Here's why the Astros must be buyers sooner rather than later
Talking to a friend, big Astros fan, the other day. I asked, so what do you think the Astros should do before the trade deadline August 1?
He said, “Why do you think the Astros need to make any moves? They had a rough start but they’ve been winning lately. They’re going to make the playoffs (if the season ended today, the Astros would have a wild card). Why change things when they’re winning?”
Why? I’ll tell you why. It was that great relationship expert Woody Allen who said, “A relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.”
The Astros currently are 36-27, in second place in the American League West, trailing the Texas Rangers by 5 games. The Astros also are behind their World Series pace from last year. They’re hardly a dead shark, but they’re not exactly Neptune ruling the ocean, either.
The Rangers smell blood. You can count on them to make bold moves to slay the great white Astros at the trade deadline.
The Astros do need to make a move, or moves, to challenge for a World Series repeat. There are two big sore thumbs sticking out in the Astros lineup: first base and catcher. Plus they need a veteran starting pitcher or two.
We don’t have to state the obvious about first base. Jose Abreu has been a disaster all season and he’s actually getting worse. He’s hitting .217. That’s below average and unacceptable for a player who was supposed to bat cleanup this year and make fans forget popular Yuli Gurriel.
Stop saying “Abreu always starts slow, it’s a long season, he’ll turn it around.” The Astros have played 63 games, that’s well more than one-third of the season. Abreu has shown no signs of turning anything around. Except turning back to the dugout after striking out. He’s 36 years old. Some players get old overnight.
More than 50 percent of marriages in America end in divorce. The Astros need to leave Abreu for a younger player.
Mauricio Dubon, 28, is batting.304. He’s been the Astros most consistent hitter all season, mostly playing second base. But with Jose Altuve back from injury, Dubon is left without a position to call his own. It doesn’t matter where, but he needs to stay in the lineup. Fans would welcome a Dubon move to first base.
Catcher Martin Maldonado is popular with fans and we get it – pitchers love him behind the plate. Manager Dusty Baker raves about Maldonado’s skill at calling a game.
Despite a recent hot streak at the plate that pushed his batting average over .200, Maldonado, 36, is back below the Mendoza Line. Between Abreu at first and Maldonado behind the plate, the Astros essentially are playing seven against nine on offense.
Meanwhile, backup catcher Yainer Diaz is hitting .273 and, when he gets a rare start at catcher, is throwing out potential base stealers at a rate exceeding Maldonado. He has a stronger arm than Maldonado and his pop time (the time it takes between a pitch hitting the catcher’s mitt and arriving at the fielder at second base) is fourth fastest in the American League. Baker says Diaz needs more experience at calling pitches and controlling a game. Well, he won’t gain that experience on the bench.
New general manager Dana Brown has made it clear that he would like to see more of Diaz at catcher or at first or designated hitter. He’s also made it clear that Dusty Baker makes out the lineup card. Last year, general manager James Click and Baker didn’t see eye to eye on personnel. Now Click is gone. Brown is smart. He’s also patient.
After a long run making all the right moves, the Astros didn’t have a genius offseason following last year’s World Series. Their big signings were Abreu (enough said) and extending reliever Rafael Montero for $34.5 million over three years. Montero is 1-3 with a 5.96 earned run average this season. His ERA his last 15 games is 8.59.
The Astros also signed Michael Brantley for $12 million. He hasn’t played a game this season and there’s no word when, really if, he’ll be back.
To be fair, when the Astros announced that they signed Abreu, fans were excited and started making travel plans for the 2023 World Series. But you know what they say about best laid plans.
In fact, the Astros best offseason move was the one they didn’t make – not making a serious attempt at re-signing Justin Verlander for stupid money. JV was 18-4 with a 1.76 ERA for the Astros last season. This year, the suddenly 40-year-old is 2-3 with a 4.85 ERA for the Mets.
Wednesday night, the Astros lineup had Corey Julks in left, Dubon at short, Diaz at catcher, Grae Kessinger at third and Ronel Blanco on the mound. These aren’t your grandfather’s Astros. These aren’t last year’s Astros.
It’s amazing the Astros are staying above water with all their injuries this season. Last year’s starting pitching has been decimated by injuries and departures. Verlander gone, Jose Urquidy out, Luis Garcia out, Lance McCullers stuck on the injured list. Nobody expected that 2023’s rotation would be held together by silly string, bubblegum and unexpectedly strong performances by J.P. France, Brandon Bielak, Ronel Blanco, and Hunter Brown, and their most effective reliever would be Phil Maton. So far, so good, but do you want to bank the rest of the season on them?
We’ve been hearing, “the Astros don’t need to make roster moves because Urquidy, Brantley and McCullers will be back – that’ll be like adding three veteran players at the deadline.”
Fans can keep counting on those medical miracles, but in the meantime they need to make changes and additions. And no use waiting for the trade deadline.