Charlie Pallilo: Gurriel is the Astros seventh-best hitter; Rockets-Warriors race is on

Yuli Gurriel had a nice year, but he is not one of the Astros top hitters. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Since before Astros spring training started I’ve seen saying that no news would be good news for them. The only meaningful news that could happen would be bad. Meaningful news hit midweek…and it was bad. Yuli Gurriel’s hand surgery sidelines him for about six weeks, which means a couple of weeks into the regular season. Bad news, but not remotely devastating news. Gurriel was going to miss the first five games anyway because of his racially insensitive gesture suspension.

And there’s this: while Gurriel had an excellent first full season in the majors last year, he was only the seventh best offensive player in the Astros’ lineup. That speaks to how absolutely fantastic the Astro attack was in 2017. Gurriel batted .299, led the club with 43 doubles, and popped 18 homers. But Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Reddick, and Alex Bregman all were better. And they’re all healthy.

Gurriel’s temporary absence means temporary opportunity for someone among Tyler White, J.D. Davis, A.J. Reed, and Tony Kemp. The MLB minimum salary this year is $545,000, so more than 3K per day. The minor league salary for players with big league experience is about $90,000. So making a big league roster is a big deal on multiple levels. The guy with no chance whatsoever of making the team is perhaps the most deserving, without doubt the player of greatest potential. 21 year old lefthanded sweet-stroking Kyle Tucker blasted three homers in his first 13 Grapefruit League at bats. Tucker is widely considered one of the top 10 prospects in the game. He’ll make about $3000 per month in the minors.

If Tucker is tearing up AA or AAA and Derek Fisher is not impressing with the big club, Tucker’s time needs to come sooner than later. But because of financial considerations the soonest sooner would arrive is mid-June. For anyone wondering whatever happened to Kyle’s older, less talented brother Preston, he’s trying to make the Atlanta Braves this spring.

Rangers taking shots in the dark

I’m not saying the Texas Rangers are desperate for pitching, except that is EXACTLY what I’m saying.

They began February by signing washed up 44-year-old Bartolo Colon, they end it by signing washed up 33-year-old Tim Lincecum.  Lincecum was an early career superstar with the Giants, winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards before he turned 26 years old. After winning those he had two more good seasons. After that he was basically awful. That’s since 2011!

Lincecum couldn’t find work last year, after in 2016 getting routinely embarrassed on the mound when over nine starts with the Angels his earned run average was 9.16. You’ve probably heard the saying nothing ventured nothing gained. Well, it will be a big surprise if the Rangers venturing to sign Colon and Lincecum gains them anything at all. Their (I presume) quasi-serious attempt to add a starting pitcher was signing Doug Fister.

Funny thing (not for Rangers fans) is the offense in Arlington was as big a problem as was the pitching in 2017.

The Rangers finished 23 games back of the Astros in the American League West last year. They have done nothing this offseason to make anyone believe they are plausible contenders going into 2018.

The race is on

I don’t sense the Rockets-Warriors battle for best in the west being sufficiently appreciated by enough people around here. The Rockets are the first team since the Mike D’Antoni-coached 2006-07 Phoenix Suns to compile two winning streaks as long as 14 games. And they have needed every one of those wins to be one half game ahead of the reigning champions. All the Rockets need the rest of the way is 11 wins 10 losses to break the franchise record for wins in a season. Unless something goes very wrong very soon they are going to shatter the record and win closer to 65 games. Two seasons ago Golden State won 73 games and San Antonio won 67, the only time in NBA history that two teams in the same conference won at least 65. The Rockets need a 17-4 close to hit 65 (which would mean a 31-4 close!), the Warriors need 17-3. Not probable, but feasible for both.

When the Rockets compiled their amazing 22 game winning streak in 2008-09, it was an elite Boston Celtics squad that snapped it, routing the Rockets at Toyota Center. An elite Celtics squad visits Toyota Center Saturday night in a possible NBA Finals preview. If not Rockets-Celtics, maybe Rockets-Raptors (listen for the sobbing from ESPN/ABC executives). The Rockets play at Toronto next Friday.

Buzzer beaters

1. Shaka Smart’s UT record before Saturday’s vital game vs. West Virginia: 48-48   2. No QB in this year’s NFL draft is worth a top five pick, but desperation probably dictates at least two go that high   3. Best ice cream flavors ever: Bronze-Ben&Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough  Silver-Haagen Dazs rum raisin  Gold-Friendly’s butter crunch.


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5 questions on the John Wall trade

The Rockets made a big move. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets point guard carousel continued to spin Wednesday night, as the Woj bomb-iest of Houston-related Woj bombs erupted in the Space City:

For the third year in a row, the Rockets will begin the season with a new point guard, in an attempt to finally find someone that can play alongside James Harden. Let's take a look at how the Rockets got to this point, and what it means moving forward.

What led to the trade?

Russell Westbrook simply wanted out. Westbrook is the type of player that needs to be the number one ball handler and that simply wasn't ever going to happen on a James Harden led team. Other reports cited Westbrook's frustration with the lack of accountability and casual atmosphere within the locker room. Ultimately if anyone was going to be moved between Harden and Westbrook, it was always going to be Westbrook.

Why John Wall?

This one is another fairly straightforward answer: they both have relatively similar contracts. Each is making an absurdly overpriced $40 million this season, and both were disgruntled with their current team. Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone and Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard tossed the idea around a few weeks ago, but couldn't find a deal they liked. It was reported that discussions resumed Wednesday afternoon and within a few hours the deal was done in an almost one-for-one swap.

How does Wall fit?

This is a little more complicated because it's not exactly known what head coach Stephen Silas' game plan is. It's also difficult to predict whether or not Harden will still be on the roster when the season starts. But let's assume that Harden takes the court for the Rockets and that Silas' system resembles something similar to what we've seen in Houston for the past few years. In that case, Wall would be a slight upgrade to Westbrook. Westbrook is more athletic than Wall, but when healthy Wall was no slouch. In addition he's a much better defensive player and has much better court vision than Westbrook. Westbrook's assists were usually a bailout after attacking the lane with his head down, while Wall is more likely to set up a teammate.

This isn't to say that Wall doesn't need the ball though. He's fairly ball dominant, but not nearly as much as Westbrook. Harden proved last season that he's capable of effectively playing off the ball if necessary, so it seems like a better fit from a distribution rate alone. If they can find that sweet spot like they did with Chris Paul and stagger the lineups so that each star gets their own time to create, there's potential for an improved Rockets team more reminiscent of their 2018 run than the past two years.

What are the best and worst case scenarios?

The worst case is that the Rockets were sold a lemon. Wall has potential to be an upgrade, but comes with huge risk. He last took the court in 2018, where he was sidelined with a knee injury. He subsequently ruptured his Achilles in an accident at his home while recovering from the knee injury, forcing Wall off the court for almost two years. It's possible an extremely unfortunate Wall reinjures something and completely derails the machinations of the trade. Even if he's recovered fully, it will take time to get him up to game speed which could frustrate Harden on a team that can't afford a slow start in their stacked conference. Harden has managed to cultivate drama with just about every co-star he's played with, so there's no reason to assume this attempt would go any better.

The best case scenario is that Wall arrives ready to play team basketball and resembles the better part of his pre-injury form. Wall and Harden buy into Silas' new system, space the floor, and take turns carving up the lane with dribble drives and kick outs to players who can actually hit from distance. This version of the Rockets could potentially be a 3-seed in this year's Western Conference.

Who won the trade?

At the moment the Rockets. Not only did they remove at least one of their locker room distractions, but they also gain a first round pick. If Wall can stay healthy and Silas can keep both stars happy, this team should be a lot more fun to watch than last season's clunker.

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