Houston Astros: 5 Emergency Measures the 'Stros Must Take Before Joining AL West
Before joining the American League West, the Houston Astros have a few emergency measures the team must take to ensure the transition goes as smooth as possible.
Having the worst record in MLB in back-to-back seasons has been difficult on fans, but the move to the American League should offer some excitement.
Houston fans will need to get used to reading the day's starting lineups minus the starting pitcher automatically penciled in at the No. 9 spot.
The addition of the designated hitter to the lineup isn't the only change the team will face. American League West teams are built differently from National League Central teams.
The Astros will face harder throwers and deeper rotations. They'll be making road trips to ballparks they've never played in before, and they'll be doing it with an inexperienced group of fresh-faced big leaguers.
Here are a few emergency measures the Astros must take before making their American League debut in 2013.
Find Arms for the Rotation
The Houston Astros will be counting on Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles as the only sure things in the rotation as the team enters Spring Training in 2013.
The team will need a few arms to fill out the rest of the rotation. Two spots in the rotation appear to be up for grabs and the Astros have plenty of options.
Top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart should be considered a strong candidate for the rotation. The hard-throwing right-hander was impressive after a promotion to Triple-A in 2012.
In 27.2 innings (five starts) he registered a 2.60 ERA with 24 strikeouts. The key stat was zero home runs allowed, which had been an issue for the righty in previous years.
Cosart was clocked in the 96-98 mph range by ESPN's Keith Law (reported via Twitter) during an Arizona Fall League game recently. If the hard-thrower continues to impress in Spring Training, he could force the organization's hand and win the fourth spot in the rotation.
The competition for the final rotation spot will have several in-house candidates like Dallas Keuchel (low ceiling), Edgar Gonzalez (questionable durability), Rudy Owens (not ready yet) and Ross Seaton (not ready either).
Looking outside of the organization to fill the final spot makes more sense. Every year in free agency, there's a pool of cheap veteran pitchers just looking for a spot in a big league rotation.
Esteban Loaiza won 21 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2003 as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. The Astros would be fortunate to find lightning in a bottle like this, and the only way they can is by exploring the bottom of the veteran starting pitching market in free agency.
An important question the organization needs to answer heading into 2013 is who will handle the closing duties? Wilton Lopez filled the closer role well down the stretch, but he's still more valuable to the Houston Astros as a setup man.
The Astros should consider exploring the veteran reliever market to fill their closer role. Putting a cheap veteran in a position to pile up saves is a smart way for the team to add trade value to its roster.
Take Brett Myers last year for example. He had little value coming off a below-average season as a starting pitcher. By moving from the rotation to closer, Myers was able to pile up 19 saves in just over 30 innings of work before being shipped off to the Chicago White Sox for a package of prospects.
The Astros added value to Myers and cashed in on it. It would make sense to follow that same formula in 2013. Like with their final starting rotation spot, finding a cheap veteran bullpen arm willing to sign a low-risk, one-year type of deal makes sense for the team.
By following that formula, the Astros would open the 2013 season with a reliable closer in place. It would provide both early stability for the club as they navigate the murky waters of the American League, while also giving them a valuable trade chip as the 2013 trade deadline approaches.
Jed Lowrie: Is He Trade Bait?
Jed Lowrie should be an attractive trade commodity now and going forward to teams looking for an offensive upgrade at shortstop. The pressing question for the Houston Astros is how soon they decide to pull the trigger on a deal.
Lowrie was putting up one of the most impressive seasons for a shortstop in MLB in 2012 before injuries derailed his season. His pre-All-Star numbers included an impressive 14 home runs in just 280 at-bats.
Do the Astros shop him hard this offseason? Does it make more sense to let him rebuild his value with the team for a few months to start the 2013 season? These are questions general manager Jeff Luhnow will have to answer.
Most teams in the big leagues would say they're looking for an upgrade at shortstop. It's a position that rarely offers much offensive upside, and most teams are just content to plug in a player known more for their glove than their bat.
Lowrie should garner plenty of interest. It shouldn't be assumed he's on the trade block, but don't be surprised when you hear his name thrown around at this year's Winter Meetings.
It would be nice to have Lowrie's bat in the lineup for next season, but the team isn't in a position to turn down the opportunity to add minor league talent through trades.
Where Does Jimmy Paredes Play?
Jimmy Paredes dominated Triple-A all season and proved he deserves a shot at the Major League level. The only issue now is finding a spot for him on the team.
His natural position of second base will be occupied by Jose Altuve now and in the future. He has been tested at third base, but that should be Matt Dominguez's spot to lose after a strong showing down the stretch.
Paredes found a home in right field at the end of last season, but it remains to be seen if the organization sees this as his best spot. He offers more upside than the other in-house outfield options, so for now, he could be safe as the team's right fielder.
It would be shocking if the Houston Astros moved Altuve or Dominguez to make room for Paredes. It would also be just as surprising if the team stood pat with their current group of poor outfield options.
With all the changes the Astros are expected to make again this offseason, it remains to be seen if Paredes is considered a long-term option with the team. He could be a valuable trade chip in any deal.
The Astros need cheap players with upside, so it's likely he'll be a part of the team in some capacity heading into next season.
Who's in the Outfield?
The Astros can't go through another season with J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer, Brian Bogusevic and Justin Maxwell as the team's outfielders. The putrid offensive output from this group was one of the key reasons why the Astros had the worst offense in MLB in 2012.
No one in that group had a batting average over .241 or an on-base percentage over .311. The Astros will have a hard time scoring runs off of American League West rotations with offensive production like that from their outfielders.
The Astros should be expected to upgrade their outfield from outside of the organization, whether it's through a trade or free agency. They won't have to look far to find upgrades from their current group.
The organization's best minor league outfield prospects are too young to even be considered options at this point. George Springer has the most upside of any, and it'll be a positive for him if he can reach Triple-A before the 2013 season ends.