Houston Astros fans, no doubt, are excited at the prospect of both Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt returning at full strength, healed, fit, healthy, and ready to go in 2010. Just as 2010 was—on the silver screen—the year we make contact, 'Stros fans are hoping 2010 will be the year the team makes contact with an October champagne shower.
Is that realistic to believe?
Call me a glass-is-bone-dry guy, but no.
Gone are Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins, one who served as a solid closer and the other as a solid middle man. Granted, Houston saved a lot of money letting Valverde go, but now the team has to essentially start all over with the closer role and hope the offseason acquisitions quickly transition into a type of bullpen that will be successful.
Offseason acquisition Matt Lindstrom throws hard while Brandon Lyon has experience, and both will be vying for the closer position. Some may hope Lindstrom is the new Billy Wagner. Others hope Lyon's the wily veteran who knows what a hitter isn't expecting and pitches with a precision that would make Greg Maddux look like a very clumsy Dr. Major Frank Burns.
One has to wonder if this team can magically gel overnight. Granted, the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series despite beginning with a bunch of new players and with free agent acquisition Kirk Gibson getting angry about reliever Jesse Orosco's eye-black-in-the-ball-cap joke, but I don't see Houston's as that Dodgers team of 22 years ago.
Brad Mills, by all accounts, is a much-needed improvement at the managerial position, but can he fix overnight the problems that arose from Cecil Cooper's sandpaper-style approach to skippering? Give him a year or two. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are world championships.
Berkman and Oswalt are the respected veterans on the club, and if they're happy and playing hard, it's sure to reciprocate with the rest of the team. It reminds me of what Tom Selleck's character said in the movie Mr. Baseball : "Baseball is a game , and game's are supposed to be fun ."
This brings us to the big question: while Houston's rotation might be set with guys like Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, who will be behind the plate?
What about J.R. Towles, a player who seemed so promising early in his career? In a platooning role, Towles is a career .188 hitter with seven home runs in 234 career at bats. For some, J.R. is the sentimental favorite since he's from nearby Crosby, Texas, and, of course, with a name like J.R. if he's a success people will start referring to Minute Maid Park as South Fork Ranch.
What about Humberto Quintero? Q-Bert will turn 31 in August, so he's no spring chicken. The pressure's on for him to make his move and prove to Houston that he's far more than a utility player or a career journeyman. At 5'9" and 205 pounds he might remind some of one-time Astros backstop Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, but he's also a career .232 hitter with far more strikeouts (123) than walks (23).
Besides that, Quintero's defensive numbers strongly suggest runners aren't afraid of trying to steal against him (and what's really scary is that Towles' percentage of throwing out runners is even worse).
What about Jason Castro, Houston's first-round pick in 2008? Yes, he seems to have all the tools, but he could also become the Astros' next Eric Anthony : you know, a talented young player who's rushed through the minors too soon.
It should be an easy season. Time will tell.
Richard Zowie blogs about the Houston Astros at Bleacher Report and hopes to see the end of the team being referred to as the "Houston DisAstros". He also refuses to purchase any Astros merchandise until they return back to their blue-and-orange uniforms--preferably the sixties-style shooting star. Post comments below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .