This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
For the past 10 years or so, the Houston Astros have had strong, talented squads and have proven they’re a playoff-caliber team. Although they’ve had the spoiler role in more than one postseason in the past, conventional wisdom will tell you that the Astros belong among the top teams playing each October.
Having reached the doorstep of baseball greatness in 2005, failing to go through the door, the team that plays in the stadium formerly known as Enron field will feature a much stronger, and younger, roster in 2007.
Gone are Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens; two all-time fan faves and local heros – can you say Jeff Bagwell day? – and Andy Pettite.
GM Tim Purpura brought in a big name player in OF Carlos “El Caballo” Lee, and two front-line starters in Jason Jennings and Woody Williams (far right). Lee’s addition alone was enough to bolster a line-up with Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg at the heart of the order. True, Ensberg had a rough 2006, posting career lows in hits (91), RBIs (58) and batting average (.235), but his underperformance was more a result of a nagging shoulder injury, and the fact that he minimized the pain, than a season-long slump. CF Willy Taveras is gone, and though Chris Burke won’t be doing full lay-out dives anytime soon, his bat will make up for the lack of flash.
The departure of Andy Pettite and the recurring retirement of Clemens (who is, again, flirting with a comeback) could actually be a blessing in disguise for the Astros. Pettite was never able to show true form while wearing Astros pin-stripes, and Clemens was more of a ceremonial addition than anything. The singing of Williams and Jennings gives manager Phil Garner’s rotation a solid one-two-three front-line, lead by ace Roy Oswalt; and with several young arms contending for the 4th and 5ht spots, the Astros rotation should be set after Spring Training.
There may be some lingering questions in the bullpen with closer Brad Lidge‘s ability to deal with pressure situations. After giving up that infamous walk-off home run to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS, he gave up another walk-off in game 2 of the World Series, only to blow a career high six saves and post a 1-5 record, with a 5.29 ERA in 2006 (highest since 2002, his rookie season, in which he started and pitched in one game).
Overall, though, general manager Tim Purpura assembled a strong staff for 2007, making the Astros a strong candidate to win the wild card, if not contend for the NL Central Crown.
A B- (ugh, I get no respect, see comments)
Acquisitions: Carlos Lee, Jason Jennings, Woody Williams, Mark Loretta.
Losses: Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens, Willy Taveras, Abrey Huff, Tyler Buchholz, Russ Springer.
Projected line-up, rotation, and closer
2B Craig Biggio .246 / .306 / .422, 62 RBI
CF Chris Burke .276 / .347 / .418
1B Lance Berkman .315 /.420 / .621, 45 HR 136 RBI
LF Carlos Lee .300 /.355 /.540, 37 HR 116 RBI
3B Morgan Ensberg .235 /.396 /.463, 58 RBI
RF Luke Scott .336 / .426 /.621, 37 RBI (in 65 games)
SS Adam Everett .336 / .426 /.621
C Brad Ausmus .230 / .308 / .285
RHP Roy Oswalt 15-8, 298
RHP Jason Jennings 9-13, 3.78
LHP Wandy Rodriguez 9-10, 5.64
RHP Fernando Nieve 3-3, 4.20
CL Brad Lidge 32 SV 1-5, 5.28