|Astros Beginning to Spiral Downward|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on March 16, 2010
The Astros, if you personified them, remind you of the one person you know who continues to make bad decisions. One thing leads to another, but they always try to justify their actions, try to do something incremental when a drastic overhaul needs to happen.
The Cardinals won the American League Central in 2006 with 83 wins. Sure, the Astros finished only 1 1/2 games back, but still: they finished 1 1/2 games behind a team that only won 83 games.
Houston thought it would be wise to add outfielder Carlos Lee, a fine hitter, to a mega-star contract. They also gave Roy Oswalt, a homegrown ace, a lengthy contract. The Astros kept slipping, winning just 73 games and falling 12 games behind the Cubs, who only won 85 games, in 2007.
The Astros signed Kazuo Matsui to a three-year contract after he posted 32 steals in just 104 games for the Rockies in 2007. Sure, the Astros won 86 games in 2008, and Matsui helped them do that, but they were still 11 games behind the Cubs.
So, what was the plan going forward? The Astros decided to fill their gaping holes on the pitching staff by adding Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton. That might have been a good decision if it were made a decade earlier.
The Astros lost 74 games and finished 17 games back. Their batters averaged 31.6 years of age; their pitchers came in at 31.2. They scored just 643 runs. This was the second time in three years they had a winning percentage below .460.
Rather than destroying everything and rebuilding -- the Astros have long had one of the weakest farm systems in baseball -- they plunged ahead. They gave Brandon Lyon, who couldn't even close in Detroit, $15 million to close. They gave Brett Myers $5.1 million.
Everything is beginning to crash. Oswalt finished with just 14 decisions, 181 1/3 innings and a 4.12 ERA last season. Berkman's knee has already required surgery this season, and he will likely be slowed by that this year. Lee maintained his career norm of .340-ish OBP, which isn't anyone's dream from a corner outfielder earning a huge paycheck and just getting older.
If the Astros are serious about contending, they don't need to be signing the Brett Myerses and Brandon Lyons of the world. They could've gone for Kyle Gibson, a highly ranked college pitcher, in the first round of the draft last season. Or Tanner Scheppers, who looks excellent in spring training so far.
They could've taken Justin Smoak in 2008 over Jason Castro, who appears to be a signability pick at this point in his career. They didn't even pick a player until the third round in the 2007 draft and didn't sign one until their fifth-round pick.
The Astros need to change their direction as quickly as possible. There isn't enough talent at the Major League level to compete this season. There isn't enough talent through the minor league system to compete for an extended period of time. General manager Ed Wade needs to make some difficult decisions and see what the club could get for Berkman, Oswalt and Lee.
The Astros need to blow things up and start over. That's the only way they'll get back to the World Series.