like a competent team. But while that would probably just keep the stadium empty, it wouldn't really cripple the franchise. After all, Houston is building for beyond 2013, and this year is really just a drop in the bucket. But if some of their young players in the majors that they might considering building blocks struggle, that wouldn't be a step in the right direction. 22-year old Jose Altuve might not be a future superstar, but he took great strides in his first full season in the majors in 2012. But if his plate discipline regresses to where it was in 2011, when Altuve walked just five times in 234 major league plata appearances, he could actually provide the team with negative value and look like a guy who can't even keep a spot on the bench, let alone a spot in the every day lineup.
Houston is banking on some serious power from guys like Chris Carter, Carlos Pena, and Brett Wallace in 2013, especially Carter after acquiring him from the A's in the Jed Lowrie trade. While Carter does have a lot of power, he also provides no defensive value, strikes out a ton, and doesn't hit for a high average. The Astros are banking on him being the next Jack Cust…but Carter has never walked as much as Cust did. With extended playing time, what if Carter ends up being a poor man's Cust, which is essentially a replacement level player? And as for Pena and Wallace, there's a very real possibility that last year wasn't an outlier, but instead an omen for Pena's future, and he has nothing left in the tank. If that happens, the Astros couldn't trade him and continue to bolster their farm system, pretty much wasting $2.9 million on the veteran. Wallace has hit in the minors, but still hasn't hit in the majors, and at 26, it's time to prove himself. If he doesn't, that will have essentially made the trade of Anthony Gose all for naught.
But where 2013 can really turn into a disaster for the Astros is in the minors. Jonathan Singleton will miss the first 50 games of the year, and while he'll still be young for his level this season, him struggling would disappoint Astros fans and staff due to his high ceiling and the team's need for a superstar player in the majors. What if Delino DeShields Jr regresses to his 2011 level after taking a big step forward in 2012? What if the young top overall pick from last June's draft Carlos Correa shows his rawness in full season ball? What if former first round pick George Springer lets his strikeouts overwhelm him and can't clear that hurdle?
I think the ultimate nightmare scenario for the Astros isn't another 100 loss season, or even a 110 loss season. The ultimate nightmare scenario would be an across the board regression from their highly touted minor league talent, and uninspiring performances in the majors from their veterans and potential building blocks. Yeah, guys like Carter, Pena, and Altuve aren't going to determine the fate of the Astros season in either direction. But if they don't even show the team anything, it would have just been a wasted season as opposed to one building towards something. That's the worst possible thing that can happen: instead of moving forward, the Astros move backwards. And considering where they are now, they can't really afford to put things in reverse.