Will the Houston Astros Drop the Ball on Catchers?

Richard ZowieCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2009

PHOENIX - AUGUST 29:  Catcher Chris Coste #41 of the Houston Astros in action during the major league baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 29, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Diamondbacks defeated the Astros 4-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you're a veteran catcher, have your agent give the Houston Astros a phone call. The 'Stros just might need your services.

That's because 36-year-old Chris Coste, acquired by Houston earlier this year after the Philadelphia Phillies had placed him on waivers, has rejected the team's outright assignment to Triple-A Round Rock and is now a free agent.

Some believe the stat sheets define a player in strictly black-and-white terms, and they'd no doubt think this was a great move: Coste hit .224 this year with two home runs and 18 RBIs. With Houston, he hit .204 with 10 RBIs in 43 games.

Coste is somewhat of a late bloomer to the MLB, having spent four seasons in the bigs. (No, that Disney movie The Rookie wasn't about Coste.)

Let's face it—Coste's no Johnny Bench, but neither are the two catchers currently on Houston's roster: Humberto Quintero (who's 29) and J.R. Towles (who's 25). Neither is particularly great with the bat. Houston must be thinking that a 36-year-old man with four years of major league experience is expendable with these two young bucks.

The Astros, no doubt, are banking on three things.

One, either Quintero or Towles will have a breakout year in 2010. Maybe they will, but they could also turn into never-will-be's.

Two, that minor-league prospect Jason Castro (who went to the baseball powerhouse Stanford University) will become precocious and make lots of noise in training camp and may even be the opening-day starter.

Three, that they'll find a great catcher through free agency.

For reasons I've written about many times, No. 2 is a stretch. Does Castro have talent? Absolutely. He's shown a great bat and a great arm, but he could also become a casualty of being rushed through the system far too quickly. Many brilliant, potential Hall of Fame careers went to waste because they were rushed to the big leagues too quickly.

Case in point: Texas Rangers pitcher and former high school phenomenon David Clyde. Then-Rangers manager Whitey Herzog intended to give Clyde two starts in the majors and then send him to A-Ball, but the team looked at all the tickets they sold with Clyde and had other ideas.

As for No. 3, Houston hasn't exactly impressed me in recent years with their free agency decisions. You know, letting the surprisingly successful Randy Wolf go and bringing in Russ Ortiz.

This is another thing that bothers me, and I hope Brad Mills brings it up with Drayton McLane and Ed Wade: Catchers are vital to a team.

(Yeah, yeah, it's a "duh!" statement, but I haven't seen a lot of evidence of baseball common sense permeating from Houston's front office lately.)

Catchers are leaders, and some of the great pitchers of the game have all but insisted on having one particular catcher in their games. Roy Oswalt was very fond of pitching to Brad Ausmus. What will Houston do if in spring training none of the pitchers feel comfortable with any of these catchers?

I really hope Houston knows what it was doing opting Coste to the minors. Maybe Wade has his eyes on a free agent. We'll see...


Richard Zowie blogs about the Houston Astros at bleacherreport.com. His e-mail address is richardzowie@gmail.com.