The Astros official website announced today that the team made nine more roster cuts today to trim its number to 29, leaving just four more cuts to make before opening day. Among the winners was J.R. Towles, who was guaranteed a spot on the roster as Jason Castro was assigned to minor league camp. Losers included Casey Daigle, Wilton Lopez and Edwin Maysonet, who continues to do the most with the opportunities provided and continues to be snubbed by the club.

Towles impressed at the plate in spring training, hitting .359 with two homers and nine RBIs in 36 at-bats. That, of course, is just gravy on top of the solid plate defense he provides. Castro will have good opportunities in the future, just as soon as the Astros decide to stop trying to making me feel like I’m in the middle of a scene from Mean Girls. “Stop trying to make [Quintero] happen! It’s not going to happen!”

But what was really telling in the news release was this sentence in the last paragraph:

(Chris) Johnson had a great spring at the plate, but Pedro Feliz is entrenched as a starter and the Astros want Johnson to play every day.”

This sentence sums up everything that is wrong with the Astros right now.  The only position players that should be entrenched as starters are Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee.  Maybe Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence if you want to be lenient with the word “entrenched.”  But the Astros don’t have enough talent for anyone else to be entrenched in their positions.  What do they think they can’t miss out on with Feliz at third base?  His .694 OPS?  His declining offense that hasn’t seen him top 15 HRs in two seasons?  His defense?  Trust me – it’s not what it is at 35 that it was at 30.

Chris Johnson has a 1.037 OPS in spring training and leads the team with five homeruns to go with 14 RBIs (second on the team).  Someone needs to explain how that doesn’t warrant him playing every day at the Major League level, regardless of what they may be paying Feliz.  For that matter, why is it that Johnson should not be getting a roster spot ahead of Geoff Blum, who hasn’t hit better than .247 in two years with the Astros?

It seems that they have some players that are guaranteed spots by virtue of their age.  That’s a pretty bad way to run a team.


I closed my last entry by pointing out that the Astros were 14th in the NL in runs scored last year and 4th in the NL in runs allowed.  That puts them in the company of NL bottom-dwellers such as San Diego and Pittsburgh.  The great news for the Astros is that one of those teams is in their division, so Houston has the benefit of numerous games against one of the league’s worst teams.

The bad news for the Astros is that they made a lot of moves in the off-season that do not remedy any of those problems.  They lost Miguel Tejada, and while I do not mourn that loss at all, the Astros didn’t replace him with anything better.  Edwin Maysonet and Tommy Manzella have been competing for the job.  Both would be suitable replacements (Maysonet for his bat or Manzella for his glove), but my gut tells me it will be Jeff Keppinger.  My gut, and this chart:

Player ML games played
Jeff Keppinger 350
Edwin Maysonet 46
Tommy Manzella 7

See! See that right there?  Keppinger has played more Major League games, which means he should be playing, regardless of the performance of Maysonet or Manzella.  Ed Wade can’t help himself when it comes to veterans, and make no bones about it – he is calling the shots.  He loves veterans, so you can count on determinations for playing time coming down to veteran status.

Or being a former Phillie, as in the case of Pedro Feliz, Jason Michaels, Michael Bourn and Brett Myers.  I’m not exactly sure what Wade thinks he’s going to get by loading his team up with guys that winning teams don’t want, but it really doesn’t seem like a winning formula to me.

And that’s where the Astros are left on their worst case scenario.  Sadly enough, the worst case for the Astros would be for them to actually see some success using this formula, because it means they will continue the same policy that has produced a 315-332 (0.486) record the last four years.  The longer the Astros continue to convince themselves that they will win by stocking up on cast-off veterans, the longer the team will flounder.  The worst case for the Astros is not finishing with a bad record; the worst case is justification for continuing to follow a failing policy.

I hate to start my first blog post with bad news, especially before I even post my “worst case scenario,” but the fact is that the Astros aren’t giving fans a lot to look forward to this year.  After finishing 17 games out of first place last year (74-88, 5th in NL Central), the Astros have a long way to go.  That is the farthest back the Astros have finished since 2000 and the changes they made in the offseason are not that encouraging.

The current Spring Training roster is still at 38, and the last 13 cuts are turning out to be very difficult to make, more because of a dearth of talent than an excess.  I’ll break down how the Astros look position-by-position in the coming days, but I’ll say for now that the rotation is shaping up to be Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, and then…well…an optimist would say the options are wide open, so we’ll put it like that.  I seriously doubt that such a rotation, even led by two of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, will be able to accomplish much.

On the offensive side, the Astros are still light hitting.  Lance Berkman is still solid and underrated, as is Michael BournCarlos Lee does what he does – good batting average, lots of RBIs, lots of double plays.  The left side of the infield didn’t get any better with Pedro Feliz and whomever among the three or four players that may replace Miguel Tejada.  This still looks like a defensively challenged team that will struggle with scoring runs and hitting into too many double plays.

The bottom line is that the Astros are far more than a few cheap veteran acquisitions away from overcoming being 14th in the NL in runs scored (ahead of only the Padres and Pirates) and 4th in the NL in runs allowed (better only than the Nationals, Brewers and Diamondbacks).  Only the Padres and Pirates rival the Astros for being so deficient in both categories.  That’s pretty bad company.  Even in an NL Central that does not look that strong this year, the Astros are probably looking at no better than a fourth-place finish.  The best thing the Astros can hope for is that Ed Wade and Drayton McLane realize what most Astros fans already do — that they’re more than a few cheap veterans away from being a contender — and they start looking to trade the few coveted players they have left to build for the future.  Some of the minor leaguers are showing real promise in spring training this year.  The team should build on that.