Climbing Out of the Canyon – Part 2

On Saturday, I started the Climbing Out of the Canyon series with Part 1, which previewed the 2007 Cardinals. Continuing on down the ’06 final standings, I’m ready for Part 2 and the Houston Astros.
Phil Garner’s squad was almost able to capitalize on St. Louis’ late-season collapse–but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. They finished at 82-80, 1.5 games out of the division lead, and failed to make the playoffs. A look at their tumultuous offseason, according to the ESPN Hot Stove Index:
ADD: Carlos Lee, OF; Mark Loretta, IF; Woody Williams, SP; Jason Jennings, SP; Miguel Asencio, SP
DROP: Aubrey Huff, CI/OF; Andy Pettitte, SP; Russ Springer, RP; Taylor Buchholz, SP; Jason Hirsh, SP; Willy Taveras, CF
They have one remaining free agent. They call him Rocket. Here’s a blurb from Yahoo! Sports about him:

Clemens’ agent Randy Hendricks said it’s “greater than 50-50″ that his client will pitch again in 2007, the New York Daily News reports. Hendricks also said that it’s most likely that Clemens will pitch a shortened season again, just as he did for Houston last year. “I don’t think any team is really ahead,” Hendricks said. “Obviously, Houston has the home-field advantage.” The Red Sox and Yankees are also expected to have significant interest in bringing back the 44-year-old.

That was January 11th. Since then, it appears as if the Yankees may have taken the lead in the Clemens sweepstakes. This could prove to be the move that makes or breaks the Astros’ off-season.
The $100 million man Carlos Lee will be a boost to the offense, providing another capable bat in the order behind Lance Berkman, but Houston’s rotation will be the deciding factor in ’07. Losing two All-Star pitchers in addition to two top prospects would be devastating. Roy Oswalt still anchors the staff, but he’s followed by the mediocre Jason Jennings and the aging Woody Williams. Wandy Rodriguez is penciled into the fourth slot, and there’s a derby for #5.
Bringing back Clemens, even for a half season, would be a dramatic boost. Obviously adding a Hall of Fame starter would extend the rotation–but it also would alleviate some of the stress on the bullpen. Brad Lidge is the closer heading into Spring Training despite a rocky 2006 campaign. Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls are possible replacements. Trever Miller is the only lefty listed on the roster–good thing Houston isn’t in the AL East.
The lineup Garner can run out should be able to produce:
Burke, CF
Biggio, 2B
Berkman, 1B
Lee, LF
Ensberg, 3B
Scott, RF
Ausmus, C
Everett, SS
Richard Hidalgo, Jason Lane and Mike Lamb provide depth in the outfield. Mark Loretta is an excellent reserve infielder. Ausmus and Everett won’t hit much, but they’re Gold Glove defenders. If Ensberg performs, the middle of the lineup is powerful. Chris Burke isn’t as fast as Taveras, but he should field his position well. He won’t steal 60 bases, but 25 or 30 wouldn’t be unrealistic.
It comes down to whether the Astros can win in April and May. If they’re leading the division when the calendar turns to June, they might be a more enticing destination for Clemens. If they’re not, Tim Purpura has to pray that Jennings throws like he did in 2006 (when his ERA was more than a run lower than his career numbers) and that Williams contributes 150 innings. The Astros are more well-rounded than most of the teams in the NL Central, and while they have a decent offense and a good staff, they can’t afford to lag in one area or the other. Similarly to the Cardinals, this rotation could turn into the ace and a bunch of jobbers in no time.
With the Rocket: The Astros improve on their 82-win season. Without him? They’re just another dog in the fight. By my estimates, our Pirates are still alive and kicking.

Author: PLCArchives

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  • http://www.davidhannes.com David Hannes

    The Astros’ bullpen will get lots of work this season on nights Oswalt’s not pitching; if Berkman gets hurt again, and they can’t sign Clemens, Houston will have a hard time getting back to .500 I believe.

  • http://nationalsportsreview.blogspot.com Nicolas

    Thoughts:
    I think it says a lot about Houston that A) Ausmus is STILL their starting catcher at age 65, and B) their true success hinges SO much on one player (clemens).
    I’m curious as to what (if anything) it says about Houston and/or Pittsburgh that Burke and Duffy are almost the same player, and Garner doesn’t seem to have any qualms about Burke hitting leadoff.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Along that same vein, Willy Taveras and Chris Duffy are quite similar, too. In a root race, Taveras wins, but he hasn’t had a ton of steals at the MLB level to reflect that quickness. Duffy has a better glove. Both are pretty miserable OBP guys for the leadoff spot.
    Houston and Pittsburgh are actually fairly similar as a whole, right now–not just at CF. Bay isn’t quite Berkman. LaRoche isn’t quite Lee. But Sanchez will probably be better than Ensberg, Paulino will be better than Ausmus. Middle infields are questionable, but Everett/Biggio/Loretta and Wilson/Castillo/Bautista both offer nice depth. Both teams would be better off with a platoon in right.
    It comes down to the rotation: Who pitches better, the ‘Stros or the Bucs? The Big Four would need to break out if you want to answer Pittsburgh.

  • http://william-carlos-williams.xfinfo.org/article/707778/Climbing-Out-of-the-Canyon-Part-2/ William carlos williams Digest

    [...] “>Climbing Out of the Canyon Part 2 On Saturday, I started the Climbing Out of the Canyon series with Part 1, which previewed the 2007 Cardinals. Continuing on down the #821606 final standings, I#8217m ready for Part 2 and the Houston Astros. Phil Garner#8217s squad was almost able to capitalize on St. Louis#8217 lateseason c…More Information:Link to original article [...]