THE BIG MAN'S HOT START ALLOWS GM TO BE PICKY AND FLEXIBLE

Yordan Alvarez gives Luhnow and Astros options

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Yordan Alvarez has been everything and more for the Houston Astros in his first experience in the big leagues. His first hit was a home run, his plate discipline and hitting eye have been sharp and he has displayed power to all fields in putting up outstanding numbers in his first 6 games. Hitting .381 with 4 home runs and 8 RBI in his first 6 Major League games has not only put him in rare air and elite company, but it has also put GM Jeff Luhnow in the power position of being able to be picky as he looks for ways he can improve this team through trades.

I fully expect that Alvarez will come back down to earth at some point, but if he can maintain his eye and ability to make solid contact he should get better and better as he sees the game slow down and he gets accustomed to major league pitching and life in the big leagues.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Luhnow and the Astros were one of a few teams talking to the Seattle Mariners about Edwin Encarnacion, the league leader in home runs that was wasting away on a team going nowhere in the American League West. The Yankees ended up swinging the deal to get the power hitting slugger, as the Astros were said to not be willing to take on as much of his salary as the hyper-wealthy Bronx Bombers.

That's a sure sign that Luhnow isn't in panic mode and will not overreact or make rash decisions when considering ways to improve this team. Before Alvarez was called up and the team was in the midst of an injury-plagued stretch of games, he may have had a different mindset. Now that the big man is up and raking, the GM can afford to be selective and patient as he navigates and negotiates the trade market.

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Instead of focusing on a bat for the middle of the lineup and a potential power hitter like Encarnacion, Alvarez allows Luhnow the luxury of focussing on available starting pitchers that could strengthen his rotation. Prospects that were being considered as potential trade chips for a bat can now be used to obtain a valuable arm. Names like Marcus Stroman, Madison Bumgarner, Cory Kluber, and Andrew Cashner can be the main focus instead of trying to spread out his prospects to be considered in multiple deals to attempt to get a quality hitter as well as an experienced starting pitcher.

Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Obviously, the situation remains fluid as Alvarez now goes on his first road trip with the big club. He is considered a defensive liability at most positions and with the National League opponents taking away the DH, it will be interesting to see where he plays and how games away from Minute Maid Park affect his at-bats.

Assuming everyone currently out of action with injuries return to the lineup healthy at some point soon, Luhnow and his staff will be able to further evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the roster and what position possesses the most pressing need for improvement. It could be an arms race and then again, it could result in a power struggle. One thing is for sure, the Astros new young slugger, Yordan Alvarez, has put them in a position of strength in more ways than one.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Simply put – and I realize I am last in on this, but I only write once a week and I also sleep in weekday mornings, mainly to avoid bad news – Major League Baseball should vacate the Houston Astros' 2017 World Series title.

I understand there is some Astros fatigue right now, but this sign-stealing saga has generated more reader mail than any issue in recent memory. In fact, if I paid out $1.25 to every Astros-related Ask The Slouch submission, I'd be writing this column at a loss.

Plus every time another layer is pulled off this Astros scandal, something tells me we will find something else sordid. Eventually, we'll discover the Astros also had a hand in the Great Chicago Fire, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby and the Watergate cover-up.

So, how far have we fallen as a once reasonably-minded group of revolutionaries pulling away from British oppression?


1. The Astros – following the lead from Wall Street to the White House – not only decided to flimflam repeatedly, but once caught, took a "get over it" stance.

2. Many Astros opponents, unhappy with Commissioner Rob Manfred's let's-just-move-on jurisprudence, have spoken of taking justice into their own hands – by throwing at Astros batters; of course, this follows the old Latin "an eye for an eye and a 90 mph fastball at your head for a tooth" credo.

3. Naturally, we can gamble on how many times Astros betters are hit by a pitch. At William Hill sports book, the latest over-under season total is 81.5; there's something very American about the ability to wager on players getting assaulted by beanballs.

Meanwhile, we heard last week, pitifully so, from Astros owner Jim Crane and Astros players, all of whom stepped to the plate and said nothing – apparently they cannot speak unless they know what pitch is coming.

(We did not hear from defrocked general manager Jeff Luhnow or defrocked manager A.J. Hinch, both currently relocated in MLB's new witless protection program.)

Harry S. Truman famously had a sign on his desk that said, "The buck stops here." Crane's version of that is, "The buck stops down the hall and to the right, in an office adjacent to the men's restroom."

Crane contended that the electronically-aided sign stealing "didn't impact the game." In his defense, I'll say this: If I played on the Astros, I probably would hit .000. And if I knew what pitch was coming every time, I'd still probably hit .000.

The Astros' spring training apology tour can be summed up in a dozen words:

"We're sorry, but we're not THAT sorry – we are still the champions."

Manfred acknowledged he could've stripped the Astros of their title, but he said, "There are a lot of things that happened in the history of the game that arguably could be corrected, and I just think it's an impossible task for an institution to undertake."

No, it's not an impossible task.

You know what's an impossible task?

-- Making a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon without a single grape.

-- Leaving Tallahassee, Fla., Monday in a hot air balloon and landing on Mars by Friday.

-- Convincing Skip Bayless he is wrong about anything.

This was a simple task: The World Series champions had gamed the game for the entirety of their title season. They broke MLB rules in wide-scale fashion, again and again – it's called CHEATING. If a high school kid scores 95 on a biology test and it's discovered he had the answers beforehand, do you still give him an 'A' on the exam?

You vacate the Astros' championship. Case closed.

Like Baretta used to say, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

Manfred said even putting an asterisk on the Astros' title doesn't make "that much difference."

Let's test that.

Example A: The Houston Astros are 2017 World Series champions.

Example B: The Houston As*tros are 2017 World Series champions.*

* Actually, they're not – they CHEATED.

I've got to say, short of taking the Astros' title away, Example B looks a whole lot better to me than Example A.

Ask the slouch

Q. You recently wrote, "March showers bring April flowers." Did you get permission from the EPA to update the original expression, "April showers bring May flowers"? (Dudley Chase; St. Inigoes, Md.)

A. Listen, pal, I have been ahead of the climate-change curve since getting drenched in a Las Vegas rainstorm on St. Patrick's Day 1999.

Q. I just read your book, "Hold On, Honey, I'll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime." Please tell me you wouldn't really wait until halftime. (Ray Hauley; Valatie, N.Y.)

A. I did. And my first ex-wife did not wait until game's end to leave me.

Q. You wrote that you hate the XFL, yet you pick XFL games on YouTube. Are you a hypocrite? (Jason Karlin; Chicago)

A. The Greek actor Hypokritḗs was a hypocrite; I'm just trying to make a living in an ever-changing media universe.

Q. What is Michael Strahan doing these days now that he is no longer playing football? It's like he dropped off the face of the earth. (Steve Owings; Spokane, Wash.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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