Last year in this space I bashed the now former columnist for the Houston Chronicle Richard Justice for creating a false narrative in regard to the supposed youth movement the Astros were about to field. Justice had been arguing that the 2011 season was all about the performance of three young players, namely Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson, and Jason Castro. If this was all the season turned out to be about then it was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. Castro went down before the season even started with an ACL injury. Wallace and Johnson, while healthy enough to play, spent much of their time back in the minors or on the bench because that is how bad they utterly sucked. Johnson managed an OBP of .291 and an OPS+ of 85, all the while providing subpar defense at third. Brett Wallace offered a negative fWAR across 115 games. This year Johnson and Wallace are sort of competing for time at third (Wallace sucks so much he can somehow play there again) and Castro may just wrest the starting catcher spot from the immortal Humberto Quintero. There are reasons for optimism if you’re an Astros fan, but almost none of it is on the field.
Drayton McClane is out as owner, and while the aformentioned Mr. Justice rightly argued that Drayton did a lot of good for the club his refusal to accept a rebuild has left the Astros as arguably the weakest franchise from top to bottom in baseball. In Drayton’s place steps suspected war profiteer Jim Crane. Crane promptly fired GM Ed Wade, who is no doubt currently finalizing a deal with ESPN to misinform the public across several content platforms. To replace him he hired Cardinal scouting director and all around scourge of Walt Jocketty Jeff Luhnow. Luhnow is tasked with building an organization Keith Law ranked 27th in 2011 and the same in 2012. Law, mind you, was almost poached from the Mothership in the offseason to join the newly sabermetrically friendly front office, but ultimately decided he preferred a platform to get his ideas about Top Chef and 19th century brit lit out there, and for that I thank him. Still, even without Law the front office is poised to do less stupid ****, and at this point the only direction is up.
This year the more terribly written fantasy baseball magazines will tell you that the Astros are giving their young prospects much needed experience in the big leagues, and while there will likely be growing pains this will help the organization in the long run. Just like last year, this is mostly a lie. With the exception of JD Martinez (most likely in left) and 2b Jose Altuve these guys are simply place holders for younger, better prospects that the organization for the most part doesn’t currently have. Even Martinez and Altuve are hardly star prospects, but Zachary Levine needs something to write about goddammit. The actual bodies that could use major league experience aren’t currently ready for it yet (primarily Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singelton, and George Springer). I was going to compare Kevin Goldstein and Law’s prospect lists at this point, but then I saw that Delino Deshields was ranked 8th by Goldstein and thought I shouldn’t bother. The best an Astros fan can hope for this year is that Luhnow manages to move wife beater Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, and the corpse of Carlos Lee for something young and pert to restock the farm system. Luhnow, despite a heavy amount of criticism in supposedly friendly Cardinal Nation, managed to build the Cards farm system from dirt to some other, superior type of dirt. For Astros fans he can do the same though it is going to take years, and by then the team will be safely in the American League. To worry over any victories beyond this is folly in 2012 Astros fans, lest you smite yourselves.*
* TheVictoryFormation does not condone any form of self-smiting, with the possible exceptions of euthanasia and/or the ability to become the Lord and Savior of all Mankind
Record: 56-106, last in the NL Central, probably in baseball