UH-OH!

MLB insider provides clarity on Houston Astros roster maneuvers

Astros Framber Valdez, Jose Abreu, Yordan Alvarez
At this point in the season, the Jose Abreu signing looks like a mistake. Composite Getty Image.
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First baseman and unfulfilling slugger Jose Abreu, the Astros big offseason signing for 2023, is having the worst – by far – year of his career, hitting a paltry .220 with only 17 RBI and absolute zero home runs.

Abreu should consider himself lucky.

Lucky he’s not playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Trea Turner, the Phillies lusty $300 million free agent signing for 2023, is hitting .256 with four homers – and he’s getting boo’d out Citizens Bank Park on a nightly basis.

Sample headline from the City of Brotherly Love: “Boos rain down on Turner.”

So far, Astros fans haven’t turned on Abreu. Astros fans are nice. But are they too nice? And how much longer before Abreu – if not already – is hurting the Astros’ chances of repeating as World Series champs? The season is approaching a third-over and Abreu hasn’t cleared the fences one time. It’s not like he’s a slick-fielding first baseman, either.

Abreu has been so disappointing at the plate that the media is stirring up manufactured rumors that the Astros may be interested in signing Eric Hosmer, the first sacker recently released by the Cubs.

I was talking to a baseball insider the other day. I told him how Philly fans are merciless toward Turner, but Astros fans look the other way on Abreu. It’s just the way we are.

The insider told me, “Here’s the difference. If the Phillies decided, for whatever reason, to trade Turner, several teams would be calling them. If the Astros offered up Abreu in a trade, the Astros phone wouldn’t ring. Signing Abreu was a big mistake and the Astros are stuck with his contract for two more years after this.”

Despite his anemic hitting, manager Dusty Baker keeps rolling Abreu out there every game, hitting in a power slot in the lineup despite his .260 slugging percentage and .281 on base percentage. It’s like the only time Abreu sees first base is when the Astros take the field. It feels like the Astros and Abreu are stuck in a bad marriage and they’re only staying together for the children – Sunday is “Kids Run the Bases” day.

Maybe Astros fans’ reaction to Abreu would be different if the team weren’t succeeding without any contribution from their early season cleanup hitter.

The Astros are the hottest team in baseball, riding an 8-game win streak, 10 of their last 11, on the verge of overtaking those seat-filler Rangers for first place in the American League West. The Astros have two more games against the Brewers before heading to Oakland for a weekend series against the lowly A’s.

And I do mean lowly. Historically lowly. The A’s are 10-39 for a .204 winning percentage and if they keep this up, they’ll finish with the worst record in MLB since 1900. The current mark for futility is held by the 1916 Philadelphia A’s (same franchise, just different crime scene in Oakland), who finished 36-117 for a .236 winning percentage.

The current A’s are on pace to obliterate that mark. The A’s just need to stay focused to get that record. We don’t know if A’s fans are booing the team. There’s not enough fans at their games to register a peep.

So maybe the Abreu contract, $58.5 million over three years, turns out to be a bum deal for the Astros. But sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make. Like the Astros not making a serious bid to match the Mets’ two-year, $86 million offer for Justin Verlander. That’s a fortune saved.

JV, 40 and coming off another visit to the injured list, is 2-2 with a 3.60 earned run average for the Metropolitans. Meanwhile, his departure from Houston opened the door for rookie Hunter Brown to join the Astros starting rotation.

Brown, only 24, is 4-1 with a 3.20 earned run average. Brown has started nine games this season. The Astros are 6-3 in his starts.

Brown is making $725,000 this year. If my math is correct, that’s 59 times less than Verlander. That should ease the pain of the Abreu deal. A little, anyway.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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