Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/18/12
The Astros, trying to find a diamond in the rough to put on their diamond at Minute Maid Park, have signed Jack Cust, a lefty hitting outfielderPHDH. Cust has never been a high average hitter and he had his best years with the A's. He is 33 years old and coming off a 2011 season in which he was released by the Mariners and picked up by the Phillies where he lasted only six games. He hit just .213 with a .344 on base percentage and had a .329 slugging percentage in 270 at bats. While in Oakland, Cust fit the stereotype "Moneyball" player. His walk totals were higher than most and he hit with some power. His career on base percentage of .374 is quite high for a .242 career batting average. He hit 33 HR with the A's in 2008 and had a three season string from 2007 through 2009 of 26, 33 and 25 homers. (He also led the AL in strikeouts all three seasons with 164, 197 and 185). He walked over 100 times twice as well. His effectiveness has not been so great in recent seasons, but he comes with a low dollar contract and a track record that shows he has at least achieved in the past. Can he achieve again is the gamble GM Jeff Luhnow is taking. The move may bring out sarcastic comments from would-be comedians among the amateur writers on blogs and discussion forums, but it fits what the Astros are trying to do for 2012 as they try to reorganize the club. Cust is a low cost veteran who may or may not make the team and is worth the gamble. Signing players like Cust are not done to excite the fans. The signings are an effort to improve the club little by little with veteran players who will hopefully be pushed aside by younger better players. If those younger players are not ready or talented enough, the team still has players who have earned their stripes. The Astros are not trying to build a National League champion for 2012. They are trying to improve certainly, but are more concerned with building a base from which a contender can be built and sustained. HAPP INKED Lefty hurler J.A. Happ has signed a one-year contract for a reported 2.3 million to avoid arbitration. Shortstop Jed Lowrie, the only other Astro who might be involved in arbitration, has reportedly requested 1.5 million but will likely settle for a few hundred thousand less to avoid arbitration as well. Once that is done, GM Luhnow will know exactly where the payroll will be for 2012. The club would still entertain offers for high priced contracted players Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers to further reduce that payroll and obtain more prospects in return. ROCKETS TO .500 THE HARD WAY After an awful start, which no doubt had an effect on advance ticket buys for the Rockets game Tuesday night against Detroit (fewer than 10,000 in the listed attendance), the team has actually been playing well and has reached .500. Not all the wins have been pretty and Tuesday night was a big example. The Rockets playing their fourth game in five nights were heavy legged at times, but the Pistons were worse. It all added to an 87-70 victory. One of the keys to the game was Rockets coach Kevin McHale going deeper on the bench and using his backup players for more minutes than usual. Patrick Patterson, who has had a couple of DNPs this season, played 24 minutes and scored 12 points. Goran Dragic spelled a tired Kyle Lowry for 18 minutes and scored 11. Courtney Lee, who has only played in six of the 14 games, scored six points, including a couple of well timed baskets in eight minutes. For the 2011-2012 season more and more games will be decided by those coming off the bench. The season is so condensed with fewer days off that it is just not possible for the main players to be on the court for 40 minutes every game. Those bench and deep rotation players will have to get a lot more time than usual. Teams with solid depth will have an edge. During the Rockets four games in five days stretch it looks like the Rockets may be in good shape in that area. They may be lacking one or two superstars, but in the long run the trade that didn't happenwith players like Kevin Martin and Luis Scola departing for a top level player like Pau Gasolmay work in the Rockets favor. To help cover for the trade being rejected by Commissioner David Stern, Houston GM Darryl Morey acquired Samuel Dalembert, who has been showing an ability to be a defensive presence in the middle with a few points thrown in. The players who remained are part of that deep rotation which is good enough on many nights to cover when the starters don't have much left in the tank. Other clubs that are top heavy with stars have to hope those stars can handle this schedule. There will be nights they won't be able to. Then, watch out for the Rockets. A championship team? Not the Rockets this year, but they will hustle and play hard. Sometimes it won't be all that pretty, as was the case on Tuesday, but it was a win. Now that the Texans season is over, you might want to take a look at these Rockets. You may not know who all the players are, but you will learn quickly. You also might like what you see.
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