2012 Houston Astros preview: Dominence a distant dream
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When one thinks of the Houston Astros, greatness often comes to mind. You reminisce about superstar pitchers like Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard. Employed in Houston were Latino icons like Cesar Cedeno and Jose Cruz, a quiet yet fierce competitor. Not to be forgotten are the trio of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman, the latter still knocking the cover off the ball with the St. Louis Cardinals. And those one-of-a-kind rainbow jerseys, never duplicated, although the Miami Marlins are trying.
Unfortunately, all is not well in Houston these days. On the eve of the Astros’ 50th anniversary as a National League franchise, longtime owner Drayton McLean officially sold the club on November 17 to fellow businessman Jim Crane for $610 million. This came as no surprise, since Crane and his group have been negotiating the purchase for some time. What sweetened the deal, however, left many folks with a sour taste in their mouths. McLean and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig pledged a combined $70 million discount on the sale, provided that Crane move the Astros to the American League West, effective in 2013.
The Houston faithful are livid, to say the least, and they haven’t been very happy anyway. The wholesale exit of Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn at the trading deadline last season was a public relations disaster. But the reality of changing leagues was the ultimate slap in the face. Selig bobbleheads are being hung in effigy. One disgruntled fan even stated sarcastically that he might forgive Crane if he fired Houston’s Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton! What does poor Milo have to do with this mess?
Astros manager Brad Mills is a man with lots of patience, and he’ll need it to cope with his team’s “golden” edition. The club is top-heavy, with slugging first baseman Carlos Lee and closer Brandon Lyon slated to make a combined $33 million in 2012, the final year of their contracts. You can bet General Manager Ed Wade will do some more “fire sale” haggling to dump those aging veterans, if he’s lucky enough to keep his job. There’s even talk of moving popular, front-line pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, which could trigger a fan boycott of Minute Maid Park.
So, how will the Astros do next season, their “swan song” in the National League Central? Probably as well as a summer snowball on the tarmac at George W. Bush International Airport. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining to watch. They will be a scrappy bunch, with pretty good pitching, decent speed and adequate defensively. Scoring runs, though, will be a challenge.
The Astros rotation is actually above average. It should be, since the pitching staff alone absorbs a big chunk of the payroll. The staff ace, Rodriguez ($10 million) and Brett Myers ($11 million) are pricey. The bottom half of the group, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris, are more economically attractive and have held their own. Norris was the hard-luck guy last season, losing 11 times while posting an attractive 3.75 ERA. He also averaged over one strikeout per inning.
Erratic but hard-throwing Henry Sosa will probably round things out, but he’ll have plenty of competition. Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer, a right-left combo acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Bourn deal, could make a spring-training splash. Oberholtzer, only 22, changes speeds and uses both sides of the plate like a young Tom Glavine.
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