It's been a tough season out in Houston, as the team struggled to finish with a 56-106 record and the top pick in next year's amateur draft. Tim De Block is one of the managing editors over at the SBNation Astros' blog, The Crawfish Boxes, and he was kind enough to take the time to answer our questions about the team.
On the Unsettled Ownership Group:
MLBDD: The big overlying theme for the Astros this year has been the pending change of ownership. When do you think the changeover will be completed, and are there any specific changes you'd like to see the new group make?
TDB: At this point, the change won't happen until November, if ever. Bud Selig tends to avoid announcing things during the playoffs and I don't see an exception being made for Jim Crane. Major League Baseball is also in a unique opportunity to leverage the Astros to the American League, and they're taking advantage of that opportunity. At this point, I could see this going down to the November 30th deadline that Jim Crane set; if MLB can't get Crane to move the team then they're going to make him wait.
I'd like to see changes in the front office. I think Ed Wade has done a better job than he's given credit for, and he has a proven track record of getting a team back to respectability, but at this point the Astros are on the 8 year plan. That's a long time to wait and I think there are people out there who can expedite the process with more forward thinking.
My Thoughts: I'd hate to see them have gone through all this effort to determine that Crane would be a fine addition to the group of owners, only to hold him up over something that the team clearly does not want to do. That said, I'm inclined to agree with Tim that this is exactly how it will play out. In the end, I think the Astros end up in the American League as requested.
Read about Tim's thoughts on the moves the team made, the rookies who made an impact, and more after the jump....
On Trades Made During the Season:
MLBDD: Knowing full well it would be a rebuilding season, the team traded veterans like Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger. How do you feel the team did in these trades, and is there one player acquired this ear that you feel could be really special?
TDB: I wasn't happy that the Astros went for quantity over quality, and that four of the ten prospects returned were relievers. It appears that they took the Phillies to the cleaners, broke even with the Giants, and got fleeced by the Braves. Obviously, over time those opinions could change, but at this point the Astros did an okay job at the trade deadline. The prospect that looks to be really special is Jonathan Singleton. He's got the potential to be that elite middle of the order bat that the Astros desperately need.
My Thoughts: Considering that the Braves were adamantly not going to give up a top-flight pitching prospect for Bourn, I thought they did reasonably well. As Tim said, time will tell, but I thought overall they did very well considering teams knew they were trying to move these players.
On the Product at the Majors:
MLBDD: Another part of the rebuilding has been the rookies who have come up and gotten significant playing time this season. Has there been one prospect/rookie who has really surprised you with their performance, and were there any who really fell below what you thought they would be?
TDB: Jimmy Paredes has easily been the most surprising. The front office admitted that they were calling Paredes up a little too early. And statistically you could see that he probably wasn't ready for major league hitting with a sub .300 on-base percentage in AA. He was also going through the transition of being a full-time third baseman. So when he was called up we didn't expect much but he's proven he can handle major league pitching and the third base position. He still needs work in both areas, but he's shown why the Astros acquired him in the Lance Berkman deal.
There isn't much depth in the farm system so it's really hard to find a rookie you're disappointed in, especially when the bar's already set so low. If I had to choose someone though, it would be Jordan Lyles. Yes, I know he's only got middle of the rotation stuff, and he's still very young, but I would have like to have seen better command. For a guy with that kind of stuff, for him to succeed, he's going to have to show more command than he did this year.
My Thoughts: Paredes was not a name I had really been paying too much attention to, as nearly all of the surprise seemed to be aimed at Jose Altuve. Altuve probably needs more time at either AA or AAA, but he seemed like he showed that he can handle the Majors reasonably well.
On the Potential Change to the American League:
MLBDD: Recently, the completion of the ownership change seemed to be hinging on whether or not the team will be forced to move the American League. How do you see this affecting the team, and do you think it will be good for the organization overall?
TDB: Contrary to what Drayton McLane might think, there are a lot of fans against the move to the American League. I have a poll on our site asking which league fans would prefer the Astros to be in, and a vast majority of fans want to stay in the National League. They don't mind the teaming moving to the NL West, they just don't want to see the American League's brand of baseball played in Houston. So an upset fan base is one effect, but another would be the start time for the games.
The Astros have teamed up with the Rockies to start their own sports network, and later game times means less viewership, and thus less money. I don't know if I can put it any simpler than that, but they'll be hit financially. Of course, the Rangers have found a way to succeed so how big of a hit they take is dependent on how well the team is doing. If you're losing, you're going to take a hit financially regardless.
Overall, I don't think a move to the AL will be good or bad. There will be some upset fans, and there will be some financial concerns, but winning cures everything. If the Astros start winning, the fans won't care who's batting in the 9th spot of the order, and they will tune in.
My Thoughts: I was not aware of the sports network, but a move to the West division would really affect that in terms of scheduling. Whereas both teams are in two different time zones right now for a majority of their games, having the Astros play the AL West would move a lot of their games into PST, just iike a lot of the Rockies' games currently are. That said, the Rangers seem to be making it work, and a lot of that is probably helped by winning.
On Potential Offseason Moves:
MLBDD: With the team rebuilding, is there a specific move or moves that you would like to see the team make to help the long-term outlook of the franchise?
TDB: I'm assuming we are talking about products on the field. In that regard, I'd like to see them re-sign Clint Barmes for at least another year, maybe two. I know it sounds counterintuitive of the Astros to spend money on an aging veteran, but the team doesn't have a prospect even remotely close to being able to replace Barmes for 2012. There are guys you could plug in, but the team would take a bit hit statistically at the shortstop position. There is the possibility of trying Paredes at the position, but I'd rather see him focus on third base, which is where he'll most likely end up.
With ownership in limbo, I don't expect them to be very active in the offseason. The best thing they could do besides trying to lure Barmes back for another year is looking for those low-risk guys that could maybe be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline. Kind of like the opportunity they had with Brett Myers a couple years ago. Of course that also means the front office has to actually pull the tripper on a deal instead of handing out a contract extension.
My Thoughts: It's probably going to be a pretty quiet offseason for the Astros, and the only other thing I could see happening is possibly trying to trade either Wandy Rodriguez or Brett Myers. The starting pitching free agent market seems a bit shallow, and both could potentially net the team some solid prospects.