Houston Astros off Season Report

Season Wrap Up

The Astros last left us by missing the playoffs with an 86-75 record to finish third in the National League Central. Although they were in the heat of the race for a while, they dropped off at the end when they were forced to play home games in Milwaukee because of the hurricanes that were whipping through their city. While long time first baseman’s Lance Berkman’s performance seemed to be in an inverse relationship with the team’s winning percentage (as he had an amazing first half when the team was disappointing and came back to earth when the team went 14-1 after the All-Star break), the team still had some other bright spots to focus on. The acquisitions of LaTroy Hawkins and Randy Wolf before the trade deadline made the ‘Stros a much better team in the second half and helped them fight for the Wild Card spot.

Holes to Fill

Overall, the Astros seem to have a solid team with no gaping holes to point a finger at. If one or two balls bounce their way during the season, they may have been in the playoffs so general manager Ed Wade may not be looking to be doing much wheeling and dealing this off season unless something (or someone) really peaks his interest.With Carlos Lee hopefully coming back from his injury next season, the Astros will, in a sense, be adding some pop to their lineup without going on the market. Perennial Cy Young contender Roy Oswalt once again provided his usual stellar season, but he could use some help in the starting rotation. Whether that is going to come from relief from the farm system or in free agency is hard to tell, but it would serve the ‘Stros well to pick up at least one arm on the open market this off season to take some pressure off of Oswalt. Houston may also be looking to add some talent that is known for their ability to get on base as well as some speed. They have some players with considerable speed in their farm system, but would probably have to add the on base component in free agency.

Free Agents

The Astros currently have four free agents on the open market with relief pitcher Doug Brocail, catcher Brad Ausmus, infielder Mark Loretta and left hander Randy Wolf all seeking deals. It seems Wade will not be offering any contract at all to Ausmus this off season even though he has been with the team for some time. With the lift that Wolf provided at mid-season, he is currently the team’s number one priority in the market. They see him as a better than solid number two starter behind Oswalt and believe he could have made the difference in their playoff run if he had been an Astro during the entire season.

The Outlook

While they are probably going to increase their payroll (which was ranked 14th in the majors last year at $88.9 million) don’t expect the ‘Stros to spend like crazy on the open market. If they are going to open their pocket books for someone, it is going to be a pitcher who they believe will be able to make the rotation more stable. They do not seem to have many pieces to trade during the off season, but could move outfielder Michael Bourn, if they receive the right kind of interest in him. Houston plays in a tough division where they are probably going to have to win 90 games to have any shot at all at competing for the playoffs. To do this, manager Cecil Cooper is going to have to use all of the pieces Wade gives him in spring training to keep opponents on their toes at all times. With Lee coming back to the line-up, they will no doubt improve on their runs scored total of 712 from last season (which ranked them 11th in the Bigs). If the team can jump a few spots in this category and retain stable pitching without injuries throughout the season, they could see the four or five game jump needed to be in the playoff picture even later than they were in 2008.

Off Season Moves Made so Far

The ‘Stros have been very busy this off season with their latest move being the purchasing of the contracts of three players (second baseman Drew Sutton, shortstop Tommy Manzella and outfielder Brian Bogusevic) from the AA team in Corpus Christi. Two other notable moves they have made recently were to sign pitcher Chia-Jen Lo to a minor league contract and to tie up pitcher LaTroy Hawkins for one more year. They recently signed 41-years-old, Brocail for 1 more year at $2,750,000.

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