Standing O Sports is previewing all 30 Major League teams seasons, division by division, team by team. Up next is the American League West and the Houston Astros.
What Happened Last Season
The Houston Astros first season in the American League was a forgetful one. For the 3rd consecutive season, Houston set a franchise record for losses in a season, this time with 111. Astros’ hitters set a Major-League record by striking out 1,535 times in 2013, the pitching staff’s ERA of 4.79 was the worst in all of baseball, and the team lost its final 15 games of the season. Aside from the wins and losses, there were some bright spots. Catcher Jason Castro was the first Astros catcher to be named to the all-star team since Craig Biggio in 1991. Yes, Craig Biggio used to play catcher.
Jose Altuve was one of the games best players in the month of September leading the AL in hits and batting average. Jarred Cosart also bursted onto the scene as a rookie and dominated. In his 10 starts, Cosart had a 1.95 ERA and held opponents to a .220 batting average. Obviously, the last 3 years could not have gone any worse, but finally, things appear to be looking for Houston.
- Signed pitcher Scott Feldman to 3-year $30 million dollar deal
- Signed pitcher Jerome Williams to one-year deal
- Acquired outfielder Dexter Fowler from the Rockies in exchange for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles
- Signed relief pitcher Chad Qualls to 2-year deal
- Signed relief pitchers Jesse Crain, and Matt Albers to one-year deals
Take: Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s clear priority during the offseason was improving the pitching staff. He signed veterans Scott Feldman and Jerome Williams to more than reasonable contracts. For that he deserves credit. Luhnow’s trade for Dexter Fowler adds some necessary speed and excitement to the starting lineup, but he’s yet to show that consistency that would take him to the next level. All in all, the Astros offseason should be looked at as a holdover until the big-time prospects are ready to make the leap to the Majors in the next few years. Guys like 2012 number 1 overall pick Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.
Dexter Fowler (CF)
Jose Altuve (2B)
Jason Castro (C)
Chris Carter (DH)
Jesus Guzman (1B)
Robbie Grossman (LF)
Matt Dominguez (3B)
LJ Hoes (RF)
Jonathan Villar (SS)
Breakdown: Fowler and Altuve are a solid one-two punch at the top of the lineup. Altuve is just 23, and continues to evolve as one of the games premier second baseman. Jason Castro is coming off an all-star season. He just has to be careful about not trying to do too much. After Castro though, it’s easy to see why the Astros are one of the games weakest teams. Chris Carter will either hit a home-run or strikeout. He a .220 career hitter who hit 29 home-runs last season. Jesus Guzman is doesn’t add much excitement at first base, Matt Grossman had a fair rookie season. Rounding out the lineup is L.J. Hoes and Jonathan Villar who have a combined 2 career home-runs and 18 RBIs between the two of them.
Projected Pitching Rotation
**Dallas Keuchel and Brad Peacock are also expected to be in and out of the rotation for the Astros.
Scott Feldman comes in from the Cubs and is a somewhat stabilizing force at the top of the rotation. You know what you’re going to get from him, and he’s the veteran leader of the staff. Jarred Cosart dominated during his brief time in the Majors last season, but has never pitched a full season in the bigs.
Brett Oberholtzer will be entering his first full season in the Majors as well. He looked good in 2013, but can he too be relied upon to take the ball every 5 days? At the end of the rotation is Jerome Williams who’s simply not very good, and Lucas Harrell who’s also not very good.
X-Factor: Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler has yet to have a complete season in the Major Leagues. His best year came in 2012 when he hit .300 and played in a career high 143 games. In Houston, he’s going to be counted upon to be the table setter at the top of the lineup, and with Jose Altuve and Jason Castro behind him, Fowler is in an excellent position to thrive. If he does, this Astros offense all of a sudden could become wait for it…exciting.
It’s the last word Astros fans want to hear, but they’re going to have to be patient once again in 2014. The AL West only got better over the offseason with Robinson Cano coming to Seattle, and Prince Fielder going to the Rangers. But that patience looks like it will pay off at some point in the next few years, and Astros fans should hang their hats on the teams promising future.
Frankel: 64-98 (Last in AL West)